Chromebooks: Google vs. Office365-Priniting and “Handheld” access

Hooray for printing!  Our division office team has had me do some testing with printing from the Chromebooks and it seems like they have chosen/implemented an effective system.  From a student user standpoint, Google takes this one again, as there are just fewer “clicks” to get a document printed.  Having student print capability is so important for humanities classes where students benefit greatly from having a paper version to use for revising and editing (especially when they don’t have to wait in line for the teacher to print it!)

In our current environment there is one advantage to having students use Office 365, at least at this point. Currently when a student begins a project or essay in a Google Doc with our Division login they cannot complete out of class on their iPad or cell phone, as our current settings do not allow us access to the Division’s Google environment on a handheld device.  On the other hand, students can access their essays on their hand held device using the Office 365 login or apps.  This has delayed some students from my Google test group from finishing an assignment as quickly as they might have otherwise because they have to physically come to my class to use a Chromebook or be at home or school on a desktop to finish their assignments.  I’ve noticed it as a teacher because I have been able to read/mark/comment on student work done in Office 365 from my iPad and Android phone,  but I cannot login to our Google account on those same devices due to “restrictions”.

So, for the time being, Office 365 scores in the cross-platform category. However, I do have hope that at some point our overworked Division Office Technology staff who are trying to implement Chromebooks and learn the world of all things Google will at some point have time to tackle this issue. I fully empathize with the fact that handheld device access is probably not a current high priority in the Chromebook rollout that our division is envisioning, and they have done amazing work so far in this Chromebook/Google world that is unfamiliar territory to them.

Besides, Office 365 had to have an advantage sooner or later!

Trying Something New: a “Blind” Kahoot

Today I got to try two new things in class that I’ve been waiting to give a whirl for a long time: Google Classroom and a “Blind” Kahoot.

I’ve been using Kahoots from for 2 or 3 years now to reinforce and review concepts that my classes have covered.  Now there aren’t many things that make high school students audibly cheer, but this actually happens – out loud!- when I ask them to pull out or pick up a device and load kahoot

About a year ago, Kahoot introduced a new idea called a “blind” Kahoot, where you essentially build the LEARNING into the Kahoot. Students go in “blind”, not knowing anything about the topic, and by the end, have mastered a new concept.  Check out this video description.

So for the past year I’ve been scratching at ideas for building a blind kahoot for one of my classes.  Building regular kahoots is super simple, but a blind kahoot takes a plan and creativity and conceptualization.  This semester, as I am re-imagining a grade 10 Social Studies course for at-risk learners, I finally found a place to try my hand at my first blind kahoot.  The objective at the end was to have students be able to differentiate between the following social studies basic concepts: economic, political, environmental, and social. Click here to check out my first blind kahoot.

So today we actually played the game.  My initial plan was to have students summarize their learning in their interactive notebooks after the Kahoot, but about 3 questions in, I realized that a blind kahoot would easily let us fill in this summary idea chart about each term during the game!  Even the most reluctant note takers quickly filled out their charts so that they would be ready to go before I launched the next question!  By the end of the activity the class had a decent understanding of some new terms, key words and examples for each term, and had had fun playing a “game”.  This type of activity and engagement is super important for these at risk learners, many who claim to “hate Social Studies”.

Blind kahooting….tough creation process for a teacher’s brain, but worth it in the learning dividends for students!  Have YOU tried Kahoot? Blind kahoot?


Chromebooks: New Life for Old Mice

This bin of old mice has been sitting neglected on top of our old lap top cart for years. The old laptops (netbooks) are only used in the most desperate of circumstances, and this old collection of cast off mice likely hasn’t been touched in over a year.


Old mice get new life

At the end of the semester, we used the Chromebooks for a research project with a presentation done in either Powerpoint online (Period 4) or Google Slides (Period 5). When students were ready to put images into their presentations, very few could get the Chromebook track pad to cooperate.  I could barely get an image loaded using the Chromebook track pad.

Luckily, I remembered that there existed an old bin of mice, and was able to track them down.  This was an instant solution to our picture problem, and almost all students chose to plug a mouse into the USB port to continue.  Since then, some students have even chosen to add a mouse to their Chromebook even when they are doing assignments that basically require typing.

