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Sunday, April 23, 2017

Google Cast for Education

Since our 1:1 rollout, one of the most popular requests from teachers is a way for students to quickly share to a central display -- mainly, a projector screen.  There are various “sharetech” devices we have out in our district environment that help with this (AppleTV, Chromecast, Screenbeam), and the issues usually boil down to:
  • Two of these are not device agnostic (AppleTV only work with iOS devices, Screenbeam with WIndows).
  • This sharetech sometimes works inconsistently on school wifi, especially when students are on a different network than the teacher or the device itself.
  • The sharetech can be pricey, making a “per classroom” equitable solution costly.
  • Since many of our (older) projectors are VGA but these devices are HDMI, it requires adapters or special cables, costing even more money.
This year I discovered Google Cast for Education.  (Note: only people with G Suite for Education accounts can be “receivers,” but anyone with an updated Chrome browser can cast.)  It’s free, and works through the Internet, which means it doesn’t matter if people are on different networks.   Still, it sounded too good to be true.  Are you telling me that even on school networks, so long as the teacher is connected to his/her projector, a student could just share their screen with a click? Without buying any hardware?  For free??

After a request by Amy Dickenson (a fifth grade teacher at Painted Stone) for ways that students can share their screens, I took an investigative plunge.  As far as the answer to those three questions above, the short answer is: yes!  I next enlisted Ms. Dickenson and Dan Edelen (teacher at the 3PT program at Clear Creek) to try it out.  More on their findings below!

Here is a short (1:25) video overview of the tool from Google:

How does it work?  First, make sure your actual browser is logged into your G Suite for Education account.  Click on the little button in the top right of your browser that has your name.  Make sure the account shown is your G Suite — if not, log out and log in with the correct credentials.  

Next, the teacher should install the app.  Students do NOT have to add the app in order to cast to someone, so long as their Chrome browser is version 52 or higher.

Google has full directions for Google Cast online, but here’s an overview.

The first time you launch the app, it will ask to establish some settings.  
  • Choose a “Receiver Name” — that’s you!   (Something like “Mr. Watson’s Computer” is probably good enough.)
  • I would recommend checkmarking “Automatically full screen new presentation sessions” but leave the other two uncheckmarked.
  • You can always change the Settings later.
You are now ready to receive!   (You can close the app at any time and launch it when you like.  Remember, no one can cast to you unless you have the app running, and a student can never “hijack” your computer.)

In order for students to “find” you, teachers have to add student names to allow them to “see” your device.  Click the blue Share button while casting and add their Google account emails and the appropriate permission level.  (Can they present automatically as soon as you are casting, or have to request permission?)  This interface is very similar to how you would share a Google Doc with others.  Note that you only have to add the names once, not every casting session.  Also, Google Cast for Education automatically pairs up nicely with Google Classroom (you can set up permissions for an entire class instead of individual students).

Students can cast to the teacher’s device by:
  • clicking the Google Cast app icon in their Chrome browser and choosing the correct receiver name (if not installed, that’s ok…try the other two options)
  • right click inside their current Chrome tab screen, choose “Cast to…” and choosing the receiver
  • clicking on the Menu (three lines) or More (three dots) in the top right of browser, choose “Cast…” and choosing the receiver
You can choose to cast just the current Chrome tab or your entire desktop.

One last note: as a teacher, you could cast from one of your devices to another of your devices attached to the projector.  (For example, from your laptop to your desktop computer plugged up to the projector.)   Just follow the student instructions on your “mobile” computer to cast to the “fixed” computer, and follow the teacher directions on the receiving device.  You do NOT have to put yourself on the permission list.

An educator made a comprehensive video showing how to use Google Cast with shots of the teacher and student screens (5:34):

How could you use it?  Ms. Dickenson discussed how this makes student sharing so much easier.  For example, she has a student who will teach a seminar on how to turn Slides into a movie; the student presentation can be shared without plugging in and out of a projector.  It’s also faster casting versus sharing through Google Drive; with a click, the class can see the student tab/desktop.  With a “fixed” computer in place, others can easily be mobile and share (students AND co-teachers).  As Ms. Dickenson put it, “I like it, because it won’t always be my material on display -- it will be the students, too.  It gives them a voice, and help them believe what they create is important and they can change the minds of classmates, and even the world.”

