Category: technology

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Organizing the Web in 3 not-so-perfect ways: Inbox by Gmail, Save to Google, Google Keep

favicon Google’s mission is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Everyone uses Google to search, but what happens after you find something good? There are a ton of options, and now Google is offering choices, too.

Over the past couple weeks, Google has released three new products:

Inbox by Gmail– Inbox by Gmail Extension. This extension allows you to save links to a bundle in Inbox by Gmail. This might be good for you if (a) you already use Inbox by Gmail and (b) you tend to save and organize links by sending them to your email. What’s not great, though, is that I don’t think you can send those links to friends once they’re in Inbox. (You can send them directly from the extension.)

Save to Google. This extension lets you save and organize webpages from your computer to a dedicated bookmarks page, You can add tags and notes, plus you can view your links on your phone. (But you can’t add new links from your phone.) Again, the biggest weakness of this extension is that you can’t share those links later on (unless you go back to the original webpage, of course).

Google KeepSave to Keep. This extension allows you to save links as new notes in Google Keep. If you already like Keep (I sort of do), this might be a good option. Once a link is a note in Keep, you can share it with friends (especially if they use Keep, too). The bad news, though, is that links are hard to organize easily, though the service now allows you to add hashtags easier (#) via phone.

While it’s nice to see that Google is taking some steps to help us organize the internet, I have to say, I’m not really sure what the company is doing. Each of these products offer just a tidbit of the entire puzzle. For people who don’t want to keep tons of tabs open, and who don’t want to keep sending links to their email, there has to be an easy way to save-organize-share. Right now, Google is not providing those three basic features. favicon

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TEACHER VOICES: Dave Keller, #5

Chromebooks in Classrooms: What does the usage data show?

favicon This just came across my virtual desk and it seemed worth sharing.

Screen Shot 2015-12-21 at 12.01.07 PM

The graph shows usage during a week (24 hrs a day) for the entire K-12 Piedmont Unified School District, which has about 2,600 students. First, some context: 2015-16 is the first year my high school and middle school have gone 100% 1:1. This means every 6-12 grade student has a Chromebook that they can take home.

Here is a little more data:

Snapshot in time – At 10:00 am Thursday December 3:

  • 390 student Chromebooks were in active use.  
  • 186 high school students, or roughly 22% of school population
  • 118 middle school students, or 18% of school population

The week of 12/8, students spent:

  • 3,806 hours on Google Docs,
  • 377 hours in Membean, a personalized/adaptive vocabulary service for 6th-12th grade students
  • 360 hours checking grades on Infinite Campus,
  • 305 hours on the Math textbooks piloted for 6th-12th graders
  • 109 hours on Newsela, with differentiated nonfiction current event articles for  3rd-6th graders
  • 96 hours using Desmos, an online graphing calculator
  • 87 hours listening to Pandora music
  • 45 hours using Kahoot, a fun classroom quiz game
  • 36 hours in Scratch coding

The week before Thanksgiving also showed the 187 high schoolers using their Chromebooks to apply for college: 173.7 hours were spent at

Dave Keller - TEACHER VOICES - IserotopeAs a result, our teachers, students, and families are trying to understand the benefits and problems associated with so much technology.

The reaction from faculty has been mixed so far, but one thing is for sure: These numbers are causing quite a stir. What strikes me is that 3,800 hours were spent using Google Docs. Almost a third of computer time is spent writing text or reading text curated by teachers. Of course, it is hard to tell how Docs is used. Some of my Docs activities are digital worksheets. If that is the predominant use, then Chromebooks are a modern version of the mimeograph (or “ditto machine” for those who remember the pungent, blue paper).

However, some of my digital activities teach students to evaluate each other’s writing (using Google Forms). I also use technology to quiz or review (using Socrative and Kahoot), to increase collaborative work (with Docs and Teacher Dashboard), and to promote research while evaluating sources. These uses of technology are showing good results.

Students report liking the computers that are now part of their academic toolbox. They say their organization is improving and collaboration is easier in many ways. For example, online flashcard decks are routinely shared, as are student-generated review sheets and research. When it comes to reading, students seem divided on which they like best: paper or digital. I use a digital textbook and many digital sources but can’t tell whether digital has improved students reading or learning.