Thanks for whomever had the foresight to imagine that this bin of old mice might still have some usefulness!



Chromebooks and the Substitute Teacher

I did something with my sub plans recently that I would not have dreamed of doing in the past few years: I had my students type important in-class essay exams with the “portable technology” with a substitute teacher.

Chromebooks are so reliable that I took this risk.  I would NEVER have left a sub with this task a month ago when we had to rely on using Office 365 on the iPads.

There were a few steps I took to help this process go more smoothly.

  1. I had the class (who had not yet used the Chromebooks for writing an essay) totally set up their new document the day before. We named it and shared it, so that all they would have to do is open Office 365 and start typing.
  2. I created step by step visual instructions on the SMART board for the next day when students would have to find their way back to the document.

I was pretty confident this would work and it did! Every single student successfully completed their document. (One exception was a student that I have in another class who was absent on the set up day; he chose to use Google Docs as that is what his other class was using to type and share with me.)

Not only that, but because students had shared their documents, I was able to mark all of their essays online before the end of Christmas break without having to travel to school to get their work.

Chromebooks: Google vs. Office365 Round 2

At the end of my first step in the Google vs 365 experiment, I noted the next step would be how easily we could get back to our documents.  In the iPad/Office 365 environment that we’ve been trying to make fly for the past two years, it was always uncertain if a student would be able to get back into their account the next day to continue their work.

Turns out, both systems fared fairly well. In our Chromebook environment, we have one login that connects us to both accounts.  So once students have logged into a machine, when they open anything Google, or even press the Office 365 login link from our Division website, they get that personal greeting indicating that they are already logged in.  After all of the repeated login issues we’ve had with 365 on the iPads, this discovery of login ease made some students giddy!

Beyond that, Google was more straight forward. As we only have a Google docs icon on the homepage tray, as soon as they press that, they go straight to thumbnails  of the documents they’ve created . One click and they are back to work.  The 365 login, on the  other hand, takes them to a clump of twenty icons, from which they have to choose Word.  Once they’ve clicked on Word, the ‘new document’ prompt is prominent, and some had a tough time locating their existing document from the side bar.

At this point we are unable to print from the  Chrome books, which means that someone has to print the documents from a desktop.  Google wins in the printing department, too. When I click on the shared document, I can fix font, spacing or labelling issues immediately, and then print. In 365, I have to click on an “edit” button which downloads the document in order to make any font, spacing or labelling changes. After I click the print button, I then have to click again to open the PDF that it creates.  Those extra clicks aren’t a big deal when printing an individual document, but become more time consuming over 20 to 30 papers.

The day ended with a telling sign about the Chromebook environment. We were about to write a controversial response paragraph after finishing the novel Of Mice and Men.  One brash student just got up and said, “I need a Chromebook.” Following this, four other students picked a Chromebook from the charging station, logged on (to Google, which this class had used the previous day) and began typing. A fifth student sat down with a Chromebook, started to login, then put it back, as the login, document naming and sharing was “too much hassle when I don’t have to.”  This never crossed their mind as a desireable option when the iPads with 365 were available, but just made natural sense in the Chromebook/Google environment.

Chromebooks: Office 365 vs Google Experiment #1

edublogs-2k7t2ct-1oe30zfIn the first week of the Chromebooks, any writing assignments I had students do were completed within our Edublogs Digital Portfolio environment.

Today I ended up with an experiment. Since the Chromebooks are conveniently sitting in my classroom, I had my English students use them for a fairly short writing assignment. Previously this year, I have had them do any writing less than an essay in length  on paper, rather than go through the torture (for both myself and the students) of trying to login to Word in Office 365 on the iPads.

In the first class, I had them try and use Word through Office 365.  When I had tested this, I thought that the login would be accomplished through an icon on the login screen. However in class today, this was not the case, so I had immediate chaos. Fortunately, I was a quick thinker today and quickly diverted them to the Office 365 Student login link available through the PRSD home page which was staring at them in the Chrome browser.  Looking back, ALL students were able to successfully login to Office 365 without any error messages –that is a first for my classes. Once in Word (which we have used several times in class on the iPads, so there was some level of familiarity) we named the document and wrote a title in the document. Word is very ‘finicky’ and it doesn’t take much for a student to end up with a new document, or in an offline or different version. Eventually students got to composing, but overall it was still somewhat chaotic getting set up to write in a tool that they have already used several times!

