Sunday, December 10, 2017

Inbox by Gmail for Educators Part 1

Email is something that has always just worked. We never really stopped to think if it was efficient or not. We just accepted it. We get an email and if we need to look for it later we just search and scroll around til we found it.

Well someone at Google decided to change the way we think email should work. Enter Inbox by Email. Inbox came out a couple years ago and like everything else with technology I jumped in. I used it with my personal email accounts for a few days and decided it wasn't for me. I can't really point my finger at one thing, it was just different. Then a few months later it was available for GAFE accounts.

Our district uses Outlook for email. I have never been a fan, so I decided to try it out. I simply
forwarded the Outlook account to our GAFE account. And within a few days, I found out that email could be "re-imagined". There is something nice about opening up my email and seeing this screen. Whereas my old email box always seemed cluttered and busy, Inbox works for you and only puts the important emails front and center. Inbox makes email more useful and introduces new ways to think how email should work.

So the question you might be having right around now is, why should I switch? Well, I have put together a list as to why you might want to make the switch and look into using Inbox. This first part will look at some of the new features that Inbox brings to email.


This is probably one of the strongest features introduced with Inbox. Ask yourself if this sounds familiar, you have a special bell schedule for an assembly. You are sent the schedule a week in advance. Then the day of the schedule comes up and you don't know where the schedule is. You then spend a few minutes trying find it. Snooze takes care of that problem. Now when you get that email, you can Snooze it to the day of the assembly. Inbox will basically "re-deliver" the email again. So it will pop up again like it is being delivered for the first time. 

That in itself is impressive, but Snooze can also be used with locations. If you have the app installed on your phone, you can Snooze an email to come back when you get to a certain location. Have a meeting at the district? Is there an agenda attached to an email? Snooze it to come back when you reach the district. As soon as you reach your destination, Inbox will use your phones location and re-deliver it.


This is another new feature Inbox has. Done is what allows you to keep your Inbox clean. Right now if you want a clean inbox, you need to either delete the emails or move the emails into folders. Inbox focuses on the emails you want to see. If you don't want to see them, you can just mark them Done. The nice thing about Done is that the emails aren't deleted. They are just moved from the main Inbox. This keeps your Inbox clear of any junk or unimportant emails that are in there.

Bundled Emails
Bundled works to put all the emails into a separate folder. Now this feature has a similar function in Outlook, but Inbox takes it a little further. First off, it is easy to set up. If you put an email into an existing Bundle, Inbox will ask if you want to do this all the time.  The killer feature that Inbox introduces is the ability to have Bundles appear in your Inbox when you want them too. For example, I get a lot of newsletters from certain sites. I don't have time to look at them as they come in. So have Inbox set up to put the emails into a Bundle and only have that Bundle appear in my Inbox once a week. 


Ever read something and write a post it note to remind yourself of something? Well Inbox has a Reminder feature built in. This has replaced post it notes for me. I get something and simply create a Reminder. Reminders are automatically pinned to the Inbox. And like everything else, you can set your Reminder for a date/time or location. 

Those are some of the new features that Inbox brings to email. It will seem different at first, but give it some time. Inbox will change the way you think of email. The next part will focus on some of the other features that make Inbox worth the switch.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Google Classroom tips for Administrators

Google Classroom is a great tool for teachers. Teachers can share notes, post assignments, give instant feedback, and now teachers can push assignments just to certain students. So how can these tools for teachers be useful to an administrator?

  • Administrators have to do annual evaluations on teachers. "Assign" their pre-evaluation forms to the specific teachers. Teachers can fill out their evaluations in a Google Doc and the administrator can see it right away. Teachers will love the idea of not having to download the file, edit it in Word, then attaching it back into another email. Everything is done in Classroom and never leaves. No more losing attachments.
  • Give out beginning of the year packets to staff. These can include, but not limited to emergency information, maps, schedules, catalogs, and any other paperwork that will most likely get lost in the first weeks of school.
  • Staff meeting notes can be given ahead of time. Have powerpoint to share? Put it on Google Classroom and let them preview it ahead of the meeting. 
  • Post a question to the staff about best practices or informal feedback about an idea. Google Classroom allows for questions to be asked. Have the teachers share some of their best practices. Perhaps a teacher can't be apart of after school committees, post a question and get more feedback from the staff.
  • Post a website or a video that you want the staff to watch or read. 
  • An extra benefit, anything posted to the Classroom will automatically email the "students" in the class alerting them to new assignments or announcements.
  • And many more...

