Monday, April 14, 2014

Graphic Design, Chrome-o-fried! Guest Post by Brian McLane

by Brian McLane

Secondary Educator - 32 years, Ed-Tech Junkie, MA Teaching & Learning with Technology, “Head in the Cloud; Caught in the Web”

Chromebooks for Graphic Design?

I teach a high school desktop publishing class which includes graphic design, page layout, image editing, and more. We can use Chromebooks for almost everything we do. And we use completely free cloud software to do it. No Adobe Creative Suite, no Microsoft Office, no expensive, high-learning-curve software. Should I be teaching industry-standard software? Why? I teach the concepts; the tools don't really matter. My students can learn the basics in the numerous free Google Apps and Web-based applications that are available for graphic design. Let's take a look!

Image Editing

One of the first things my students need to learn is image editing. Google Apps offers more image editors than we will ever need! Our go-to app is Pixlr. We use the Pixlr Editor, but easier versions with fewer features (Pixlr Express and Pixlr-O-Matic) are also available right on the home page. Another excellent Chrome extension is Pixlr Touch Up, which allows you to quickly open an image from your computer or Google Drive and do basic editing. Pixlr Editor, on the other hand, is a Photoshop-esque application. Pixlr serves us well for basic image editing such as cropping, resizing, converting files (especially in creating png files from other formats), retouching, and adding text and effects. Other image editors available for Chrome are PicMonkey, BeFunky, Photo Editor, Sumo Paint, pZap, iPiccy, to name a few.

Print and Digital Publishing Software
Without a doubt, LucidPress (LucidPress for Google Drive) - Layout and Design is the best web-based desktop publishing application I have found. And believe me, since the closure of the online Aviary Creative Suite, I have searched to the end of cyberspace. We had been using LucidChart for Education for creating print media, and it was adequate. Lucid Software then released LucidPress in October, 2013. Techcrunch featured LucidPress in a posting on October 2, 2013.
LucidPress includes over 70 templates for creating both print and digital newsletters, brochures, flyers, pamphlets, photo and video books, invitations, and more. I don't allow my students to use templates; they must start with a blank page and create their own design, but the templates are there if needed. LucidPress integrates with Google Drive and is available for Google Chrome in the Chrome Web Store. I especially like the collaboration feature, which allows me to create a "team" (class) of all my students. Their projects are automatically shared with me, and on my computer I can watch them work in real time! They can also work together on shared documents.
LucidPress has a clean, easy-to-use interface. See a screenshot of the LucidPress Editor. Give LucidPress a try. You will find that it is a terrific free alternative to Microsoft Publisher or Adobe inDesign.
Chromebooks are not just Google Drive-Driven
All of the sites I've discussed can, of course, be accessed on any laptop or desktop machine with internet access. So why am I focusing on Chromebooks? Many people are probably under the impression that Chromebooks are useless outside of their integration with Google Drive. After all, you can't even install programs on a Chromebook. That's actually the beauty of Chromebooks! You don't have to install software! All the software is in the cloud; a Chromebook doesn't rely on Google Drive alone. So if you have a Chromebook (or Chromebooks in your school/organization), you can do much more with it than you may realize.
In part two of Chromebooks for Graphic Design, I will take a look at Weebly for Web design and give a quick shout-out to some other useful Google Apps and Web-based software for graphic design, so check back soon!
Lucidpress screenshot:
Lucidpress screenshot.png

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A Queen to Be: A Short Film worth Watching from Huntsville ISD Students

Huntsville High School students elected a special homecoming queen this past year, and the film students had the foresight to make a film about it. I think you'll agree that "A Queen to Be" is worth watching. Lucky for me, I get to see this lovely lady frequently in the hallways. Her classroom is right around the corner for my office. Enjoy the film, and be sure to leave comments for our student film-makers on YouTube!

Upcoming Webinar w/Tech & Learning: Huntsville Independent School District helps close the digital divide with Google Chromebooks and Apps

I hope you'll sign up to watch this upcoming Tech & Learning webinar with Cassi Caputo from Google's Education team and yours truly.

Topic: Huntsville Independent School District helps close the digital divide with Google Chromebooks and Apps

Wednesday, March 26, 2014 12:00 pm Central Daylight Time (Chicago, GMT-05:00)

Pictured Above: Jessica Moore with some of her students

Monday, March 17, 2014

Engage Me Academy

Since my first year as a teacher in 1997 I've been deeply interested in how to get students interested in learning what I wanted and needed them to learn. Lately I learned what I was striving for had a name that has become quite the buzz word in education; I wanted students to become ENGAGED.

Eventually I developed a knack for understanding what choices left to my students would most likely lead to this state. Each educational book I read, and really each terrible staff development session I attended, helped me refine my understanding of exactly how to design engaging lessons and staff development events. 

I want to help you learn to do the same, and to that end, I'm developing a new 3 1/2 day academy to help teachers learn how to get human nature working with them instead of against them.