Some faculty are alarmed by the amount of time spent on activities that are not directly related to classwork, claiming this data shows that over 50% of computer use is not related to academic work. For example, 11% of Chromebook time was spent on YouTube and 360 hours were spent checking grades.

Like much of the data gathered by Google, these stats are interesting, colorful and fun—but might not tell us much about student learning. However, I am excited to see what future conversations about this information will reveal about our students’ lives at school.

If you have an observation or question about the data, please leave your thoughts in the comments section. Thank you! favicon

Dave Keller (@dkeller101) has been teaching Social Studies for 17 years, consistently looking for new curriculum and methods of instruction. While experimenting with technology in education, Dave focuses on teaching the reading and writing skills required for studying our social universe. He has taught classes throughout the Social Studies discipline in a variety of high schools, including a large comprehensive inner-city school, a charter school, and a competitive independent school. He currently lives in Oakland and teaches at Piedmont High.

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Here’s why I love Pocket, plus why I’m intrigued by its new features

Pocket iconfavicon Pocket is my favorite save-online-stuff-for-later service. I use it all the time, plus I’ve written about it a bit. (One of my claims to fame is that Pocket interviewed me for their blog last year.)

I like Pocket for many reasons. Here are some: (1) It lets me save articles (and other content) to read later, (2) It makes reading beautiful, (3) It works offline, (4) It works across all platforms, (5) The app is simple and beautiful.

Because I’m a big online reader (traditional news sources + Feedly + Facebook + Twitter + friends’ recommendations + Digg + Medium + TinyLetter and Revue newsletters + This. + other sources), there’s just no way I could read everything I want to read and organize everything I’m reading if Pocket weren’t around.

(In fact, it makes me a little crazy when I find out that there are tons of people who still don’t use Pocket. These people tell me one of two things: (1) They read things as they discover them, (2) They keep tabs open. Both options are not ideal!)

Over the past several months, Pocket has worked on several new developments that push the service into new territory. They’re intriguing.

The first development is about discovery. Pocket is promoting a new “recommended” feature, which offers articles that may catch our interest. Here’s what it looks like on the computer:

Pocket Recommendations

The skeptic says, “I already have too much to read on Pocket. Why do I need more?” The answer is that Pocket — at least so far — is doing a good job of recommending excellent articles, and not too many of them. Though I won’t use Pocket as my primary way to discover new articles to read, I am liking what I’m seeing so far.

The second development is about curation. Each Pocket user has a profile (here’s mine), and now you can add your favorite articles to your page. It’s like your personal best-of list. Articles you add stay there unless you delete them. There’s a stickiness. In this way, what Pocket is offering is a sort of opposite to Facebook or Twitter, where what you post is ephemeral. If it’s true that “we are what we read,” then this feature also allows others to learn more about what we care about. (My gut says this curate-yourself trend will get big. Example: This. is similar but takes a different approach.) It’s brilliant.

Pocket Profile Page

The third development is about building a social reading community. If you like, similar to Twitter, you can follow other Pocket users and their public recommendations. I’m a bit more leery about this feature. It sounds great at first — after all, why not know what your friends are reading? Maybe I would like it more if more of my friends used Pocket. My worry is that there’s something personal and private about Pocket. If I want to recommend an article to a friend, I’d like to do so privately — via email, usually — and yes, I know I can still do that. Maybe I’m just worried that Pocket’s primary feature — to be my reading hub, my reading headquarters — will somehow be compromised if it becomes too much of a social network. Like a sort of dilution in a way.

Overall, I’m really happy with where Pocket is going. Online reading services (like Instapaper and Readability and Pocket and Reading List) are all trying to figure out the best overall experience (not too many features, and not too few), and I’m excited to see Pocket’s next steps. favicon


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How to send and receive photos and MMS messages using Google Messenger on your Republic Wireless Moto X (2013)

motof2-w620favicon OK, that was a long title. I love my 2013 Moto X. In a world of huge phones, the Moto X is small (4.7 inches) and does the job right. That is, except when it’s on Republic Wireless, a service I want to love (great phone, great deal, similar to Google Project Fi’s $40 a month for 2 GB, unless you use less, and then you get money back).

