Last year at this time we launched over 2500 iPads across our district to math and science classrooms...this year, it's Chromebooks. While I love our iPads and the learning they inspire in our students, using them in a shared environment has been challenging to say the least. A shared environment is where Chromebooks shine! Students are able to customize their Chrome browser with extensions and apps that can enhance the learning process. They can also customize their Chromebooks with adjustments to the trackpad and keyboard to suit their computing needs...and when they log out, those customizations go with them!
So how do we get the Chromebooks school ready?
By adding Chrome extensions to add functionality to its performance, Chromebooks can help make the learning more efficient and engaging. I could write a whole blog post on my personal favorite extensions, but this post is about extensions that STUDENTS need to maximize their learning potential, so I've put together my SHORTLIST of must-haves in order of awesomeness:
#1: Web of Trust-EVERY student needs this extension added to their Chrome browser. It crowdsources website reliability and vets web search results with Green, Yellow, and Red dots to indicate a website's trustworthiness. No longer can students rely on all .org sites to be dependable. For instance, www.martinlutherking.org is a site run by white supremacists!
#2: AdBlock-Another Chrome extension students should not go without! It blocks ads on web pages as well as YouTube and Facebook. I love to surf the web and look up at the extension and see high numbers in the lower right-hand corner of the extension icon...it's doing its job! When you install this extension, it asks for a donation. While this extension is free, you will be more than happy to send the creator and his wife a few bucks their way!
#3: read&write-This app is fabulous for offering reading and writing support in Google Docs and on the web. Students can have the text read, they can highlight, have a web page simplified. There is a free version with fewer options than the paid version. I know many schools pay for their students to have access to the full version of this extension. It is truly learning made easy!
#4: Cite This For Me: Web Citer- Can I have an OMG! I love this extension. I've always struggled with getting a website cited correctly! Just click a button and let it do its magic...then copy and paste! It works for APA, Chicago, Harvard, and MLA formats.
#5: Save To Google Drive-This extension allows you to save web content, screenshots, media, and web links directly in Google Drive...very handy on a Chromebook!
#6: Grammarly- I love this extension; I use it all the time. As you type online, it is constantly monitoring for spelling and grammar errors. I mean...who doesn't need this extension?
#7: Classroom Split- This is an extension commissioned by Alice Keeler for students to be able to split their screens between their project instructions and their working Google document inside Google Classroom. This extension is sure to make task management much easier.
#8: Screencastify Extension-To be able to screencast on a Chromebook, this extension seems to be the best. But note that it may not work on older Chromebooks. One thing I love about this extension is the annotation toolkit that is available during the screencasting process.
Adding a few Chrome apps will also help students be more productive and allow them to maximize these tools for learning. Now my shortlist for Chrome apps doesn't include all of the cool, really great apps that can engage the learner in creating some awesome projects such as those mentioned in the graphic to the right. However, there are some really great apps that will aid students in being more efficient in their learning. Those are the apps I want to feature as those needed to get our Chromebooks school ready.
#1: Sketchpad 3.5- We have recently deployed touchscreen Chromebooks and this app is awesome for those. If your Chromebooks aren't touchscreen, this app can be skipped. It's basically an artboard that allows you to load in graphics to annotate, to free draw. There are multiple backgrounds such as graph paper, blueprint, and others that can be loaded. You can add text; it's just a very versatile app, one that helps the Chromebook bridge the gap between a laptop and an iPad.
#2: Google Drive- This suite of apps goes without saying...it's the classroom workhorse of today. This app should be loaded on all devices so that students have access to their files at any time, anywhere.
#3: DocHub- This is another staple app that can serve students in being able to edit, annotate, and merge/reorder PDFs.
#4: Evernote- Need to take notes, compile research information, curate content, you name it, Evernote can probably do it. I used it a couple of years ago as an Interactive Notebook for my social studies class. Students have the ability to share notebooks with peers/teachers and there are several great apps such as Skitch that can be integrated with Evernote.
#5: Clipchamp- One of the major missing pieces on the Chromebook is a camera that takes video, but alas, Clipchamp has recently been updated and now "Houston, we have video!"
#6: Voice Recorder- This is a great, easy-to-use audio recording tool that allows the students to quickly record and save to Google Drive. This app and Clipchamp are both great, easy apps that will allow students to quickly create media.
#7: Quizlet- This is just a perennial favorite app to create/search flashcards to be able to take your learning with you.
#8: Notebook for Class- Want to do a digital notebook? Give this one a try. It's pretty slick looking and is very easy to use. There are several themes you can select to customize your notebook. The free version has some limitations but seems to be adequate.
I'd love to hear what others have found to be critical keys to maximizing Chromebooks in the classroom. Please share!