Google Apps Store and the Classroom

9 Dec

Always the innovator, Google is working to change how we interact with the internet. Earlier this week, Google unveiled their Chrome Web Apps Store. Like what iPhone and iPad apps have done for mobile devices, Google is hoping to do for the internet. If you aren’t already running Google’s browser, Chrome, you’re missing out on what 120 million other people have fallen in love with, myself included. Chrome is, in a word, fast. Combine that with the instant search capabilities that Google recently unveiled and we’re off to the races. One convenient feature is that the address bar duals as Google search, yet again saving you precious milliseconds of browsing time. Pair these tools with Gmail’s new priority inbox and, voila! you’ve freed up approximately 3.6 minutes of your day!

Chrome is King!

But back to the Apps Store…Apps run in Chrome browser and in the future will function as applications on Google’s Chrome OS, which they also previewed recently and have a handful of netbooks from Samsung and Acer slated for debut in early 2011.

While Google is certainly changing the face of the internet, with so many schools going 1-to-1 (mine included), the face of education is changing too. (See here and here for previous posts on how Google Docs can be used in the classroom)

The Apps store is just getting started, so it only has a few hundred apps, but I wanted to preview a few of the early winners for classroom use. [update: in the day or so since I started writing this post, the education apps has gone from around 60 to 111!]

Google Books: Create your own library of ebooks that resides in the cloud. Synchs with all of your web-enabled devices. See a short video touting its benefits here. Google’s new ebookstore just might give internet giant Amazon a run for its money

Aviary: Web-based image editing tool. Feature-rich and easy to use, this is a powerful image editing tool that is impressive for the cost – free!

Wikihood: Calling itself a “world browser” it is basically what you would get if you genetically engineered Google Maps by inserting the gene for Wikipedia. An interactive world map allows you to click anywhere in the world and bring up relevant cultural, historical, and other kinds of info. It goes right down to street level, and would make a killer app for traveling to a new city.

Sliderocket: This is like Google Presentation, on steroids! Too bad you have to pay for an account over 15MB and for synching with Google Apps. Boo!

Planetarium: Another google maps like experience but for the night sky. Tell it your location and you can look up at a virtual sky. This could be great if you teach in a city with lots of pollution like I do, and want your students to see what the sky could look like if only they’d quit turning on so many lights! A free graphing utility that looks pretty cool on the surface. Didn’t dive much into it but I’ll leave that up to the math and physics crowd. Seems like it could be pretty student friendly way to quickly visualize graphs though…

Evernote: This is basically just a link to the online Evernote at this point, but maybe in the future it will be a more feature-rich application. Not so much for your classroom instruction, but will help keep you sane. Love Evernote for just keeping track of odds and ends, and in fact just recently bought the full version and dig it.

Get your news fix with apps from NYTimes, NPR, or if you’re feeling less serious, the Onion

Not exactly school, but…

Tweetdeck: The ever popular program for keeping track of facebook, twitter, and everything else social, is now available in your browser as a Google App. Haven’t noticed much difference in the functionality yet…

Others I didn’t get around to trying but look like they could be cool:

Creately: The popular mind-mapping tools comes to Google Apps. Downside: not free 😦
Aerotimer: Basically an egg timer for you browser. I typically use in the classroom and project it up on the overhead, but maybe I can use this to set time limits on the amount of time I spend in Google Reader….
Quicknote: An extension from Diigo, for taking quick notes. I’m pretty fond of Stickies in OS X but maybe worth a shot

The exciting part is that the store is just getting started, and for the moment a lot of the apps are glorified bookmarks. But it’s definitely a start, and the possibilities are exciting…


Differentiation 2.0

30 Nov

[here’s one that’s been on the back burner for a few weeks…]

Recently, coworker Cory Willey and I presented a workshop at Seoul International School on using technology and differentiation titled “Differentiation 2.0” Our goal was to highlight some current web 2.0 tools that work well with various strategies for differentiation. We organized the session around some of Carolyn Coil’s ideas on differentiation. Carolyn Coil recently came to our school for a weekend workshop and shared some great ideas and strategies (See here for a previous post live from the workshop…).

