Monday, March 13, 2017

Chromebook Prank Guide for Teachers

Chromebook Prank Guide

April 1 is just around the corner. I put together a list of 5 fun pranks that you can pull on your staff and students who are using Chromebooks:


  1. Google home page swap
  2. Cenafy your Chromebook
  3. Prank Wallpaper
  4. NOPE
  5. April 1 prank toolkit extension

Fill out the form below and I will send you everything you need to win April 1!

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Enable Team Drive for your School


As of March 10, 2017, Team Drive, the new collaborative file storage feature of Google Drive, is available for all G Suite for Education organizations.


Here's how you can enable Team Drive for your School


While Team Drive is available for all Google Domains, it is off by default and must be enabled by a district administrator.

Visit the Admin Console and visit Apps > G Suite > Settings for Drive and Docs > Sharing Setting > Team Drive Creation.

Uncheck the box the prevents users from using Team Drive until January 2018.
Enable Team Drive
This change can take up to to an hour before it will be accessible by users within you organization. 

Team Drive provides a place for groups to collect, share, and manage files in Google Drive. Unlike a traditional shared folder in Drive, Team Drive provides additional access and content management tools specifically designed for team. 

You can read my full review of Team Drive here

Thursday, March 9, 2017

4 Reading Month Activities

4 Reading Month Activities | John R. Sowash

March is reading month! Reading and writing are foundational skills; There is nothing more important. However, in this age of constant access to multimedia, motivating students to read can be difficult. Here are 4 ideas for encouraging your students to read. 

Note: If you were a subscriber to my email list, you would have received these four ideas in your inbox! Each month I send out an email with recent EdTech updates and an original article focused on using technology in the classroom. Subscribe below!

3 Act Story Challenge


After your students have finished a book, give them an index card. On one side, have them write the title and author of the book along with 3 key moments (a very simple outline). No more than 3!

Note: you can skip the writing part for younger students.

On the back, ask the student to draw a simple 3-act story. You can also use this template.

When finished, hang the picture card in the classroom so only the pictures are visible. Provide small, colorful sticky notes nearby and allow other students in the class to guess the title by writing it on a sticky note and putting it on/near the drawing.

3 Act Story

Note: the 3 Act story challenge is a well established genre. This idea could be expanded into a full lesson to teach elements of plot and story structure.

eBooks with a Soundtrack


Looking for an immersive reading experience? Check out the free eBooks from BookTrack Classroom! This free classroom service enhances written text with sound effects and background music to set the mood. Check out The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe (tip: don't read it in the dark).

Booktrack Classroom
Not only can you read books using BookTrack Classroom, you can also create your own stories. Motivate your students to write by allowing them to enhance their written work with BookTrack Classroom. Copy / paste something you have written into BookTrack Classroom and add background music and sound effects to make your written work jump off the page.

BookTrack Classroom is integrated with Google Classroom which means it is easy to share student stories.

Note: There are two version of this tool, a commercial one and a classroom version. I recommend creating an account using BookTrack Classroom.

Live Reading Chart


Keep track of how many books and pages your class (or school) has read by taking advantage of the LIVE chart and graph feature of Google Sheets.
  1. Have students log their reading using a Google form (like this)
  2. The data that is collected feeds into a Google Sheet (like this)
  3. Create a chart that tracks pages and books read. (like this)
Embed the chart into a Document, Presentation, or Google Site and watch it grow!

Live reading chart | John R. Sowash

Interested in setting this up for your school? I did all of the hard work for your! Click here to make a copy of everything you need!


Note: due to limitations with the new Google Sites, you won't be able to make a copy of my site. Setting up your own will only take a few minutes.

Family Note: My wife challenged our 2 oldest kids (ages 8 & 6) to read 100 books. She calls it the "Donuts with Dad reading challenge."
What do you do with an idea? Video Book review

Video Book Reviews

If you don't have enough time to work on a written book report, have students record a short 30-60 second video book review. I recommend using Screencastify to quickly record a video and save it to Google Drive.

