Saturday, July 23, 2016

Android on Chrome - 2 Observations

I have had an opportunity to explore the use of Android Apps on my Chromebooks for the past few weeks. You can read through my comprehensive overview here.

I have two new observations to share.

1. Distinguishing Apps

One of my initial concerns when I began adding Android apps to my Chromebooks was issue of differentiating between Android and Chrome Apps - they all look the same! This is an issue if you install the Chrome AND Android versions of a took (like Pixlr for example).

A recent update to ChromeOS 53 (developer) has addressed this issue by adding a small Chrome icon badge to Chrome Apps. It's interesting to note that the badge only appears on Website apps, not native Chrome Apps like Versal or Vysor.

The Pixlr Android app (left) and the Pixlr Chrome App (right)
On one hand, this is a helpful change, however as I have way more Chrome Apps than Android Apps, I would have preferred to see an Android badge added rather than a Chrome badge. 

2. Chrome Sync

One of the best things about ChromeOS is the ability to sign into any Chromebook and have all of your settings and content instantly accessible. This is possible because there is very little content that is actually locally stored on a Chromebook. With Android Apps, that is not the case - each one is locally downloaded to the device you are using. 

I was very curious about how Android app installations were going to be handled on Chromebooks. This is extremely important for schools who have a shared device program. The last thing we want is for the quick boot-time of Chromebooks to be hindered by downloading and installing 2gb+ worth of Android apps on each device. 

I have access to both the Asus Flip and the Chromebook Pixel. Android came to the Asus Flip first, and then the Pixel. I had installed a handful of Android apps on the Asus device and was curious to see what would happen when I switched my Pixel to developer mode to test Android Apps on that machine. What I discovered is that Android Apps do NOT sync. I had to manually install the Android Apps onto my Pixel. 

My guess is that this is not the way things are going to work in the future and is just a function of this feature being in very early stages of development. It would make sense to me to add a new option to the Chrome Sync interface to allow the user (or administrator) to enable / disable Android App sync.
Adding Android Apps as an option to the Chrome Sync page would provide individual users the ability to decide if they want Android Apps to sync across all of their devices. 
Those are my two new observations about Android on Chrome at the moment. Have you discovered anything interesting? I'd love to hear your thoughts and discoveries. 

Monday, July 11, 2016

John's Summer 2016 Chromebook Picks

Looking to purchase a new Chromebook before the back to school season? Here are my summer Chromebook picks! New models come out regularly, so I reserve the right to make adjustment! Prices are based from the manufactures website and may be lower on Amazon.

The Budget Machine

Pick: Lenovo N21
Cost: $180
A solid, durable device for an amazing price. The n21 features a rotating web cam, specifically designed for science classrooms and a nifty hidden handle. Not a power-machine, but hey, it's less than $200!
Full Review:

The Tank

Pick: Dell Chromebook 11
Cost: $219
Dell made significant improvements on their second Chromebook. The Dell 11 features a really nice barrel hinge that extends all of the way through the screen. The Dell 11 can also be easily repaired, making it a great device for schools. Can be configured as a touch-screen.
Full Review:

Performance Machine

Pick: HP Chromebook 13
Cost: $499
Other than the $1,200 Chromebook Pixel, this is the best device on the market. HD Screen, fast processor, 4GB of RAM. My only dissapointment is the lack of a touchscreen option. 
Full Review:

Cool Factor

Pick: Acer R11
The R11 is a convertable, 3-in-1 device and features a standard touch-screen. With Android Apps coming to ChromeOS, this is an awesome device.
Full Review:

Friday, July 8, 2016

Android Apps on Chromebooks

One of the most significant announcements coming out of the Google I / O developers conference this past May was the launch of Android Apps for Chrome. While this announcement didn't make the headlines of the conference, it has significant implications for educators and the classroom.

Early Access to Android for Chrome

An early release of the Google Play Store for Chrome was expected to come to three devices in June: the Asus Flip, Acer R11, and Chromebook Pixel. As of this post, only the Asus flip has received access.

