Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Clean Up the Web Clutter!

You have found the perfect article to complement your lesson and you send the URL to your students who then proceed to click on the ads, links on the side, home page, and basically anything to get them off the perfect article you sent them. Your sweet students who have visual or reading accommodations might get very distracted by the blinking pictures, videos, and clickbait that is waiting for them on each website.

We got you! 

The following is a top five list (in no particular order) of decluttering website Chrome extensions that you and your students can install on your Chromebooks and/or Chrome desktop. None of the extensions listed below gathers your information, so three cheers for privacy! Click on the title of each Extension tool to bring you to the install page on the Chrome Web Store. If you need instructions on how to install Chrome Extensions, please refer to our PISD hotspot.

Source Article
I will be using the same website article for each of the extensions so that you have a control to compare features. You can find the article here: How a Black Spy Infiltrated the Confederate White House

1. Mercury Reader - The headline, article, links, and pictures are the only items retained when using this tool. The user has the ability to change the text size, font, and background color (black). One nifty feature is the ability to link this to your Kindle account and be able to send articles directly to your device.

2. Just Read - As you can see below, this tool removes all the distractions and you are left with a clean article. If you click on the paintbrush icon in the upper right corner, you have the ability to change font size and color as well as column size.

3. Easy Reader - This tool is a little more involved than just pressing a button to transform the pages. You can only transform a section at a time, but you are able to customize the font size/color and the line height. 

4. Purify - Not only does this tool clean up the webpage, but you end up scrolling horizontally instead of vertically. Yes, you can change the font size and make it full page. 

5. Announcify - This tool cleans up the webpage AND it reads the article to you. This would be quite useful for students (and teachers) who have reading difficulties. One paragraph is read at a time and the other text is blurred out. You can also control the pace and voice type using the options menu.

Hopefully, you will be able to use one or all of these tools to help your students focus on what they are reading and not be so distracted by the pretty blinking lights on the webpage. Happy reading!

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Summer Learning 2018

The Digital Learning Team is ready for summer learning! There are 51 sessions in MyLearningPlan open for registration and some are being taught by PISD Teachers.

Each year we get feedback from teachers and their input determines which classes to offer. Some of the classes being offered this summer are:
  • Chromebook 1: Introduction to Chromebooks
  • Chromebook 2: One2Web Classroom
  • Chromebooks in the Secondary Classroom
  • Creating Videos on a Chromebook
  • Nearpod
  • Webdesk
  • Blended Learning in the Elementary Classroom
  • Using Tech Tools to Grow Language
  • Multiple Google Suite Tools
Calendars with the locations and class descriptions can be found 🌟HERE!🌟 All the sessions are Flex eligible (with Principal approval) for the 2018-19 school year. 

Come hang with these nerds and let's get geeky this summer!

Monday, April 30, 2018

R.I.P. Today's Meet

Today there are four super sad faces are here amongst the Digital Learning team, as we found out this weekend that Today's Meet is shutting down as of June 16, 2018. Today's Meet has been a staple of the "backchannel" chat in professional learning and among students for a number of years; its ease of use and versatility have always made it one of our favorite go-to resources. I know teachers who have used Today's Meet for keeping in touch with students when they're away or as a non-threatening way for students to ask and answer each other's questions. So, what to do now that this great tool will soon not be available? Here are three alternatives.

Google Slides Q&A. This is a hidden gem that you might not have seen before!

Tricider. No login is necessary, even for the teacher, but you'll want to log in with Google when you create new Triciders so you can see your history and edit your questions if necessary. Students never need to create an account.

Mentimeter. In the free version, you can have 2 questions and 5 quiz questions per topic, with an unlimited number of participants. There are different question types, which makes this tool a little different from the two above. Sign in with Google so you won't have to remember another password.

Remember that using a backchannel is a great way to mentor your students in great digital citizenship - but you have to set them up for success by talking about your rules and expectations ahead of time! Getting your students to come up with the rules and norms for class discussions, as well as consequences for infractions, will likely head off some of the negative behavior. If you need additional suggestions on using backchannels successfully in your classroom, contact any member of your Digital Learning team - Clara, Leah, Fern, or Nancy!

Monday, April 23, 2018

Google Earth and Summation Activities

We are in the last part of the school year, which is perfect for cross curricular summation activities. History with a math twist or Math with a history twist? You decide!

We've curated a list of Google Earth tours that will be fascinating to you and your students and also serve as a great way to apply those transfer skills. You might even get some great ideas of where to go for summer break!

Monday, April 2, 2018

It's Testing Season!

