Thing 45: Google Keep

Since I have used most of the major Google programs, I decided to dig further into Google Keep. This was a good choice as I really didn’t have any idea what it was or how it could be used with my students. After a quick look around my first thought was why on earth do I need another way to takes notes. But this article helped me understand some of the great features available and why I should use Google Keep instead of the notes app on my iPhone.

Color Coding

When I found that Google Keep provides different colors which can be used to organize the notes under different categories. My primary reason for using the notes app is to keep brief notes when I’m attending a conference and don’t have paper or a computer with me. I often take photos and insert them right into my notes. But I also tend to use the notes app when I need someplace for a quick note like a grocery list or when I want quick access to something I will use infrequently like my son’s mailing address.

So how does all this relate to the color coding? For me, I would just separate my personal, work, and conference notes so that they are easily found. But for my students, they could use this as a tool when taking notes for a research project. I teach my students that when doing research, a fact that directly answers the question is important (say green). Then I explain that facts related to the topic but don’t really answer the question can be placed into two categories: interesting (yellow) or completely irrelevant (red). A good exercise would be to have students take notes on their topic and then ask them to take five minutes and color code them using this system. It would be a great tool to evaluate how well they understand the task. Then when they go to use the information in their final product, they can be sure to use all the notes labeled green and can fill in with the yellows if they find they need more information.

Syncing Capability

For those of us old enough to remember “before Google”, this is probably one of the most useful functions. I downloaded the app onto my phone which is where I usually take my notes at conferences, created a new note just to try it out and then opened Keep up on my computer and voila, my note was already there. How convenient with very little effort on my part.

Save to Keep Extension

When using Google Chrome, you can also add the “Save to Keep” extension. The extension lets you save a website as a note that you can go back to anytime you need it. I now there are things like Evernote but this requires me to have yet another login and although Evernote has more functionality, I never use it. Where this extension will be most useful to me is when I find something on Facebook or the web and want to save it for later. If I see an idea on Facebook, I often click save post and then can’t find what I looking for a later date. In Keep, it is easy to scroll through the different thumbnails to find what I’m looking for. Instead of saving the post, I’ll be clicking on the save to keep if it is external link.

Going back to research and students, this would be an easy way for students to keep all of their sources in one place so that they can go back to them if by chance they forget to include the source in their notes (yes, they do this all the time in middle school). It would be easy to teach students to click on the extension and it even lets them add a quick note to go along with the link.


Other Useful Features

Google Keep also has a voice recorder, handwritten notes option, the ability to add photos, and the option to makes notes in the form of a checklist. Although I probably wouldn’t use the voice recorder often, I like that it is still an option. The checklist option is pretty cool too and I would use it more as a bulleted list than a checklist but still very handy. You can easily share your notes with others in your contact list which could be useful. Lastly, the ability to pin a note to the top makes this app a winner for me. I can now pin my son’s college address to the top and will never again have a hard time finding it like I have in the past.


I will add this to my toolbox for students as a better way for them to take notes for their research project. It could help them with their organization and if nothing else, it could be a central location to keep their sources — just a click of the extension and their website is saved for them to refer back if needed at a later point. Looking forward to exploring this Google tool further and put it to good use.


Thing 44: Book Stuff

Wow, what an overwhelming array of resources to look at and explore. Happily I have seen and used many of the different resources listed like Overdrive, NYPL card (my go to resource for audiobooks), Goodreads, LibraryThing (lifetime member), BookBub, NetGalley, FictFact, and a few more. I love all of these resources mostly because I love to read books and although I will never finish all of the books on my bookshelf, I’m always looking for the next great book.

Audiobook Sources

As someone who commuted for two hours every weekday for 7 1/2 years, I am an avid audiobook listener. So much so, that I actually have a favorite narrator — Edward Hermann and have listened to books I wouldn’t have otherwise because I absolutely love his voice. As you can see in the post, I am not the only one who found his voice mesmerizing.