Generate a QR code that points to the video (instructions). Attach the QR code to the book. Students can use ScanQR, a free Chrome App, to scan QR codes and watch the student video.

I tested this out with my three oldest kids:

If you have other fun and effective ways to get students reading and writing I would love to hear about them! Send me an email or hit me up on Twitter!

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

When Extensions Go Bad

When  Chrome Extensions go Bad | John R. Sowash

I am a big fan of Chrome Extensions. I share my favorites on Twitter and this blog.

Extension can control and access a lot of system resources, that's how they can do so many cool things! With that access comes the possibility of misuse. Google reviews all extensions posted to the Chrome Web Store and requires that developers adhere to certain data and privacy rules.

Chrome Extension permissions
Any time you install a new extension you see a list of system controls and data that the extension will be able to access.

I am comfortable with Google's review policy and their ability to monitor content from the Chrome Web Store. For this reason, I regularly add new extensions and recommend them to others.

There is, however, a loophole in this process that can cause issues. It doesn't happen often, but can result in a significant security risk.

Occasionally, after publishing an extension, a developer may modify it in ways that violate Google's policies. Frequently this includes intrusive advertising, modification of key Chrome browser settings, or key logging activities. Sometimes this is due to a greedy developer who is trying to make money. I have also seen this happen when a popular extension is sold and the new developer modifies the original extension. It can also be caused when an extension is hacked and modified against the wishes of the developer.

Google is pretty quick about removing such extensions from the webstore. However this doesn't help anyone who installed the extension before it was removed.

Users installed a tool and gave it permission to do a certain set of things but now it is doing things they did NOT give it permission to do. It has become an "Extension Virus"

This recently happened to me.


My Extension Virus Story


I had installed and was using an extension called Web Paint. It was very helpful and I regularly recommended it. I used it for almost a year without incident.

Last week weird things started to happen. Advertisements would randomly appear and my new tab page was filled with ads.

The worst thing was that my Twitter account was hacked. Someone accessed my account and used it to DM thousands of my followers. I am very careful with my Twitter password and and cautions about phishing attempts. I believe that the Web Paint extension was modified to gain access to my Twitter account.

It took me a few days to track down these issues to the Web Paint extension. There were a few signs:
Web Paint hacking notice
  • The Web Paint extension had been removed from the Chrome web store. 
  • When I reviewed the permissions for Web Paint (Chrome Menu > More Tools > Extensions > Details) I noticed that it said "allows extension to access proxy settings." This is a very invasive setting which is NOT required for what the extension does. 
  • When I disabled the extension, the random ads disappeared. 
Through my research for this article I discovered that Web Paint was the victim of a hack which corrupted the original extension. The developer acted quickly to patch the extension and fix the problem. The issue, as the developer indicates, is that extensions do not auto-update. You must uninstall and reinstall the extension to remove the infected code. 

Keeping your devices and data private requires vigilance and caution. No one (not even the guy who wrote the book on Chromebooks!) is protected against malicious attacks. 

I will continue using the Web Paint extension (it's a great tool)! My attention to security has been heightened as a result of this issue. If you are a Chrome browser user and are experiencing weird issues with your device. Most of the time these issues can be traced back to an "Extension Virus."  


What to do when you have an extension virus


If you have issues, here are the steps to follow: 
  • Did you recently install a new extension? If so, disable it (Chrome Menu > More Tools > Extensions)
  • If that doesn't solve the problem, turn off ALL of your extensions. 
  • Turn them on one at a time until the problems start again. The last extension you enabled is the culprit. Delete it.
Have you had issues with an extension virus? How did you figure out the problem? What steps did you take to fix the issue? 

Be safe out there everyone! 

Monday, February 27, 2017

Live Streaming via YouTube


Google Hangouts on-air is now YouTube Live Streaming. If you are interested in setting up a publicly visible livestream you will need to visit YouTube, not Google+ as you may have done in the past.