Since I teach the same class in back to back periods, I sometimes do some experimenting. After the non-slick use of Office 365, I quickly decided an experiment was in order!

google docThere is a Google Docs icon on the bottom of the login screen. In the next class, we tried Google Docs, which the majority of student have NOT used before. Of course it is a beautiful thing that they are already logged into Google through the Chromebooks, so they were all quickly in a Google Doc. The document naming and titling was much more efficiently accomplished that it was in Word. I also had time to have the students share the document with me –this process is exceedingly more straightforward in Docs than Word, and was successfully accomplished without glitches, even though the students had to type my whole email address (ie. it didn’t auto populate).

For today’s experiment, Google Docs wins hands down!  It is just so much more simple and straight forward.  I know that the Google experiment was successful by the lack of whining which often happens when students experience something “new”.  Google Docs was so slick that it didn’t even feel new or different.

The next experiment will be how much effort it takes to find and retrieve and finish the documents that we began typing. Stay tuned for a “Round 2” update….

Chromebooks: 1 week in

The PRRD Chomebook pilot has been underway for 1 whole week. The students have been eager to use them, and with the exception of a few perennial whiners, they are enjoying their speed and keyboards.  Most students are choosing to use the Chromebooks over their phones for paragraph length writing, when given the choice.  And if nothing else, they are learning their login/email addresses, which previously many had not bothered to commit to memory!

Here are the quick take-aways from the first week.

  1. They take a bit longer to distribute and return.

New Chromebook Pilot -machines have arrived

Because of the “plug-in” nature of the cart, and the “log-in” process, there have been a few times in the past week that I passed on having the students do a quick digital activity using the Chromebooks, and instead did a paper or oral version, that might not have been quite as effective, but was less time consuming.


EBHS iPad cart

I’ve become very accustomed to our iPad “cart”. The little cart wheels into the classroom, the students quickly and easily grab an iPad, and can instantly get onto an app. When they are done, they can easily slip the iPad back into the cart on their way out the door while holding their binders or backpacks. This system works so well because we have a wonderful librarian who charges them up every few days. img_1229Ms. Anton has truly been a key to the successful use of iPads in our EBHS classrooms over the past 2 or 3 years.  I’m using the Chromebooks almost every class right now because they are conveniently housed in my classroom right now (and I’ve spent the past few years developing all sorts of digital games, reviews, writing activities,etc.).

However, I’m not sure that I would be as likely to haul the big Chromebook cart to my class for the quick type of quiz/review activities I’ve developed for iPad use.  I’ve already adopted the practice of having students leave the machines on the desks for the next set of users to avoid the time-consuming distribution/return aspect.

2. At this point, they take a bit longer to use.

I discovered in a phone conversation with one of our Digital Technology personnel today, that the Google /Chrome operating system is very new for everyone in the office, so it will be a while before they are able to tweek the machines in ways that will improve classroom convenience/student usability, such as:

  • icons to apps/sites so we don’t have to type addresses into the browser and search for the sites (such as,,,
  • a quick access button to Office 365
  • a QR Code reader (ideally accessed by an icon!) to read QR codes already incorporated into paper lessons

3. We will have to wait a while for some features in our PRRD environment:

  • print capabilities – Apparently print capability is a costly aspect. For high school machines that will primarily be used by many teachers to word process essays, print capability is something we really have our fingers crossed for.
  • Google Classroom – I thought that this would be one of the features that I would be able to test-drive right away. Turns out we have to wait for a fair bit of background work to be accomplished before we will have access.

 Chromebooks: Day 1 and 2

New Chromebook Pilot -machines have arrived

On December 6th, Day 1, I had an occasion to use the new set of Chromebooks in each of the four classes I teach. There are going to be so many little lessons and take-aways along the way. Here are a few.