Mr. Edelen was excited about the idea of creating stations around the classroom, centered around displays and Chromecasts.  (The ability to cast to a Chromecast as well as a receiver computer is built into the function and app.)   Sharing can occur at a rapid speed.  He also discussed experimenting with possibly casting a tab to one display while casting his desktop to another!

Downsides?  When I played with this on our network, I’ve noticed that when you set person for “Request permission,” there may be a long delay for the request to show up on the receiver device, or it may not show up at all.  You may need to play with permission access to get this to work; while “request access” is likely preferred, try “present automatically” if you have trouble.  (I should note that Ms. Dickenson and Mr. Edelen did not have any trouble.)  

If students install the Google Cast for Education app, they could cast on each other’s devices.   This could get troubling without the proper digital citizenship culture, but remember: you can only see a cast if the app is running, and casting can be controlled if the receiver makes sure they have to give permission first.  Also, you could argue that students can already share a Google file with “bad stuff” too.  

I hope that Google Cast for Education creates an easy and free way for students to share their presentations, exhibitions, and thinking in a whole class environment!  Be sure to share your stories and ways to use Google Cast below in the Comments.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Improved Google Integration with Schoology!

Back in 2015, our district purchased the Enterprise edition of Schoology.  It has grown to be a popular tool (as of a few months ago, our data analysis determined that three-fourths of our K-12 students and teachers are using it).  However, it is not the only learning management system in Shelby.  Google Classroom is popular among some of our instructors, who either use it instead of Schoology, or right alongside it (and Google Drive, of course).  The preference for Classroom usually is for one or both of the following reasons:
  • The Google Classroom interface is simpler, especially when dealing with Google files.
  • Google Classroom can "pass out" unique digital copies to students as well as organizing the editing rights (incorporating the name of the student in the name of the file, automatically creating folder structures for the files to be housed, and automatically changes the student's editing rights to "view only" once something is submitted).
The first reason comes down to what you prioritize: Classroom is one of the simplest LMS's to use, but at the sacrifice of the depth of options and tools that Schoology can do (especially the Enterprise edition). As for reason #2, that's about to be challenged!  While it has always been possible to use or incorporate Google files in Schoology Assignments, they were not as easy or seamless to distribute as the Google Classroom experience.  However, starting at the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year, this will change.  (It is worth noting that this update affects all users, both Basic [free] and Enterprise.)  I can say without hyperbole it's the most important update I've seen for Schoology since our district began using it two years ago, and I have a feeling it may convert some of our Google Classroom teachers to switch completely over to Schoology.

So, what might you expect this fall?  I participated in an informational webinar today, and here are some highlights.  Before we review the update, it's important to note that students AND teachers need to add the Google Drive app to Schoology if they haven't already (under Resources>Apps), and the user's school G Suite account is the credentials to use.

This graphic gives a good overview of what will change with the new integration:

From the 4/13/17 Schoology webinar.

Now when you create/edit an Assignment, you will see in the box an option to “Assign from App” (Google Drive).   Next, choose the file. You can now search or browse your Google files (previously you could only browse your files).  This creates a unique copy of the file for each individual student, just like Google Classroom does.   Also, just like Google Classroom, the teacher is the "owner" of the file, and a folder is created on both sides (student and teacher) where the new files will live.  Up to the due date, student can edit these files; after the due date, they will only be able to view unless the instructor chooses to unsubmit the assignment.

Only parents, advisors and the student can see the submission (as before with any Schoology Assignments).

From the instructor view, you can then see and easily toggle between different student submissions. 

Instructor view. From 4/13/17 Schoology webinar.

All file types can be assigned in this way (Slides, Sheets, etc.), and their appropriate add-ons, etc. will work in the new Google viewer environment.

In this new viewer, the instructor will see the Google Docs in real time, just as you would if you were looking at the file in a separate browser tab outside of Schoology.

Students can “unsubmit” before the due date if they like.  But once the doc is submitted and the due date occurs, student will no longer be able to edit!  (Again, say it with me: just like Google Classroom.)

