The Awesome Read&Write Chrome Extension

The Read&Write Chrome browser extension from texthelp.com is a great accessibility extension for Google Apps schools. It includes text to speech, a talking dictionary, a picture dictionary, vocabulary tool and study skills tools that collect highlighted selections of a Google Doc. Best of all, it is free! You can get the extension here. HT to the awesome @mmcowell.

The text to speech functionality is particularly impressive, and is reminiscent of the Speak Selection or VoiceOver features found on the iPad. It has a choice of voices, and is a great feature for students who need text read aloud to them, or who would benefit from hearing their typed work read back to them for proof reading purposes. The speech to text also works on dictionary definitions of selected words.

The Picture Dictionary will pop up when you highlight a word and activate the Picture Dictionary button. Even if a student has read the dictionary definition, or had it read aloud to them, the pictures can be great for helping put things in context and give some visual clues to the meaning of a word. You can even use the images from the Picture Dictionary in your Google Doc by simply copying and pasting the image.

Study guides can be quickly and easily created with the vocabulary tool. Simply highlight a number of key words in a document, click on the vocabulary tool, and a new tab will open with a vocabulary table that includes the word, a definition of the word, and a number of associated clipart images. It works best, or causes the least confusion, with words that only have one meaning, but it is still a great feature to have.

So, if you are a Chrome user, and you have not yet taken Read&Write for a test drive, you absolutely should. It sits, unobtrusively, in your menu bar and only leaps into action when you want it to. The video below goes over its capabilities in more detail. Feel free to leave a comment on how you could use this tool to help benefit the students in your classroom.

More Digital Storytelling iPad Apps

digital storytelling apps for the ipad

I have recently added a new section to this site that is dedicated to iPad apps. I know that there are countless lists of apps out there, and more created every day, so these apps will be my own contribution to all that is good for teachers in a K-12 iPad classroom. They are some of my favorite apps, and the ones that I think give you the best bang for your buck.

Are the apps organized in the best possible way? Probably not, but I struggled with a way to this for a while. I have seen lots of good, (and bad), ways to organize apps. Spreadsheets, databases, lists, tables, standards, learning goals, and more. In the end, I opted for what made sense to me. The apps are organized in much the same way I organize apps on my iPad.

Could some apps appear in more than one category? Absolutely. In fact, the really good ones do. Teachers often ask me about a good app for Science or Math, and while there are some great apps dedicated to Science or Math, the apps I end up showing them are ones like Nearpod, Explain Everything or InfuseLearning.com, because these are apps that can be used in Science, Math, Language Arts, Social Studies and just about everything else!

So, the first group of apps I chose for this new section of the site are digital storytelling apps. I shared a presentation I gave on this topic at ITEC 2012 this year. There were many more apps that I wanted to include, but just didn’t have time for in that one hour session, so I added them all to a new page of digital storytelling apps, and I will update it with new additions whenever I come across new apps that are worthy of inclusion.

Future collections will include screencasting apps, note taking apps, assessment apps, PLN apps, and more. Stay tuned for further updates and feel free to add any app suggestions of your own as I look to build up this resource for others.

Evernote Updates Terms and Conditions for Using Evernote in Schools

Evernote announced today that they are updating their terms and conditions. The new changes will take place on December 4th, 2012, and there are some concessions made to educators among the new terms.

We’re thrilled with the number of educators and administrators around the world who have shown interest in using Evernote in their schools, so we have modified our contracts with respect to use by underage individuals who might not be old enough to enter into a contract on their own, including specific guidance for schools in the US where we want to ensure that the requirements of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act are satisfied.

So, what is new for educators? Well you can read the new terms and conditions in full here, but the important part for educators is quoted below:

Can Kids Use Evernote?

Of course, but Evernote is not currently directed to children and we expect that use by children will only be done with the guidance, supervision and consent of their parents, guardians and/or authorized school officials. Further, we rely on parents and guardians to ensure minors only use the Service if they can understand their rights and responsibilities as stated in these Terms and our Privacy Policy.

In the United States, if you are the sponsor of a Sponsored Group (the “Sponsor”), including an Evernote for Schools group, that includes children under the age of 13, you (or your school) assumes the responsibility for complying with the U.S. Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (“COPPA”) and, to the extent applicable, The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (“FERPA”). This means that the Sponsor must notify parents/guardians of the information to be collected and obtain parental/guardian consent before collecting and sharing with the Service the personal information of children under the age of 13 in order to establish an account or use the Service. Schools may under appropriate circumstances provide such consent on behalf of parents/guardians. For more information on complying with COPPA, see the Federal Trade Commission’s website at www.ftc.gov/COPPA.

