Sunday, November 18, 2018

A Quick, Simple Google Chrome Extension for Student Video Responses

Here's the most popular tool I showed at the miGoogle conference recently. It's a simple Chrome extension from Alice Keeler called Webcam Record. It records a short video clip from a webcam on a laptop or Chromebook, uploads it to Drive and automatically copies a link to it so you can paste it where you need it*.

So teachers can use this to give simple video directions and students can use it to share their thoughts back to the teacher. See it in action in the tutorial below.

You can get it in the Chrome Web Store here or have your G Suite admin push it out to users. I pushed it to all teachers and all students in grades 5 - 12.

*I do have two important things to watch for.

  1. Unfortunately when we've tried to share the video using the link that's automatically copied it doesn't give the user access. I tried sharing the whole folder and it still didn't work. I showed students they can copy a shareable link just by right clicking on the video and clicking Get shareable link. It adds a few clicks to the process, but it's not bad.
  2. Every once in a while we used this on a new device, it didn't upload the first recording properly. I suggest you make a short test recording the first time you use it, just to be sure the file saves to Drive.


Here's a tutorial I made for the app. It's edited from a longer one I sent to teachers in my district.



Sunday, October 14, 2018

Using Say Whaaat!? in the Classroom

Images from DrawLab Entertainment
and used with permission
My party game Say Whaaat!? will be released this month from DrawLab Entertainment*, but I made the original version long ago. I have had years of experience playing it in different ways with students and as a classroom activity. It has proven to be a fun icebreaker or an engaging warm-up for lessons about opinions, priorities or leadership.

At the heart, this is a game about ranking random things order of importance. Words like Underwear, Justice and Coffee might turn up, for example. There are ways to do that in class that look a lot like what’s described in the rules. Others suggestions below are more innovative, like having the class imagine how Abraham Lincoln or Hester Prynne might rank the items.

Most of the ideas below are based on my experience, but some come from other educators who have enjoyed the game with their students. Instead of explaining all the rules of how to play here, I will just describe the changes to what’s written in the game rules.

Using one copy of the game for multiple groups

This could allow a class of 25 - 35 students to play in small groups using one copy of the game. Be sure they understand the ranking process before breaking into groups.

  • Divide them into groups of 6 or 8 students. 
  • Shuffle the 100 Word cards and divide that roughly evenly between the groups. 
  • There won’t be enough Ranking cards for all the students, so you could make additional sets on colored notecards. Alternatively, the students could just secretly write their rankings on paper. 
  • When playing this way, they could use the standard rules (with one Judge ranking the items and the others guessing) or the partnership variation (as long as groups have an even number of players). If playing with a Judge, the Judge should use Ranking cards from the game even if all the Guessers are just writing the words down. This makes it easier for everyone to see his or her rankings.
  • After a few rounds, groups should exchange their decks of Word cards so everyone can play with as many as possible.
  • If scoring is important, students or partnerships can just keep their points on paper. 

Everyone ranking the same Words

Sometimes it will work best for the lesson to have the class rank the same five Word cards. Here are different ways for them to do the actual ranking. Ways to select the five cards are also listed below.

Same Words, Many Groups
All students play in groups of 6 - 8 exactly like above. Any of the options and changes can be used. The only difference is the students rank the same 5 word cards that you display to the class. My friend John Golden has his students play this way as an icebreaker. He gives the judges time to explain their rankings to the others in their groups.

One Judge, Many Guessers
This is how I used the game before starting a lesson on priorities and goal setting.

  • Choose one student (or the teacher) to be the Judge.
  • The five Words are presented and all other students try to guess how the Judge will rank them. They record their guesses by listing the Words in order on paper.
  • If a score is important, the students (on their honor) can record it on paper. They get a point for each Word they had in the same place as the Judge.


Getting the Class Rankings With Digital Tools
I have used tools like Google Forms or class response systems (clickers) to let students send their rankings digitally. This is a fun way to see how the group thinks.

Different tools allow for different ways to do this. Most simply, you can just have five “questions”, each being one of the Words. A student’s answer for each question would be a number, 1 - 5. For example, if they wanted to rate Coffee as least important, they would pick 5 for that Word. Students would just have to remember not to use a number twice when choosing the numbers.

After all rankings are submitted, these tools usually display a graph that shows how each Word was ranked. After looking at the class’ responses, students can give themselves a point if they matched the majority for a Word’s ranking. For example, if “Justice” was ranked in the first (most important) position by most of the class, every student who had it as most important would get a point.

If two or more Words all tie for a position, all of those Words would count for a point, even if they also end up most in another position. That can happen, so don’t get too caught up in the details of scoring!
One fun idea for this method is to have everyone predict how some other person would rank the words. But this person doesn’t have to be in the class! They could be a historical figure or a character in a book...or maybe not even a person.

With carefully selected Words central to the lesson theme, this can result in a short reflective writing assignment. Students would have to explain their ranking and what they thought of the class’ overall ranking.

John Golden sometimes has his class rank by criteria other than importance. For example, he will have five concepts for discussion and ask them to rank them by how much they understand them. Another option is to rank them by personal preference.

Ways to Choose the Word Cards

Regardless of which of those methods you use, here are some different ways you can choose the five Word cards for each round. Most will help you more or less focus the type of thinking and discussion you want to encourage.

For any of these, you can actually draw those cards in the moment and display them under a document camera or write them on the board or screen. Or you might want to save class time by forming the lists in advance.

