Creating and Collaborating in The Cloud with Chromebooks

This is a guest post that is cross-posted on the K12 Blueprint Blog by @IntelK12EDU.

Chromebooks have taken the education world by storm over the last few years. They’re affordable, easily portable, and give our students access to the world. In a short time they’ve become, in my opinion, the biggest no-brainer in education. So, what does this mean for our students? What can students actually do on a Chromebook?

Bringing our students to the cloud

Our world is online now – we bank, shop, socialize, and work in the cloud. Chromebooks are made for this. They give us a secure, well performing portal to the world. If your school district is already using Google Apps for Education, the integration of Chromebooks is seamless. Isn’t this what we want for technology to become in school – practically invisible and as commonplace as pencil and paper? One of the best things about Chromebooks/Google Apps for Education I’ve said for a long time is that they do a great job at getting out of the way of student learning. We now have our Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Keep, Google Drive, and any other favorite web based right at our fingertips across all types of devices. We (teachers and students) no longer have to be bound by just one operating system or type of device. Schools must begin leveraging these tools to bring students into the world of working in the cloud, communicating, collaborating, and creating on the web.

We can’t afford not to give our students this type of access – at school and at home. Don’t leave it up to high school, college, or the workplace to give our students their first experience of working in the cloud. Students of all ages can access loads of grade-level appropriate content on a Chromebook. The Chrome Webstore has an entire section of educational apps or you can head over to Google Play for Education where teachers and parents can find educational apps for Chromebooks that have all already been vetted by teachers. Google Play for Education is a great spot for teachers to go too if they want to send an app to their entire class easily.

Yes, you can create on a Chromebook

I remember this debate well when Chromebooks were first making their entrance into K-12 education – students can’t create anything when you can’t even install software on a Chromebook. Or another – they become a paperweight if you’re not connected to the web. Neither of these claims are true. Software that once had to be installed via a CD-Rom (remember those?) is now accessible via the web and can be used via Chrome the same way it would if it were installed on a more traditional platform. Students can create and edit video projects, edit photos, build 3d models and print them, publish presentations, code, and create music all from their Chromebook.

Google has done a great job at making it easy to work on Google Drive files and Gmail even if you’re without an internet connection. While you’re connected to the web, you go into your Drive settings, check a box, and bang you’re done – you’re able to edit Docs, Sheets, and Slides files offline. Next time you’re connected everything gets back in sync with the cloud.

Management made easy

Whether a school has ten or ten thousand, Chromebooks can be managed easily from a web-based console. From an instructional standpoint one of the best things we did for our elementary students was push out a standard set of apps to students in each grade level via the management dashboard. It gave a “standard load” of educational apps and tools to each student in each grade. Students could still of course add any other apps they or their teacher wanted. The Google Apps dashboard also allows for security measures and other important settings to be in place across all devices (or just for particular groups of students and staff) without having to physically touch a single Chromebook.

Choices, choices, choices

More and more big name tech giants are producing their own line of Chromebooks. When the Chromebook initially came out they might not have been up to par on the technical side, however, they can now be found with specs that rival other competitors. Once Chromebooks came out with Intel processors and other powerful features, it significantly changed the game for personal computing because you can get a powerful device much more affordably. The New York Times even posted an article recently about how Chromebooks are gaining significantly in education over other platforms.

Great resources out there to help

I stand by what I said earlier, if you’re in a school or a district that already uses Google Apps for Education, then the Chromebook is your device. If you’re in a place where your school is trying to make a decision of one device over another my biggest advice is to take your time making this very important decision. When my district did this one of the most beneficial things we did was listen to our students; ask them what they wanted in a device. Make the time to do this. Reach out to other educators on social media because there are loads of fantastic people that have paved the road for you and they’re willing to share best practices. Or send an email to a neighboring district to set up a meeting or a Google Hangout to ask questions and engage in conversation. One of the best by-products of technology is its ability to connect us to other brilliant people. We’re truly better together.

