Thursday, April 27, 2017

Learning in Unexpected Ways

Sometimes learning occurs at unexpected times in unexpected ways. 

That's what happened to us this week around the dinner table.

I have a lovely wife and 5 kids. It's a bit crazy, but that's how we like it.

While we were eating dinner we were watching the birds at the bird feeder. I downloaded a cool bird identification app on my phone and we were figuring out the names of our flying visitors. The app also included songs and calls from each bird species which the kids thought was pretty cool.

Over Christmas we got an Amazon Echo which has turned into one of our favorite tech tools. I have been surprised how much we use and appreciate it (it's a great way for kids who can't yet type to look up information). The Echo has a great speaker with crystal clear quality, even at high volume.

All of a sudden I had an idea. Why not move the Echo to the porch, connect my phone via Blue Tooth and blast out bird calls to the entire neighborhood.

My kids were super excited and fascinated as we called robins, red-wing blackbirds, and cowbirds to our porch....and it worked! The birds were super confused as they perched on the feeder and looked around for the mysterious intruder invading their territory.

Learning and exploration can't always be scripted. 

This wasn't a lesson. There were no objectives. We were curious and decided to see what we could learn. Sometimes going off script yields the most memorable learning moments.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

I might actually use Android Apps on my Chromebook

I have been following the integration of Android and ChromeOS since it was merely a rumor (check out these posts). Overall, I have been underwhelmed by the addition of Android apps on my Chromebook.

Access to Android on my Chromebook has had no impact on my daily routines... until recently.

On a whim, I installed the Google Classroom Android App. I rarely use it. But then I noticed that I was getting very detailed notifications from the courses I am facilitating, which was quite helpful. I get notifications of comments, late assignments, and new posts in the notification window of my Chromebook. The web-based version of Classroom does not offer these detailed notifications.
Google Classroom notifications on ChromeOS
Next, I installed the Android versions of Basecamp and Slack, both offer superior notifications compared with their web-based versions.

Mobile devices have much better notification settings and capabilities than computers. Adding the Android app for tools that I use give me more control over when and how I am notified. This is the first time I have actually benefited from running Android apps on my Chromebook. Perhaps there is some benefits to the merging of Android and ChromeOS. What do you think?

Friday, April 7, 2017

Enable Drive Archiving for Google Vault

Drive Archiving for Google Vault

Google Vault is an e-discovery and archiving tool included with G Suite for Education. Schools can use Google Vault to comply with state and federal data retention regulations (Freedom of Information Act), monitor student activity, and retrieve lost or destroyed user data.

If you are not familiar with the initial setup and configuration of Google Vault watch my comprehensive overview available here.

As of March 2017, Google Drive is now fully supported by Google Vault. Retention of Drive data adds an additional layer of data security and protection, especially in cases where someone attempts to destroy important information.

Support for Drive retention is NOT enabled by default. Follow the following these steps to ensure that Drive data is included in your retention policy.  

1. Visit Google Vault ( and select "retention".

2. You will see Mail, Drive, and Groups listed as supported services. Drive must have a retention policy applied to it before it will begin archiving data.
Your retention policy can be indefinite, or a set period of time. Most school districts have a board-issued retention policy (3, 5, or 7 years is common). Check with your legal team to determine the appropriate retention period.

3. You must also indicate how you want to calculate your retention period - from date of creation or date of modification. This is a very important setting. Most districts will want to use the "last modified" option.

4. One final option must be selected - what to do with files that are past the retention period. 

For the majority of schools, "expunge what has been deleted" is the best choice. This setting will not impact the files within a users Drive account, only the files they have deleted. 

The second option can be very disruptive as it will remove any file that is older than your retention period, even if it was not deleted. This option should only be used in very specific circumstances as it could result in the deletion of important documents. 

Questions about setting up and configuring Google Vault? Leave me a comment; happy to help! 

Thursday, April 6, 2017

How to open up Google Classroom for Everyone

How to Open Google Classroom for Everyone!

Any user is now able to join a Google Classroom course. This update further enhances the usefulness of Google Classroom.

Now that I can invite anyone with an email address to join my classroom I can use Google Classroom for:

  • Professional development with multiple districts
  • Professional development with a single district, without needing an account in their domain.
  • Collaborative learning and class projects between schools. 
  • Virtual PD
  • Conferences and workshops

The ability to invite anyone to join your classroom is NOT enabled by default. In order to enable this feature you must have access to the Google Admin Console. 

After logging into the Admin Console visit Apps > G Suite > Settings for Classroom > Class Settings.

Clarification on the membership options:
  • Users in your domain only—Only G Suite for Education users in your domain can join your classes (this has been the default setting since Classroom was launched).
  • Users in whitelisted domains— This option allows you to specify domains that you want to collaborate with. Note that both organizations must whitelist one another for this option to work. 
  • Any G Suite user— Users must have a G Suite for Education or business account. If an email address is not connected with a G Suite domain they will not be able to join the class. Consumer Gmail users ( will NOT work.
  • Any user— Anyone can join the class provided their email address is associated with a Google account. This includes all Gmail users and anyone who has registered their non Google email address with a Google product like Blogger, YouTube, or Drive. 
I recently tested the use of Classroom with external students during a training I facilitated in Chicago. I had 91 teachers with non-Google email accounts that I invited to my class. Only the teachers who had previously connected their non-Google address to a Google service were able to join my course. This creates some confusion and is difficult to explain. 

I recommend telling people to use a personal Gmail account to join a class (if they don't have a school provided G Suite account). 

Expanding Google Classroom to all users opens up many new options for using Google Classroom for professional development. As a Google Certified Trainer, I am excited about the possibility of using Classroom to facilitate the workshops that I lead at schools around the country. 

Monday, March 13, 2017

Chromebook Prank Guide for Teachers

Chromebook Prank Guide

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

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

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

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Enable Team Drive for your School

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can read my full review of Team Drive here

Thursday, March 9, 2017

4 Reading Month Activities

4 Reading Month Activities | John R. Sowash

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

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

3 Act Story Challenge

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

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

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

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

3 Act Story

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

eBooks with a Soundtrack

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

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

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

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

Live Reading Chart

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

Live reading chart | John R. Sowash

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

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

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

Video Book Reviews

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

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

I tested this out with my three oldest kids:

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