The main benefit of using Google Classroom for an administrator is organization. Teachers will love the idea of not having to searching through their email accounts searching for specific emails. Everything that is important for the staff will be in one place. Google Classroom is a great tool for all educators and should be considered by anyone in education.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Thoughts on Windows 10S

So today Microsoft announced a new version of Windows 10, Windows 10S (the S stands for a few things, but also school). This is their new attack on Chromebooks and a way for them to try and get back into the education market, which has become dominated by Chrome OS devices.

Now I said before, I was a Windows guy. I loved Windows. I really felt like Windows 8 was going to change the direction of computing. But then I realized, Windows is still Windows. It didn't matter if it was Windows 7, 8, 8.1, or 10, Windows was going to have the same problems.

So what is Windows 10S? It is a stripped down version of Windows that allows for apps to be added only through the Windows App Store. So no downloading of programs here. Sound familiar? It should.

Here are my initial reactions to today's announcements;

  • If you can upgrade to Windows 10 Pro for $49, then Windows 10S isn't really "light weight". A pro version of Windows 10 is in there, in the background.
  • How will Windows 10S run on "low end machines"? Chrome OS is nice because it just needs a Celeron processor and 4GB of RAM and you are good to go. Windows is a notorious resource hog. 
  • Why did they announce the Surface Laptop today? Windows 10S is supposed to compete with Chrome OS, so why show off a $999 laptop that runs it? Sure Google had the Pixel, but that was only released after people got used to Chrome OS and could really use a high end machine. Windows 10S is untested.
  • A free year of Minecraft & Office 365...ok what's the pricing after? So schools are going to be burdened with the cost of maintaining these programs versus the free GAFE. 
  • Microsoft has a long way to go to master the whole collaboration thing within Office. Students are getting used to sharing documents and working on them together in real time. 
  • I didn't see anything mentioned about Microsoft Classroom or anything else that makes current GAFE schools make the switch. 
  • What will the low end laptops look like after 1-3 years? I have had my class set for 3 years now and use them daily. They are still as fast as they were day 1. I have had 2 broken screens & 2 keys pop off of 2 machines. How will the Windows 10S machine hold up? Will they still be fast 2 years later? 4 years later? Or will the background resources finally clog them up and slow them down?
  • It only runs Edge for a browser. That means lack of extensions. I have so many extensions on my Chrome OS log in that it makes Chrome OS function more like a full OS. Those extensions are no where to be found in Edge.
Those are some of my gut reactions reading and watching the announcements today. For me, I was hoping for more classroom announcements, but I guess that will have to wait. 

As for me, I'm not changing anything. I am sticking to Chrome OS. I don't see any reason to make the switch back to Windows. 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

And the winner is....

...Chrome OS of course. Was there any doubt? The only reason I am writing this is because I realized that this blog was started 3 years ago to see if Chrome OS could replace Windows for me and it does. Heck I knew that 2 years and 10 months ago. Now this is a long post, but I felt it was a good time to sum it all up.

So before everyone starts telling me I hate Windows & Apple, let me clear some things up. First, I do hate Apple :-) note because they make junk. They make solid devices. I think they are over-priced, especially when they went to an Intel processor and still charged a ton. I also don't like the fact they lock down their devices so much. I like a little freedom and the ability to make it my own unique device. 

As far as Windows goes, back in 2012 I was a total Windows nut. I read all about the Windows 8 preview builds and was excited for what they were offering. I even went as far as to partition my hard drive and install the preview build on my work laptop. In fact, in 2012 this blog would have been called Windows 8 Challenge. It was exciting to see a new Windows. Add onto the fact they were promising one log in across all devices that would sync apps & data was mind blowing at the time. I couldn't imagine logging into a Windows tablet and having all my work apps & data there right away. I was such a Windows fan I was considering dumping my Android phone for a Windows 8 phone. 

At this time our work actually had a Chromebook on the campus, the Samsung Series 3. I remember looking at it thinking, it's just a browser. What can it do? It did boot fast, our laptops were taking minutes (5+ to boot), but web-based apps really weren't a thing in 2012. And all of the apps in the Chrome web store looked like links to websites. I was disappointed and kept my eyes on Windows 8. 

