Five Educational Android Apps for Chromebooks

Five Educational Android Apps for Chromebooks

When Google announced Android apps were coming to Chromebooks, I was not enthused. Chromebooks are great for learners and teachers because of the Chrome OS’s simplicity and lightning-fast boot-up. I was defensive about Chromebooks and not excited about change.

My love of Chromebooks for education is not universal. Joe Wilcox, citing kids’ love of iPhones, argues, “The PC, whether desktop or notebook, is obsolete in the classroom… If the fruit-logo company doesn’t seize the moment, a competitor will—and almost certainly selling devices running Android.”

But what if Chromebooks incorporated Android apps in a way that did not compromise the OS while giving teachers and learners the best of all worlds – mobile apps, keyboards, and touchscreens?

I recently purchased the ASUS Flip C302 which has Play Store access in the beta channel. My wariness of Android on Chrome OS was mistaken. Even though the device is not in the default stable channel, everything works great, including Android apps.

Long term, I hope companies make convertible flip touchscreen Chromebooks with a world-facing camera above the keyboard. This gives the device full tablet functionality. ASUS has done this with its C213. Time will tell if these Chromebooks are iPad killers. In the meantime, here are five educational Android apps to consider using with your students.

Google Classroom

Google Classroom’s web interface is great. One thing missing is the ability to instantly embed content from a laptop’s webcam and/or mic. The Classroom Android app allows this:

Further, John Sowash documented the app giving very useful notifications.

Pros:

  • Very mouse friendly. It actually works better with the mouse rather than the touchscreen.
  • Ability to embed directions and content using the webcam and/or mic.
  • Enhanced notifications.
  • The Android app allows teachers annotate on student work and saves it as a PDF.

Cons:

  • Why doesn’t Google Classroom’s web interface allow teachers to use their webcam and mic?

Google Expeditions

The Google Expedition Android app renders beautifully on a Chromebook. I made this screencast with it:

Pros:

  • Teachers can search for and preview Google Expeditions from their Chromebooks.
  • Teachers can lead Google Expeditions from their Chromebooks.
  • Students can view Google Expeditions from their Chromebooks like they would with iPads.

Cons:

  • None I have encountered yet.

Squid

Squid is an Android app for note-taking, Math, and sketch-noting. Thank you, Robby Payne of Chrome Unboxed, for turning me on to it. Have a look at me trying it out:

Pros:

  • Its simplicity of use.
  • Graph and lined paper in the free version.
  • Annotate images in the free version.
  • Notes can be exported as PDFs, JPEGs, and PNGs for free.
  • Premium is relatively cheap – $1/month or $10/year.

Cons:

  • The highlighter is a premium feature.
  • Importing PDFs is a premium feature.
  • Writing does not work with the mouse.
  • On my Chromebook, the only input that works is “Finger,” meaning it does not recognize pressure sensitivity with my stylus.
Screenshot 2017-07-04 at 10.01.52 AM

Active pen does not work on my Chromebook.

Adobe Illustrator Draw

The Adobe Illustrator Draw Android app is a wonderful tool for art and sketch-noting:

Pros:

  • The mouse works for a lot of features.
  • It’s free!
  • So many beautiful options for colors, shapes, and brushes.
  • Images can be saved as PNGs – with transparent backgrounds if desired.

Cons:

  • Shapes cannot be manipulated by the mouse.

Google Jamboard

Google Jamboard is a $5,000 piece of hardware marketed at businesses. The device looks very fun to play with but at that price point, it is likely a non-starter for education. However, the hardware is powered by an Android app available for free in the Google Play Store. The app renders well on Chromebooks. While not perfect, it has great potential for students to collaborate in a fun way:

Pros:

  • Real-time collaboration.
  • Very fun!
  • Handwriting recognition.
  • Nice ability to clip anything from the web and add it to a jam.
  • Jams can be shared as PDFs and images to Google Classroom. This makes me hopeful there might be more education integration coming for the app in the future.
Google Jamboard exports jams as PDFs or images to Google Classroom.