If you are outside of the United States, please ensure that you are complying with any laws applicable to you before submitting any child’s personal information or permitting any child to submit personal information to us. If a school outside the United States wants to enable its students to use Evernote for Schools, Evernote will work with such schools on case by case basis to ensure compliance with any applicable laws regarding the collection of information from minors.

I’m not a lawyer, so I am not going to make any further interpretation of the terms as they stand, but I think it is a positive move to attempt to address the use of Evernote in schools, and any possible confusion or misinterpretations of the previous terms and conditions that were not specifically aimed at the use of Evernote in schools.

I am sure that there are already teachers out there that are already using Evernote with students under 13 because they have had parents set up the accounts in their names for students to use, or parents have signed off on generic school created accounts, but with these new guidelines, educators have a clearer vision of what is and is not acceptable in order to comply with legal requirements and Evernote’s  own terms and conditions.

So, what do you think about the new guidelines for using Evernote in Schools with those under 13? Does your school use Evernote with students who are under 13? How do you get around the legal implications of such a move, and would you be willing to share any of the documentation you send out to parents about this? Please share any feedback below.

iPad Tips for Teachers Using iBooks for Education

I’ve been spending a lot of time in iBooks recently, and have showed teachers a whole slew of features that are new, or not as well known, in Apple’s default e-reader. So, without further ado, here are a few of my favorites tips for teachers using iBooks in education.

1. Find Free Books

There are probably more free book titles in the iBooks Store than you might think, and they can be a great way to add to your classroom library without taking up any more valuable shelf space! Want to know a quick way to find them? Once you are in the iBooks Store, tap Top Charts, then tap Categories in the top left hand corner and select Children and Teens from the dropdown menu. Apple will then display a list of the most popular paid books on the left of your screen, and a list of the most popular free books on the right hand side of the screen. Try it with other categories like Reference, History, Science and Nature, and even Textbooks! Wait, free textbooks? Yes! There are a number of free academic textbooks available from the iBooks Store, including the highly regarded CK12 series.

2. Find Free Read Alouds

A number of titles in the iBooks Store come with a built-in read aloud feature that will read the text to students, and highlight words as it does so. This can be great for the struggling readers or those that need extra help with higher level texts. How do you know if your book is a read aloud book? Tap a page in the book, and look for the speaker icon on the black menu bar at the top of the page. If it is there, you can tap the speaker and choose to turn on read aloud, and even decide whether you want the pages to automatically advance, or be turned manually. A number of books also have “read aloud” in their titles, so you can search the store for “free read aloud books” to find a good selection to get started with.

3. Find Your Own Books

By now, you might have several shelves full of fine free books, but how do you quickly find the one that you want? You could take the time to manually sort them into alphabetical order, but every time you download a new book, it sits proudly at the first spot on your bookshelf, and that will quickly mess up your system. So, instead you can search for the books you need. While looking at your Library bookshelf, pull down with one finger to reveal a search bar at the top of your screen. You can search by title, author or keyword to find the book you need.

4. Find Books in Flipboard

This might be a little obscure, but Apple recently teamed up with Flipboard to let you find new titles from the iBooks Store right from inside the Flipboard app. Simply browse through Flipboard’s categories until you find Books. The sub categories are the same as that in the iBooks Store, so you can browse through a good selection of titles from inside Flipboard’s unique user interface. It seems like an unlikely alliance, but you’ll quickly find that the number of free books you find this way will be very limited. Apple is pushing only paid books through the Flipboard app. No real surprise there I guess.

5. Organize Your Books

While it might be nice to organize your books into folders, like you can with apps, it wouldn’t look right on Apple’s carefully designed bookshelves. However, you can bring some order to the chaos by creating additional book shelves and moving books of the same genre, or reading level, to sit on these new bookshelves. To do this, tap Collections in your Library, then tap New and give your bookshelf a name. Hit Done to create your new shelf. Next, tap Edit in the top right hand corner, select the books you want to put on your new bookshelf, and tap Move. Select your newly created bookshelf, and watch the books vanish to their new home. If you have a group of iPads that are shared between grade levels you could create separate bookshelves for different grade levels, teachers, or curriculum areas. Another compelling reason why iBooks is great for education.

Creating New Shelves in iBooks

6. Highlight, Add Notes and more

Although this doesn’t apply to all texts, many iBooks titles will let you highlight text and add sticky notes, just like you did in college with print versions. So, encourage your students to take advantage of this and teach them to be active readers. Simply press a finger on the text and drag it over a line or paragraph to highlight a section of text. Tap the highlighted section to change the color of your highlighter, or to add a sticky note. Tap it again and look for the share arrow so you can copy, or share your excerpt by email, Twitter, Facebook or iMessage. Useful, eh? Well, you can go one step further and tap the other white arrow and get the option to have your iPad read the selection aloud, (if you have Speak Selection turned on – more on that later).

