Friday, July 31, 2015

Chronicles of a Chromebook User: 5 Months Later

My confession: five months ago, I went full-Chromebook and I haven't gone back.

Though I'm not a Web developer, I manage over ten Websites. Though I'm not a graphic designer, I create hundreds of graphics every month.

Currently, I have approximately 100 extensions, 100 apps, and 16 tabs open. Yes, I'm what you call a multi-tasker. I'm also impatient.

And, guess what? Nothing has been slowed. Nothing has crashed. I'm fully functioning.

This has been my experience with my Dell 11 Chromebook five months into my journey.

So, what do you need to know?

First, do your research before you buy. I did extensive research on what I wanted out of a Chromebook. Being in Round Rock, I was familiar with Dell's previous Chromebook. I knew they had made substantial upgrades to their Chromebook 11. I was torn between the Acer touchscreen and the Chromebook 11. Sadly, I did not know at the time there was actually a Dell Chromebook 11 touchscreen. Had I known that, I would have purchased that. Nevertheless, I decided I wanted something durable. Dell's Chromebook had a reputation for being sturdy with its rubber edges and smooth hinge. I also decided to get the 4GB of RAM. If you're hesitating on whether or not to spend a few extra dollars on the RAM, do it.

Figure out what you're wanting in a Chromebook: great screen resolution, touchscreen, durability, etc. Once you have decided what you want, do your research. Figure out which Chromebook best meets those specs.

Understand what a Chromebook is. One of the first realizations in your road to Chromebook success is understanding that a Chromebook is not like a typical computer. It is drastically less expensive. So, while you can do a ton of functions, understand that they may not be the exact same as a Mac or PC. You will also change how you work. Before I had saved items to my desktop for quick access. Now, they are just in a Drive folder labeled quick access. You don't have a desktop. You do have a limited downloads folder. However, if you're using GAFE, you have UNLIMITED Drive storage. So, why not use it? You won't be installing software. Instead, you will be adding Chrome Apps and Extensions. Your computer is disposable. What is not is your Google/Chrome account. That is your operating system. That is what manages your computer. Remember your Chromebook is only a means for accessing your account. Your account is everything.

A summary of my first five months going solo with a Chromebook: Early on, I realized that I had to change my thoughts on what a computer was or could do. When I realized a Chromebook was just a mechanism for accessing GAFE and Chrome, I was able to make headway. It is not like other PCs and Macs where the device is the end-all. In those case, you are buying a device that will do it all. Well, your Google/Chrome account already does it all. So, when you buy a Chromebook, you are not buying a supercharged device. You don't need it. You're buying the most efficient way of accessing your accounts.

