Wednesday, January 4, 2012

10 Useful Chrome Web Apps and Extensions for Teachers and Students

As was reported by numerous news outlets, at the end of 2011 Google's Chrome surpassed Mozilla's Firefox to become the second most-used web browser. If you're one of the people that made the switch to Chrome in 2011, here are some extensions and Chrome web apps that you and your students should find handy.

Printliminator is a handy little bookmarklet for Firefox, Chrome, and Safari. Printliminator allows you to highlight a webpage and select only the elements which you wish to print. You can install Printliminator in seconds by just clicking and dragging it into your browser's toolbar. Watch the video below to learn more about Printliminator.

Speech recognition software can be very pricey, but adding a speech recognition option to your computer doesn't have to be expensive. The Speech Recognizer, available through the Chrome Web Store, is free and easy to use. To use the Chrome Speech Recognizer just install it from the Chrome Web Store, launch it, then click the microphone to start taking and recording your voice. The Speech Recognizer will type out your text when you finish recording. You can then copy and paste your text to the paragraph box below the Speech Recognizer or to a document you have open in Google Docs.

A Cleaner YouTube is a browser extension for Chrome, Firefox, and Safari. Once installed A Cleaner YouTube allows you to display YouTube videos without any of the "related videos," comments, or display advertising. There are other tools that do the same thing, but what makes A Cleaner YouTube different is that not only can you display videos without the related materials, but you can also search YouTube without viewing any of the "related videos," comments, suggested videos, or advertisements. is a free online graphing utility that I found in the Google Chrome Web Store. allows you to plot multiple functions through its dynamically resizing grid. To graph an equation on just click the "+" symbol to enter a new equation. Click here to watch a short video of in use. One thing that the video doesn't show and isn't clear the first time you use is that you need to delete the existing default equations before you start.

Google Related is a new extension for the Google Chrome Browser that will display related links on the webpage that you're currently viewing. Here's how it works; conduct a Google search as you normally would then when you open a webpage Google Related will display some suggested items at the bottom of the page. Watch the video below to see it in action.

Google Related is also available as part of the Google browser toolbar.

Snapify is a free Google Chrome extension that allows you to highlight a word or phrase on any webpage and quickly find more information about that word or phrase. Here's how it works; with Snapify installed you simply highlight a word then click "Snap It." When you click "Snap It" a dialogue box appears with information from Wikipedia, Google Search results, YouTube Videos, Tweets mentioning your highlighted word, and a Google Map.

Speak It is a Google Chrome extension that enables you to have the text on most webpages read to you. With Speak It installed just highlight the text on a the page you're viewing then right-click to activate Speak It. Then click the play button to have the text read to you. The voice is very digitized, but it is clear. Installing Speak It takes just a few seconds. To install it go to Speak It's page in the Chrome Web Store and click the install button. Restarting your browser is not required in order to activate Speak It. If you decide that you don't want to use Speak It any longer you can uninstall it by right-clicking on the Speak It icon in your browser and selecting uninstall. A video demonstration of Speak It is embedded below.

If you're like me, you're probably guilty of occasionally wasting time on Facebook and other social sites when you should be doing something more important. Stay Focused is a Chrome extension designed to help you stop wasting time on those sites and get your work done. With Stay Focused installed you can set a time limit for yourself on the sites that you tend to waste time on. Once you've used up your self-allotted time on those sites you won't be able to revisit them in that browser until the next day (or other time you select).

ChromeVis is a Google Chrome extension designed to make it easier for people with vision impairments to read the content of webpages. When installed ChromeVis allows you to highlight the text on any webpage and have it enlarged and placed on an easy-to-read background. Your highlighted text appears in a pop-up box over the original page so that you can quickly go back to the original source if you want to. ChromeVis can be adjusted to meet your text size and text color preferences.

Google Dictionary provides an easy and quick way to find definitions for any word you find online. With Google Dictionary installed in Chrome you can highlight and click on any word to reveal its definition and hear it pronounced. In video below Tekzilla provides an overview of Google Dictionary.

Wibbitz is an Interesting Way to View Blog Posts

Wibbitz is a new service designed to turn text-based blog posts into an interactive video. The basic function of Wibbitz appears to be grabbing the RSS feed of a blog, capturing the images from each post, and automatically reading the titles of each blog post aloud. People watching these videos can click on the title of each blog post as it appears in the video. I tried it out and as you can see in the video below, it works fairly well but you do have to have an image in each blog post or Wibbitz will just display a default image that it grabs from your blog.

Applications for Education
You don't have to input an RSS feed to use Wibbitz. You can also manually enter a series of links to sources from all over the web. By doing that you could create a short video about a particular theme or story circulating in the news. Wibbitz might be a neat way for students to organize and share information they've gleaned from the web.

Are You Part of the 1%?

No, this is not about the 1% that got the Occupy Wall Street movement going. This is about the 1% of U.S. citizens that according to Net Applications and Microsoft are still using Internet Explorer 6. If you are in that 1% or your school is still insisting on forcing students and staff to use IE 6, please consider the following.