I never made the switch though. I saw that while Windows 8 was great for touch devices, on my work desktop it was difficult to operate with a mouse and keyboard, not impossible, but a lot of unnecessary clicks. And plus let's face it Windows is always going to be Windows

So when Windows 10 was getting hyped, I never looked into it. I installed it on my laptop, but that was at the beginning of my challenge and I couldn't deal with the long boot times, Cortana popping up randomly and Edge being a browser but not really cause it didn't work on some websites. 

Chrome OS delivered on all the promises of Windows 8. I can log into any Android phone, Chrome OS device or even a Chrome browser on Windows or Mac OS and have access to all of my files and settings. Flash drives are a thing of the past for me. Worrying about whether or not my file saved is a thing of the past. Chrome OS just works and it does it well. It doesn't run everything, but with Chrome Remote desktop you have access to your regular computer. My wife had a to use a specific program for her doctorate program and needed it for class. She didn't have it installed on her laptop because the program was for one computer only. So what did she do? Install CRD and use her computer through her HP Chromebook at school. 

Windows tried to downplay Chromebooks and Chrome OS, but now they see the gains, especially in the education market, and are trying to play catch up. Microsoft introduced One Drive, real-time collaborating on Word, Microsoft Quizzes, and Microsoft Classroom. Sound familiar? Google Drive, Docs, Google Form Quizzes, and Google Classroom. Microsoft is so busy playing catch up, that they aren't innovative. Google is still releasing new products to help out students & educators. 

Computers are changing. The need for super powerful computers with tons of storage aren't necessary anymore and wen-based apps are improving daily. Chrome OS can do everything I need from a computer and I would be willing to bet it would work for you too.

Friday, March 10, 2017


I just noticed it has been a long time since I have posted anything on this blog, so I thought I would update everyone on what has been happening.

  • I am still using Chrome OS exclusively. I have my site issued laptop, but it just sits next to my desk and doesn't even get powered on. I seriously wished we would have gone with some type of Chrome OS device for the staff, but I gave them reasons why and that's all I could do. At work, I have my Asus Chromebox and at home I use my Dell Chromebook 13. It is so nice to have everything just sitting there as soon as I log in. Nothing to take home, no worrying about forgetting something, it's just there when I log in.
  • My students still use their Chromebooks everyday. Having Chromebooks has really opened up and made me rethink the way I teach and assess. Honestly, I really want to get a class set of the Acer Spin 11 Chromebooks with the stylus support. Imagine being able to hand write in notes and have them at a moments notice. Add in the fact the recent integration of Google Keep into Google Docs and this is a no brainer.
  • Personally, I am looking closely at the Samsung Chromebook Pro. I have a Note Pro 12.2 that I use with my students to do notes on. But the Android version of Docs doesn't show up the same as they see. Also some of the formulas I use don't show. So using a Chromebook would mean I see what they see exactly. So I am probably going to sell the Dell Chromebook and use that to get the Samsung model.
  • Professionally, it is frustrating at times trying to convince people of the simplicity of Chrome OS & Google Apps for Education. I feel like I am at a point where it is more trouble to push something than to just give up. I have tried to implement various things within my department & the school and just get complaints. I showed the principal a Staff Resource shared document that had calendars, links, forms, and other things important to teachers. The idea is to cut back on emails with attachments. If you have one place for all the information, no need to search your inbox for it. Attachments of rosters would be gone because the rosters would be online and changed whenever the owners made changes. It started fine, but wasn't supported by admin and is dying a slow death. Moving my Geometry team to Google Calendar from the old paper pacing guide has been a mess too. I put links and attachments in the calendar and still get staff wanting email attachments. I created an online referral form for the staff to cut back on the paper referrals and it is sitting in limbo. Tried moving AP Applications to a Google Form to where the teacher would literally do nothing and it would flag who is in and who is out automatically, that is dead. They went with a Google Form that will still require the teacher to go through student by student. Frustrated beyond belief right now. I honestly don't know what to do and it is tiresome.

