Friday, February 17, 2017

Book Review: Making your School Something Special by @rushtonh

Making your School Something SpecialRushton Hurley (@rushtonh) is a story teller. His first and latest book, Making your School Something Special, will help you tell your story, the story of your students, the story of your school, more effectively.

What is it that makes your classroom, your school, your district special?

Rushton argues that there are three key attributes to what makes every school special:
  • Meaningful experiences for both teachers and students
  • A strong, shared school culture
  • Opportunities for professional growth
In-class instruction and activities go a long way to fostering these three attributes. Learning activities, Rushton suggests, can be categorized into four big (and broad) buckets:
  • Learning that is powerfully memorable
  • Learning that is generally effective learning
  • Learn that is weak but easy
  • Learning that is a waste of time
This lesson framework is very effective both inside and outside of the classroom. School administrators, workshop leaders, instructional technologists, and conference speakers can apply this framework as well.

Are your staff meetings “powerfully memorable?”
Is your professional development “powerfully memorable?
Is parent teacher night “powerfully memorable?”

It is not expected that every single lesson in every class be categorized as “powerfully memorable.” That would be unrealistic. Some days will feature “generally effective learning” and ever every teacher has lessons that fall into the bottom two categories; if you don’t, then you probably don’t need to read this book!

Reading and understanding Rushton’s categories for learning caused me to reflect on my own teaching practices (I taught HS science) as well as the professional development events that I coordinate. A few “powerfully memorable” lessons come to mind, and a fair number of “generally effective” lessons. Sadly, I can also think of some “weak but easy” activities as well as some lessons that, in retrospect, were a complete waste of time.

I found this section (chapter 3) of Making Your School Something Special to be the most insightful and helpful section of the entire book. Not only is Rushton’s framework simple and effective, he also provides concrete ideas and examples for what “powerfully memorable” learning looks like.

Now that we know that “powerfully memorable” learning is what makes your school special, we need to identify and celebrate these exceptional moments. That’s hard to do, if no one is looking!

Educators (both individually and collectively) have a very difficult time talking about and celebrating their successes. Rushton summarizes this problem:

“This reluctance may be based on the belief that openly discussing one teachers successes represents a critique of another teacher's’ shortcomings” (pg. 72).

A lack of sharing and collaboration is also the result of the professional isolation that most teachers experience. Most teachers (myself included) rarely have an opportunity to share, learn and collaborate with colleagues from their own school. This isolation is one of the primary reasons that individuals leave the teaching profession.

Is everything in your school broken, messed up, or on the verge of collapse? Based on the conversation from last staff meeting, you might think so!

“Arguably, a byproduct of this reluctance to share good news, interesting ideas, and cool possibilities is a conversational void too easily filled by complaints...” (pg. 80)

This is where school administrators can have a profound impact. Providing built in, scheduled time for lightly structured collaboration will foster communication between individuals and an opportunity for victories successes to be shared. Chapter 4 provides specific, actionable ideas for school administrators so that they can develop an “exploratory culture.”

The culmination of Making your School Something Special is the idea that awesome things ARE happening in every school. Memorable learning is taking place. It is your job to find and share those moments with others.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Scan QR Codes from Chrome Mobile

QR Codes with Chrome Mobile

QR codes provide a quick way for someone with a mobile device to visit a web site. The problem is that mobile devices don't come pre-loaded with a QR code scanner. Explaining what a QR code is and asking users to download an app takes far more time than manually typing in a web address.

If mobile phones would come with a built-in QR code reader this technology would be far more accessible and helpful. Someday I hope that all iPhones and Android phones will be able to automatically recognize QR codes from the standard camera app. For now, that's only a wish.

Scanning QR codes from your mobile device just got a bit easier, if you have the Google Chrome Apps on your phone. As of their latest update (February 2017) all version of Chrome mobile have a built in hidden QR code reader.

To use it, search for "QR" using spotlight (iPhone) or search on your Android device. If you have an iPhone 7, you can use force-touch (hard press) on the Chrome App to access the QR scanner. Select scan QR code to open up a camera scanning feature and allow you to scan and visit a web page via a QR code.

It's a bit weird, but there is no way to access the QR scanner feature from within the app itself; you must search for "QR" in order to open the scan window. For now, this is probably the best option for scanning QR codes.