Google Hangouts has a maximum participant limit of 15 (Gmail accounts) or 25 (G Suite for Education / Business accounts). If you need more viewers than either of these limits you will need to use YouTube Live streaming.

I lead monthly webinars to discuss various topics related to educational technology. These monthly hangouts are run through YouTube live. It easy to set up, free, and very easy for viewers to access.

Scheduling a Live stream is quite simple.

1. Visit you YouTube.com/live_dashboard

This will take you directly to the live stream portion of your YouTube account. To schedule a live event, click "events" and click "new live event".



2. Set up your Event

Fill out the basic information on the event page. You can come back and adjust this information later if needed. The date and start / end times are the most important part.

3. Advanced Settings

Most of the default settings on this page should be fine, but there are a few settings you may want to adjust:

  • Live chat - do you want your viewers to be able to chat during the stream? This feature is on by default. 
  • Promotions - by default, Google will post your live stream on your YouTube channel when it goes live. If you don't want the general public to know about this feed, uncheck these boxes. 

That's it! When you are done, click the "create event" button.

Starting your Live Feed: 

To begin your live feed visit YouTube.com/live_dashboard, find your event and click "Start Hangout on Air." This will launch your Google hangout.

Once your hangout has launched you can invite others to join as contributors. You are still in the setup phase. Your feed is NOT being broadcasted.

To officially start your broadcast you must click the green "start broadcast" button at the bottom of your hangout.

Watching a live Broadcast

There are a couple different ways to help your viewers access your live feed.

1. Embed the feed 

Your video feed is a regular YouTube video which means that it can be easily embedded into your blog, website, or even in your learning management system. Viewers just need to click the play button. The video behaves a little like a DVR; viewers will have the ability to watch from the beginning, pause, and rewind the feed as they wish.

The downside to embedding the feed into your website is that viewers won't be able to access the live chat.

2. View on YouTube

Your live stream will also be visible on YouTube. Here, viewers can watch the feed AND participate in the live chat. Simply share the video link with your viewers to give them access to the view page. Note that your video doesn't need to be publically posted on YouTube in order for it to have a "watch now" page. This requires that you send the link directly to your viewers as there is no other way for them to find it.



My Live Stream Page

For my webinars I setup a simple, single page Google Site on which I embed the video stream and provide instructions on how to access the chat. You can view my setup here

Post Recording

After your live stream has ended, Google will automatically post a recording of the stream to your YouTube channel. Depending on your settings, this will either be a public or hidden video. The live chat is not saved.

Hangouts On Air is now YouTube live. While the core functions haven't changed, the process of setting up and managing your live stream events is much improved.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

RIP Google Spaces

Google Spaces, a products that most of my readers probably haven't even heard of, will be discontinued on April 17, 2017.


Spaces was developed as a organizational tool for teams. It has elements of Google Keep, Classroom, and Drive rolled into one. Given the greater popularity of these three tools, it's not surprising that Spaces never gathered momentum.

I suspect that the end of Spaces is also due in part to the pending launch of Team Drive (read my review here).

I don't expect many tears to be shed for Spaces. We can, however, observe a few interesting trends from the development and now end of this collaborative team tool:

1. Google likes internal competition. 

It's not uncommon for Google to launch competing projects and wait to see what sticks. Even when a project is cancelled, we frequently see the best features from that product rolled into an existing tool (i.e. Wave being absorbed by Google Drive).

2. Google's pace of innovation has increased

Google has been on a tear over the last 18 months in terms of launching new products (Spaces, Trips, Allo, Duo, Home, Pixel phone, Daydream...) and discontinue unpopular products (Spaces, Research tool, hangout apps). When engineering talent is at a premium, you have to pick and chose your projects.

3. Google is focused on teams

Over the past year Google has focused a lot on helping teams work more efficiently. They have added improved search through machine learning, launched Team Drive and cloud search (coming soon).

What do you think? Will you miss Spaces? Are there any missing pieces to Google's collection of collaborative team tools?

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.