In this new Google viewer, "standard" Schoology tools like audio/video feedback won’t work.

Within the same browser window, an instructor can grade with a rubric (using the same Schoology rubric tools as before).  Graded rubrics will connect to the student work.
Instructor view. From 4/13/17 Schoology webinar.
Here is Schoology's one minute "teaser trailer" of the upcoming Google integration:

The webinar that discusses the integration is archived here (approximately 22 minutes).

How will this make life better for teachers and students?   Here are some quick thoughts:
  • Using Google files as templates that students complete and customize can be done in seconds. By making the form easy to share and manipulate, students can concentrate on the crucial work of demonstrating their understanding.
  • There's really no equivalent tools in Schoology to make content like Docs, Slides, Sheets and Drawings.  Google is excellent at this, so it's a perfect partnership. By keeping Google work inside of Schoology, you can expedite creativity since it will remain "in house" (same tab, same platform).
  • No lost time hunting down generically named Google document titles.  Since you name the template, combined with the automatic insertion of the student name in the title, files will be unique and easy to find (and that's setting aside how they are saved in certain folders!).
  • For a typical Schoology Assignment, a student is permitted to turn in a submission late, although it will be flagged as such.  However, under this new option, these Google files turn to "view only" after the due date. It is the first time that due dates prevent late submissions in Schoology! Some teachers may use this to improve student behavior for adhering to deadlines.
  • Google files submitted via Schoology Assignments means that students don't have to waste time sharing the files directly with the teacher -- and teachers won't have their email inboxes and "Shared With Me" section of their Drive cluttered and bombarded with requests.
  • In short, easier and faster work flow means students can concentrate on the thinking and creating, and teachers on assessing and giving feedback.

I can't wait until the fall!  Let me know your thoughts in the Comments below.

Update 4/18/17: I now have added the link to the webinar.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Edtech Share Fair 2017

The third annual Edtech Share Fair is now in the books!  I sincerely thank all of the attendees and presenters who make the event what it is: a collaborative opportunity to share and learn about edtech tools.

I was able to successfully record Facebook Live videos of two presentations: Google Keep (Dan Edelen) and Bee Bots (Penny Bland).  Check out my Edtech Elixirs Facebook Page to view them.

As in the past, I've done a Storify to capture the social media posts from the event, embedded below.

See you next year!

Friday, March 17, 2017


One of the struggles with a Chromebook is recording video. In terms of "out of the box," you can only use the webcam for taking still pictures.  While this is useful, recording videos is a needed functionality for students to better demonstrate their understanding, or create engaging presentations.   However, you can't install programs on a Chromebook, and some sites require a Java plug in that won't run on the device.  For example: for most laptops, my favorite screencasting program is Screencast-o-matic. It can be installed on your desktop (my recommendation) or ran inside of the web browser. The final video makes a glowing holo around the mouse cursor to help track its movements and, if used intentionally while recording, can help bring attention to a particular word, phrase or part of a picture.  Lastly, the video can be easily exported to your desktop or uploaded to your YouTube channel or Schoology Course.  (It's free for exported videos fifteen minutes long or less.)   However, Screencast-o-matic won't work even within the browser of a Chromebook because of that elusive Java applet, and again, you can't install the program.  So if not Screencast-o-matic, what are your options for video recording?

There are several Chrome apps and extensions that will do the job, but from anecdotes, reviews and personal experience, I recommend the Screencastify extension.  The Lite version is free, yet fairly generous: your videos can be up to 10 minutes long, and you can record up to 50 videos a month.  While you can do traditional screencasting with the app, you can also choose the "Cam" option to only record via the Chromebook's camera.

I recommend checkmarking the "Show Preview Window" option to make recording easier.

Best of all, any videos made will automatically be saved to your Google Drive. The first time you record, a "Screencastify" folder is created in your Drive, making it always easy to find clips later.

