Monday, December 9, 2019

How Did You Do That?? 

5 Great Ways To Use Google Drawings

Sometimes I'm in a situation where it seems that there should be an easy way to do something but it just doesn't seem to exist. I find this to be true specifically with images. I'm not a graphic artist and I have not spent a lot of time working with digital images or using software for graphic design. However, I do want my digital documents to look engaging and images typically do the trick.  One of the frustrations of working in Google docs is that formatting does not always work the way you think it should work. 

For example, I have been using Google forms to collect all kinds of information for years. The designs and images that are built in as options are fine but sometimes I want to tailor mine specifically to my needs. If you have ever added your own images you will notice that often times the formatting is wonky and your image doesn't look quite right as the header for your Google form. 

This is where Google Drawing comes in. Did you know that we have Google Drawing as part of the G-Suite tools included with our education accounts?  Google Drawing is not as widely known as many of the other Google apps, but it is super easy to use and actually quite robust. If you have ever fought with an image in a Google doc or wanted to take an image and resize it, Google Drawing is your new best friend! Here are the particulars...

You can get to Google Drawing by starting in your Google Drive and clicking on New. Go down to More and click on Google Drawing. 

Once you are in Google Drawing, you can take a look at the tools that you have available. The toolbar is fairly simple, but you have many tools and options there. If you are creating from scratch, you can use the shape and line tools. Once you have some shapes you can  customize with different colors. By clicking Insert, you will find that you can add tables, charts, and diagrams. There is also a word art tool. Google Drawings works in layers, so if you think about creating an infographic and you might want text, shapes, colors, and a background, you have the ability to put those layers in the order that you want.  When you are finished with your creation, you can download it as a jpeg, png, pdf, or scalable vector image.

You will notice that Google Drawing has all of the same collaboration features as Google docs. You can share, make comments, and utilize accessibility preferences.  Everything you create in Google Drawing will save to your Google drive. You use the same blue share button to invite your colleagues or students to edit or view. 

Here Are 5 Great Ways To Use Google Drawing...

1. Customize Your Google Forms Header. 

I cant take credit for this one. There is a wonderful template created by  Wanda at that has instructions and is simple to use. Make sure you download your image as a png file and you can have your Google forms headers match whatever it is that you are doing. To access the template with instructions, click here. I used the template to make this Thanksgiving form.

2. Customize Your Schoology Course Tile.

Many of you have discovered that when you customize your Schoology course tile with an image, it is not only helpful to students when navigating to your course, it shows you have taken that extra step in caring about the course. It's almost like decorating your classroom. The problem is that many staff members have been grabbing images off of the internet. While this is a problem for several reasons that we won't discuss right now (it starts with a C and sounds like Shmoppyright), the image often does not fit properly in the tile and it either looks distorted or you can only see  a small part of it.
This is where Google Drawing comes in. When you open Google Drawing, go to File then Page Setup. Set the first dropdown tab to Custom and then set the units to Pixels. You will want to set it to 350 X 100  pixels. You will see the canvas resize. You can then create or import images into that space, download as a png, and then add that image to your Schoology tile and it will look great!
Here are some custom tiles that I made for my classes. I mostly just used shapes and text.

3. Images In Google Docs Format Better When Created In Google Drawing.

Have you ever had an idea in your head of the layout of a document? You knew where you wanted the images, text, tables, etc. but for some reason it was difficult to get the image on the screen to match what was in your head. The good news is that Google Drawing works seamlessly with Google Docs. While in your doc, click on Insert and then Drawing. A Google Drawings screen will open. Create what you want, how you want it, on the Google Drawing screen and when you click Save and Close, it will be automatically imported into your Google Doc. From there you can choose to have the text wrap or break or stay inline with the image. You can always go back in and edit the image to your specifications. This is a great way to make sure everything is lined up and sized the way you want it. 

Image from Gyazo

4. Easy Easy Easy Infographics!

So many of us are using infographics in the classroom. Sometimes we use infographics to share information with students, but more often we are asking students to create infographics to show us what they know and understand. There are lots of great free tools for making infographics but Google Drawing is the simplest AND it has collaboration features already built in. If you are having a group of students working together, this is the way to go.  I know it is not as flashy as some of the other tools, but you can use Google Drawing to make some high quality infographics and it won't take long for your students to learn and understand how to use it because it's Google. It also has the added bonus of automatically saving to Google drive.  Imagine that Google Drawing is like your digital poster board. This one is easier to access, share, collaborate, save, etc. Here's an infographic I just whipped up.