Luckily I live in NY and have access to a NYPL card and their vast numbers of audiobooks through Overdrive. I also have my local library, the public library near work, and my school’s Overdrive account set up in the app. I use Overdrive almost every day whether it is driving to work, walking to get my steps, or cleaning the house. I always have at least two books on my listening bookshelf so that I don’t run out of something to listen to. Over the years, the app has gotten much easier to use and today I downloaded their new app Libby. Overall the new app is more intuitive although I couldn’t add my school’s Overdrive account so that would be a problem for my students.

If I can’t find it on Overdrive, then I look on Hoopla next as they seem to carry different publishers. My local library allows me to check out up to 6 items during a single month. With Hoopla, I can also get ebooks, comics, movies, TV shows, and music so there is a wider variety of options available. The other advantage is every item is available at all times so there is no waiting list.

Lastly, if all else fails, I head to Audible to purchase books I can’t find anywhere else. Don’t get me wrong, I love Audible but I don’t like paying for a book I’m only going to listen to once if I can find it for free somewhere else. Actually this is one of the frequent arguments I have with my husband is that he doesn’t look for a book on Overdrive first before he buys it from Audible. If I’ve been having trouble locating the audiobook through the other resources, I’m usually able to find it on Audible which is a huge plus. I just wish they had a pricing system for people who would like to listen to the book once and then have it removed from their library or have it expire after a certain length of time. Until that happens, I’ll put holds and wait as long as necessary to borrow it from my local public library.

Social Booksharing

I run an afterschool book club with an average of 6-10 students twice a month. Last year, I tried having the students choose the books but found they didn’t pick books that would appeal to most members of the group but only to themselves. I ended up choosing the books with more success but during meetings, the students were often off task. So this year I worked with a sixth grade teacher and we decided to have students read paired books on the theme of family. Between the two of us, I think we managed to keep the group more engaged and we also managed to read some really great books. Some of the activities included building a story tower, describe the perfect cake for a friend, draw an image from the book and fill it with words describing the book, and book snaps. We ended the year with everyone bringing in food that reminded them of one of the books. Having another person to share ideas with helped make a successful book club.



This was probably one of my favorite activities from book club and my inspiration came from a random FaceBook post. With the popularity of SnapChat, we decided to have the students use the technology in a positive way. As you can see from the example above, the only requirements I gave to the students was that they had to find the most important page in the book, highlight the important lines, and add the cover of the book. They were given free reign on adding emojis or other decorations. It was amazing to see how thoughtful they were when choosing the page as I thought they might just randomly pick something and use that. This is a fun and engaging way to assess student learning.


Litsy is an app on my phone that I don’t use very often but I like to think of it as an Instagram for book covers. As they describe themselves, Litsy is a place where passionate readers leave quotes, reviews and blurbs about the books they love (or hate as the case may be). The more you add, the higher your influence becomes and the more you can connect with other readers. I don’t participate frequently but when I read a good quote in a book, I like to upload it onto Litsy.

This quote captures this book so well!


As you may be able to tell through my blog, I do not have a huge presence on social media nor do I want to be for many personal reasons. I use many of these tools as a reminder for me and to look back later to see how I did. But in person, I hope that I heavily influence my friends and colleagues with my many recommendations and broad reading range. I also do my best as a librarian to ensure that students have reading materials that will interest them and meet their needs. As far as I’m concerned, this is so much more important than being a giant media star.

Thing 43: Google Drawings

I first learned about Google Drawings at NYSCATE in 2016 as a way to make Google Docs more interactive in a manner similar to a SmartBoard. I used it for an assignment where students had to match objects with their definition. I also had students create a short cartoon using the drawing tools in three separate boxes within a Google Doc.

During a recent project on Westward Expansion, some of my seventh grade students used it to create a newspaper. One of the limitations they discovered was that there was only one canvas and since they needed multiple pages, it didn’t seem to work. If only I had read these links sooner, I would have discovered that they could import their Google Drawing into any of the other Google Apps suite and embedded it there with multiple canvases (or pages) at their fingertips. Oh well, at least I know better for next year.


Since I don’t take the time to practice and don’t have a natural talent for drawing, I decided to check out this tool to see how it worked. Taking inspiration from my art teacher who is currently having her students use a pair of sunglasses and various shades of the primary and secondary colors, I decided to try my hand at drawing a pair of sunglasses. The one on the left is my drawing and the one of the right is the closest picture to what I drew. Not an exact match but a good facsimile nevertheless.