  1. I can still edit photos and videos. In fact, I can almost do it better. I recently went to Costa Rica and took a lot of pictures on my camera (not my smartphone). I was able to connect it via USB to my Chromebook. When I did that, it opened up a Chromebook Files menu where I was able to drag and drop them into a Costa Rica folder in my Google Drive. Within minutes, I had hundreds of photos in my Google Drive. Since I have both the Pixlr and PicMonkey apps, I was able to, then, right click on the photos I wanted to edit and choose to open in either Pixlr or PicMonkey and make the edits. They immediately saved into My Drive. It really is that simple. And, yes, my Chromebook was able to handle the workload.
  2. Be an extension/app nut. It's okay, I'm one. I have nearly 100 extensions and 100 apps. No, I don't have them running all at once. However, it is through those apps and extensions that I'm able to beef up my Chromebook. My Chromebook can do more than your Chromebook only because my Chrome account is supercharged. Yes, that's a challenge! One thing to keep in mind, though, is that the more apps and extensions you add, the longer it can take to load. So, I use the Extensity extension to manage my extensions. I turn them all off and, when I open up Chrome, I turn on only those that I plan on using. This allows me to have a super fast browsing experience. 
  3. It updates automatically! Yes, you read that correctly. This is one of my favorite things. If I haven't restarted it recently, it gives an arrow in the bottom right of the shelf, letting me know that updates are available. No annoying messages about your computer shutting down. It does the updates. 
  4. Quick wake-up and restart times. This may be my second favorite thing. If I do have to turn my computer off, I can have it back on with all of my Chrome apps and extensions loaded in under a minute. That's a game changer! Think about how this affects the classroom!
  5. Battery life. You just can't beat this. I go all day without charging my Chromebook. This means I can transport it back and forth, toss it around, and it's still ticking with a huge battery life. This alone makes it more valuable than a laptop to me.
  6. Keypad. I actually love this keypad batter than those on a laptop. There is no center mouse that makes keys jump around. 
  7. Camera. The built-in camera is nice and easy to access in non-native camera programs. You can just click on the magnifying glass in the bottom right and type in Camera. It will pull it up and you can take pictures and edit.
  8. Screenshots. There are three keys to hold down and you can do custom screenshots and edit. I was fearful of losing my simple snipit available on Windows, but this is just as good and it saves them automatically in your downloads. 
  9. Mouse. This is the only feature I do not like. So, the easy solution: buy an external wireless mouse. Problem solved. 
  10. Notepad. I used Notepad ++ a lot on my old laptop for various reasons including writing HTML. Well, I found Drive Notepad that works like a charm. I was most fearful of this and my problem was solved in under 5 minutes. 
  11. Internet Explorer. There is an IE Tab extension you can add that will open up IE pages in your Chromebook. Another problem solved.
  12. Offline access.  Yes, your Chromebook works without the Internet. Drive, Gmail, and Calendar all have offline access apps available. Add them and you'll be able to work offline just fine. I was able to access my Gmail offline while in Costa Rica to pull up important documents. Huge benefit!!
  13. Speakers. No difference from a laptop. I have no complaints. I actually use Chromecast to cast my Spotify player to my TV and play from there. And, I do that all from my Chromebook while still having 15 other tabs open. 
  14. Projecting. This was easy. I bought an HDMI to VGA adapter for $12. I take this everywhere and I can project easily. I just click in the bottom right of my shelf and tell it to mirror. This was much easier than trying to get a screen to duplicate in Windows. 
  15. Multiple users. While you cannot have multiple Google Accounts signed on normally in a Chromebook, you can sign on another one in Incognito mode. I do this all the time. I am logged into my Chromebook via my personal Google account. Then, I open an Incognito window and sign into my work Google account. Works simply!
  16. Signing PDFs. I was a bit nervous about this one, but I found the DocHub Drive app. It gave me the ability to edit PDFs and sign them. Simple and easy! 
So far, I have not felt limited. I have started to use different products, but my workflow is the same. I am every bit as productive as I was before. The only complaint I have is the mouse and, to fix that, I use a wireless external mouse. With that, I am speeding along. 

If your hesitant on going 100% Chromebook, start by finding what programs you use the most. See if you could find similar ones in the Chrome Web Store. If you can, you are ready to go Chromebook. Do it. It's cheaper and so much more efficient. Oh, I forgot to mention the weight and size. It is much lighter. I have dropped mine twice and have not broken any toes and the Chromebook still works

Want to learn about your Chromebook? This Thinglink (a few updates needed) does a pretty decent job. I'll be adding some more Chromebook how-tos to

Thursday, July 30, 2015

#YourEduStory: The first 2 days of your school year

This week's topic: How do you spend the first two days of the school year?

I can't believe it, but I have been out of the "classroom" for five years now. So, my first two days have evolved. Though I still have students that I work with, my role has changed. I don't have students I have to grade. That changes everything. I wish every teacher could work with students and not be responsible for grading. I see things in a more positive light now. I notice the small learning that occurs everyday - the learning I didn't notice before taking on new roles. 

So, how do I spend the first days of school? I enjoy them. As a classroom teacher, I remember leaving each day that first week with no voice and a sore back and feet. Teachers - you know what I'm talking about. As a tech director, I spent it running around the school killing fires and being everyone's superwoman. As an instructional technology specialist, I spent it, once again, killing fires but also putting a stamp on the year - setting the environment for learning. In my new role, I will go home tired and sore, I'm sure. However, I will also spend it getting to know people. Too much of my last five years has been spent putting out fires that I have not had the chance to enjoy the newness - to enjoy meeting new faces and learning new things. 

The first two days of school are chaotic - no matter what position you serve in education. There is no way around it. However, our focus should be on enjoyment. But, I say this knowing I don't even do this. We are stressed trying to get everything done, get back in the routine. In getting back in the routine, we sometimes lose what is special at the beginning of the year: a new slate, room for fresh ideas and a fresh start. 

