Thursday, February 22, 2018

The Built-in Google Docs Features Starter Pack

I test and write about a lot of Google Docs Add-ons and built-in features. But you certainly don't need to use all of them. In fact, I'm often asked for a list of the "must-know" features instead of all of the "could use" features. Here are ten features that new users can benefit from learning early on.

1. Font options
Besides the default options in the font drop-down menu there are hundreds of other options available when you choose "more fonts" at the top of that menu. And while we're on the topic of fonts, it is possible to change the default font.

2. Page formatting
In the "File" drop-down menu you'll find a "page setup" option that allows you to change page orientation, set margins, and even change the page background color.

3. Find and Replace (Ctrl + H)
The next time you find yourself sitting down to start writing summative reports before parent-teacher conferences, create a template that you can quickly modify for each student. Then you can use the find and replace function to quickly change names, adjectives, and even entire sentences without having to create each report from scratch.

4. Personal dictionary 
In the "tools" menu select "personal dictionary" to teach the spell check to ignore the spelling of names or other words that are often marked incorrect by spell check despite being spelled correctly. For example, the last name of a friend of mine is Wankowicz, that name is never recognized by spell check unless the spell check is customized through the "personal dictionary" function.

5. Custom spacing
The default line spacing in Google Docs is 1.15. You can change that to anything you like, if you know where the line spacing settings are found. You can find the settings in the "format" menu. You can also find it in the toolbar. See the screenshot below for direction on finding the line spacing settings in the toolbar.
Click image to enlarge.

6. Version history
This feature was formerly called "revision history." Select "version history" to find the various iterations of your document. You can set different names for each version. This is a great feature for seeing the evolution of a student's document.

7. Adding collaborators
Click the "share" button in the upper, right corner of your document to invite people to become collaborators on your document. You can give people full access to edit your document or you can restrict them to only being able to make suggestions and comments on your document.

8. Lock shared documents
Google Docs includes the option to make your document available for anyone to view even if they don't have Google accounts. But just because people can view your document it doesn't mean that they have to be able to make copies of or print your document. Use the "advanced" option on the sharing menu to disable the option to print or copy your public documents.
Click image to enlarge.


9. Insert drawings
Need to insert a signature? Want to quickly add a flow chart to a document? Use Google Drawings within your document. You'll find that option in the "insert" drop-down menu.

10. Export your document.
Prefer to print a PDF? Have someone who insists that you send him or her a Word file attached to an email instead of using Google Docs? You can do both of those things by selecting "download as" in the File menu.

Are you new to use Google Docs or G Suite for Education? Take my G Suite for Teachers course to learn everything you need to know to feel comfortable using it in your classroom. 

How Birds Learn to Sing

Spring isn't too far away and soon we'll start to see and hear the songs of more birds around my home here in Maine. If you also live in a cold, northern climate the sounds of the birds is a welcome sign of spring. Why do birds sing? And how do they learn the songs that they sing? The answers to those questions and more are revealed in a new TED-Ed Lesson titled How Do Birds Learn to Sing?


After learning how birds learn to sing, have your students explore The Wall of Birds interactive mural produced by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The mural features a variety of birds that when clicked on reveal information about that bird, audio of that bird's call, and a map of that bird's natural range.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Three Tools for Combining Maps With Timelines

Creating timelines whose events are directly connected to a map display is a good way for students to see correlations between locations and events. Here are three tools that students can use to create mapped timeline stories.

StoryMap JS comes from the same people that offer Timeline JS. On StoryMap JS you can create mapped stories. On StoryMap JS you create slides that are matched to locations on your map. Each slide in your story can include images or videos along with text. As you scroll through your story there are simple transitions between each slide. StoryMap JS integrates with your Google Drive account. To get started with StoryMap JS you have to grant it access to your Google Drive account. StoryMap JS will create a folder in your Google Drive account where all of your storymap projects will be saved. With StoryMap JS connected to your Google Drive account you will be able to pull images from your Google Drive account to use in your StoryMap JS projects.

MapStory is a free tool for creating mapped displays of data sets. Data sets that are time based, the travels of Genghis Khan for example, can be set to play out in a timeline style on your map. Creating a MapStory might look complicated at first glance, but it's actually quite easy to create a map. To get started select a data set or sets that you want to display on your map. You can choose data sets from the MapStory gallery or upload your own. After choosing your data set(s) select a base map. After that you can customize the look of the data points on your map and or manually add more data points to your map. The notes option in MapStory lets you create individual events to add to your map and timeline. Lines and polygons can also be added to your projects through the notes feature in MapStory.

The Google Earth Tour Builder allows students to create Google Earth tours in their web browsers. The Tour Builder uses a slide-like format for creating tours. Each slide or stop in the tour can have a date or range of dates attached to it. The tour places in the sequence that students build the stops in the tour. Have students create the stops in the tour chronologically to tell a timeline story.

Loom Adds Options for Grouping and Sharing Videos

Loom is a free tool for creating screencast videos in your web browser. Loom even has an option to create screencasts directly from your inbox to use as responses to emails. Today, Loom announced two beta features.

The first new feature allows you to organize your Loom screencast videos into groups. The second new feature will let you share an entire folder of videos with the person or people you want to watch the videos. These new features are in beta and are gradually rolling out to current Loom users.

If you haven't seen Loom in action, watch the following video to see how easy it is to create a screencast with Loom.

ChronoZoom is Closing Soon

ChronoZoom, a good tool for creating multilayer timelines, is shutting down on March 15th. Roland Saekow, ChronoZoom's co-founder, announced the closure through an email sent to ChronoZoom users. In the email Seakow announced that public projects will be archived and made available for download. Directions for making your projects public can be found in this Google Document.

ChronoZoom was a great tool for making timelines that displayed multiple layers so that viewers can see how events and eras overlap. If you're looking for another tool that can be used in that way, try Timeline JS.