Google Jamboard exports jams as PDFs or images to Google Classroom.

Cons:

  • A touchscreen is essential. The mouse does not play well with Jamboard.
  • The app renders nicely on Chromebooks but is not very useful on phones and rendered very darkly on my wife’s Samsung Galaxy Tab A.
  • Only five colors available for drawing.
  • Shape recognition not perfected.
  • Difficulty grabbing objects. Notice the difficulty I experienced in the video.
  • Google Drive files render very small.

Thank you for reading.  Are you curious if your Chromebook can run Android apps? Here is the list of Chromebooks that support Android apps. How would you use Android apps with your students? Please comment below or tweet me, @TomEMullaney.

Image sources:

Android logo (Wikimedia Commons)

Google Chrome logo (Wikimedia Commons)

Google Play logo (Wikimedia Commons)

Ten Things You Can Do This Summer To Prepare For Teaching In A 1:1 Classroom With Chromebooks

Has your district told you your students will bring Chromebooks with them to class in the fall? Are you eager to integrate this technology into instruction but unsure how? Here are ten things you can do this summer to hit the ground running in the fall, brought to you by a teacher who has been in your shoes.

1. Ask your administration for a Chromebook to use this summer.

You want to know the Chromebook user experience before school starts. What better way to learn than by doing? This teacher loves Chromebooks in the classroom for many reasons. You will too, especially if you understand the platform your students use. See if your administrators are willing to loan you the same model students will use in the fall. Use it for everything this summer and you will be prepared.

2. Become a Google Educator.

If you want to successfully use Google Apps for Education (GAFE) in classroom instruction, you need to be proficient in them. Go through Google for Education’s process to earn Google Educator certification. The process involves online modules and five $15 (as of Summer 2014) tests. Author’s Note (6/28/15): This process has just changed. Please have a look at Google’s new options and see what works for you. Going through the modules will make you more than proficient in Google Apps. Taking and passing the exams will earn you a Google Educator certificate, a nice asset for your CV.

 3. Upload your files to Google Drive.

This is essential for you to work with your students in a 1:1 classroom. After the Google Educator modules, you should be able to easily upload folders to Google Drive. Or, you can watch this video about doing it with a Windows computer:

Or this one about doing it with a Mac:

 

4. Get to know Google Classroom.

First, watch this video introducing Google Classroom. Imagine the possibilities. Get excited!

Then, read up about Google Classroom and how to use it to do transformative things such as seamlessly include absent and home-bound students in your class.

5. Learn from the experts.

There is so much great content about integrating technology into the classroom. It can be overwhelming. Start small by following these eight experts on Twitter and reading their blogs regularly. If starting a Twitter account seems overwhelming, read Alice Keeler’s blog post about signing up for Twitter. Here are my favorite education technology experts. Their names hyperlink to their blogs.

6. Digitize your print documents.

Do this during the summer to save time during the school year. Once a print document is digitized, it can be altered and, hence, improved.

7. Convert your multiple choice assessments to paperless Google Forms your students can answer on their Chromebooks.

My visual tutorial will guide you through this process. Doing this during the summer will save you untold time at the photocopier and ScanTron machine during the school year. If you are curious about grading, read my grading tutorial, but it will not be necessary until you give your first multiple choice assessment.

Author’s Note (12/3/15): The visual tutorial linked above will work for you if you are working with the old Google Forms. If you are working with the new Google Forms, please read this post to get acquainted. 

8. Use TEDEd to change the way video is used in instruction.

Rather than have the whole class watch a projected video, you can add short-answer and multiple choice assessment questions, discussion prompts and links to further resources to any YouTube video. Make a list of your favorite YouTube videos used in instruction, and make them into powerful instructional tools with YouTube this summer. Students can work with videos at their own pace on their Chromebooks and you can use TEDEd’s tools to assess understanding.