The directions for installing and running the extension are pretty straightforward.  Therefore, instead of instructions, I want to share some tips for using and installing Screencastify:

  • When installing Screencastify and using it for the first time, be aware of all the various permissions it requires: to access your Drive, to access your webcam, etc.  Make sure to okay all of these so it will work properly.
  • Screencasting can be a performance hog, especially on a Chromebook.  I recommend closing out as many tabs as possible while recording.
  • It will take a few minutes to render the video so it can be played from Google Drive.  If it's the maximum length of ten minutes, that might mean 15 minutes or more to finish rendering.  If in-class time is limited when using Screencastify, plan accordingly.  Once finished, the file can be renamed and shared just like any other Google file.
  • Screencastify, like many screencasting tools, is simple for  "one take jake" recordings.  Don't expect fancy editing tools or ways to cut clips together.  (You may want to consider WeVideo as a cloud based editing option.)  However...
  • Finished videos on your Drive can now be easily inserted into Google Slides.  (In the past, you could only insert YouTube clips.) Once inserted, you can right click the video for some limited ability to trim the video; you can tell it when to start or stop. This might be helpful if doing a presentation and you only need to share part of the video.
  • Last but not least, Screencastify will ask the person installing the extension what their role is; make sure they say "student"!  Next, it will ask if they are 13 and older, or under 13.  I wanted to clarify what the implications of that choice meant, so I emailed Screencastify's support and got this response:

"Under 13 students have the ability to use Screencastify. We have numerous classrooms of all ages using Screencastify. However, students choosing under 13 does a couple things:

1. It removes them from receiving any unsolicited emails from Screencastify. The students can still reach us for help though.
2. It removes them from any Google Analytic tracking."
My advice?  It may be best for students to say "under 13" to better protect their data, but regardless, students should honestly answer the question; under 13 can still use the extension.

I hope your students use Screencastify to bring their presentations and exhibitions to the next level, as well as provide teachers with another way to assess learning.

Update 3/30/17:  In my original entry, I neglected to highlight two other important functions.  When Screencastify is in its Tab (screencasting) mode, you can:

  •  record streaming video while cleanly capturing computer audio
  • annotate in real time while recording using some simple but effective drawing tools.
You can see an example of both in this short linked video I created.   Note that the audio is slightly out of sync with the video.   You can minimize this by reducing the amount of programs running or tabs open on your Chrome browser, but there will likely always be a touch of this lag.

When you only want the "tab audio," make sure to uncheckmark the box for "Microphone." Another option would be to use a headset or earphones/mic and keep both boxes checkmarked; you could then pause the streaming video and make a point or ask your listeners a question. (I don't recommend keeping both boxes checkmarked without a headset or earphones/mic, because your laptop mic will pick up the audio of the streaming clip from your laptop speakers, causing echo and distortion.)

The drawing tools are on the lower left.  You can change color and size, as well as erase.  If you used it with the microphone idea above, you could not only narrate but literally illustrate your point!

Do you use Screencastify, or another Chrome screencasting app/extension?  Share your experience in the Comments below.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Post-KySTE 2017 Reflection and Upcoming PD Opportunities

Last week was the biggest edtech annual conference in our region, KySTE 2017.  I presented on the SAMR model as well as game-based learning, and participated in the demo slam.  But I wasn't the only Shelby County staff member to attend and present!
  • Sloan Burroughs presented on how her students videotape and share their ukelele performances through a Schoology Group.
  • James Wampler discussed various strategies for using tech to engage with students.
  • Caytie Burgin talked about being an instructor via Shelby County's Virtual Learning Academy.
While my own presentations created scheduling conflicts and I couldn't see everyone, I know from others and from Twitter that they did great:  

One example of an attendee coming back and being a leader in her building is Amy Frederick-Cooper, a science teacher at East Middle School.  During yesterday's faculty's learning time, Amy used a tool she just discovered, Classkick, to share some edtech tools she discovered at KySTE.  It was a wonderful "meta" and inquiry-based way for her fellow teachers to explore edtech and gain from her experience.

It was, as always, great to talk at KySTE with my non-Shelby colleagues that I unfortunately see much more often in Twitter chats and Google Hangout rather than in person.  And . . . as always . . . I brought home intriguing and useful tidbits, tools, strategies and information.


The Edtech Share Fair is rapidly approaching next week on Wednesday, March 22!  If you haven't gotten your FREE tickets, be sure to visit our Eventbrite site to get yours.   More information on the Share Fair and its presenters below.  Remember, the event is open to Shelby parents and community members, as well as educators outside our district.