(You can check out the website here)

We organized it around the four areas of differentiation and featured a tool well suited for each area:

  • Content – Delicious and Social Bookmarking in the classroom
  • Process – Webspiration
  • Product – Prezi
  • Environment – Google Apps

Some reflection on the session:

  • 50 minutes was too short! We just scratched the surface and it would have been great to have more work time and more discussion
  • The website was great. Weebly once again has demonstrated its ease as a web design tool.
  • The MS/HS combo of presenters seemed to work well, being able to offer something different for different teachers (yay differentiation!)
  • Prezi and webspiration were enthusiastically received and teachers seemed to pick them both up quickly
  • Differentiating for teachers may be even harder than with students…Admin, librarians, ES, MS, HS, tech staff, what a diverse group!
  • No one seems to have utilized our idea for the sharing space on the website. Wonder how many times the site has been visited after the session? Wonder how to bring people back…

hdwkt: the science behind nutritional advice

9 Nov

The past few years I’ve been teaching biochemistry of the macromolecules (Chapter 3 in Campbell Concepts and Connections) alongside enzymes and digestion (Chapters 5 and 21 respectively). To me, these topics fit together tighter than a-bungarotoxin at the neuromuscular junction. I wish more textbooks would organize themselves this way, rather than oh so unoriginal small – big sequence of topics. Start with atoms, end with ecology…clever. But that’s another day.

A few items recently caught my eye regarding nutritional advice, and I’m mulling over how to implement these into the classroom along the lines of hdwkt (how do we know this?). One is a video a student showed me of  a 4 year old McDonald’s hamburger that looks pretty much like a 4 hr old hamburger (there’s lots of other videos on this same theme).

While her props are indeed provocative, this isn’t really fair to the burger or fries. Before I start, I’m not in any way suggesting that McDonald’s is healthy or great for you, or that any burger and fries are great for you. However, I do take issue with her illogical argument for avoiding McDonald’s.

Her argument goes something like this:

McDonald’s burger doesn’t rot
Food rots
Therefore, McDonald’s burger is not food

Her corollary to that seems to be:

McDonald’s non-food burger doesn’t break down easily in the open air under normal household conditions
If non-food burger can’t break down outside the body, it can’t break down inside the body
If the burger can’t break down, your body stores it (in your thighs)

There’s lots of ways this line of reasoning is flawed. Skipping over the philosophical debate over a definition of ‘food’, even a rudimentary working knowledge of the digestive system would tell you that the environment in your stomach or small intestine is quite different from sitting on the kitchen counter. I think this provides a great opportunity for students to critically evaluate an argument such as this and apply knowledge they’ve acquired.

Another issue here is the lack of a proper experiment. Simply holding up one McDonald’s burger doesn’t tell us much when we don’t have another burger to compare it to. Similarly, slices of raw potato don’t make a great control for a McDonald’s french fry longevity study aimed at demonstrating how un-foodlike McDonald’s products are. What would make a better control? What types of experiments could we design?

Today I stumbled across a blog post from J.Kenji-Lopez ( who seems to have taken issue with this pseudoscience of burger preservation and tried to approach it more scientifically. Read more about the experiments and analysis here. I like the comparison of % change in mass over time graph, interesting stuff.

This provocative video lecture, “Sugar: The Bitter Truth” by a scientist from UCSF argues that fructose is treated by our bodies as a poison and responsible for the modern obesity epidemic. Lots of great biochemistry too. This isn’t exactly a mainstream, FDA position, but that’s the point. How do we evaluate these types of claims? It gets even harder when it’s a scientist from a reputable university, and he’s using lots of formulas! How does the FDA make their guidelines? When you take a look at the obesity epidemic, obviously something about or recommendations isn’t working…

Another food related article illustrates the uncertainty in our scientific understanding of world. The headline ‘Twinkie diet helps nutrition professor lose 27 pounds” is definitely an attention grabber. There’s lots of room for questioning in here. Why do we eat the foods we do? A great food choice related infographic appeared in the NYTimes the other week highlighting ways we can subtly alter school cafeterias to increase positive choices. Reminded me of the book ‘Nudge’ a bit, but how do we know what is ‘good’?

Everyone is faced with food choices every day of their life. How can we better inform our choices? My students will soon be heading off to college and, for many of them, it will be the first time in their lives when they’re entirely responsible for what to eat. Yikes.

Michael Pollan has written extensively on food and nutrition and I really enjoy his perspective. His book, “In Defense of Food,” has a nice and simple message, “Eat food, mostly plants, not too much.” Word.

student PLNs and differentiation

22 Oct

[posting live today from the Carolyn Coil differentiation workshop at Seoul International School]

This is differentiation weekend and it strikes me that one of the most powerful approaches towards differentiation instruction is to guide students to develop their own personal learning network. First and foremost, by definition it is individualized. Second, the students’ own interests and needs drive the “instruction”.

Not that kind of differentiation...