So that's where I am right now. Hopefully, I will get something posted before end of school. Maybe the next post will be about my new Chromebook.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Using the SAMR Model to Improve Learning with Technology

This is a guest post by my friends at GoGuardian. Special thanks to them for the post, especially Alex Wagner & Dan Russ. Thanks.
Using the SAMR Model to Improve Learning with Technology

SAMR is a way to understand the progression of technology adoption and usage in the classroom, and is a great way to think about how best to implement technology in your own classroom or district.
SAMR has four distinct, sequential stages: Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, and finally, Redefinition. Each describes a different stage that, intentionally or unintentionally, most classrooms find themselves in when using technology. First conceptualized by Dr. Ruben Puentedura, the SAMR Model provides an outline that can help school districts maximize the benefit and return on investment from technology investment by encouraging them to take advantage of new approaches in pedagogy.

Explaining the SAMR Model

Let’s go over each of them in order, and use the student task of writing a persuasive essay and how different tools change the nature of the task:

Substitution is when a new technology, like a basic word processing device, is used in place of a pen and paper for writing a persuasive essay. Although writing and editing text is easier thanks to being able to replace text without having to manually erase anything, the student cannot use the word processor to add to or significantly modify the essay.

Augmentation occurs when an adopted technology, like Microsoft Word, allows students to more easily complete their persuasive essay than with a pen and paper. However, although students can use spell check, access a thesaurus, and see a word count to improve their essay, the nature of the task does not fundamentally change.

Modification is when new technology tools allow for the nature of the task itself to start changing. With the advent of Google Docs and other cloud-based word processing tools, students are now able to collaborate on the same essay in realtime, request feedback from teachers in the form of inline comments, and share documents instantly and globally.

Redefinition is the final stage of the SAMR Model, and occurs when tasks can include new and previously inconceivable components. For example, students could interview subjects for their persuasive essay over Google Hangouts or Skype and include the video in their essay, or build a 3d model of their subject’s village and show it to their teacher using a virtual reality (VR) headset like the Oculus Rift.

Why Is It important to Understand the SAMR Model for My School?

Simply put, it’s a question of not wasting money and squandering limited resources. If a science class continues to require students to write text-only research reports, and does not incorporate multimedia and live, multi-student collaboration tools, was it really worth investing in 1 to 1 laptops for each student instead of using a single computer lab? If classroom assignments -- and learning opportunities -- do not grow and change after spending hundreds of dollars on a device for each student, could that money have been spent better elsewhere?

The problem of squandered technological investments is not new to the 21st century, and did not even come with the advent of widespread personal computer adoption. In fact, this problem was understood as early as 1971:

The phrase, “technology and education” usually means inventing new gadgets to teach the same old stuff in a thinly disguised version of the same old way. Moreover, if the gadgets are computers, the same old teaching becomes incredibly more expensive and biased towards its dumbest parts, namely the kind of rote learning in which measurable results can be obtained by treating the children like pigeons in a skinner box.

Seymour Papert, from “Teaching Children Thinking”

That’s a great theory! How does it pan out in the real world?

Okay, I Get It -- Lessons Should Take Advantage of New Technology. How Have Schools Adapted?

In 2007, the Munich International School in Germany initiated a rollout of Apple devices for its students in a 1 to 1 program. The rollout included a series of workshops for students that were focused on not only good digital citizenship, but also what being a good digital citizen meant now that each student had their own laptop and ready access to the internet.

The Munich International School approached the challenge of their technology rollout with a revised version of an old adage: “Good things come to those who plan — not wait.” To help ensure an effective rollout and better learning opportunities for students, the school followed Dr. Puentedura’s SAMR Model carefully, arguing that “All educators involved in technology-rich learning environments understand the need to be clear with faculty about the expectations of technology use and learning.”

Each student at the school was asked to examine the internal and international migration patterns in the Americas during the early 20th century, and what influenced whether or not an individual might migrate. Students were tasked with creating a fictional, but plausible, person whom may have lived during this period, and to answer a question: what types of events would force such a person to leave their home?

Before Adopting New Technology

Before the initiation of the 1 to 1 device program, students presented their findings with an oral presentation, with some students using an overhead projector for images, and handing in a printed script to their teacher. While they may have substituted the use of an overhead projector to help improve their presentation, the nature of the assignment was essentially the same.

After the Adoption of a 1 to 1 Technology Policy: Using Technology to Redefine Learning

Teachers at the Munich International School radically redesigned the project, leveraging the unique advantages provided by a 1 to 1 technology policy. Although the goal of the project was similar — to create empathy for migrants in order to understand migratory movements — the actual project was dramatically different.