New Chromebook Pilot -machines have arrived

In Period 1, we were at a spot  in the course where we needed to make a short blog post. We’ve used our Edublogs account several times in this class, so this should have been a relatively safe way to break in the Chromebooks.  And it was.  I had 28 students in this class so if there were lots of the 30 machines with issues, this would be a disaster.  There were the usual, “I can’t remember my login email/password” issues and it soon became clear that some machines were not connecting to the wifi– they needed a password that I don’t have access to. I pulled three machines that were getting the same password issue and set them aside so that we did not encounter the same issues repeatedly during the day; this meant that some students had to use their phones ( happily) to complete the activity.   Take aways:

  •  Students struggled with the mouse pad.
  • Part of the assignment required a copy and paste. Many students had no idea that Contol+C , Control+V existed, or that you needed to press them at the same time.
  • We often access the blog site via a QR code. This is a current road block with the Chromebooks.  I’m assuming there will be some type of QR code solution, or at least I hope so…I rely on QR codes a lot to have students access sites.
  • The students enjoyed the key pads for typing better than the iPad keyboards (and I liked that there weren’t any dead keyboards, etc.)

In Period 2, we had a review game using Kahoot. I had all students use the Chromebooks so that a) the playing field was equal, and b) I was able to deal with all log in issues at one time. As these were grade 12s, they had not used computers as much as the grade 10s in Period 1. Many students could not remember the “magic numbers” for their new logins, so I had to look those up. Two students had not logged on to the computer a single time this year, so they were not able to log into the  Chromebooks at all. These students used their phones to play Kahoot, and had a definite advantage with the touch screen.  Take aways:

  • You can play Kahoot on the Chromebooks, but the mouse pad makes it less effective than a touch screen.

In Period 3 and 4, we used the devices to do an activity on Socrative that required typing. The activity itself took less than 5 minutes. When we’ve used Socrative on the iPads, students just click on the app.  On the Chromebooks, students had to Google ‘Socrative’, had to click on “student login”….this made many more places for students to get lost the first time.  Added to the time spent logging into the device, which doesn’t have to happen on the iPads, the Chrome books were more time consuming for a quick activity, especially the time spent plugging and unplugging them from the cart!  Take aways:

  • Is there a Socrative App that can be installed or accessed? Will I be able to accomplish this, or will I have to ask to get someone to install it?

Overall, I realized how efficient our little iPad cart system is. Having students get bunched up waiting to plug in their Chromebook is a big time waster. On day 2, I tried leaving the Chromebooks on desks when the next block was using them. This was a good time saver which I will continue to employ.

Still lots of questions:

  • Will we soon have access to Google classroom? I don’t even know what a Google access will require? Another login to remember?
  • How will Office 365 behave? Will it be as painful as using it on the iPads?
  • Will I have to redo all QR code access?

Never Say Never!

The Chromebook journey begins at EBHS!

September: In the early weeks of the college course on education technology that I teach to pre-service teachers, one student, let’s call him Wade, casually noted his surprise that the course didn’t have much to do with Google so far. In his observation of his own Jr. High aged students, Google and Chromebooks WERE technology in the classroom. I assured him that we had a whole week dedicated to Google coming soon, and then mentioned that my school division did not use Chromebooks. He was stunned and asked if I thought they would ever start using Chromebooks.  My answer was “probably never”. I proceeded to explain that I had been asking for Chromebooks for several years, and kept getting told by our school tech liaison that when he went to division-wide tech meetings, it was made clear that we were going in the iPad direction, not Chromebooks.

October: My principal pops into my class and asks if I would be interested in a pilot project involving a class set of Chromebooks. My initial, likely-unprofessional reaction sounded something like this: “You mean the Chromebooks that I’ve been requesting for years, but have instead spent 3 years investing and planning in the iPad platform? Those Chromebooks?”  Quickly followed by, “Of course I’m not passing up an offer for a class set of technology.  When you say a ‘class set’, do you really mean a whole class set?”…. and a litany of other questions that he did not have answer for at the time.

November: I haven’t heard much about this project going forward, but when I go to a meeting at Division Office, they physically have a cart with Chromebooks in a PRSD building. I begin to realise that this Chromebook pilot may come tchromebook-1rue.  Maybe using Google apps will actually become a reality!