The problem is that no matter which texting app you use (stock Messaging app, Google Messenger, Google Hangouts), you can’t easily send or receive photos or other MMS messages. Every couple weeks or so over the last year, there’s a problem.

But I think I have the solution.  Here it is if you’re using Google Messenger:

1. Uninstall the latest version of the Republic Wireless App.
Go to Play Store, Apps, and search for Republic Wireless. Uninstall the app and restart your phone. When you turn it on, version will automatically be loaded. I’m sure there are benefits to the current version (, but for me, I’d rather be able to receive and send MMS messages.

2. On Google Messenger, install a custom access point name.
In Messenger, go to settings, advanced, access point names. Note: You won’t see access point names as an option until you send your first text. On the top, press the + sign. Here is the information that you’ll need:

Name: You choose
MMSC: http://localhost
MMS proxy:
MMS port: 18181
MCC: 310
MNC: 000

After you type in this information, be sure to save it by tapping the menu button in the upper right corner and pressing save. Go back to your list of access points, scroll down to the bottom of the list, and make sure yours is activated.

3. Test it out by sending or receiving an MMS.
You might have to quit out of Messenger and run it again. But once it’s working, remember this crazy thing: Every time you quit the app or turn off the phone, your access point will be unactivated. This means that when you go back to Messenger, you will need to reactivate the access point. (Don’t worry: You won’t have to type in the information again.) This is why you shouldn’t close the app unless you’re restarting your phone.

One final tip: If you receive a photo or an MMS that is not automatically downloaded, delete it immediately. Otherwise, weird things will happen.

This is all pretty silly, I know, but until Republic Wireless supports Lollipop on the 2013 Moto X (when is impossible to tell), this is the best solution that I can come up with. favicon

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The Kindle Classroom Project promotes reading. That’s great. But what if it promotes the death of the physical book?

favicon I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about whether the Kindle Classroom Project is contributing in a small way to the death of print books and thereby is sabotaging one of the program’s primary objectives: to reduce the gap between the reading haves and have-nots.

It’s best to write about these thoughts, rather than pretend they don’t exist.

The argument goes like this: Though the KCP may solve one huge problem (getting good books in students’ hands), it ultimately discourages independent reading in the long run. This is because the program focuses on Kindles, thereby discrediting and dishonoring the physical book as the primary means of reading over the past 500 years.

So if the program urges students to read on Kindles and does not offer physical books as an alternative, what happens when the Kindles get returned or stop working? What then?

Over the past week or two, whenever I feel like I have an answer, I quickly sidestep and consider an opposing view.

Like this morning, when I learned about Out of Print, a documentary by Vivienne Roumani. Please check out the trailer.

I can’t wait to see this film — and am secretly hoping it’ll come to San Francisco and play at a film festival, or maybe at the Roxie.

My big thought is, I know that Kindles work. Over the past three years, I’ve seen it again and again. Many students reclaim their love of reading with a Kindle. Other students love the Kindle because it’s like having a library in their backpack, with no worries of overdue fines or waiting for books to become available. Still others love to change the font size or look up words using the built-in dictionary. It’s pretty clear that Kindles do offer affordances that the physical book cannot.

But I also think that there has to be a place for physical books in the Kindle Classroom Project. After all, the KCP is a reading program, not a technology program. The point is not to disrupt an antiquated technology system. Instead, it’s mean to disrupt an unjust social system.

Besides, physical books do a couple things better than e-readers and e-books. Namely, they’re good at building reading relationships between a teacher and a student — a crucial step in bringing students back to reading. Also, print books are way better for discovery — to help students find what they’ll read next.

So I’m trying to figure out the best way to incorporate physical books into the Kindle Classroom Project without diluting the major thrust of the program. No decisions yet, but I think I’m getting close. Let me know your thoughts in the comments! favicon

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I am good at one thing in life

favicon Typing!

A few months ago, I found a great Google extension that keeps track of my typing speed. It’s called Typing Speed Monitor.

The tracker has been tracking my typing for the past 70+ hours. Here are my results:

Typing Speed

Sure, I’m no Sean Wrona (see below), but I can hold my own!