I could see this being useful when you are having a difficult time finding a specific line drawn picture that you need or if you want/need specific coloring that is often difficult to find unrestricted on the internet.

Google Drawings

Continuing with the theme of “shades of summer,” I created this Google Drawing using the tools that were available. It was easy enough to use for this purpose although it would have been nice to be able to add layers to the drawing. Untitled drawing (1)

Teachers in my building have discovered Google Drawings and students have used it to create posters on an element from the periodic table and posters about the water cycle. For some reason, students find it easier to use to manipulate pictures and text within Google Drawings versus Google Slides.


As a longtime user of PowerPoint, I see the versatility of Drawings and will continue to encourage my students to use it whenever appropriate. I’m also tired of seeing them use Google Slides to present their information and this might be a good alternative to get them to put only the necessary information on one page instead of using multiple pages with too much information. I was going to encourage my students to use Canva if they really wanted to create a poster but Google Drawings is a suitable alternative and something they are already familiar with using.

My first research project of the year was using biographies and last year most of the students created a Google Slideshow or a large poster to present their work. Although these tools are useful for the students to understand how to create them, I also think they are often used by the students as the easy way out of an assignment and quite frankly they are overused and boring. Using Google Drawings to have the students create an interactive poster similar to a ThingLink would be a more interesting way for the students to showcase their learning. Although this requires more upfront teaching on my part, I think the end result would be worth the effort and will try it in the fall with next year’s fifth grade students.

As a standalone tool, I think it is similar to many other programs available. Where I think it excels is in the ability to embed it within other Google Apps. Also, since it is a Google product, it will probably continue to be free and not disappear one day due to the owner discontinuing its availability as has happened with many excellent tools over the last ten years.

Thing 42: Going Global

This topic is close to my heart for many reasons but most specifically because of my own experiences living abroad in Japan for 18 months. Although I experienced culture shock many times during my time there, I also gained so much from the experience that I believe all Americans should live out of the country for at least a year to gain a better understanding of this world that we line in and to understand that for all its fault, the United States is a great place to live but so are most places if you take the time to step out of your comfort zone. In a country that I see becoming more insular and less tolerant at times, it is important to ensure that our students understand how they fit into the world at large and not just their small communities.

Peace Crane Project

As you might imagine, this project spoke to me with its connection to Japanese culture and I immediately sent an email to one of my colleagues to see if this is something that we might be able to do next year as my school is looking for ways to increase student empathy and civility.

The Peace Crane Project connects your group with another group somewhere in the world and you exchange folded cranes, doves, or hearts with messages of peace. The Peace Crane Project encourages schools to connect on United Nations International Day of Peace on September 21 every year but any day of the year is also a good time to exchange. It also hopes groups will connect through other means to foster a better understanding of the different cultures.

Paper Cranes at the Peace Memorial in Hiroshima, Japan (October 1998)

So if we do join the project, I’ll update this post with photos.

Global Oneness Project

Looking for more resources that will help teach empathy and cultural understanding, I read the article 4 Tools to Help Kids Develop Empathy and Cultural Humility and decided to look further at the Global Oneness Project. With the changes in the social studies curriculum asking students to look at an issue through the passage of time and globally, I thought this might be a good resource to use in preparing students for this difficult task. According to their website, the purpose of the Global Oneness Project is to “provide opportunities to examine universal themes that emphasize our common humanity—identity, diversity, hope, resilience, imagination, adversity, empathy, love, and responsibility”.

The project provides free lesson plans to go along with much of their content. A short exploration of the website found a photo essay on poverty, a film on the symbolism of clowns, and an article on climate instability. Intrigued by the photo essay on poverty, I clicked through the photos and found that the artist depicted images of California towns in an area rich in agricultural resources but with a population of people frequently living in poverty. The attached lesson plan asks students to view the photos and then reflect on whether or not the photographer was successful in depicting poverty. An assessment provides writing prompts for students to reflect on a photo and show that they understand the lesson and use critical thinking strategies to demonstrate this.