If you want to know more or sign up to get information, please visit 

Feel free to download this image, print it out, and use it however you want. There will be more if you want them, so comment on this post and let me know if you'd like that!

Saturday, March 8, 2014

How to Create Data Validation for Phone Numbers in Google Forms

I've always wanted to know more about the Data Validation setting in Google Forms, and yesterday, thanks to a participant question and a Google search, I learned how to make sure phone numbers in forms are entered in a consistent format, in this case, ###-###-####. 

Here's how . . .

Set up your "Phone Number" question in a form, then choose the Data Validation setting and Regular Expression. Insert the pattern below into the box and type your directions to the right.

Data Validation String for American Phone Numbers: ^[2-9]\d{2}-\d{3}-\d{4}$

If not being able to make sure your data is consistent in a Google Form has always bugged you too, well, now you know how to fix it!

Wrong . . .

Wrong . . .


Friday, February 21, 2014

Getting Ready for the Texas Google Summit

The Techs4Tex team spent a fast-paced and exciting day today in Brenham, TX preparing for the upcoming Texas Google Summit coming up May 17, 2104.

We began by laying out the schedule (about 20 concurrent sessions).

Below is Brenham ISD Tech Director Kim Strauss breaking rules by drawing on the table with a dry erase marker, which amazed us all . . .

Also pictured Shepherd ISD's Tech Diva Pam Cadwalder, Brenham ISD Instructional Technology Specialist Troy Kuhn, Coldspring-Oakhurst Consolidated ISD's awesome ELA specialist Laura Kile. There were also a bunch of other awesome people present, just so you know.

We emailed with our keynote speaker Kyle Pace (so excited to have him visit us in TX), and more of our big stars including Shelly Terrell and Tim Chase. We also added a few of these guys who are kind of a big deal to our Lead Learners page, but there are so many amazing presenters sharing their knowledge it was hard to know where to stop.

One of the sessions I'm most excited about is going to be provided by teacher extraordinaire Linda Yollis and her 3rd grade students, literally world famous for their classroom blog.

Also, did you know that TCEA Teacher of the year and White House Champion of Change Tech Ninja Todd Nesloney is going to be presenting? That's right. You sure don't want to miss his and fellow Tech Ninja Stacey Huffine's sessions!

At the end of the day, we visited the beautiful Brenham High School. Check out the amazing auditorium . . .

We're so excited for you to be our guests at this event. We want you to have a great time, to learn a ton, and to feel welcome in the spaces we are working to create for you. We sure hope to see you there!

If you haven't yet heard our spokescow Cher sing, you better check out the video below before you go. 

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Who Owns Project Based Learning?

Someone asked me recently if [insert organization name here] owned Project Based Learning. Well, I'd like us to think about that together because I understand the root of the question. There are some organizations, sales people, companies, etc. who seem to own the idea of Project Based Learning. Do they?

In fact, the tenets of Project Based Learning are ideas good teachers have been using for many years, even if they didn't call it that. One teacher in her 60s recently told me, "Oh Amy, I know all about this! This is how we used to teach before all the testing. It was fun!" Yes, it WAS fun! My friend and mentor Jan Robin was one person who taught me about it. She used it in her elementary school classroom back in the 80s and 90s. She told me that at one time, there was even a state standardized test that attempted to have students create a floating vessel out of some popsicle sticks and foil.

My knowledge about PBL has come from many different places, but it began in my own classroom when at the end of my rope, I decided to run my classroom more like a business. You can read about that here. I didn't know it had a name, and I'd never studied Seymour Paypert and didn't really get the connection to Jean Piaget. But I don't think either of these educational gurus and philosophers would mind if I reference their work on Constructivism, do you?

When people have something to share that is truly valuable, they are not threatened by others sharing the conversation, they are enlivened and encouraged by it. 

If you want to know more about Project Based Learning, The Buck Institute for Education's free resources are a great place to start. However, the best learning you can do is to talk to peers and colleagues who are implementing Project Based Learning in their own classrooms. You do not have to attend an academy or pay a company in order to become knowledgeable about this teaching and learning methodology, you just have to give it a try.

On the other hand, attending a training (no matter how expensive it is) doesn't make you an expert at PBL and just because someone has been paid to offer it or received an endorsement doesn't make them an expert either. Think critically about what you hear. Use your own experience to inform what trainers tell you. Keep up to date with your PLN about the topic. There is no one know-it-all guru who can tell you everything you need to know about anything. When it comes to your students YOU are the expert.

However, if you don't have guru funding, you can get in contact with other districts who are implementing on their own and share the knowledge. OR read about it and just give it a try yourself. If you have a supportive school administration and you make sure to use your standards to design a project, go for it. I'd love to hear how it goes.

Think about the differences between Project Based Learning and Doing Projects.
Be introspective about your assignments. Do they really promote the benefits of student 
choice? Check out the Student Choice Continuum. Do you agree with my placements? If not, give me some feedback. Here's the latest version

Most importantly, don't neglect to share what you learn. If you work in education, that's supposed to be what it's all about.