QR Scan with Chrome on iPhone
Search for "QR" on your phone
QR Scan with Chrome on iPhone
View of the scanner window

Friday, February 10, 2017

Explore your #Chromebook with @ThingLink_edu

Thinglink is a great tool for creating interactive images and tutorials. I used it to create a Chromebook tutorial that could be used to help teachers or students learn some helpful Chromebook tips and tricks.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

My Most Epic Spreadsheet Ever

My Most Epic Spreadsheet Ever

My Most Epic Spreadsheet Ever

I'm an English major. I think in words. Spreadsheets are NOT my favorite. However, in the past few years I have come to appreciate the power and logic of these sheets of cells. Recently, I realized that a significant portion of my consulting business runs on a single Google sheet, which was both amazing and terrifying! I run events across the country. My goal this year is to schedule 35 of these multi-day events. I don't have an assistant, secretary, or office manager. Efficiency is key, so I set up systems, like this one:

1. It Starts with a Form

Anyone who is interested in hosting one of my events fills out this form. It's very simple; nothing fancy going on.

2. I map the locations

I need to make sure that I don't schedule too many events in one area. I use an add-on called GeoCode to automatically add each event to a custom map. This map is private to me and let's me see the geographic distribution of my events. GeoCode automatically maps my events every time a new form is submitted.

3. Send Event Agreement

Now that I have collected all of the necessary information, I use Autocrat, a free Add-on for Sheets, to generate an event hosting agreement that looks like this. I (manually) verify the information and send it to my contact. The event gets tagged as "pending." Tagging the event puts a hold on the steps below.

4. Send Registration and Event Flyer

Once the host district has reviewed and signed the host agreement, I manually create a registration page using nVite. The registration URL goes into the spreadsheet. I then change the event tag from "pending" to "confirmed." which triggers another AutoCrat sequence (it checks for new jobs hourly) which generates a unique digital event flyer. AutoCrat sends a custom email to the event host with access to the flyer and other important information.

5. Update the Website

I hired one of my former students as my web and graphic designer. He makes all of my websites and print projects look amazing! Once an event has been confirmed, FormMule sends him an automated email (looks like this) with all of the event information so that he can post the event to my website.

6. Manage and Monitor

Each of the add-ons I use inserts new rows and headers into my spreadsheet which makes it very cluttered. I hide columns that I don't need to see and create custom filters to isolate specific types of events or events from a specific state.
That's it! This entire process is transparent to the host school. If I do my job correctly everything goes smoothly and the event is a success! Google Sheets, forms, and add-ons allow me to build powerful, time-saving system.

Develop a System!

I wish more schools took advantage of add-ons, form, and sheets. There are a LOT of school systems that can be improved with these tools: lunch counts, discipline referrals, continuing education credit tracking, event registration, classroom evaluations, room reservations, volunteer registration, permission slip tracking, and more! If you need a hand building a system for your school, let me know. It won't be free, but will pay for itself in the hours you save once the system is in-place.

If you developed your own automated system, I would love to hear about it! Leave a comment and let me know what you built!


Monday, February 6, 2017

Google Voice is NOT dead!

Google Voice, an absolutely awesome product, has FINALLY gotten and update. The Voice mobile app (iOS and Android) got a visual update to to match Google's Material Design standard. Is this an important update? No....but yes.

The update doesn't provide any [major] new functions or features, but it means that Voice is NOT DEAD! Voice has not been updated in years. I have warned people not to get attached to it because all indications were that it had fallen out of favor with Google and would potentially be another addition to the Google graveyard.

As Google poured more and more resources into Hangouts, then Duo, then Allo, it appeared that Voice was going to be left out of Google's mobile / messaging platform.

I could be reading this all wrong (my crystal ball has failed me before), but it seems unlikely that Google would update a product just before axing it. Perhaps Google needs more voice data to support products like Google Home.

In any case, Voice is not dead yet!

Interested in learning more about Voice? Check out my previous post "10 Google Voice Tricks."

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Hosting Images in Google Drive

Hosting Images in Google Drive

The simplicity and reliability of Google Drive makes it an ideal place to host content that you post around the web. This is a bit of a problem when trying to host images, however. While you can store images in Drive, you can't directly link to them because Google doesn't give you the full web URL of an image. 

The Problem with hosting images in Google Drive

If you share an image file to "public on the web" or "anyone with the link" this is what you get:

While this type of link is fine for sending via email, you can't use it to insert an image into a WordPress site, blogger page, or other web publish tool. These services require a direct link to the image - something that ends in .jpg, .png, etc. When I upload files to my wordpress site I am able to get such a link:
This complication is a bit of a bother. I really want to host images in drive. So I started looking for a solution. What I discovered was

The Solution -

Google Drive URL ( is a free service that generates a permalink URL for any file hosted in Drive. This is particularly helpful for images.
1. Make sure your file is public (it won't work for private files)
2. Copy the public link to the file presented in the sharing box:

3. Visit and past in the link you just copied.
4. Click "create permalink"
5. Copy the permalink to your image and use it in your blog, website, etc.

