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 Joe Wilcox, citing kids’ love of iPhones, argues, “The PC, whether desktop or notebook, is obsolete in the classroom… If the fruit-logo company doesn’t seize the moment, a competitor will—and almost certainly selling devices running Android.”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

Have iPads? Use Them For Google Expeditions!

have-ipads-use-them-for-google-expeditions-splash-image

Update 7/15/17: I was honored when my colleague Cristie Watson gave me a shout-out referring to my leading her students on Google Expeditions on iPads:

Google Expeditions is a great app for engaging students and broadening their horizons.

I led my colleagues on a Google Expedition at the NCTIES 2016 conference:

The app is marketed in conjunction with Google Cardboard and Android phones. This is fine but it involves lots of moving pieces. The cardboards need to be cleaned frequently, especially during cold and flu season. Additionally, a complete Google Expeditions set for ten students costs $3,999.

The good news is that you can probably lead your students on a Google Expedition tomorrow. And you can do it for free with equipment your school has if it has any functioning iPads. Google Expeditions runs on iPads in a “window mode” that gives students a 360 view. Having tried this with students, I can attest, they love it. Sure, the cardboard viewers are more encompassing, but no student has complained about not using a viewer.

A Brief Technical Note

To lead an expedition from one iPad to others, all devices need to be connected to the same WiFi network with peer-to-peer sharing enabled. Test this by using two iPads to lead and follow an expedition. If it does not work, ask your IT department about enabling peer-to-peer sharing.

Articulate Expectations

I beta-tested Expeditions with my literacy block. I led them on an expedition of the Empire State Building.

google-expeditions-empire-state-building

The kids loved it. They were very excited. I could tell they were not listening as I read the narration provided by Google Expeditions. This was a low-stakes beta test but I would have to ensure students would listen when I led expeditions as part of classes.

Since then, I have pulled groups of seven students to lead them on Google Expeditions. Keep the group numbers low if possible. Thirty students in a Google Expedition could become chaotic. Before I hand students iPads, I lay out my expectations:

  • Treat the iPads like precious treasure. We cannot afford to have one broken.
  • Google Expeditions is awesome. You’re going to go banana and I need you to listen as I explain what you are seeing in each scene.

Making those expectations clear at the start has made our Google Expeditions successful. I have led sixth-grade students on expeditions of pyramids in Egypt, the National Museum of Iraq, the Great Wall of China, the Palace at Versailles, and the human auditory system. My colleague Cristie Watson and I have documented some of these moments with our students.

cristie-tweet-about-tom-and-google-images_censored

Leading expeditions is easy. Teachers need to sign in with a Google account and then simply search for and download expeditions they want to lead. Students open the app and join the expedition, no sign-in required. Students can move their iPad to change their view of the 360 image. They can also use their fingers to change their vantage point. Swivel chairs are ideal but not essential.

Some Resources to Get Started:

If you would like to share your thoughts with me, please comment below or tweet me at @TomEMullaney. Thank you for reading.

The Google Expeditions logo I used in the image for this blog post.