I think there are so many ways that students could use this project. One of the writing prompts on the above lesson plan asked students to reflect on how they could use photos to tell the story of their community. This would be an excellent way for students to step away from their small world and to learn that there is more than one story in the community.


From the same article listed above, I also decided to look more closely at Gapminder. At the website, the first thing I did was take their Gapminder test which I promptly failed and only got 31% of the questions correct. Why is this important? For me, it showed how uninformed (or ignorant) I was in how the world is doing and I had a much more pessimistic view of things than how they were in actuality. Take the test and see how you do (the second time around I managed to get 100% correct).

There is a wealth of information on this website and so much so that it is almost overwhelming. I looked at the Dollar Street tool and played around with the various income levels. I chose to look at how a family in Kenya lives with a monthly income of $3,268 U.S. and a family in the Ukraine with a monthly income of $10,090 U.S. It was interesting to see the differences but also the similarities in the two families given the disparity in income and where they live. I think this would be a great tool to use to show students that their impressions of other countries and how the people live may be wrong and one-sided.

The website also provides videos of Ted Talks, copies of their slides that are free to use and modify, lesson plans, and links to where they get their data. Since many of our students are visual learners, this would be a great website to use to teach how people live around the world.

Students Rebuild

I wanted to add this website as I have used it in the past to provide my students with the opportunity to help people around the world that are in need. A few years ago, the challenge was for students to create pinwheels which raised money for Syrian refugee children. For each pinwheel, the Bezos Foundation donated $2 to help this cause. Students Rebuild provides resources to help teach students about the topic. My second grade students learned about the refugee crisis and although it was a tough topic for them to understand, in the end they wanted to help as much as they could.

Thing 41: Powering up Chrome!

Living in the Syracuse area, I am usually able to attend Heather Turner’s Google Camp every summer where she shares different resources to help make better use of the tools that Google provides. Although not explicitly part of the assignment, I’m going to share some of my favorite extensions and apps and why I enjoy using them.

Chrome Extensions

When I first went to the Chrome extensions store, I decided to narrow my search down to apps that worked with Google Drive. I tried out three different extensions and for various reasons ended up quickly deleting two of them despite their positive reviews.

CloudHQ’s Sync Google Drive with other clouds

I picked this extension because with multiple personal and work emails, I also have multiple cloud spaces that it would be useful to be able to reach without logging into each of them seperately as needed. At the time I added the extension, it had 670 reviews with an average rating of 4.36 stars. Sounded good to me so I decided to add it and check it out. The first thing I noted was that the permissions that they required seemed pretty excessive (see screenshot below) and with everything that is happening in the world, I decided to press allow and check it out. I followed the steps they outline and added my Dropbox account as I don’t really have anything in there that I would worry about if it was stolen. In the end, I decided to remove the extension and delete my account more for my own feelings on security. After some research, I found that CloudHQ is a legitimate company based in San Francisco so although I deleted it because of the permissions requested, that doesn’t mean that the service they are offering isn’t worth the risk. It just isn’t for me.

cloud hq

Next, I decided to look at extensions created by Google and added the Google Scholar and Google Similar Pages.

Google Scholar Button

Google Scholar is a handy way to find scholarly articles with the quick click of a button. When you click the scholar button, a search window pops up for you to type in your keyword or the article you are looking for. The window will show the top three results or you can open it up in a new tab for all results. Pretty handy and an easy way to get students to use it for their research.

Google Similar Pages

If you are familiar with a Google reverse image search, then this should be pretty easy for you to understand. Essentially this extension takes the website you are currently browsing and searches the Internet for similar pages. I can see several uses for this in a middle school setting as my students are quite eager to use Google for everything. I think it would be a great way for students to verify the information they found on one website. Using the fake website All About Explorers, I got some interesting results back from this extension including some valid websites the students could use and also links to other fake websites. So although Google recognizes that this is a fake website, not all of my students were able to tell earlier this year. This would also be a good way to allow the students to use Wikipedia to find other websites on their topic beyond the references found on the Wikipedia article they are reading.