The Google Play Store for Chrome can currently only be accessed by switching to v. 53 of Chrome which is currently in developer preview. The developer release channel is used to test out new features however it is fairly unstable and not for the faint of heart.

Android for Chrome was expected to progress through the Chrome release channels as follows:
  • Developer - June 2016
  • Beta - July 2016
  • Stable - August 2016
This progression seems to be delayed, however, as not all of the selected devices have been updated to v. 53. At this point, it is unknown if Android for Chrome will be released prior to the start of the 2016-17 school year. It seems unlikely.

Android on Chrome - First Look

I have had an opportunity to test out some Android Apps on my Asus Flip Chromebook. The experience is interesting as it is a bit weird to be accessing The Google Play Store on laptop. I am super excited about having access to new tools that were previously unavailable on Chromebooks (e.g. Adobe Creative Suite, Skype, and Minecraft).

Android Apps do not load in a new tab like Chrome Apps do. Instead, they open in a floating window roughly the size and dimensions of a mobile phone. While this floating window can be expanded, the visuals do not always support full screen mode. Android Apps can't be docked into the Chrome browser, pinned, etc.

One interesting thing to note is that at this time, Google Play does not support account switching. I log into my Chromebooks using a Gmail account, but typically work within my Google Apps for Education account. The Google Play Store recognizes my Gmail account and will not allow me to switch to a secondary account; something that I can do on my phone or if I visit the Play store via the Chrome browser.

Here are a few screenshots:

Not all Chromebooks will support Android Apps. Generally, devices purchased within the last 2 years will be compatible. A list of supported devices is available here

The best thing about Android for Chrome is that App developers don’t have to do anything to make their app compatible with Chromebooks. Interoperability is automatic. This is a vast improvement over past attempts by Google to integrate Android and Chrome as they all required modifications for apps to run on a Chromebook.

Why should educators care about Android on Chrome?

Why is this a big deal for teachers, students, and administrators? Five reasons: 
  1. More Quality Apps Available - there are over 2 million Android apps.
  2. Increased Touch-screen capabilities - touch-screen is the future of all devices however many web apps are not [currently] touch optimized. Touch optimized apps are easier for younger students to use and are great for math and science classrooms.
  3. Increased developer focus - If it is easy to make your Android app run on the 10 million Chromebooks in schools around the world, developers will create NEW tools for the classroom. There are more Android developers than web app developers.
  4. Access to previously unavailable tools - There are many tools that are NOT currently web-optimized and can't be run on a Chromebook. Adobe Creative suite, Skype, and Minecraft are three popular examples. These titles DO have Android apps.
  5. Increased offline capabilities - While Chromebooks are designed to run on the web, there are still many students who do NOT have web access at home. Android apps are built with offline capacity, making them helpful tools when not connected to the web. 

Unanswered Questions

While the availability of Android on Chrome opens up lots of exciting possibilities, there are quite a few unanswered questions. 
  1. Administrative Controls - There are lots of Android apps that are not classroom appropriate. How will district administrators manage Android apps on Chrome? We don't know. Will it similar to Chrome App management? Similar to the old Google Play for Education?
  2. Paid Apps - There are also far more paid apps for Android than there are for Chrome OS. Overall, I think that paid apps are fine. I would rather pay for a quality app than deal with lousy, free apps. However, there needs to be a very simple method for schools to purchase and deploy paid content. Google Play for Education was outstanding (schools could pay via PO and distribute apps via Google Groups) and I hope the same features are made available.
  3. App compatibility - Not all apps are compatible with Chromebooks. There are a few that will not work, but I don't know why. We need a greater understanding of the specs required to run Android apps.
  4. App Overload / Overlap - Instructional coaches and technologists will need to begin thinking about "app overload syndrome". There are so many different ways to get apps now - Chrome Webstore, Google Play, Drive Apps, Drive Add-ons, regular websites etc. How does a teacher decide if she should visit, install Mindmeister for Chrome, Android or the Docs Add-on? There is a really possibility of increased confusion and frustration with the many different channels that are available for classroom content. 
Have you had an opportunity to play with Android on Chrome? What are you initial thoughts? 
Don't have access yet? What questions would you like answered?