Want to challenge me to a little typing challenge? Get the extension and let me know how you do! favicon

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2 more reasons that e-books are better than physical books for classroom libraries

favicon I continue to fight with myself about whether I should advocate more strongly for e-books (over physical books) in classroom libraries. I want to, but my official position is still this: Both are good.

I know that sounds wishy-washy, so let me explain. If there’s a lot of money, then it’s best to get a lot of physical books and a lot of e-books and let the students choose which format they prefer.

But here’s the reality: There is just not enough money. In most public urban schools, there’s barely any. Teachers who want to build classroom libraries have to spend tons of time looking for cheap books, begging their friends for donations, and hoping that they win Penny Kittle’s Book Love grant.

(I hope I win Penny Kittle’s Book Love grant.)

So that’s why I believe strongly in e-books and Kindles.

This picture — which I took yesterday at Envision Academy’s student-run library in Oakland, offers two more reasons I prefer e-books. Take a look:

Sharon Draper Books

Do you see what I see?

#1: Look at all that wear and tear!
(The books are less than two years old.) It’s great that students have loved reading them — Sharon Draper writes extremely popular books for young people — but these physical books need replacing soon. (E-books don’t need to be replaced.)

#2: These books didn’t use to be there.
Last year, you couldn’t find a copy of a Sharon Draper book on the library’s bookshelves. Students were always reading Ms. Draper (see #1 above). But now, a year later, those six copies of Forged By Fire are just sitting there, not being read. With physical books, multiple copies have to be bought (expensive) when a title is popular. But when the trend ends, you wish you had spent some of your money on this year’s popular titles. (E-books can be read by six students at a time, all for the price of one.)

So it’s pretty clear to me that it’s best practice to encourage teachers and students to make the move toward Kindles.

But the problem is that there are a lot of people — including me — who like the idea of physical books. I love my Kindle, but it’s a bit harder to curl up with one.

Do students feel the same way? I haven’t done a formal study, but a recent lunch meeting with students in Hayward suggests no.

I asked them, “Do you prefer reading physical books?” Only one student said yes. Most were neutral or preferred reading on their Kindle.

Then I asked them, “There are a lot of people who think that a book is better when you’re reading the physical version. What do you think of that?”

Two students agreed with that notion and said that flipping pages makes the experience more tactile. But again, the vast majority said that the format doesn’t matter — it’s the story that counts.

I’m going to continue talking with students. Even though I believe strongly in the Kindle Classroom Project, it’s important to uncover what teachers and students want.

One thing is clear: What’s currently happening in public urban schools — a scarcity of books, resources, and reading — cannot continue. There needs to major shift in reading culture!

Please let me know your thoughts on this one! favicon

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Stay in contact with students with Remind. But do so sparingly so you’re not annoying.

remind School is back in session. This means, invariably, that people are debating whether to ban homework and whether it’s OK for teachers to text their students.

It’s a tough question, this texting thing. There are definitely best practices, like (1) make sure it’s OK with your students and their parents, (2) don’t text your students too often, (3) unless it’s really important, don’t initiate a text with an individual student.

Now that SmashText is no longer, I like Remind, a service for teachers to stay in contact with students and parents via text messages.

Remind keeps everything easy and safe. There is a web version and a phone app, and both are beautiful and easy to use. Students and parents can subscribe to your reminders by sending a quick text to a phone number that is not yours. Most important, communication is one-way: You get to talk with them, but they don’t get to talk to you.

Here’s a screenshot of what Remind looks like:


I used to bristle at the one-way communication part. After all, isn’t it weird to receive a text message and then not be able to respond? I think the answer to that is yes.

(If you’re in that camp, it’s an easy solution to offer a Google Voice number to your students and parents if they want to contact you directly.)

Teachers are using Remind in many ways:
-remind students of homework,
-remind students to study for a quiz,
-distribute assignments,
-capture and send key info from day’s lesson,
-ask homework questions and do formative assessments.

Remind also has a ton of new features, which are pretty slick, including the ability to send attachments and audio recordings. The Stamps feature lets students and parents interact with your texts via the Remind app, so teachers can ask quick homework questions, take a poll, ask parents for help on a field trip, among other things.

I plan on using Remind this year with the 162 students participating in the Kindle Classroom Project. Because I don’t see them more than once a week, I might want to send out an announcement about new books or an upcoming meeting.