Author’s Note (12/3/15): EdPuzzle is also a great tool for engaging students with video. Additionally, please read my Five Strategies for Using Video in the Classroom

9. Use PDFSplit to break up large curricular PDFs into smaller documents.

Instead of printing the pages of the PDF you want your students to read and scanning them, use PDFSplit to make original quality PDFs of the exact pages you want students to read. PDFSplit connects to your Google Drive to access your PDF. It makes a new file with only the pages you specify. Students then read beautiful PDFs on their Chromebooks, not scans of photocopies.

10. Join Google Plus education technology communities.

This will serve as another great source for education technology information. Just like with education technology experts on Twitter, start small. Here are four great communities to join:

Teaching in a 1:1 classroom with Chromebooks reignited my passion for education. I hope it does for you too! If you would like to talk more about successful technology integration in the 1:1 classroom, please comment below or send me a tweet at @edtechtom.

Making Lesson Recap Videos with Screencastify

Making video recaps of my lessons has revolutionized my teaching. I am so grateful to Chris Aviles for suggesting it at EdCamp New Jersey. A parent told me she wishes every teacher made video recaps. A learning support teacher uses them to help my students study in her instructional support classes. Students who need multiple opportunities to learn and absent students benefit the most from video lesson recaps.

I have documented how I use SnagIt to make recaps on my Chromebook. SnagIt met my needs until it had a problem with static in March 2015. I researched and found that Screencastify does essentially the same thing. Screencastify is an extension for the Google Chrome browser so it works an any computer with the browser.

Watch this video where I discuss how I use Screencastify:

After installing the extension…

Screenshot 2015-04-02 at 1.26.35 PM

Before starting the recording be sure “Desktop” is selected and “Embed webcam” is not.

Screenshot 2015-04-02 at 1.29.36 PM

“Desktop” makes sure Screencastify captures the entire screen. “Embed wecam” puts a small webcam in the lower right corner of the screen when you screencast. I prefer to open the computer’s webcam and size the window to my liking.

When you stop recording, Screencastify puts the video file in a Google Drive folder.

Screenshot 2015-04-02 at 1.33.33 PM

Screenshot 2015-04-02 at 1.40.34 PM

Screenshot 2015-04-02 at 1.42.35 PM

Overall, I have been thrilled with Screencastify. Its file sizes are roughly 10-20MB per minute. That is much lower than SnagIt-made video files. This saves me time when uploading videos to YouTube. If you do not want to be on YouTube, share the video in Google Drive with your students. The small file sizes mean less bandwith used when multiple students view it in your classroom.

Video lesson recaps have tremendously benefited my students. I am happy to share this strategy far and wide. Please be in touch if you want to discuss further!

Making Lesson Recap Videos with SnagIt and a Chromebook

I went to to EdCamp New Jersey at the end of November where I heard Chris Aviles suggest teachers should make video recaps. He argued that in a 1:1 classroom, video lesson recaps are a powerful tool to fight learned helplessness. A student doesn’t know the answer to a question? Have them watch the video recap. Chris also made the point that video recaps give students multiple opportunities to learn and help absent students catch up.

Intrigued, I set about using December to incorporate video recaps into my practice. I made this video about what I have done so far:

After you create your account (I used my school Google e-mail), SnagIt creates a folder in your Google Drive. It is called “TechSmith” after the company that makes SnagIt.

Screenshot 2015-01-02 at 7.10.08 PM

When you record using SnagIt, the app will capture your screen and the Chromebook’s microphone. I use the Chromebook camera so students can see my face rather than listen to a disembodied voice. When you stop a recording, it will appear as ” unfinished video” in the TechSmith folder.

Screenshot 2015-01-03 at 8.15.27 AM

You can rename your video in the SnagIt video player and push it directly to your GAFE connected YouTube account.

Screenshot 2015-01-03 at 8.27.53 AM

When SnagIt is finished processing you can access the video file in the TechSmith Google Drive folder.