Why use GDurl? 

I created an intranet for a large school in Ohio using Google Sites. The intranet featured heavy use of icons for navigation. Google Sites makes it tough to manage a large number of graphics for a website. Instead of uploading and inserting them into the Google Sites, we used GDurl to embed the images which were stored in drive.

A Sneaky Feature of Google Drive

To change an image, we used a sneaky feature of Google Drive - the ability to upload a new version of an existing file. Right click on a file and look for "manage versions." Even though you have uploaded a new version of the file, the link stays the same!

You can use this feature to update dozens or hundreds of instances of an image across the web.

A word of Caution

While GDurl is an outstanding resource, I do have one word of caution. GDurl is a free (ad supported) service. The link that is generated uses a GDurl short link. This is fine, as long as GDurl stays open. If they ever close and depreciate their link database, all of your links would be broken.

You can skirt this issue by copying the short GDurl link and pasting it into your browser. It will then redirect to Google Drive permalink. Using this link instead of the GDurl link will ensure that your links stay intact even if GDurl closes.

  • GDurl Link:
  • Redirects to this URL:*/0By7D4SJX3kYEdVo1bDdSb0hHWlk

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Picking a Chromebook for your 1:1 Program

Chromebooks are HOT right now. And for good reason. They are affordable, flexible, and easy to manage. And in today's increasingly web-first world, having a device that was born on the web is a good option.

At the end of 2015 we learned that 50% of devices in the classroom are Chromebooks. That's pretty amazing considering ChromeOS is only 5 years old and people thought Google was crazy when they said they were developing their own operating system.

There are more Chromebook models available than ever before, so how do school leaders decide which one to purchase? Which devices will stand the test of time - both in terms of durability as well as technology.

Ultimately, school leaders need to have a clear purpose for purchasing and deploying any device. What will teachers and students DO with this device? 

After you have identified your purpose, there are a few general principles for selecting a Chromebook that I hope you will find helpful.

Size + Durability + Touch = Cost

All Chromebooks run the same operating system. The internal components (processor, ports, graphics cards, etc) are of much less concern than other platforms. RAM is really the only item that I pay attention to.

The size of the screen, durability of the construction, and a touch screen are the three factors that will impact the cost of your device. Giving some thought to these three things will help you determine how much (approximately) your Chromebooks are going to cost.

Sub $200 Chromebooks

CTL J4 - $179
Schools on a tight budget can find Chromebooks for as low as $140. That's pretty amazing. Chromebooks in the sub $200 price range will share a few common characteristics:
  • 10-11" Screen
  • No touch screen option
  • 2GB RAM
No one is going to consider these Chromebooks "best in show," but you can't beat the price! At a price roughly 1/3 the cost of an iPad, these Chromebooks will stretch your budget. Look at models from LenovoCTL, and HP. As a budget option you can expect 2-3 years of service from these devices; not bad considering the sticker price. 

$200-300 Chromebooks

Acer R11 - $299
If you have a slightly larger budget, moving up to the next class of Chromebooks will allow you to experience some significant upgrades. This class of Chromebooks features more RAM, touch-screen as an option, and new form-factors. 
  • 12" + screen
  • Touch as a standard or available option ($30 premium on average)
  • Convertible options available
  • 4GB RAM 
This is, in my opinion, the sweet spot for Chromebooks. As Goldilocks would say, not too cheap, but not too expensive. The build quality and durability of these devices will be much better than the lower class of devices. Purchasing a device from this category should give you 3-4 years of solid life. Check out device options from HP, Dell, Asus, and Acer.

$300+ Chromebooks

HP Chromebook 13 - $499+
If you have closets full of money you can look at so-called "high-end" Chromebooks. Expect screaming fast performance, HD displays, expanded RAM and SSD storage. Devices in this category are likely more powerful and luxurious than is required by your average MS or HS student, but might helpful for teachers, principals, and other administrators who live on their computer. 
  • 12" + HD display
  • Touch standard in most devices. 
  • Convertible options available
  • 4 GB+ of RAM
  • 32 GB+ of onboard storage
  • Aluminum unibody design
  • Extras such as on-board stylus and USB-C charging
Chromebooks have long been thought of as a budget devices, but recent models from HP, Samsung, and Asus show that Apple isn't the only brand that can produce expensive hardware. If you are looking for style, performance, and a bit of swagger, this is the Chromebook for you! 

Any one of the Chromebooks on this list CAN be a great purchase - it all depends on what your goals are for the device. Figure out what you want to do and purchase the device that will get you there!