Now, students were tasked with the creation of a short digital story, of which they were the directors, producers, and actors. Instead of reciting a presentation in front of a classroom, students recorded video, added era-appropriate music, and used old images that “were able to invoke empathy for their story’s characters.” With the addition of multimedia and the ability to step into their character’s shoes, students “created a product that invoked in the viewer strong emotions."

“These powerful stories remain with us, and could not have been produced had it not been for the intentional user of the technology alongside a solid understanding of the learning outcomes of the unit of study (Redefinition in the SAMR model)."

So how does this apply to my school?

There is an important lesson to be learned here: that it is not enough to replace notebooks with laptops, or ink pens with Evernote. Teachers and administrators must constantly evolve their lesson plans, how they approach using technology, and what their educational goals are to produce successful and well-rounded students.

This quote from David Geurin summarizes SAMR nicely:


Further Reading & Learning about SAMR

10 ways to reach SAMR’s redefinition level, A collection of ideas to modify lesson plans to more fully take advantage of technology and the internet.
The SAMR model: engage in deep learning and authentic contexts, A concise overview of the SAMR Model, with a different take on using word processors in the classroom.
SAMR Model Musings, Includes an interesting, non-technology based shift from regular note taking to sketchnoting.
SAMR - Belongs in a School Near You!,

What is the SAMR Model and what does it look like in schools?,
SAMR in 120 seconds,

“A Learning Story from the Foothills of the Alps,”

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Review Dell Chromebook 13 (i3 & touchscreen)

So here is a look at my 2nd high end model Chromebook I recently bought. I was really impressed with the HP Chromebook 13 and really thought of it as a real laptop replacement for teachers. The only concern that has come up since then is that it is so thin, could it be damaged easily? I don't know about that, but if that is your concern for a Chromebook and you still want high end, then the Dell 13 is probably for you.

It was made specifically for business users. And because of that the build is a little beefier. It feels more solid. Where as the HP was just a beautiful machine in terms of design, screen, and weight, the Dell 13 sacrifices some of that weight in favor of a more solid build. This thing can take a beating. It feels solid in the hands, but not too heavy. The keyboard is back-lit and spill resistant. And speaking of keyboards, man is this thing a pleasure to type on. I used to read reviews about great keyboards and it never really meant anything to me, but after typing on the Dell keyboard (and HP) a good keyboard goes a long way.

The top of the Chromebook has a sort of rubberized material on it that I am sure will hold up against scuffs and scratches. It also makes the laptop easier to hold onto and grip. The screen is gorgeous. Is it better than the HP? Probably not, but it definitely holds its own. Everything looks so good on it. Going split screen isn't a problem either as the 13.3 inch screen is plenty large for this mode.

It is definitely thicker than the HP Chromebook, but still thinner than my work laptop. Not to bash on Windows but when was turning on my new work laptop for pictures, it had one of those "we ran into some problems and need to restart your computer". Nice. 1 day old. 

Battery life is awesome as well. I have charged it one time and haven't needed to recharge it yet. Obviously I haven't done a lot of work on it, but still as of right now I have 81% battery left and 10 hours of time left. Amazing.

Oh yes, the elephant in the room...touchscreen. I went with a touchscreen model because as you know Android apps will soon make their way to Chrome OS and I thought touch might be helpful. Since I have had the laptop, I don't really find myself using touch that often. Part of that reason is that the trackpad is perfect. It is made of glass and responds perfectly to every touch. I have had or used about 9 laptops on my lifetime and this one is hands down the best. So in terms of keyboard and trackpad combo, I don't think I have ran across one that is this well put together. So touchscreen isn't a make or break. It is a nice addition, but as of right now, not a necessity.

So how to does the i3 compare to the m3 of the HP? Well on the Octane benchmark, the HP was around mid 22,000's - low 23,000s. The Dell's i3 is usually in the mid to high 19,000's. I have ran the test a few times and haven't seen it crack 20,000 yet. Am I saying it is slow? Definitely not. Still boots in under 8 seconds and flies on everything I throw at it. My i3 Chromebox scored in the 15,000s so it is definitely an improvement.

Overall, it is easily one of the best Chromebooks out there. If you were looking to buy one, I am sure you could get away with getting the Celeron version with no touch. Everything else is standard, keyboard/trackpad & screen are the same on every model. I am curious to see how the touch screen plays out, but definitely impressed and happy with this machine.