Screenshot 2015-01-03 at 8.31.28 AM

From Google Drive, you can download the video. I take this extra step because I post videos to my personal YouTube channel.  I want the videos to still exist should my job change. It is very easy with only upload and download time as minor inconveniences. Login to your personal GMail account and go to YouTube. From there:

Screenshot 2015-01-03 at 8.34.50 AM

Then simply click on upload and you’re good to go.

Screenshot 2015-01-03 at 8.39.29 AM

Pixiclip is another tool with great potential for video recaps. As I explained in the video above, I stopped using Pixiclip because when my students play it back on their Chromebooks they cannot rewind and fast forward.

Video lesson recaps are one way educational technology transforms educational practice. I am only one month into using them and am thrilled with the opportunities they create for my students!

 

 

Why This Teacher Loves Chromebooks

Remember when consumers and schools had two computer choices: PCs and Macs? Both came with significant negatives. For PCs, it was computers that frequently crashed or froze. For Macs, is was price. Many schools now use the iPad for 1:1 classrooms. It still has a high cost and lacks a good keyboard. At last, a new solution is here.

The Chromebook outdoes PCs for affordability while being sleek and stylish like a Mac. Like the Mac I had at a previous teaching job, my Chromebook performs very well and does not crash. My students and I are loving our Chromebooks.

My district is using Chromebooks with eighth and ninth grade students this year as a pilot program. I am so fortunate two-thirds of my classes are with eighth and ninth grade. I hope the district makes the entire middle and high schools 1:1 with Chromebooks next school year.

How Chromebooks are Different for the User

Here are two slides I have used to explain the unique features of Chromebooks to my colleagues.  These are not the most beautiful slides; I used them to go over this topic quickly before a longer discussion on 1:1 classroom management.

Screenshot 2014-10-09 at 9.46.14 AM

Screenshot 2014-10-09 at 9.46.49 AM

Why My Students and I Love Them

Let me list the reasons:

  • The quick boot-up time. Please, Google, do not change this. Please do not switch to Android. The Chrome OS has no applications save for the Chrome browser, a calculator, and a camera. I often have students close their Chromebooks for class discussion. Students are right back where they left off upon re-opening them.
  • Automatic log-in to Google Apps for Education. Using a COW or a computer lab meant that students would boot up the computer, log in to the computer and then log in to Google Apps for Education. All this took some time. Chromebooks change this process to one essentially instant step. Once a student has logged in, they can click icons for GMail, Google Drive, Google Classroom and Google Calendar and arrive instantly.
  • Great battery life. I have been using a school-issued HP Chromebook since July. During the summer I worked with it all day. By the end of the day there was a good deal of battery life remaining. This included a lot of use of video and music too. Students at my school leave their Chromebooks on chargers in their homerooms overnight. Battery life has not been an issue for them.
  • The keyboard. My school-issued HP Chromebook has a nice keyboard. I much prefer my students use it than type on an iPad or an iPad add-on keyboard.
  • The screen! My school-issued HP Chromebook has a beautiful wide HD screen. YouTube HD videos look stunning.

My One Concern

As you can tell, I love the Chromebook. There is one concern I have with it: the touchpad. The touchpad requires two fingers next to each other to right click. I have been doing this since July and have not mastered it. I plug a mouse into the Chromebook to be as productive as possible. If you have students with motor issues, I highly recommend pairing mice with their Chromebooks.

The Chromebook touchpad is also very sensitive. When they started using Chromebooks in the classroom, some of my students would inadvertently click “submit” on Google Forms I used for assessment when they did not mean to. My work-around for that has been to make every question in my forms a required question.

Set each Google Form question to required and sensitive touchpads won't be a problem.

Set each Google Form question to required so sensitive touchpads won’t be a problem.

The Ideal 1:1 Solution

That issue aside, Chromebooks are the ideal solution for 1:1 classrooms. They are more affordable than iPads and PCs without the crashes and clunky-ness of  PCs. They are cheaper than iPads with a better keyboard and seamless integration with Google Apps for Education. The Chromebook is an efficient, powerful machine. I have a feeling it will become a big part of education, personal and business computing in the next few years.