Thursday, December 9, 2021

Helpful New Table Options in Google Docs

This week Google added a handful of helpful new features for customizing tables in Google Documents. A couple of the new features are things that I've wanted for years. 

The first new feature that I'm excited about is the option to specify that a table row not be split at a page break. Making that designation keeps the content of the cells in that row together instead of splitting it. I've wanted this option for years because I've always had to tinker with font size and spacing whenever I've wanted to keep a row from splitting. 

Another new feature that I've wanted for years and finally got to use last night is a drag-and-drop option for adjusting the order of rows and columns in a table. This is much easier than copying and pasting cell content to move it into a different order in a table. 

Some other new features of tables in Google Docs makes them act more like spreadsheets than simple tables. You can now pin rows to the top of a table and sort rows according to cell content. 

Finally, there's a new sidebar menu for setting the properties of your table. This doesn't materially change the settings options, it simply moves the menu. 

Applications for Education
This update to tables in Google Docs should make it easier for middle school and high school students to include simple data sets in things like science lab reports or school surveys.

As is the case with nearly all updates to Google Workspace tools, this update is rolling-out over the next couple of weeks. Some users may see the new features already and others may have to wait. I'm already seeing the update in my personal account but I haven't seen it in my Google Workspace for Edu account.

Blackbird Code Offers Two New Self-paced Coding Lessons

Blackbird Code is one of my favorite new educational technology resources launched in 2021. For Computer Science Education Week they've released two new self-paced, self-directed lessons through which students can learn a bit about JavaScript. 

The new Blackbird Code lessons are Tether Game and Screen Saver. The two lessons teach students how to create a simple game and a simple screen saver through the use of JavaScript. 

The best thing about Blackbird Code lessons, including these two new lessons, is that students choose how much guidance and direction they need. Blackbird Code provides students with a series of steps to complete by writing the JavaScript to create each part of either the Tether Game or the Screen Saver. Students can use just the basic instructions for each lesson or click on the definitions and "deep dives" embedded within the instructions. Those definitions and deep dives give students an explanation of what they're writing and puts the explanation into an applicable context. After each step of the lesson students can see their code run and debug as needed with guidance from Blackbird Code.

Applications for Education
If you're looking for some short, "Hour of Code" lessons to use with students in fifth through ninth grade, Blackbird Code's new lessons are definitely worth giving a try. Your students won't become master programmers in an hour, but they will learn more about how programs are written than if they just used a block editor.

Why Do We Have Winter? - Another Question from My Daughters

Yesterday afternoon I was playing outside in the snow with my five-year-old daughter when she asked, "why do we have winter?" She didn't ask in a complaining way (she loves playing the snow), but in a genuinely curious way. My short answer was that where we live on Earth is tilted away from the sun for part of the year and that's what makes it colder. She said, "okay, thanks Dad." When she's a little older I might show her the SciShow Kids and Crash Course Kids videos about seasons. 

Why do we have seasons? What causes the changes in weather patterns throughout the seasons? The answers to those questions and more are found in the following SciShow Kids video and Crash Course Kids video.

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Google's Favorite Chrome Extensions of the Year

On The Keyword Google has announced their favorite Chrome extensions of the year. I have no idea what the criteria was to be included in the list. That said, I took a look at the list and noticed that some of Google's favorite Chrome extensions are also some of my favorite Chrome extensions. Those favorites are Mote, Loom, Kami, Wordtune, and Nimbus Screenshot. 

What these extensions do.

Wordtune is a Chrome extension that provides suggestions on ways to rewrite sentences in your Google Documents, in your email (Gmail and Outlook), and in some social media accounts. Once you have Wordtune installed in Chrome you can simply highlight any sentence that you have written and click the Wordtune extension to have a list of alternate wordings suggested to you. The suggested alternatives appear as a list directly below your original sentence. You can replace your original sentence with a suggested alternative by simply clicking on the suggestion that you like. Here's a demo of Wordtune.

Nimbus Screenshot
Nimbus Screenshot is a free Chrome extension that I've been using and recommending for the last half-decade. It offers tools for creating screencast videos and annotated screen capture images. Nimbus Screenshot includes a feature called Select & Scroll that proved to be very handy to me last week. Select & Scroll lets you capture not only what is currently visible on your screen but also what's visible when you scroll downward.

I use Nimbus Screenshot in Chrome, but it is also available for Firefox, and Edge. A desktop version is also available. In the following video I demonstrate how to use Nimbus Screenshot to create annotated screen capture images.

Kami is a service that enables users to annotate and comment on PDFs. You can do this directly on the Kami website or in Google Drive with Kami's Chrome extension. Kami also works with Word and Pages files.

Here's a couple of videos about how Kami works.

Loom is a Chrome extension that I find handy for quickly recording screencast videos right from my inbox. With Loom installed I can simply click the Loom icon in Gmail and start recording a video to include as part of my response to an email. I've also used Loom to create whiteboard-style videos. Both of those things are demonstrated in the videos that are embedded below (email readers, you'll have to click through to see the videos).

How to record a video in Gmail with Loom.

How to make whiteboard videos with Loom and Jamboard.

Mote is a Chrome extension that lets you add voice recordings to Google Forms, Gmail, Google Classroom, Google Slides, and Google Documents. You can also use it to record a voice note and share it via QR code.

In this video I demonstrate how to install Mote and how to activate it in your Google account. 

How to record audio in Google Docs.

How to record audio in Google Classroom.

How to use Mote in Google Forms

Watch this short video about using Mote in Gmail to learn how to record and send a voice note. The video also shows how recipients can play your voice notes even if they don't have Mote installed in their web browsers.

Vocabulary Video Challenge

The 9th annual vocabulary video challenge hosted by The New York Times Learning Network is underway. The challenge asks middle school and high school students to create fifteen second videos about any of the nearly 2400 words on The New York Times Learning Network's Word of the Day list (link opens a PDF). In their videos students need to properly pronounce their chosen words then provide definitions of their chosen words. 

The New York Times Learning Network provides this one page guide (link opens a PDF) for teachers to share with students who want to participate in the vocabulary challenge. 

Videos created for the vocabulary challenge have to be uploaded to YouTube and the link to the video has to be included in the submission form found on the Vocabulary Challenge website. This is a time to review the privacy and sharing options available in YouTube. Here's my overview of settings to know when uploading to YouTube. And here's a little tutorial on creating a custom thumbnail for YouTube videos. 

Take a look at this compilation of last year's challenge-winning videos to get some inspiration for this year's video contest.

Applications for Education
Even if your students don't enter their videos into the contest, creating vocabulary videos can be a great learning activity for students. The tools that I'd use for making videos for this contest include ChatterPix, Adobe Spark, and WeVideo. Here's my overview of how kids can use ChatterPix to create short videos.

Thanks to Larry Ferlazzo for posting the reminder about this contest on his blog last week.