I’ve been thinking about the ways I’ve applied some of the my favorite PLN tools to the classroom and I’m realizing I’ve been providing them with content more often than empowering them to generate or locate content themselves. This has got to change, and I’m going to frame this around the idea of students building their own PLNs.

Three tools immediately jump out to me:

  • Blogging (and blog reading) will be the hub of their learning network.
  • Google Reader as a tool to organize blog readership, news feeds, etc
  • Delicious (or Diigo?) for collecting and sharing content

There’s so much potential here! Coming next week: Delicious in the classroom

Quote of today re: student groupings…

A society isn’t measured by who is excluded, but who is included


image credit:


Back on the horse

20 Oct

Get back on me!

After a brief hiatus filled with masters coursework, a trip to China, umpteen college recommendation letters, lots of grading and of course teaching, it’s time to get back to the blog. I’m looking forward to this weekend and a workshop on differentiation with Carolyn Coil. I’ll post some updates from the workshop this weekend.

Looking ahead, I’m presenting a series of PD sessions in early November and wanted to hash out some ideas here.

  1. Google Apps part 2, which is a follow up to last month’s “Get a Grip on Google” presentation
  2. Differentiation 2.0, which will highlight some ways to use the technology and web 2.0 tools to differentiate.

The Un-Conference Learning 2.010 in Shanghai gave me lots of great ideas which hopefully I can work into the above sessions after laying them out here. Now that all my leisure writing time isn’t devoted to college recs maybe I’ll be able to blog more than once a month!

In the mean time, here are some collaborative web 2.0 tools I’ve been experimenting with.

  • Google Apps – its hard to even call this an experiment, at this point Google Apps is my tried and true medium for lab data and report collaboration
  • Webspiration – the popular concept mapping tool Inspiration has gone cloud-based with a free, public beta release Webspiration. I haven’t had the chance to try it out with my students yet, but the possibilities here are exciting. Concept mapping seems so much more powerful to me when you have more than one mind to map.
  • Prezi – The hip presentation tool has also gone cloud-based and now multiple collaborators can work on single Prezi file ala Google Presentation. My students have enthusiastically taken to using Google Presentation to create quick group projects, but Prezi adds another great option for presentations
  • Dabbleboard – Turn the students laptops into whiteboards that they can write on collaboratively. Could be cool for project planning or group process modeling

More coming! Hopefully soon I’ll get some student samples up on here with these tools…

Get a grip on Google

5 Sep

Last week I led a series of PD sessions on ways to use Google Education Apps to make life easier in the classroom. Jumping on the Google Apps bandwagon can feel chaotic at first. Last month I posted a few Google Apps tips on this blog, but I wanted to play around with Google sites so I went ahead and created a site. It features some suggestions and walk throughs on some basic strategies for managing 100+ students, and hopefully minimizing the somewhat inevitable chaos that will ensue when they first start creating and sharing assignments with you.

Check out the site here.

student skeptics

16 Aug

I recently received this email from a close relative who shall remain nameless:

Two moons on 27th August 2010
27th Aug the Whole World is waiting for………….

Planet Mars will be the brightest in the night sky starting August. It will look as large as the full moon to the naked eye. This will cultivate on Aug. 27 when Mars comes within 34.65M miles off earth. Be sure to watch the sky on Aug. 27 12:30 am. It will look like the earth has 2 moons.

Forwarding emails like this is basically the electronic version of regifting a crappy present. No one wants your label maker. This forward caught my eye though. Mars as big as the moon? Sounds fishy…Turning to a favorite website of mine for debunking silly email claims,,  my suspicions were confirmed, it was a hoax. In fact, as pointed out here, the picture isn’t even of our moon, but two moons of Saturn (see the rings at the bottom?)

Nonetheless, this got me thinking about the daily flood of “scientific” news, claims, and downright hoaxes. From the somewhat misleading claims of discovery of a  “____ (insert characteristic) gene,” to downright mischievous chain letters, sorting the good science from the bad can be quite a challenge.

I want to involve my students in the process of finding these questionable claims, and then working to validate/invalidate them. This presents a great opportunity to exercise the skill of evidence evaluation and critical thinking.

I recently came across Frank Noschese’s great physics blog Action-Reaction and his recent post on Physics Win? Fail? I love this idea and its right in line with what I’m imagining. This has got my gears spinning thinking of a comparable collection of biology fails. First to mind is all of the monster movies featuring creatures that push the limits of biomechanics (and physics…)

Checkout The Biology of B-movie monsters for a thorough and entertaining look at exactly that.

I welcome your suggestions for Biology Fails…