5. Design Your Own Logos and Badges.

As more and more of us are using badges to gamify or other ways for students to understand their progress, there becomes an increasing need for eye catching graphics, logos, and badges. Again, I am NOT a graphic artist! We do have some very talented staff and students who could probably really put Google Drawing to the test. But for the rest of us, this tool is all we need to make what we need and not rely on websites or pulling graphics off of the internet. Want your students to take some ownership? Why not have them design and create logos and badges for your class.

Just as an example, here is a logo I just made in about 2 minutes. Imagine how good these would be with more time.
And talent!

Give Google Drawing a try! Let us know how it goes.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Giving Thanks In A Techno World With Autocrat 

(document merge tool that will make you feel grateful)


Happy Thanksgiving everyone! 
Did you know that showing gratitude has wonderful benefits for your health?
Check out this 7 minute video, it just might change your perspective.

Ok. Now that we're on the same page with the importance of showing gratitude, here's an opportunity for you to express gratitude to your district 113 colleagues. It won't take more than a minute and you will reap those positive benefits and potentially make someone's day.

Just click this link and fill out the form: DIST 113 Notes of Gratitude
178 messages have already been sent! Join in on the fun. The link will be kept open until winter break.

But wait, you might be wondering how this works. If you fill out the form, how will your recipient get the message? Are Lisa and Dan sitting around all day forwarding messages as they come in?
While I would love to say that we have that kind of free time, the answer is no.  I'm going to pull back the curtain and let you in on how this works.
The messages are automatically sent using an add-on called Autocrat.
Autocrat is one of the most popular add-ons for Google sheets with over 9 million users.
This is basically a document merge tool that creates pdfs, google docs, or even slides from a spreadsheet.
After creating your form, click on the responses tab and create a new spreadsheet. This is where your responses will appear as students fill out the form. You create a template and tell Autocrat which fields to merge using <<merge tags>>.
You could merge data from a Google form directly into a Google slides presentation. You could have a certificate made and sent to each student that completes a form. You could generate shared documents based on the data that is collected in a form. Create personalized documents for parents or groups of students. The possibilities are virtually endless!

Go to the GSuite Marketplace to get the Autocrat add-on. An add-on is like an extension but it only works on specific apps. For example, Autocrat only works with Google sheets.

Once you have the Autocrat add-on, go to your spreadsheet and click add-ons. Click on autocrat and click Launch.

Image from Gyazo

Next, you will click New Job and follow the prompts. It will walk you through the whole process.
You will want to set up your template and add the <<merge tags>> so Autocrat knows what to put on the new document.
Here is what the template looks like for the gratitude notes. Take a look at the merge tags. You will notice that they match the fields in the form.

Once you have the parameters set up the way you want them, you can decide when you want Autocrat to run. I have the Thanksgiving notes set to run anytime someone fills out the form.
You can set it to only run when you tell it to, or at a specific time.
For example, if you want student answers to a quiz to be sent to them individually but you want to wait until everyone has taken it, you can set Autocrat to run manually and you will decide when they are sent out.

This Thanksgiving, I have so much to be grateful for. I am grateful for my amazing Dist113 community and I am especially grateful that I work with a staff that is willing to try new things if that means it will help students be more engaged in learning.

Want some help with Autocrat? Let us know! Are you already an Autocrat user? Let us know how you're using it.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 18, 2019

Make Your Chrome Extensions Work for you!


Let's face it, the only reason people use Internet Explorer is to download Chrome. It's a sad, sad reality for the once-king of internet browsers. While being one of the biggest RAM hogs in the business, Chrome at the very least offers some serious utility for teachers who are for better or worse, spending more and more time on the internet. Here are two simple, yet useful Chrome Extensions that can give your productivity a boost.

Speaking of RAM

Depending on how many active Chrome tabs you've got open, Chrome can be a super greedy program that can really slow your computer down.  The problem is, I always feel like I NEED every single tab! Although I do a daily Tab Audit to see which tabs I can close down, I still have over a dozen tabs open at once. As a response, there are a number of cool tabs that can freeze your tabs to clear up some RAM.  

The Great Suspender is a quick little extension that essentially freezes or suspends tabs that you aren't actively using. So for example, if I've got an important tab open that I want to keep, but don't view it for a set period of time, the Great Suspender will suspend the tab and clear up any memory or CPU burdens that tab owes. 

As seen below, TGS gives you granular control over what gets suspended (or not). A decent amount of attention has been give to specific time periods, preferential treatment to pinned tabs, tabs playing music, and whitelisted sites. 

Suspended tabs can easily be unsuspended by merely viewing the tab. 

Where do I find things? Black Menu

Have you ever felt slightly overwhelmed by the number of Google-related products or services we use on a daily basis? Right now Google's famous apps launcher (9 dots in a square) does a decent job organizing our tools, but did you know there is a tidier way to access them? 