Why you should update your browser.
As Microsoft itself announced last year, there are many security risks associated with using an outdated browser like Internet Explorer 6. To encourage people to move away from IE6 Microsoft launched IE6 Countdown to encourage people to update their browsers. Security issues isn't a problem limited to IE6. Older versions of other browsers like Firefox are also more susceptible to security threats.

Access to new features of new websites. Programmers launching new sites and services aren't designing their products for old browsers. If you're forcing teachers and students to use outdated browsers you're possibly preventing them from taking advantage of new educational resources.

How you can determine what browser you're using.
There is a simple way to determine what browser you're using; visit What Browser is a Google site that detects what browser you're using and displays that information right on the page in front of you.

What is a web browser?
Google explains the answer in the video below.

Can't see the video because YouTube is blocked where you're reading this? Wikipedia has an explanation of web browsers too.

An Excellent Set of Mobile Learning Activities

I shared this on my Android 4 Schools blog earlier, but because it encompasses more than just Android devices, I'm sharing it here too.

Jackie Gerstein has just published a great free ebook that anyone interested in using mobile devices as instructional tools should read. Mobile Learning Reflections is eighty pages of detailed examples of leveraging mobile devices to create meaningful learning experiences for students.

You can see the ebook as embedded below or visit Issuu to download a free copy for yourself.

Listen to Your Kids - A Great Book for All Teachers

I am often solicited with offers of free education books in exchange for reviews. Most of them I turn down for two reasons. First, I don’t have time to read that many books. Second, a lot of education books are focused on methodology that works in an “ideal” situation that isn’t the reality of what many teachers face. Tom Harvey’s new book, Listen to Your Kids, breaks that mold. Listen to Your Kids presents a message and methodology that are practical for all teachers regardless of what subject they teach, regardless of the age of their students, and regardless of the socio-economic backgrounds of their students. Tom Harvey’s book also breaks the mold of education books that I’ve read in the last few years because I actually cracked open my wallet to buy a copy for myself.

For background and full disclosure, Tom Harvey is a former colleague of mine at Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School. I had the pleasure of having lunch with him on a nearly daily basis for a few years before he retired in 2007. If you ask him what he taught, he’ll tell you “kids.” For those who care about content area, Tom taught English. In his retirement he wrote and published Listen to Your Kids. A week before Christmas I sat down with Tom to talk about his book.

Throughout Listen to Your Kids Tom Harvey uses the term “McEducation” to describe the state of public school education today. McEducation is the idea that schools are offering limited menus in a one-size-fits-all approach to teaching and testing. The pressure from the top from administrators, school boards, or politicians to have every student performing at the same level at the the same time on the same test has created McEducation. When I asked Tom for his solution to this problem, as you might guess,  he suggested spending time getting to know your students by listening to them and their problems.

In my experience “getting to know” our students is something that happens during the first couple of days of the school year when teachers roll out all of the camp games and other ice-breakers that we’ve picked up over the years. But when the pressures from managers of McEducation start to hit us, those “getting-to-know-you” activities disappear. As evidenced by the numerous stories in Listen to Your Kids, stories written by some of his former students by the way, Tom Harvey made every day a “getting-to-know-you” activity through out the year. As a case in point, consider this quote from one his former students:
“I miss you, I’ve been thinking about all I learned from you, and to be truthful, the English was secondary. Thanks for being a life teacher, for encouraging individuality and kindness. You are a great man.”

Listen to Your Kids is chock-full of wonderful stories from Tom, his former students, the parents of those former students, and his former colleagues. The story from his former colleague Sally Jones of seeing Tom strapped into a wheelchair by his students and raced down the hallway will bring you a chuckle. And the story of a boy named Duke who went from hating school and planning to drop-out to graduating from high school with honor roll grades will remind all educators why they entered the profession.  

As any good education book does, Listen to Your Kids offers advice on how to do what is modeled in the book. At this point you might be thinking, “Yeah, Richard, I’ve got it. Listen to your kids.” While most of us can hear, listening is a skill that not everyone who can hear has. In a two page chapter Tom provides clear directions on how to teach yourself and your students to really listen to each other.

Listen to Your Kids is subtitled Solutions for Distraught Teachers and Parents. I would argue, and I think that after reading it you will too, that the subtitle should be A Solution for Distraught Teachers and Parents. The solution to so many of the problems facing educators and parents today can be found in the title of Mr. Harvey’s book. On the surface the solution is simple. It’s a solution that all educators can support. However, when the pressures of politicians, school administrators, and other “stake-holders” push into our classrooms this simple solution is easy to forget. Through Tom Harvey’s stories accumulated over 34 years in the classrooms, the stories of his former students, and the stories of the parents of his former students we will all be reminded of the simple solution to so many problems in education, Listen to Your Kids.

Yes, Listen to Your Kids offers practical advice for educators and parents. Beyond that, it is a heart-warming collection of stories that will remind all educators why they entered the profession. The next time you’re feeling “burned out” or otherwise stressed about teaching, open to appendix A of Listen to Your Kids, read the stories that students sent to Tom, and have your spirits renewed.

You can connect with Tom through the Listen to Your Kids Facebook page or through the Listen to Your Kids blog.

You can buy Listen to Your Kids online through Amazon or Barnes & Noble. Or ask your local bookstore to get a copy for you.