Teachers, what do you think about texting your students? Do reminders help or hinder students’ personal responsibility? When is texting too much or too close? Would your students like Remind, or is it too impersonal? 

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Recommended Reading: “Another Defensive Post About e-reading”

favicon E-readers are getting really bad press lately, thanks mainly to a small study coming out of Europe and today’s announcement that the Los Angeles Unified School District is suspending its iPad program.

The news tidbits may sour people’s interest in e-readers and cause teachers and schools not to invest in them to promote independent reading.

I hope not. Research is just beginning about the effects of e-readers vs. physical books on student reading comprehension and engagement. There is conflicting evidence, which I plan to investigate more in coming months.

The truth is, in my mind, the real problem with reading in schools isn’t e-readers. The problem is that there isn’t enough reading in general, and students don’t get to choose their books, and there isn’t very much access to high-interest books, and middle school and high school teachers don’t have training or experience in reading instruction.

I’m happy that Patrick Larkin may share a similar sentiment. An assistant superintendent in Burlington, MA, Mr. Larkin is leery of research findings that categorically denigrate e-readers. In “Another Defensive Post About e-Reading,” he makes clear that the recent European study has a sample size of just 50 people, which I wrote about in my own post. But Mr. Larkin goes one step further: Only 2 of the 50 students had previous experience using an e-reader. Maybe that’s why the students’ comprehension was inferior!

Please check out Mr. Larkin’s quick post and let me know what you think in the comments!

“Disclaimer: As an administrator in a district where we have provided iPads for all students, I always feel a bit defensive about articles and research studies that are quick to dismiss e-reading in lieu of traditional books. This is especially true when I am quoted in one of the articles.”

Source: (via Pocket). You can also find this article at Iserotope Extras, a curated list of my favorite articles about teaching, reading, and technology. favicon

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Are physical books better than e-books?

Research on e-readers in schools (#2)

Kindle Deckfavicon My good friend Pete sent me this article last week, which summarizes a forthcoming study that suggests that students reading on Kindles comprehend less than those reading on paper.

This debate has been a fiery one ever since e-readers first emerged in 2007. I think it’s an important debate.

But I also think it’s important to look at what the latest study does and doesn’t say. New York Times reporter Stephen Heyman’s “Reading Literature on Screen: A Price for Convenience” does a good job getting down to details.

Some background:
+ The study involved 50 graduate students from Norway and Sweden,
+ The students read a 28-page short story,
+ The students read on a Kindle DX. (Do those still exist?)

Some findings:
+ Students reading on Kindles had similar emotional responses as students reading on paper,
+ There was no significant difference among the students on questions involving the short story’s setting, characters, and plot,
+ Students reading on Kindles did significantly worse reconstructing the order of major plot events. Students reading on paper did much better.

Based on this study, lead researcher Anne Mangen at the University of Stavanger in Norway believes that there is something about the tactile experience of handling paper that helps the brain keep track of plot:

When you read on paper, you can sense with your fingers a pile of pages on the left growing, and shrinking on the right. [The differences for Kindle readers] might have something to do with the fact that the fixity of a text on paper, and this very gradual unfolding of paper as you progress through a story, is some kind of sensory offload, supporting the visual sense of progress when you’re reading. Perhaps this somehow aids the reader, providing more fixity and solidity to the reader’s sense of unfolding and progress of the text, and hence the story.

Though her study included just 50 students, and those students were 20+ years old, Prof. Mangen might be right. It’s altogether possible that reading on paper is superior to reading on E Ink, especially when it comes down to high-level reading comprehension. By no means do I think that we should eradicate physical books in schools.

But I also think it’s crucial not to go crazy and call for the immediate destruction of all Kindles.

If you’re an English teacher, and you want students to do a close read of a challenging text, the Kindle is not for you.

On the other hand, if you’re an English teacher, and you want your students to read voluminously, and to like reading, and to choose their own books, and to build an independent reading program, and to help struggling readers find their place, I’m pretty certain that it doesn’t matter if you choose Kindles or physical books.

As I’ve emphasized many times, I’m not particularly interested in any debate that has an either-or answer. If the question is, Should students read on Kindles or on paper, I say, Both. favicon