As a classroom teacher, I entered the first few days of school excited about all the things we would do in the year. I was excited to try so many new things each year. In my excitement, though, I didn't always take a breath and slow down. 

The end of the school year will come fast enough so the beginning of the year is our chance to slow it down. 

Be excited. Be inspired. Be mindful. Take it in. 

What am I excited about for the beginning of school? A new job and a new slate to start creating. I am excited to start some new student clubs, giving them space to lead, to present, and to grow learning at our school. I can't wait to inspire staff. I can't wait to meet everyone. But, in my excitement, I am trying to remember to also be mindful and to take it in. 

The first two days are about the balance. 

What are your first two days about?

Thursday, July 23, 2015

#GAFE Hacked! Just in time for #cuerockstar Vegas!

In preparation for #cuerockstar Vegas-style (in less than two weeks!), I made a few revisions to my Google Apps Hacked presentation. You can view the changes below or consult for more updates.

  • Bruce Mercer's tip for using Google Docs & linked hidden tables as a substitute for Google Sites & Blogger. The advantage? Easier editing & revision history!
  • Edit Office files right from Gmail!
  • Lock images on Google Slides
  • Disable downloading/printing/copying on Google Drive files like Docs, Slides & Sheets!

Know of other "hacks"? Share them out!


Wednesday, July 22, 2015

#YourEduStory: Best education books of the summer

This week's topic: What are the best education books for summer reading?

I'll admit it: this summer, I've tried to devote time to reading non-educational books. I've spent so much of the last three years just reading things related to education, that I worry about brown-out. So, this post is more about why you should read non-educational books as well. Don't feel guilty about reading a "trash" novel. Reading is a great stress release. It's also a creativity booster. 

This summer, I've been reading books off the New York Times Best Seller's list. Though, many have opinions about this, I like to read for enjoyment. And, as a result, I feel more inspired and more encouraged to be creative. Don't underestimate the power of just reading - whether it's educational or not.

Last year, I started with Makerspaces, but this summer I wanted to expand my knowledge of what they can be. So, I did purchase The Art of Tinkering - an amazing book of ideas for starting Makerspaces. I love how this book is full of examples on how to perform Makerspace activities. It is not just the Why. 

I also started skimming the Practical Duct Tape Projects book. It's full of examples of Duct Tape projects - projects I intend to bring into our Makerspaces next year. If anything, they are great activities to encourage creativity. 

Along the Makerspace vein, I'm also reading Sew Electric, at the recommendation of a friend. Like the others, it is not a traditional read. Instead, it is full of project ideas for Makerspaces that involve LilyPads (sewable Arduinos). I am super excited to try these out with our 6-12 grade students next year. 

And, lastly, I'm reading Invent to Learn, the guide to Makerspaces. Unlike the others, this books is more about why you should try Makerspaces and how they fit into the curriculum. This is the glue to the idea books I'm reading. 

To keep it interesting, I switch between each book each week. One week, I'll read some from Invent to Learn while the next week, I may read Sew to Learn. This allows me to put into practice the theory I'm reading in Invent to Learn. 

I found keeping a focus to my reading books helps. This summer, my focus was fun and Makerspaces. 

What about you - what educational/non-educational books are you reading this summer?!

Monday, July 20, 2015

#Infographics - the tools you need!

I just added a few new infographic resources to my Set Your Data Loose presentation. If you aren't using infographics, you should. They offer everything a presentation you can do and then some. In fact, I could make an infographic on why you should try out infographics this year.

Updates include:

Check out for more infographic resources!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

#beyouedu: Finding your swagger

Can I say just how much I love this topic? Finding your swagger.

Swagger is otherwise known as confidence. However, I like the term "swagger" better as it depicts a confident stride. Your confidence in action.

In 2006, I started with my first classroom of my own. I was nervous, excited, and young - very young. I had only just turned 21 and I was teaching 17 and 18 year-olds. My confidence or swagger was not fully there yet. But, that first fall, I took a chance. I had my students write "where I'm from" poems, go through the peer-review and editing process. Then, they transformed those poems into movies. After spending a week making movies, we held a movie showcase. The result: awesomeness. In fact, some of the students took the lesson with them and taught it to third graders.