December 5, 2016: Sometime between 2:30 and 3:00 pm, there is a knock at my classroom door and a set of 30 Chromebooks in a shiny new cart are waiting to be wheeled into my room and plugged in.  I open the cart doors to make sure it’s not a cruel joke — yes, the Chromebook are really in there. I take one out, as of course the class and I
are curious….embarrassing, but I can’t get the machine to power up! I try again after school and get power and a successful log in, first time. However as soon as the first internet page shows up, it loops back to the login process.  This happens repeatedly until I have to leave to teach my final Ed Tech course of the semester…..

Tomorrow I have several opportunities to use these new tools…if we can get them turned on and logged in!

When tech fails when you are teaching about tech

The inevitable happened this week in the  college course on Education Technology that I teach to preservice teachers.  I was able to model first hand some oft-stated principles like always double check your links, always have a back-up plan! 

The majority of my assignment instructions were in a Smart Notebook file that did not properly upload to our Moodle site.  I had made some changes to cut down the length of the assignment and was reposting the file to the Moodle at about midnight the previous night. This is a step that I repeat successfully dozens of times a semester. As I have never had a problem with the process, I went to bed without testing the link from the student view.  

Next day in class, this link looked like it had something attached, but you couldn’t open it.  No problem….I have the original file on my hard drive, I will just upload it again. The crazy thing is that it just wouldn’t work. I double checked the file itself; no problems.  I deleted, uploaded, reuploaded, delete it again, to no avail. (There’s more to the story, and I did get the file uploaded later from home, but I still have no clue what went wrong over and over again.)

So this is where the teachable moments pile on. When I realize that this might be a complicated fix, I assign a 10 minute lesson segment that is accessible and that we will run out of time for later in the class at this rate.  And at this point students are starting to make some suggestions. The one that makes the most sense is to go to the blackboard site where Iam building  the course, but let’s say that it is in beta stage. The Blackboard lesson page has an out-dated lesson file which I delete (the things  we overlook at midnight!), and then proceed to upload the updated file. 

At first it looks like everything will be fine, but it soon becomes apparent that the majority of the class is unable to access the file. Another technology roadblock. The weird thing is that some students are able to get the file open without any issues while others are getting a zip file.  By now students are trying all sorts of things and calling out progress or lack there of.  One student discovers that if you just change the file extension  to .notebook that the file will not open (Kudos to Brittany). Of course it will and why didn’t I think of that.  But why did the file work for some and not others? Another student suggests that the person beside them is using Firefox and can open the file but they were getting the weird zip file in Explorer (Kudos to Victoria, I think). Of course Explorer is the problem (it almost always is!) and why didn’t I think of that sooner.

So this week’s lesson had some valuable unplanned outcomes:

  • When tech fails you, don’t be afraid to crowd source a solution. As the teacher you are likely  so busy thinking about how to alter the rest of your lesson, that an otherwise obvious solution eludes you.
  • When using technology, always have a backup plan. I can remind students of this over and over again, but what better way to learn it than when your prof has to model it firsthand!
  • Always double check your links and websites ahead of time. This is another thing that I remind students of frequently, and I am usually very  good at double-checking for  myself. This time I let the late night clock get the better of me, but I would always support improving a lesson plan over teaching the ol’ standby just because it is the easy and convenient thing to do.  
  • When a file or website doesn’t load properly, try changing web browsers. This is yet another thing that I suggest to students when they need to troubleshoot, but an even more powerful lesson learned in a first-hand experience. Like many networked systems, the college lab computers that we are using use Explorer as their default, so many students never even think to try a different browser.

In the end we were able to cover most of what I had planned, with the exception of some exemplar videos that were available for viewing later. Sometimes the unplanned lessons are just as valuable as the preplanned parts. I know that my students, some more than others,  will experience frustrations with the tech related tasks I set out for them during this course, so it is good for them to see that technology trips us all up from time to time…and that we just get back in the saddle and keep going. 

Besides, this tech hiccup was nothing compared to the two days of Microsft Office 365 hell that I endured with my high school English classes this week.  But we don’t want to get me started on that one!