  • Random - Just shuffle the deck and draw five, randomly choosing one side or the other on each card.
  • Random from Subset - Choose several cards from the deck ahead of time that fit your lesson theme to form a smaller drw deck. Then when you play, draw completely randomly from that deck.
  • Semi-Random - Draw 7 - 10 cards at random, then choose which 5 you will use for the round from those.

Of course, you can also just make Pre-Arranged Lists ahead of time by selecting the exact Words you want to use. Feel free to add in words that aren’t in the game, if they’d be beneficial for your lesson or discussion.

Conversation Starters

As one last suggestion, a college professor told me he just kept the Word cards on his desk in his office. When students stopped in to talk, he would draw cards (or have a few pre-selected) to generate some conversation.





Saturday, August 11, 2018

Authentic Audience and Authentic Engagement - Interactive Stories Using Free Google Apps

I already wrote a lot this summer about the most exciting, creative project I've been involved with in a long time. I worked with some students to create a story one short piece at a time. What made it amazing was we'd publish the story on the school website, then let the readers complete surveys to tell us what should happen in the next chapter.

This gives the students experience with writing for an engaged, authentic audience. Everyone involved was excited to find out what happens next in the story!

We told our story in comic form, using my favorite method of combining real life photos with comic elements. Of course, it will be much easier to create the stories if they're written as prose rather than comics. I'm calling them interactive stories and I will outline the process below. (There's even a 10-page ebook with tips at the link at the very end of this post.)

We actually ran into a snag in the middle of our comic project, so I resorted to some written chapters just to keep the story going. That gave me some experience with what I'm about to describe.

The Flow of the Project


  • Explain the project to the students - This includes the very important aspect of telling them what course content you expect to see in the story. They need to know what they are supposed to learn from it.
  • Write the first chapter - Students (the Storytellers) would begin by writing a short chapter to kick things off. It just has to be long enough to introduce some characters and make a cliffhanger that will hook the Readers. I suggest using Google Docs for this, since it's easy to share in a later step.
  • Create a short survey - Using Google Forms, the Storytellers create a survey with three to five questions that will help them decide what happens next. We embed the link to the survey right in our story, so anyone who reads it can easily find it. See the link at the end of this post for lots of tips about making good surveys.
  • Publish the story - We put a shareable link to our story on our school website. The Readers would find it there easily, read it and complete the survey.
  • Make the next chapter - The real learning happens here! Combining the lesson goals, the Storytellers' ideas and the input from the Readers, the Storytellers have to plan and write the next chapter.
That process continues with another survey, publishing the new chapter, getting feedback and so on. As it comes to a conclusion (probably after several weeks) the Storytellers probably will request less and less feedback. 

If doing the story as a comic sounds even better (which I think it can be!) I created this ebook for the process using comics and it includes a ton of tips for getting started and working through the project. 

While it can be so much simpler to have students write the story in Google Docs, much of that ebook will till be helpful. The link below takes you to a free, shortened version that will help with these written stories.

Some tips specific to this written process are:
  • Use a fairly large font with generous spacing. Dense text is not fun to read on a screen.
  • Even with large fonts and spacing, try to keep the chapters to less than two pages. Your Readers might go for longer passages, but we found many wouldn't bother reading longer chapters.
  • Make sure you set up Google Forms so the responses are not anonymous. This is very important if you ask for open ended comments. As the teacher, you might choose to manage the survey responses.
I summed up the Gathering Feedback section of my ebook into a much shorter PDF. You can find it here:

If you do this project with a class, I'd love to hear about the results! Please send me an email and let me know how it goes. Include a link to the story too!

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Scanning Text to a Google Doc for Editing

Here's a neat trick I didn't realize would be so simple! Note that this only works on Android phones right now and I use a computer or Chromebook for the second part.

While doing a virtual book study of What School Could Be, I needed to copy passages of text from the printed book. I accomplished this easily by using the Scan option in the Google Drive app.

It's all shown in the two-minute video below, but here are the main steps.

  1. Open the Google Drive app on an Android phone.
  2. Tap the + and pick Scan.
  3. Take a picture of the printed text.
  4. Retake it or crop it as necessary.
  5. Click the + to add more pages.
  6. Repeat steps 3 - 5 until you've scanned everything you need.
  7. Tap the check mark. That will upload the scans to your Drive as a PDF.
  8. Then on a computer, locate that PDF in your Drive.
  9. Right click on it and select Open With Google Docs.
  10. Make minor edits to the text if necessary.
I've found it works very well. I made this informal video for the teachers in our book study. Itshows the screens as I go through the above steps.



Thursday, June 28, 2018

Our Collaborative Comic Story

Last fall I wrote about an interactive story experiment I started with some students a our middle school. They enjoyed our usual Google Slides comics assignment, so we decided to start an ongoing story based on input from the rest of the school.

We started the comic in September and worked on it regularly through October. Then classes changed and I got busy with other projects. It took a lot of effort to finish it, but I'm happy with the results.

You can read the complete story here. I added plenty of notes throughout, so you can get an idea of the work that went into it.

We ended up telling the story in a variety of ways, using photos, drawings and even prose.

Throughout the project I tried to faithfully incorporate ideas from the students who followed along and gave their feedback through Google Forms.



In the final weeks of school, I reunited with the girls who started it and we brought in the additional characters. We had one last photo session. It was a hectic end to the school year, but I managed to complete the final chapter and publish it on the very last day of school.

This would be an excellent addition to a Digital Media class. The skills involved went far beyond just familiarity with Google Slides.

As with any of the comic projects I've written about, you could publish the final product in a variety of ways.