Additional Information and Resources: 

Saturday, July 2, 2016

New Book: The Chromebook Classroom

The Chromebook Classroom by John R. Sowash
For the past year I have been working on my first book - The Chromebook Classroom. I'm excited to announce the launch of the book and provide readers of my blog an opportunity to download a free excerpt!

The Chromebook launched in 2009, and it was horrible! I was an early user of the first Chromebook, the CR-48. Google rapidly responded to user feedback and continued to improve the device.

Pretty much the entire tech industry thought Google was crazy for developing a new platform. No one thought much of the concept of a fully web-enabled device:

Today, Chromebooks are the #1 selling education device with more than 10 million devices currently in use in schools around the world. Chromebooks have outsold every other device...combined.

Just because a district, school, or classroom has Chromebooks does not mean that they are being used to their fullest potential. The Chromebook Classroom is aimed at helping teachers, district leaders, and IT professionals, deploy, manage, and use Chromebooks effectively.

The book is divided into three sections:

1. Getting Started with Chrome

Section one provides the "chrome story" and provides an overview of the hardware (track pad, special keys, etc) and software (Chrome browser, shelf, app launcher, etc). Section 1 also helps users transition from Mac, PC, or iPad to the Chrome platform.

2. Chromebook Management

Section two is specifically written for IT Directors and others responsible for the configuration and management of Chromebooks in an educational setting. The bulk of section 2 reviews the entire Google Admin Console and provides recommendations on every single hardware and user setting related to Chromebooks such as pushing out apps and extensions for students.

The second half of this section discusses various deployment tips and considerations such as Chromebook repair, insurance, cases, and how to build a culture of ownership among teachers and students. This section will be of particular interest to principals and superintendents.

3. Chromebook Lesson Ideas

The final section of the book is for classroom teachers and provides over 30 specific, concrete lesson ideas that take advantage of the collaborative and creative potential of Chromebooks. Specific lessons are given for elementary, middle, and high school age students.

Classroom management strategies are another major topic in section 3. You'll learn specific tips for using Chromebooks in a 1:1, shared, and station based setting.

Chromebooks are an expression of all that is great in education - creativity, organic exploration, and a thirst for knowledge. It is my hope that this book will serve as a helpful guide for the educators and administrators.

The Chromebook Classroom will be available in both Print and Kindle formats on Amazon starting in August of 2016. Discounted rates are available for districts who wish to order 50 or more copies. For information on bulk orders, contact me at jrsowash[at]sowashventures[dot]com.

Snag your free excerpt here.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Google Classroom Polls for Math Teachers

Last week Google added the ability to ask a simple multiple choice question in Google Classroom. The interface is very similar to Google Forms, but can be setup in just a few clicks.

Shortly after Google's announcement, my friend Ben Rimes published another video in his "video story problem" series. That got me thinking about smashing the two ideas together to help math teachers engage students with real-world math problems.

I quickly setup a new question in Google Classroom and changed it to a Poll question. I grabbed the link to Ben's video (he's using Vimeo, so I had to use the link option, not the YouTube button).

I added in a quick summary for what students are expected to accomplish:
The video below contains a real-life math problem. Your challenge is to figure if it is a better deal to by the "yard of Twix" or to purchase 18 separate Twix bars. Use your math skills to help you determine which option is the most cost effective. Choose one of the options below to indicate your choice, but be prepared to show your work and explain HOW you came to your conclusion.
That's it! Students now have an engaging question which will test not only their math skills, but also critical thinking skills (i.e. how much DOES an individual Twix bar costs?). Thanks Ben for sharing your video!

One of the challenges that math teachers face is having students show their work in a digital format. The use of Google Classroom and the poll feature avoids this challenge all together by forcing students to come to a conclusion, select a response, and be prepared to show their work.

I have not provided students with any specific guidelines regarding HOW they need to show their work. They can use pencil and paper, Google Docs, FastFig, Desmos, etc.

Note that I did elect to hide the class summary so that students are not able to see which response is the most popular. You could leave it on as well in order to stir up more controversy about the right decision. That choice will be up to you and the personality of your students.