Must Have Extensions

My essential extensions that aren’t necessarily related to school are Honey and AdBlock Plus. When you are shopping for items on a website, Honey will apply various coupon codes trying to help you save money. Honey will even watch items for you and let you know when the price is at its lowest. Even better, sometimes Honey will even reward you with a percentage back on your purchase and once you accumulate $10 you can choose a gift card from a variety of well known stores. If you are interested, feel free to click my affiliate link.

AdBlock Plus is essential these days as more and more websites use numerous advertisements on their pages to increase revenue. So many ads causes the website to slow down and increases the likelihood that you will accidently click on one of them. AdBlock Plus stops the ads from loading although more and more websites won’t let you read their content without turning off the ad blocker. At least this provides me with the opportunity to decide if I want to continue reading or go elsewhere.

Chrome Settings

I find Google Chrome to be a pretty no nonsense browser and I like the ease of use. I periodically delete my browsing data as a form of maintenance and the computers at work delete this data every evening. When I first started using Google Chrome, I checked the privacy settings to ensure that they were secure but I hadn’t looked at them in a few years. Under advanced, I noticed a setting called, “Protect you and your device from dangerous sites.” Obviously this is something that I definitely want Chrome to do but I wanted more information on how this is done so I read the help section on safe browsing protection. I have seen the red warning box pop us so it was interesting to learn how Google determines if a website is potentially harmful or not. In the end, I didn’t feel the need to do anything with my settings but I did delete my browsing data as it had been a while since the last time I had done that. In the end, the ease of use, customizability, reliability and simplicity of Chrome keeps me using it every day. Thanks for the reminder!


Thing 37: DIY via Thing 28: Emerging Tech

Flipping the Classroom

Flipping classrooms has been around for a few years and is slowly emerging in the elementary classroom but it presents a different set of problems at this level. First and most obvious is that it is unrealistic to expect young students to view coursework at home that they will need for the next day. Why? There are lots of reasons but a few that come to mind include after school activities, no access to a home computer, or daycare followed by dinner and an early bedtime. More common in an elementary school is flipping in school and having the students watch a video independently at their own pace while the teacher walks around providing support as students complete the worksheet associated with the video. Other teachers are taping their lessons and having absent students watch them upon their return to school. While attending a conference, I saw a new device that I think would be perfect for use in a flipped classroom: Swivl Robot.

maxresdefaultThe Swivl robot works with a tablet and a microphone on a lanyard. The robot turns and follows whoever is wearing the lanyard device and it records the audio of the person with the lanyard. Multiple lanyards can be used to record input from students. Although it isn’t cheap at $399, it is in line with other options that my school has considered like a wireless microphone, good quality video camera, and a tripod. The Swivl Robot would be a good place to start for a teacher that wants to begin flipping but doesn’t want to record all of the videos ahead of time. I am hoping to provide a demonstration of this device to my faculty in the fall and also hoping that my principal will find some money to buy one or two for my teachers to use. Fingers crossed!


I have been hearing about STEM for years with the increasing emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math instruction in school but recently I have been hearing more about STEAM which is adding in the arts so that our students are well rounded. As someone who loves technology and math (not science or engineering so much), I can appreciate that there are some students who aren’t interested in STEM but STEAM gives them something to look forward to. But as I was reading more about STEAM, it got me thinking — isn’t this really a different kind of way to say ‘Liberal Arts’? A Liberal Arts degree is a broad spectrum of classes including science, math, and the arts. Whether I’m right or not, I definitely agree with the need for students to have a well rounded base of learning that includes STEM and the Arts — otherwise known as STEAM.

This year I created a Makerspace in my library where students may visit after eating lunch or during the last period of the day. I have robots, legos, art supplies, electronics kits, and idea books for students to use. The robots and electronics are very popular with many of the students but there are other students that prefer to use the art supplies to create something for themselves. I will continue to expand the Makerspace to provide STEM activities but I also won’t forget the importance of arts to some of my student population. Many some musical instruments is where I should expand next!