Last, but not least, I have previously tweeted about Innovations for Learning, another great local learning conference in Lexington I have attended and presented at for the last few years.  It's free and open to all.  The conference itself is on June 1, and registration will begin next month for those who want to attend; however, the window is currently open for presentation proposals.   I highly encourage both my Shelby peeps and other readers of my blog to consider submitting your presentation ideas.   The deadline is April 18.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017


As our district begins to explore deeper ways for students to apply their knowledge and demonstrate understanding (such as exhibitions and capstone projects), there is a greater need for presentation tools besides Google Slides and MS PowerPoints.  One of the newest ones I've discovered is CheckThis.  They use the term "social poster" to describe their published product, but it's really just a simple website creator.  It's free, extremely easy even for younger users, and students/teachers can log in with their Google account (Twitter and Facebook are also options) to quickly register on the site.

How does it work?   You can access CheckThis via a web tool or an iOS app.  Once you register your account and create your post, you can start by editing the title, subtitle and beginning text.   By hitting the green "plus" button, you can add more multimedia: text, images (uploaded from your computer or URLs from the web), video (YouTube and Vimeo URLs), website links (Google Maps, online sound files [SoundCloud, BandCamp], tweets, or any other site URL), and built-in CheckThis apps such as a poll.

When you are ready, you can publish your "social poster" and share the URL via Twitter and other social media.  One of the interesting functions of CheckThis is that not only can you see how many views the social poster receives, but you can also receive "likes" and comments.

I found this helpful video of a user making a social poster.  I like it because it effectively demonstrates how easy it is to click and add media:

It should be noted that CheckThis will allow you to publish a social poster without logging in, but there are many benefits to creating an account, not least of which is the problem of students putting work into publishing without an account and later not being able to find the URL to edit it further or share.

An example social poster I made about "Ideas for Nearpod" is linked here.

Note the embedded YouTube video at the top, the website linked at the bottom, and the commentary column on the right side.

How could you use it?   As I already mentioned, CheckThis could be a basic website page creation tool to go with digital presentations, especially for projects that wouldn't need the complexity of options that something like Google Sites or Weebly might offer.  It could also be a way of creating online multimedia personal notes, since you could easily switch from text to pertinent links, images and videos.  Lastly, the commenting feature might create an opportunity to have digital discourse, as students give each other feedback and perhaps have a running dialogue.

Downsides?  When I first tried CheckThis and created the social poster linked above, you had another option for creating an account by using an email and password.  Recently, however, they removed that option, which leaves my account in limbo because I can no longer log in via my email.  That's a personal problem, but I had to share, as I have tweeted CheckThis and not heard yet how to successfully merge my "email" account with another option.  Of course, if you are brand new to CheckThis, you won't have this issue.

It should be noted that comments cannot be turned off.  Since these social posters are completely public and cannot be moderated, monitoring of commentary (especially with younger students) may be a necessary burden for the teacher.

Do you already use CheckThis or see other ways it could be utilized?  Please share in the Comments below!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Free Tickets for Edtech Share Fair 2017!

Our third annual Edtech Share Fair is fast approaching!  Mark your calendar now for March 22, 2017, from 4:15 to 5:45 on the Southside Elementary campus.  Tickets are FREE but you do need to order them via our Eventbrite page.  We enthusiastically welcome educators outside of the Shelby school district to come.  In fact, we also welcome parents and other community members to see the innovative tools that students are integrating into their learning.

We may also have some Facebook postings on the Share Fair courtesy of my new Edtech Elixirs Facebook page.  (Hint, hint.  Follow and Like, my FB Friends.  End of hinting.)

Since our first Share Fair in 2015, the event has steadily grown and expanded. We have a few highlights to celebrate this year:
  • We have our first student-led panel discussing a web-based math learning tool, facilitated by East Middle School's Rachel Kinsey.
  • We have two library media specialists presenting!  (We had one present in 2015 and none last year.)
Already a third of the tickets are gone, so hurry and reserve yours today!

Here is our Smore flyer for the event:

And here is a widget where you can order the tickets directly:

Be sure to tweet and let others know you are coming by using the hashtag #SCShareFair!