Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Quickly Find Images for Google Presentations

Back in May Google added an integrated research tool to Google Docs. The research tool allows you to quickly find images, quotes, and links without leaving your document.  Today, Google added the research tool to Google Docs presentations and drawings.

To access the research tool in Google Docs, Presentations, or Drawings just select it from the "tools" menu when you have a document, presentation, or drawing open. If you want to locate images that are licensed for re-use, open the "settings" menu at the bottom of the research pane and select "free to use, share, modify even commercially." Make that selection before conducting your search. If you use Chrome or Firefox you can drag images directly into your document, presentation, or drawing from the research pane.

Applications for Education
In addition to finding images on the web, the research pane in Google Docs now searches through images that you have stored and or shared in Picassa web albums and Google+ posts. If your students are using either or both of those services to store images the research pane could be a great tool for them to use to quickly recover and re-use their own content.  And, of course, the research pane on its own is a good asset to students when they're designing presentations in Google Docs.

theLearnia - Video Lessons with a Social Network

theLearnia is a new website that is organizing video lessons into collections. The service calls the videos "lessons" and appears to have plans for adding more to the lessons than just video clips, but that doesn't appear to have happened to most of the lessons. theLearnia has a social element that allows you to connect with other students and teachers to comment on videos and exchange public and private messages about lessons.

Applications for Education
Right now I think that the value of theLearnia is its organization of videos according to grade level and subject. In the future when there are more users theLearnia could be a good place to host informal online study sessions.

Chromebooks in the 7th Grade Classroom

Gene Tognetti is a 7th grade Social Studies teacher and vice-principal at St. Leo the Great in San Jose, California. This is Gene's account of using Chromebooks with students.

My school (St. Leo the Great in San Jose, Ca.) has three Chromebook class sets for an ‘in school’ 1:1 program (5th through 7th grades).  We’re a Google Apps for Education (GAFE) school. I teach 7th grade Social Studies, and the students use the Chromebooks daily.

Key Features and Activities
Our use of the Chromebooks has given me some insight regarding how to take best advantage of them. First, some general observations. The Chromebooks seem pretty rugged. Two Chromebooks have been dropped in the past year, with (thankfully) no ill effects. One simple, but key, feature is the ‘instant on’ nature of the device. I can ask kids to shut the Chromebooks at any time, if I need their full attention and want to avoid ‘computer distraction syndrome’. For instance, we’ll be working on a new Google Doc graphic organizer, and, if I need to give them an instruction, I ask them to shut the lid, instruct, then they can re-open and get right back on track. Sounds silly, but this is a big help, especially since more than a couple kids do have attention issues.... We also LOVE the long battery life. I teach at end of day, and the computers are still going strong at that time of the day.

We just completed our study of the fall of the Roman Empire, and I assigned the kids a large culminating project.

One early activity I had for the kids was to create a timeline of Roman Empire events using Google Draw. Draw was easy to learn and suited our needs, so in this case no timeline website was used. Students routinely take notes during class - from (short) lectures, while watching videos (guided and unguided), and for some formative assessments. Students collaborate with each other using various Google tools. For instance, student teams developed a brief Google Presentation that they used to teach others as the “expert” on a relevant Roman Empire topic they chose. The integration with Google Apps (the kids sign on to the device, then they are immediately online and connected to Google Apps) is great and saves more time.

One of our main tech goals is to use free web tools as much as possible. Since the Chromebook is an internet access device, its use is right in sync with our goals. The simplicity of most web tools we use - Google Apps are a good example - means students can concentrate on ‘higher order thinking’ skills (like evaluating and creating information), and not so much ‘how do I use this application?’  Students support each other very well - I’m very pleased to see them helping each other as questions arise. They generally love the Chromebooks. The computers are pretty speedy, and accomplish everything we want. 


The Bumps and Their Solutions
There have been some minor  bumps along the way. Early on, there were some network connectivity issues on a few Chromebooks.  Those were solved by ‘refreshing’ the OS (about a 10 minute process); those problems have (almost completely)  disappeared. Google also provides regular ChromeOS updates (which install fast and unobtrusively). The improvements have been continuous.  Printing using Google CloudPrint is still a work in process; it’s not always totally reliable. We don’t print much, so not a big deal so far.

Until recently, there were problems uploading small (30 to 60 second) video files to web-based editing sites. The problems included unsuccessful uploads, or an inability to edit clips. “Digital Storytelling”  is a key student skill here, so that was troublesome. We’ve started to use Pixorial and I’m very pleased to say that Pixorial’s video editing has been excellent. It’s reliable, the uploads are relatively speedy, the tool is simple to use, and the end results have been excellent. Their customer support - as I got up to speed on how to use the tool- is first-rate. Creating videos was a major part of the student work done for the culminating Rome project, and it was a success!

Here are some of the web resources students have used this year on the Chromebooks:

Gmail - ongoing two-way communication between students and me
Docs - video notes, lecture notes, formative assessments, assignment and project collaboration
Presentation - collaborative presentations with ‘student as teacher’
Calendar - piloting use of calendar for Fall of Rome project due dates
Forms - collecting “what do I want study?” student responses; “what did I learn today?” exit tickets
Draw (embedded in Doc) - Fall of Rome timeline with embedded images
Advanced Image Search - find copyright-friendly images for various assignments

Other tools:
Collaborize Classroom - For example “who is Rome’s MVP, and why?” conversation
Pixorial - students created video newscast for Rome project
Corkboard - project brainstorming list, shared with class
EasyBib - generate Sources Cited to include with Google Preso
instaGrok- for initial learning about a Roman Empire topic