Black Menu is seriously one of the most underused extension out there, relative to the amount of utility it offers. Essentially it creates a simple drop-down menu that has all of your Google services and tools like - Search, Gmail, Drive, Sheets, Calendar, Keep and more. It also comes with a drop-down menu that allows you to use or access the tool without leaving your tab, or better yet, having to create a new one. Confused as to why this is better than Google's Launcher? Check it out below:

Black Menu is simple, light-weight, and easy to use. Perfect for a quick experiment with new tech! Know of any other must-have extensions that increase your quality of work-life? Comment below!

Monday, November 11, 2019

Clone Yourself!

(Or Just Record What's On Your Screen) 

With Screencastify


I have had more and more staff members asking about how to record what is on their screens. Teachers running review sessions, counselors giving presentations, club sponsors sharing information, and students going beyond powerpoint presentations, are all looking for the "best" solution for screen recording (also referred to as screen casting).

There are several fantastic tools out there that will enable you to record what is on your screen, or record from your webcam, or both, but I have found Screencastify to be the simplest to use.

First of all, it has a Chrome extension. That means there is nothing to download and it will save to your Google drive.  Showing a demonstration of how to navigate a website? Screencastify will highlight your mouse clicks and there is also a pen drawing tool to point out important information on a doc. The value of video is indisputable. We are learning more and more from videos. Plus, there are times when students are absent, or just need a chance to hear and see the information again. Offering videos to the students gives them the ability to be in control. They can pause, re-watch parts, and go at a pace that feels right to them and their learning needs.

The biggest question is always, How do I share it? The good news is that Screencastify autosaves to your Google drive. All you need to do is share the link. You can also upload to YouTube or download as an MP4, Gif, or MP3.

Here's how it works:

1. Go to and add the Chrome extension to your school account. This is helpful because it means that whatever device you are using, you will have access to Screencastify, as long as you are logged in.

2. Ready to record? I suggest writing a script and practicing a few times but if you say you're ready I will believe you. Just click on the Screencastify extension icon in the upper right corner to start using Screencastify.

3. Choose : Browser Tab, Desktop, or Webcam Only to determine what will actually record. 
Make sure your microphone has access (you will need to click allow the first time through) and choose Embed Webcam if you want your face to show in a little box on the screen. Sometimes it's nice to see your face when you are talking:)

4. Click the Blue Record button. It will give you a three second countdown. Need more time? You can adjust to a five or ten second countdown. 

5. Click again to stop recording and wait for your Google drive link.

That's it! You can do this! Let us know how you are using video in your classroom and if you would like some assistance on your first try with Screencastify!

Monday, November 4, 2019

Organize Your Digital Life with 

Google Keep


Everyone's got their own method of keeping track of the myriad decisions, reminders, and details that are a critical component of our functioning lives. Meticulously kept notebooks, planners, or colorful sticky notes are tried and true methods that have kept us on track for years. Why fix it if it ain't broke? Here's a free organizational tool that I think is worth trying out. Google Keep is a simple, yet powerful way to digitize some of our organization needs.  It is essentially digital sticky notes and reminders, but are packaged and connected with the power of the Google product family. Here are some cool things you can do with Keep:

More than just a sticky note

Benefits of Sticky Notes on Keep:
  • Permanence: you can't lose them. Even if you lose your phone or your laptop, your digital sticky notes are attached to your Google Account
  • Variety of Note Types: You can create text notes, lists, images, and audio recordings. You can even take pictures of text that can be translated via Optical Character 

                Image Notes                                                                To-Do Lists

  • Collaboration: share a particular note with others and collaborate in real-time. 

  • Reminders: we can all use some help remembering important (or not important) events or tasks we need to do. You can download the Google Keep phone app for scheduled reminders.

  • Inception: Organize your organization tool with Labels: You can create labels or categories for your sticky notes by either color coding them, or by attaching them to labels. Similarly to Gmail, you can, for example, create a "Wrestling" label and all sticky notes relating to Wrestling can be filtered. 

Do you have a preferred tool for organization? Tips or tricks for Google Keep? Comment below!

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Schoology Assessments


I've been just a tad unwilling to write about online Schoology assessments because of some of the difficulties of online test security, extended time, technical logistics, and the cost/benefit analysis of online vs. pen and paper, but more and more teachers have been intrigued about the benefits of Schoology's Assessment capabilities, and honestly Schoology's program is quite good. So here we go: Online testing!

Fluid compatibility

Right off the start you'll see one of the major benefits of using Schoology assessments is how easily questions can be graded and transferred to your gradebook. Initially building an assessment will ask you to assign point values and categories for the transfer of information between your assessment and the gradebook. 

