Saturday, February 25, 2017

RIP Google Spaces

Google Spaces, a products that most of my readers probably haven't even heard of, will be discontinued on April 17, 2017.

Spaces was developed as a organizational tool for teams. It has elements of Google Keep, Classroom, and Drive rolled into one. Given the greater popularity of these three tools, it's not surprising that Spaces never gathered momentum.

I suspect that the end of Spaces is also due in part to the pending launch of Team Drive (read my review here).

I don't expect many tears to be shed for Spaces. We can, however, observe a few interesting trends from the development and now end of this collaborative team tool:

1. Google likes internal competition. 

It's not uncommon for Google to launch competing projects and wait to see what sticks. Even when a project is cancelled, we frequently see the best features from that product rolled into an existing tool (i.e. Wave being absorbed by Google Drive).

2. Google's pace of innovation has increased

Google has been on a tear over the last 18 months in terms of launching new products (Spaces, Trips, Allo, Duo, Home, Pixel phone, Daydream...) and discontinue unpopular products (Spaces, Research tool, hangout apps). When engineering talent is at a premium, you have to pick and chose your projects.

3. Google is focused on teams

Over the past year Google has focused a lot on helping teams work more efficiently. They have added improved search through machine learning, launched Team Drive and cloud search (coming soon).

What do you think? Will you miss Spaces? Are there any missing pieces to Google's collection of collaborative team tools?

Friday, February 17, 2017

Book Review: Making your School Something Special by @rushtonh

Making your School Something SpecialRushton Hurley (@rushtonh) is a story teller. His first and latest book, Making your School Something Special, will help you tell your story, the story of your students, the story of your school, more effectively.

What is it that makes your classroom, your school, your district special?

Rushton argues that there are three key attributes to what makes every school special:
  • Meaningful experiences for both teachers and students
  • A strong, shared school culture
  • Opportunities for professional growth
In-class instruction and activities go a long way to fostering these three attributes. Learning activities, Rushton suggests, can be categorized into four big (and broad) buckets:
  • Learning that is powerfully memorable
  • Learning that is generally effective learning
  • Learn that is weak but easy
  • Learning that is a waste of time
This lesson framework is very effective both inside and outside of the classroom. School administrators, workshop leaders, instructional technologists, and conference speakers can apply this framework as well.

Are your staff meetings “powerfully memorable?”
Is your professional development “powerfully memorable?
Is parent teacher night “powerfully memorable?”

It is not expected that every single lesson in every class be categorized as “powerfully memorable.” That would be unrealistic. Some days will feature “generally effective learning” and ever every teacher has lessons that fall into the bottom two categories; if you don’t, then you probably don’t need to read this book!

Reading and understanding Rushton’s categories for learning caused me to reflect on my own teaching practices (I taught HS science) as well as the professional development events that I coordinate. A few “powerfully memorable” lessons come to mind, and a fair number of “generally effective” lessons. Sadly, I can also think of some “weak but easy” activities as well as some lessons that, in retrospect, were a complete waste of time.

I found this section (chapter 3) of Making Your School Something Special to be the most insightful and helpful section of the entire book. Not only is Rushton’s framework simple and effective, he also provides concrete ideas and examples for what “powerfully memorable” learning looks like.

Now that we know that “powerfully memorable” learning is what makes your school special, we need to identify and celebrate these exceptional moments. That’s hard to do, if no one is looking!

Educators (both individually and collectively) have a very difficult time talking about and celebrating their successes. Rushton summarizes this problem:

“This reluctance may be based on the belief that openly discussing one teachers successes represents a critique of another teacher's’ shortcomings” (pg. 72).

A lack of sharing and collaboration is also the result of the professional isolation that most teachers experience. Most teachers (myself included) rarely have an opportunity to share, learn and collaborate with colleagues from their own school. This isolation is one of the primary reasons that individuals leave the teaching profession.

Is everything in your school broken, messed up, or on the verge of collapse? Based on the conversation from last staff meeting, you might think so!