It was that moment I felt my swagger starting to emerge. I knew then that I liked being a creative teacher. I liked taking risks. From that moment on, I tried a variety of new approaches in the classroom ranging from electronic portfolios and documentaries to podcasts. After five years, I had begun to swagger in the edtech arena. I knew I loved being creative with technology. I wanted to teach literacy as a whole - not just the writing and reading aspect - but the whole range.

So, I took a risk and left the classroom. I knew I wanted to help teach teachers and work with students in the tech literacy front, but, at the time, the only job nearby was a tech director position. And, without looking back, I took the position. It was not the best two years of my life, but they gave me my swagger. I was forced to learn immediately on the job. I mastered networking. I ran cables through the ceiling. I installed projectors. I did all tech repair, maintenance, instruction, and management. My background: a passionate educator. Because of being thrown in, I learned and I learned fast. I gained confidence in my skills.

After two years, I found a job with less fixing and more instruction - Round Rock ISD. Because of my tech background, I came in full-force, ready to make changes. In fact, I took so many risks that first year, I can't count them all. I was a risk-nut. But, after that first year, I took the largest risk: I helped start the RRISD Google Ninja Academy, a one-day conference of over 500 educators from around the state of Texas. I realized, then, that I loved providing opportunities for teachers. I feel confident training. In fact, I thrive on it. I love taking risks. I am passionate about providing learning opportunities. I learned this from my teachers and through the risks I took.

Now, I find myself transitioning to a new role at a new school, my swagger in full stride, ready to take on a new challenge training and educating teachers and students.

Your swagger is your passion. What makes you confident? Where do you find pride? What do you love? These will lead you to your swagger.

Finding my swagger was a series of fortunate events. Each event led to a new notch in my swagger. The key: take risks. Don't be afraid. You will never fail.

#YourEduStory: Combating resistance to EDU Change

This week's topic: Resistance to change is rife among educators, how do you combat this?

Resistance to change is common in any profession. Change is hard for most. I think that's why we interchange risk-taking with making change. Change, by nature, is a risk. We like comfort. 

But, we cannot judge or criticize those who are less accustomed to change. The more we judge them, the less apt to change we are. To be a change-maker also means to be accepting of others' uniquenesses & own "quirks." A teacher who still uses transparencies and overhead projectors is not to be judged. In fact, they are what makes education diverse. 

We can help them take personal risks, though. We cannot determine what risks they should be making nor what steps they should be taking. For instance, even though a teacher may still be using outdated PowerPoint as a traditional PowerPoint, it is not our place to say they should be using another tool instead. Rather, we must encourage them to find the strategy (not tool) that improves learning in their classroom. That may not look like what we envisioned. Change-makers must also be flexible. You must be accepting of all types of changes - even if they are not the change you envisioned. 

That said, when I work with educators who fit the stereotypical traditional teacher model, I remember that being traditional does not, by itself, make them ineffective. What makes an educator ineffective is assuming they know all the answers - they know what's best for others. I ask them what they want to do - even it is simple by most standards. It is a change. It is a risk. A few weeks back, I had a teacher want to learn to use Skype for personal uses. She had no desire to use it in class at the time. I refrained from preaching to her all the reasons Google Hangouts and Skype are awesome classroom resources. Instead, I did what she asked. I held her hand through it the first time. When she went to do her first Skype with her daughter, I sat with her at the beginning. She made mistakes. She was confident enough then to fix her mistakes. After her first Skype, she told me that she thought this would be an awesome classroom tool. She wanted me to come back and help her get it set up for a class. Though I could have told her that in the beginning, I let her discover it herself.

Patience. Patience. Patience. Do not judge. Do not make changes for others. Be accepting of others' changes. 

Using students to help start change is also highly effective. My teachers will sit down to students, but are not always willing to sit down in a professional development workshop. Our student tech team holds thirty minute trainings on Tuesday mornings for educators at our school. Teachers can come and go as they please. The catch: students pick the topics they train based upon what they think educators need. This little twist is perfect for creating change. Most educators want students to be happy. They want students to improve. They want to help students. 

The recipe for success: students, patience, non-judgment. Rinse and repeat over and over. Once one has made a change, recognize it and build that person up. Let them spread that change to others.