Now Schoology can instantly grade student responses and enter values into your gradebook, but that'll depend on the types of questions you are adding. Multiple choice questions are easily graded and transferred, but short answer/essay questions will need to wait for your input. Either way, student answers and teacher feedback is organized and locked into Schoology. 

Building test parameters

Schoology allows teachers some granular control over what the online assessment will look like:
  • Instructions to be displayed to students before the start
  • Time limits for taking the assessment
  • Randomly order questions
  • Show possible points for each question during an attempt
  • Can students use calculator, and if so is it basic or scientific?
    • Same question for rulers, and protractors
  • Can student eliminate choices for multiple choice?
  • Can students view results immediately after completion?
  • How many attempts can students submit?
And so on...most of your assessment queries can be answered in the Setup tab. 

Question Types

Question type - the menu of options is quite robust:

And each question type can be further fine-tuned and dialed in. Look for example the parameters for a multiple choice question:

Writing the question itself is simple and self-explanatory. You have direct control over how many options there are, the order, and full access to the text editor.

You can also shuffle answer choices, allow multiple responses, or even give partial credit to an alternate answer.


You can grade by question, or by student, and doing so gives you a wealth of information such as:
  • The number of student attempts
  • Completion status
  • Last modified
  • Students' elapsed time for completion
Like we mentioned above, certain types of questions can be auto-graded by Schoology, and uploaded to your gradebook. Questions that require a direct look from the teacher will wait for teacher input before the grade is transferred over.


Once created you can do a number of things with your assessment for increased utility:
  • You can publish or unpublish your assessment
  • Copy the assessment to another course
  • Save to resources to share with another teacher
  • Print a physical copy

Test Security

This is the big one - how to ask students to take an assessment on their Chromebooks or laptops, but keep them from straying to another site, taking a screenshot, or printing the questions? 

Schoology has partnered with LockDown Browser to cover these concerns. By enabling LockDown Browser you can:

To activate lockdown browser, you must create the assessment first. Then on the left-hand side of your Schoology page, click on "LockDown Browser" to access the conditions above. 

Even with these safeguards, teachers are a bit hesitant to fully embrace online testing as a replacement for the traditional paper and pen. And that's OK. You really only want to adopt a tech option, only if it is a realistic improvement over traditional methods. Some teachers love the assessment option as a formative review, as opposed to a summative assessment. Do you use Schoology's assessment function? Let us know your thoughts below!

Monday, October 14, 2019

EdPuzzle And Schoology

Almost Like Peanut Butter and Jelly


I was such a weird kid. I did not like peanut butter and jelly. Instead, I took tuna fish sandwiches to school every day. Now that I'm an adult and have a much more refined palate, I can recognize the brilliance of these two flavors together. They definitely bring out the best in each other.

Two other things that work well together are Schoology and EdPuzzle. Never heard of EdPuzzle? I like it so much there are two previous  blog posts about it. You can find them by searching the Giant EdTech blog.

Here's Edpuzzle in a nutshell:

As more and more classrooms are employing the use of video, EdPuzzle allows teachers to use the video as an actual lesson. EdPuzzle is the perfect tool for allowing students to watch and engage with videos while the teacher gathers data throughout the lesson. Teachers can embed questions within a video and get great formative data on the students' understanding of what was taught in the video. In the dashboard, you can see how long a student spent on the video, you can see their responses, it will even grade for you if the question is multiple choice. You can also turn on the closed captioning and you can click a tab so students won't be able to skip ahead.

But wait, now you can embed your EdPuzzle lesson right into your Schoology page.

Step1: When you are in Schoology, click on the App Center (4 squares). Scroll to EdPuzzle and click to install. You can decide which classes you want to use it with. I went ahead and added it to all, even if I don't use it right away, at least it's there.
Image from Gyazo

Step 2: When you are in your Schoology class you will see EdPuzzle listed on the left under LockDown Browser. If you click that you can sign in and connect your EdPuzzle account to Schoology. You only need to do this once.

Step 3: From the materials page, click Add Materials and you will see EdPuzzle on the right. If you already have video lessons created in EdPuzzle, you can click right there and you will see your lessons.

Step 4: Don't have any lessons created in EdPuzzle yet? No problem! Just go over to and select your videos and create your lessons. You will need to click "assign" for it to show up in Schoology. 

Image from Gyazo 

And now for the big question, is EdPuzzle free? Take a quick look at the EdPuzzle website and they are very clear that EdPuzzle is free for teachers and students, to a point. The basic/free account will allow you to store up to 20 videos. They have a referral system where you can refer friends and colleagues and when they create their free accounts, you both will get more storage. Otherwise, there is a pro account for purchase.

I can't wait to hear how the great EdPuzzle/Schoology combo works in your classes! Feel free to reach out with questions or if you want to work on your first lesson together.