You have worked very hard all year building relationships, delivering content, tutoring, attending professional learning, lunch duty, parent conferences, accommodations, meetings, meetings, and meetings. Thank you very much for the seemingly endless hours of educating our most precious resource.

This time of year brings the uncertainties, joy, and potentially stressful activity of standardized testing. What better time than to discover some interesting activities you can enjoy with your students on a Chromebook?

1. Fast Advanced Google Search (Chrome Extension) - Teachers and students alike should sharpen their online search skills when researching academic topics. This chrome extension is a quick way for students to create advanced queries without having to exit their current window. Tip: See how quickly your students can make a query to find who invented lubrication devices to make train travel more efficient.

2. Web QR - You CAN use your Chromebook to scan QR codes. It may be a little awkward, but this tool can be used as both a QR scanner and a QR reader quite easily. Tip: Have your students add this to their Chromebook shelf for even easier access.

3. Screencastify - Quickly make and post personalized videos straight to your Google Classroom with this screen recorder. You can record your tab, whole desktop, just yourself, or a combination. With the share to Google Classroom feature, posting your videos has never been easier. Tip: Do a video STAAR scavenger hunt!

4. Draftback - Not exactly an interesting student activity, but it is a great way to easily check if students are copying and pasting their written assignments in Google Docs instead of typing it themselves.

5. Google Earth for Chrome - If you haven't let your students click on the I'm Feeling Lucky icon in Google Earth, then all of you are in for a treat. Have each student click the I'm Feeling Lucky icon and then share facts about where Google Earth took them.

Hopefully, at least one of these ideas will inspire you to use your Chromebooks in ways not previously imagined. Be on the lookout for our summer classes and get to know even more ways to make your Chromebook relevant, useful, fun, and support authentic student learning outcomes.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018


Teachers are often our best resources for new technology tips! This week's suggestion is Rocketbook, a great low-tech/high-tech combination that might be very useful for you and your students. Shoutout to Angie Kloppmann, 5th grade teacher at Dooley Elementary, for calling this cool tool to our attention.

Rocketbook Everlast is a notebook with special pages. Take notes as you would in any regular notebook, using a Pilot Frixion pen, then scan the page with the Rocketbook app. Your handwritten notes will automatically upload to the pre-selected destination of choice. This TechCrunch article has more information about the notebook's development.

Per the Rocketbook website, the Rocketbook app crops and enhances each page so your digital notes are more crisp and vibrant than the real thing. Symbols at the bottom of each page allow you to send your notes to specific locations in the cloud services you already use. You can see the seven icons faintly in the image below:

In the app, select the destination that each icon will represent. You have lots of choices! Each icon can be assigned to a particular destination, as shown here:

After taking the picture above with my phone's camera, I used the app to scan the page. In under five seconds, the PDF (minus the QR code and the icons at the bottom of the page) showed up in my inbox.

I'm guessing your wheels are already spinning with ways that you could use this in your classroom, but here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Use the Rocketbook under your document camera to take notes for students. Send to a shared Google folder that your students can access to remind them about what happened in class or catch them up if they were absent.
  • Take notes "the old-fashioned way" at a meeting and email them to yourself or your co-workers. 
  • Print the free Rocketbook PDFs and use the app on your device to send student work directly to the destination of your choice. Note that there are blank, music staff, graph, and lined pages in this folder.

When you've saved your notes, just take a damp cloth and wipe the page clean so you can use it again! (It really works.)

Normally we don't recommend tools that you'll have to pay for, but this one might be worth it. If you decide to try it out, purchase a Rocketbook here. Then install the free Rocketbook app on your smartphone or tablet and start scanning! Let us know how you're using Rocketbook in your classroom!

Friday, March 9, 2018

Chromebook Tip: How to Pin a Website to your Shelf

The Shelf is the bar along the bottom of your Chromebook screen. Pinning sites and apps to your shelf allows for easy access no matter what window/browser/app you have open at the time. 

1. Open the website you'd like to pin. For example, webdesk.pisd.edu. 

2. Click on the three vertical dots on the top right of your browser. 

3. Go down to "More Tools" and then "Add to Shelf". 

settings, more tools, add to shelf

4. Give the site a name and then click Add. 

enter name of site to add to shelf

It will now appear on your shelf for easy access in the future! 
pisd hotspot website pinned to shelf

How is it different from a Bookmark?

When you add a website to your Favorites (or "bookmark" it), it's accessible from the browser. When you pin a site to the Shelf it's accessible no matter where you are. 

For more Chromebook tips, visit our Chromebook Academy website!

Need Help?

Contact your PISD Digital Learning Team for help!