 

The New Google+ Hangouts App & Extension for Chrome

This week Google rolled out the new version of Google+ along with a redo of Hangouts. If you want to read the full details be sure to check out this post over on the Google+ blog. The post also has the links that will take you to downloading the new Hangouts app/extension for Android, iOS, and Chrome.

I wanted to share a quick post that explains the app and extension that are specific to Chrome.

Video Call Launcher for Hangouts

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This app from the Chrome Web Store is exactly what the title says; once you install the app and click it, you are taken straight into a new video Hangout session and can invite whomever you need to. I like this app because you don’t necessarily have to start from your Google+ home page to start a video hangout. Start a new tab, click the app icon, and you’re off and running.

Hangouts Extension

screen-capture-1Again, without having to head to your Google+ home page or your Gmail inbox first, you can jump right into your Hangout chats with this handy extension. It opens your Hangouts chat window in the lower right corner of your screen and you’re chatting away without leaving what you’re currently working on. You can tuck it away even lower in the bottom-right corner by minimizing it.

I’m really enjoying the new look and feel to Google+; especially the redesign of Hangouts. I have an iPhone and am also enjoying the iOS version of Hangouts too. Hangouts are a great way for us to connect our classrooms to learn and collaborate globally.

10 Apps in 10 Minutes #chromebookedu

Recently my colleague Jill and I worked with some teachers during a PD day on finding great Chrome apps & extensions for learning. We thought we’d kick off the time together by picking 10 of our most favorite (picking only 10 is hard!) and sharing them with teachers in 10 minutes. We wanted to quickly get teachers excited about educational apps and extensions available to their students. We might have went just a tad over 10 minutes but nonetheless we kept it brief.

Here are the 10 we covered with a quick description as well as the link to the Chrome Web Store. I am also purposely keeping this post short so it takes 10 minutes or less to read. 🙂

1. Google Dictionary – a very handy extension to use in Chrome. Students can quickly look up the definition of a word by using the extension or directly; or double-clicking any word on a web page will bring up it’s definition and a sound icon to click and hear the pronunciation.

2. Pixlr Express – this app allows you to quickly and easily do some fun editing to any photos you have saved on your computer, in Google Drive, or even captured live via webcam. This is one of many apps that integrates easily with Google Drive.

3. Scratchpad – another app that works seamlessly with Drive. This one opens a new (smaller) window to give the user a basic note-taking application. The really nice feature is that a “Scratchpad” folder is automatically created in Google Drive with each note stored inside it.

4. Lucidchart for Education – students and teachers can quickly build diagrams, flowcharts, and concept maps with this web-based diagramming tool. Again, saves and syncs straight to Google Drive for easy access from any computer or to collaborate with a classmate.

5. Readability – this is an extension that strips all the extra “stuff” off of a news article or blog post. Many times advertisements and other links can be very distracting as students try to read content on the web (for teachers too!). The Readability extension gets rid of all those extra bits so you can focus on just the content.

6. Lego Builder– What kid (or adult) doesn’t love building with Legos? With the Lego Builder app you can build all kinds of fun structures. Students that love Minecraft will also find creating content enjoyable with this app too.

7. Isle of Tune – this is a great app for the musician in all of us. Create a town on your island and each element of your town has different musical properties.  Then as you send your cars driving around your newly built community your new tune will play.

8. MeeGenius – this is one of many great apps for younger grades to read and listen to online storybooks. Access a bookshelf full of the popular stories loved by many generations. Students can not only hear the book read to them but also see the words highlighted on the page as the story is read.

9. Typing Club – keyboarding skills and the necessity for students to have them are becoming more and more embedded in everything we do. Apps like Typing Club

10. Math Invaders – practicing math just got a lot more fun. Students can practice addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division in a game-like format.

The great thing about installing apps in Chrome (whether on a Chromebook or not) is quick and easy. With everything in Chrome staying in sync to students’ Google accounts, access to these apps is easy no matter which Chromebook or computer a student is using that’s connected to the web.

These are just a sample of the great educational apps available in the Chrome Web Store. Be sure to take some time to check them out! If you have any other favorites please feel free to list them in the comments!