This assignment is NOT about getting the right answer, it is about the journey TO the correct (or incorrect) answer. Students should be evaluated on their process not necessarily coming to the correct conclusion.

Ben has created a half dozen or so video story problems, but it would be great if there were more to select from! If you have created any similar videos or found some good ones, please leave a comment with a link!

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Chrome Extensions are like Prescription Drugs...

Chrome Extensions are like prescription don't want to take too many at any one time!

Unlike Chrome Apps, extensions remain active and "on" (there are some exceptions). This can result in reduced battery life, longer page load times, and a general loss processing power for your device, especially if you are on a machine with 4GB or RAM or less. Additionally, you will occasionally encounter extensions which conflict with one another, making pages load slowly, strangely, or not at all.

I usually have between 5-10 extensions running at any given time. I have many more than that installed, but only the extensions that I actively use on a daily basis are enabled.

Here are some quick tips for managing extensions.

1. Review your extensions and remove any that are unfamiliar (some can be malicious) and any extensions that you no longer need.

To manage your extensions, visit the Chrome Menu (i.e. the "hamburger") > More Tools > Extensions.

2. Disable extensions that you want to keep, but don't use on a regular basis. 
From the extension manager page simply click the checkbox next to an extension that you want to keep, but don't need active.

3. Install an extension manager utility
I do a lot of training for schools and am constantly switching my extensions on and off. There are two very helpful extensions that you can use to manage your extensions (very meta, I know!).

Extension Manager: a great chrome extension that lets you turn your extensions on/off without visiting the extension page. One of my favorites!

Context: allows you to group extensions into a "context" to quickly enable / disable a selection of extensions. This is super helpful for me as I have groups for "work" "special education" and "training" so that when I do demos I can quickly turn on all of the extensions with a single click.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Elementary Book Report Machine

I am fortunate to be able to work with thousands of educators at hundreds of schools each year. Occasionally, I have the opportunity to help a school build something really cool.

My first project of 2016 was to help Kingsley elementary school, a small school in northern Michigan, build an elementary book report machine.

Writing reflectively is a key component of the common core standards (example). A book report is a tremendous way to help students practice reflective, informational writing, and to also encourage them to identify elements of literature such as genre, plot, and setting. As a bonus, they can share their writing with others!

The Kinglsey elementary team (Rich Rountree, Sean Selby, Sara Trowbridge, Kendra Bell, and Lynn Alford) decided to leverage their class set of Chromebooks and turn a paper book report assignment into a digital process using Google Forms and Docs.

One of the simplest ways to integrate technology into the classroom is to update an existing lesson or activity with modern tools and processes. As you do this, you will discover new possibilities and will likely end up modifying the assignment to make it even better!

We quickly put together a Google form which contained all of the required elements of the book report.

No one wants to read a book report in a spreadsheet, so we decided to use the AutoCrat Sheets add-on to generate a unique document for each form submission. To do this, we first created a template document with merge tags.

With these steps complete, we now have a system that generates a very nicely formatted Google Doc book report for each form submission. These documents are all safely stored in a Google Drive folder that is shared with the entire grade level team.

But wait, there is more!

Book reports are meant to be read! The final step of this process is to create a QR code for each book report which will be added to the inside cover of the book.

If a student sees a QR code in a book, they can scan it with their device and read the report written by a fellow student. This in turn encourages students to take pride and ownership in writing their own report.

This simple system helps teachers organize and curate large volumes of student work and gives students a wide audience.

The Kingsley elementary team has graciously allowed me to share their story and copies of the documents that you can use! Give it a try - use this link to try out the Book Report generator (hope you like mice and cookies!)

Build your own book report machine: 
  • Google Spreadsheet - We used the AutoCrat add-on to automatically generate docs from the form submission. Note: If you would like a copy of the form below, you will need to make a copy of this spreadsheet; the form comes along with it! 
  • Google Form - This is the final form; fill it out and press submit to see the system in action!
  • Google Doc Template - This is the document that determines the layout of the book reports. The merge tags (i.e. <>) are replaced with data from the sheet.