“Arguably, a byproduct of this reluctance to share good news, interesting ideas, and cool possibilities is a conversational void too easily filled by complaints...” (pg. 80)

This is where school administrators can have a profound impact. Providing built in, scheduled time for lightly structured collaboration will foster communication between individuals and an opportunity for victories successes to be shared. Chapter 4 provides specific, actionable ideas for school administrators so that they can develop an “exploratory culture.”

The culmination of Making your School Something Special is the idea that awesome things ARE happening in every school. Memorable learning is taking place. It is your job to find and share those moments with others.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Scan QR Codes from Chrome Mobile

QR Codes with Chrome Mobile

QR codes provide a quick way for someone with a mobile device to visit a web site. The problem is that mobile devices don't come pre-loaded with a QR code scanner. Explaining what a QR code is and asking users to download an app takes far more time than manually typing in a web address.

If mobile phones would come with a built-in QR code reader this technology would be far more accessible and helpful. Someday I hope that all iPhones and Android phones will be able to automatically recognize QR codes from the standard camera app. For now, that's only a wish.

Scanning QR codes from your mobile device just got a bit easier, if you have the Google Chrome Apps on your phone. As of their latest update (February 2017) all version of Chrome mobile have a built in hidden QR code reader.

To use it, search for "QR" using spotlight (iPhone) or search on your Android device. If you have an iPhone 7, you can use force-touch (hard press) on the Chrome App to access the QR scanner. Select scan QR code to open up a camera scanning feature and allow you to scan and visit a web page via a QR code.

It's a bit weird, but there is no way to access the QR scanner feature from within the app itself; you must search for "QR" in order to open the scan window. For now, this is probably the best option for scanning QR codes.


QR Scan with Chrome on iPhone
Search for "QR" on your phone
QR Scan with Chrome on iPhone
View of the scanner window

Friday, February 10, 2017

Explore your #Chromebook with @ThingLink_edu

Thinglink is a great tool for creating interactive images and tutorials. I used it to create a Chromebook tutorial that could be used to help teachers or students learn some helpful Chromebook tips and tricks.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

My Most Epic Spreadsheet Ever

My Most Epic Spreadsheet Ever

My Most Epic Spreadsheet Ever

I'm an English major. I think in words. Spreadsheets are NOT my favorite. However, in the past few years I have come to appreciate the power and logic of these sheets of cells. Recently, I realized that a significant portion of my consulting business runs on a single Google sheet, which was both amazing and terrifying! I run events across the country. My goal this year is to schedule 35 of these multi-day events. I don't have an assistant, secretary, or office manager. Efficiency is key, so I set up systems, like this one:

1. It Starts with a Form

Anyone who is interested in hosting one of my events fills out this form. It's very simple; nothing fancy going on.

2. I map the locations

I need to make sure that I don't schedule too many events in one area. I use an add-on called GeoCode to automatically add each event to a custom map. This map is private to me and let's me see the geographic distribution of my events. GeoCode automatically maps my events every time a new form is submitted.

3. Send Event Agreement

Now that I have collected all of the necessary information, I use Autocrat, a free Add-on for Sheets, to generate an event hosting agreement that looks like this. I (manually) verify the information and send it to my contact. The event gets tagged as "pending." Tagging the event puts a hold on the steps below.

4. Send Registration and Event Flyer

Once the host district has reviewed and signed the host agreement, I manually create a registration page using nVite. The registration URL goes into the spreadsheet. I then change the event tag from "pending" to "confirmed." which triggers another AutoCrat sequence (it checks for new jobs hourly) which generates a unique digital event flyer. AutoCrat sends a custom email to the event host with access to the flyer and other important information.

5. Update the Website

I hired one of my former students as my web and graphic designer. He makes all of my websites and print projects look amazing! Once an event has been confirmed, FormMule sends him an automated email (looks like this) with all of the event information so that he can post the event to my website.