Arts & Crafts in the Makerspace
Ozobot in the library


Authentic Learning Opportunities

I don’t begin to pretend that I am an expert on this topic but I do know that it is something that my school is struggling to provide given the constraints of teaching using the New York State Modules which I feel take away a teacher’s creativity and flexibility. I believe that Project Based Learning (PBL) is a similar concept where students explore a topic and follow it wherever it leads even if it seems irrelevant to the original topic. As I only see most of my students one day a week, it is difficult to provide them with authentic learning opportunities.

The closest I have come to creating authentic learning opportunities is with my 5th grade classes using the Genius Hour or what I prefer to call it — ‘Passion Projects’. I have adapted the concept to fit my 40 minutes classes and the only limit I set is that they must provide written feedback on their progress before the end of each class. I told students to think of something they wanted to learn about and if they couldn’t think of anything then to learn about then they needed to think of something that makes them angry or upset.

I decided to do this project with these classes because they are unmotivated and tend to be lazy and I was hoping that research where they choose their own topic and when they were ready to present would provide them with the intrinsic motivation to actually do something. Boy have they surprised me. So far, every single student has found at least 2 facts about their topics and 3 students have already presented and are working on a new topic. Topics chosen by the students include the Yulin Dog Meat Festival, Dolphin Slaughter, Bullying, and Donald Trump.

Is this an authentic learning experience? Probably not in the true sense of the words but in the end because the students chose a topic they were passionate about, I think real learning has been accomplished. After students present we discuss the websites they used, bias, opinions vs. facts, and what other information that they might have missed. This is the first time all year that I have truly seen passion in these student’s eyes. To me, that makes it authentic.


I only picked a few of the topics that I felt were most relevant to my school and where I think we need the most work. Other trends included teaching complex thinking and adaptive learning technologies and these are areas that I think my school is on top of if not ahead of the ball game. We still have a long way to go and need to keep looking forward but I am optimistic that we are headed in the right direction.

Thing 36: Flash Cards, Quiz Games, and More

So many tools are available for quizzes and flash cards that it is impossible to just pick one. I have used Google Forms, Quizlet, and various crossword puzzle creators.

Games can be a good way for students to learn something that they need to memorize. For example, the Quizlet below was created to help my 5th and 6th grade students memorize the titles of the books and authors for Battle of the Books. I also print out a simple set of cards so that students can play a sort of memory game using them especially if they don’t have the Internet at home.

I have seen Kahoot being used in a very active 3rd grade classroom. At the time, the students were in pairs but only one student at a time could answer the question and the teacher grouped  teams separately from the game. Kahoot has since added a team function which would increase collaboration and also competition. Creating a new quiz in Kahoot only took me as long as it took for me to find pictures and decide on questions as it was that easy to use. It only took me a few minutes to create a quiz on the parts of a book that I could use with my 1st or even 2nd grade students. The drag and drop feature for adding pictures was a simple and quick way to add visual appeal to the quiz although it did add to the time to create the quiz. If you weren’t worried about images and already had the questions ready, you could have a Kahoot created within minutes and ready for your students to use. I have created a similar quiz using Google Forms but I think the students would love the competition that Kahoot  provides.

Although I didn’t create a quiz using StudyStack, I did check out a few of the premade quizzes and enjoyed playing them. I found flashcards about nonfiction terms that I could use with my upper elementary students sort of like a pretest to see what information they know and what I still need to teach (or reteach). While exploring further, I discovered that these flashcards could be turned into different types of quizzes such as hangman, matching, and crossword. These options would allow a student to choose the method that would help them learn the best which is a big plus over some of the other options I explored.

Last year right before 4th grade science testing, I collaborated with a 4th grade class to have them create flashcards to go along with the various science terms they would need for the test. We used an app called Lifecards – Postcards by Vivid Apps to create them and students were able to add at least one picture, the definition, and a sentence using the vocabulary term. The process helped them learn the terminology and they had fun finding a picture that would help them remember — not one that I thought would be best. Below is an example of one created by one of my students.


Flashcards, games, and quizzes are a great way to engage students in something that might otherwise be tedious to them. A student creating a quiz for the class would also be a roundabout way of assessing how much that student learned without them necessarily knowing they are being assessed. Although I primarily use quizzes as an exit ticket or summative assessment, that is not the only use for them and I’ll have to remember to use them the next time I find my students bored with their current assignment..