Highlighting and adding notes to iBooks

7. Change Fonts, Themes and Scroll

Tapping the double “A” on the menu bar in the top right allows you adjust the brightness of your chosen text. You can also increase or decrease your font size by tapping on the capital As. Tap Fonts to choose from a variety of fonts for your text. Selecting Themes lets you change the background color of your page to Sepia or Black, and you can eliminate Apple’s newly patented page turning animations by activating the Scroll mode to turn your book into a web-esque reading experience that will scroll vertically through pages. These options may not appear on all book types, so experiment with the books in your library to see which ones have this and which ones don’t.

Changing fonts and themes in iBooks

8. Use Speak Selection to Read PDFs

Find the PDFs in your Library by tapping Collections and selecting PDFs. If you turn on Speak Selection (Settings > General > Accessibility > Speak Selection) you can use this feature to read PDFs aloud. You could always do this with Voiceover, but it was never ideal because it would read the whole page without the option to pause or stop the reading voice. It also made big changes to how you navigate the iPad. So, to speak selected text on a PDF, press and hold on a word until you see the magnifying glass, then release your finger. Drag the blue bars around the selected word to highlight a section of text you want read aloud, and then tap Speak in the black pop-up menu. This could be another great option for struggling readers or even as a test taking accommodation.

What’s Your Favorite Tip?

There are undoubtedly any other great tips for using iBooks in the classroom, but these are a great first few steps for new iPad users or those who are not as familiar with iBooks as they might want to be. So, what is your favorite iBooks tip for educators? Leave a comment below.

Google+ Comes to K-12 School Domains

Google announced today that their social network platform, Google+, is now going to be available for K-12 schools. Previously it was only available for businesses and government organizations. Google+ is similar to Facebook, but works on the premise that you sort the people you follow into circles. You can share information, links or media with circles of your choice.

Embedded within Google+ are the popular Hangouts – a video conferencing tool that lets you host multiple people at once in the same video call. Part of the announcement today was that Google has raised the limit on the number of people you can have in a Hangout. You can now have up to 15 people on the same call! The Hangouts have lots of built-in extras like screensharing, doc sharing, visual effects, and more. They can be scheduled in Google Calendar or joined right from Gmail.

Google+

Lots of Google based schools have been wanting to add Google+ to their arsenal of Google tool because the potential it has for the classroom could be huge. When you couple the Docs suite of tools with Google+, you could have something akin to an all-in-one learning management system that students could use to complete assignments and participate in class discussions.

Google+ should be available to all Google Apps schools in the next few days. Will you be among those first in line to put it to use, or are you waiting to see how others implement it in their schools? Leave a comment below.

Google Docs Storybuilder

So, have you seen the new Google Docs Stroybuilder tool? It’s very cool. Google have been promoting it with some fun videos like the one below, and it could be a big hit in the classroom if you are looking for a novel way for students to tell a story of their own, collaborate on a joint tale, or even just to help demonstrate the value of the editing process! Take a look at Google’s take on Hall and Oates…

How does it work? Simply visit the Gone Google Storybuilder and hit the big red button to get started. Then add the names of the characters you want to star in your story. Then fill out what you want each character to type, (overwriting or correcting the previous character where needed, and add some music. Once you are done you get a URL to share your story with others. Easy and fun.

Have you created a story that you would like to share with us? Leave a link in the comments below and share the creativity of your students or show us your own talents!

Adding an Apple Touch Icon to Google Sites

You’ve seen it before. You add a Google Site to the homescreen of your iOS device, and you get that generic Google Sites logo as your icon. For an individual user, it’s no big deal. However, for Google Apps schools, it is much more of an issue. They may want their students (or staff) to bookmark several different Google Sites websites. So, what would be a good way to differentiate between these sites on an iPad or iPod Touch homescreen? An Apple Touch icon.

The Apple Touch icon is a small image that will replace the generic Google Sites logo as the homescreen icon and help your bookmarks stand out more. They are easy to create, and require very little technical expertise. So, if you are interested in creating an Apple Touch icon for your Google Site, watch the video below. I made it in less than 5 minutes, and with a little bit of practice, so can you. All you need is a royalty free image, and a little imagination.

The ease at which an Apple Touch icon can be made will quickly compel you to add these to the default list of things you add to a new Google site, but don’t stop there, because you can add a favicon to a Google Site just as quickly.