6. Manage and Monitor

Each of the add-ons I use inserts new rows and headers into my spreadsheet which makes it very cluttered. I hide columns that I don't need to see and create custom filters to isolate specific types of events or events from a specific state.
That's it! This entire process is transparent to the host school. If I do my job correctly everything goes smoothly and the event is a success! Google Sheets, forms, and add-ons allow me to build powerful, time-saving system.

Develop a System!

I wish more schools took advantage of add-ons, form, and sheets. There are a LOT of school systems that can be improved with these tools: lunch counts, discipline referrals, continuing education credit tracking, event registration, classroom evaluations, room reservations, volunteer registration, permission slip tracking, and more! If you need a hand building a system for your school, let me know. It won't be free, but will pay for itself in the hours you save once the system is in-place.

If you developed your own automated system, I would love to hear about it! Leave a comment and let me know what you built!


Monday, February 6, 2017

Google Voice is NOT dead!

Google Voice, an absolutely awesome product, has FINALLY gotten and update. The Voice mobile app (iOS and Android) got a visual update to to match Google's Material Design standard. Is this an important update? No....but yes.

The update doesn't provide any [major] new functions or features, but it means that Voice is NOT DEAD! Voice has not been updated in years. I have warned people not to get attached to it because all indications were that it had fallen out of favor with Google and would potentially be another addition to the Google graveyard.

As Google poured more and more resources into Hangouts, then Duo, then Allo, it appeared that Voice was going to be left out of Google's mobile / messaging platform.

I could be reading this all wrong (my crystal ball has failed me before), but it seems unlikely that Google would update a product just before axing it. Perhaps Google needs more voice data to support products like Google Home.

In any case, Voice is not dead yet!

Interested in learning more about Voice? Check out my previous post "10 Google Voice Tricks."

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Hosting Images in Google Drive

Hosting Images in Google Drive

The simplicity and reliability of Google Drive makes it an ideal place to host content that you post around the web. This is a bit of a problem when trying to host images, however. While you can store images in Drive, you can't directly link to them because Google doesn't give you the full web URL of an image. 

The Problem with hosting images in Google Drive

If you share an image file to "public on the web" or "anyone with the link" this is what you get:

While this type of link is fine for sending via email, you can't use it to insert an image into a WordPress site, blogger page, or other web publish tool. These services require a direct link to the image - something that ends in .jpg, .png, etc. When I upload files to my wordpress site I am able to get such a link:
This complication is a bit of a bother. I really want to host images in drive. So I started looking for a solution. What I discovered was

The Solution -

Google Drive URL ( is a free service that generates a permalink URL for any file hosted in Drive. This is particularly helpful for images.
1. Make sure your file is public (it won't work for private files)
2. Copy the public link to the file presented in the sharing box:

3. Visit and past in the link you just copied.
4. Click "create permalink"
5. Copy the permalink to your image and use it in your blog, website, etc.

Why use GDurl? 

I created an intranet for a large school in Ohio using Google Sites. The intranet featured heavy use of icons for navigation. Google Sites makes it tough to manage a large number of graphics for a website. Instead of uploading and inserting them into the Google Sites, we used GDurl to embed the images which were stored in drive.

A Sneaky Feature of Google Drive

To change an image, we used a sneaky feature of Google Drive - the ability to upload a new version of an existing file. Right click on a file and look for "manage versions." Even though you have uploaded a new version of the file, the link stays the same!

You can use this feature to update dozens or hundreds of instances of an image across the web.

A word of Caution

While GDurl is an outstanding resource, I do have one word of caution. GDurl is a free (ad supported) service. The link that is generated uses a GDurl short link. This is fine, as long as GDurl stays open. If they ever close and depreciate their link database, all of your links would be broken.

You can skirt this issue by copying the short GDurl link and pasting it into your browser. It will then redirect to Google Drive permalink. Using this link instead of the GDurl link will ensure that your links stay intact even if GDurl closes.

  • GDurl Link:
  • Redirects to this URL:*/0By7D4SJX3kYEdVo1bDdSb0hHWlk