Chrome Tips From ITEC

CHROME-EXTENSIONSI just wrote a rather lengthy reflection on some of the more conceptual learning I experienced at ITEC, I also learned quite a few tactical, productivity type things as well. Almost all of these ideas came from Chad Kafka.

The district Chad works for in Wisconsin, Franklin Public Schools, publishes a list of approved, whitelisted Chrome extensions that are available to kids.  Like us, they block all extensions but approved ones.  I have “borrowed” (stolen) this list with his approval.  Here’s the list.   My team is in the process of whitelisting all of these extensions.  These all should be available in the Chrome Store before the end of the week if you want to have your students use any of these.  Please note, there’s a lot of overlap on some of these.  For example, there are a lot of screen readers/text to speech extensions.  I would recommend using Google Read&Write for this as we have the full version pushed to students and staff already.

Let me know if you’d like us to push any of these and automatically install them for all kids in a grade level.  I’ll be publishing a form later this month where you can request extensions for whitelisting.  For now, just shoot me a note with the name of the extension, a link to it in the Chrome Store, and a brief (couple of sentences) description/rationale.

Chad also shared a whole bunch of other Chrome productivity tips.  Here are a couple that I found the most useful.  

You can use a Chrome “Incognito” window to login to a student’s Google account without logging out of your own Google account.  This is really handy if you want to verify something for a student — test their userID/password or check in how they see a file.  Without this, you would need to logout of your account and possibly your Chrome browser profile which is a hassle.  Now, all you need to do is go to the “three dots” in the upper right corner of the Chrome window — just to the right of the extensions — and select “New Incognito Window.”  IncognitoThe new window will be outlined in black.  You can then go to or or whatever Google login page to test the other account.  Please note that we do not allow students to use incognito mode as this creates  potential security risks — ie… no saved history, etc….

Like many of you, I have a personal as well a professional Google accounts.  I’ve nevered linked them as I didn’t like the way the the “add account” feature worked.  It’s messy and confusing.  Chad demonstrated a cleaner way to access both accounts without mixing them.  Again, go to the “three dots” and select “settings.”  Scroll down to the “People” subheading. Chrome settings Click the “Add Person” button and enter your information for your personal account. Once you do that you can click the profile name button in the far upper right corner of Chrome and use the “switch person” button to open a new window for your personal account. Chrome Switch PersonBy doing this you can be logged into both accounts at the same time — so you can have both Gmail accounts open.


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2016 ITEC Reflections

ITECThe lead keynote at ITEC this year was George Couros, the author of The Innovator’s Mindset.  George was a likable, entertaining, and engaging speaker.  His message was a re-mix of Carol Dweck’s growth mindset research and the musing of Austin Kleon’s Steal Like an Artist.  And, while there were lots of good reminders and reinforcers given in his presentation, there was one particularly interesting anecdote he shared.

Near the end of his keynote, he related a story about a time he was speaking to a relatively large group of both students and staff (well over a thousand) at a school. And, as part of his presentation, he encouraged the audience to tweet at him directly or with the event hashtag with ideas, questions, etc… — a way of collecting back-channel feedback.  While on stage, he would periodically check his Twitter feed on his phone to see what was percolating in the audience. In this particular case, he started to see some really offensive tweets.  There were a series of profanity laden, vulgar, and mean spirited tweets — directed at him using the event hashtag.  It was very personal and very much intended for him to see.  He realized he was being cyberbullied in front of a live audience.

So, he assessed his options.  This had never happened to him before.  What do you do when anonymous audience members are virtually heckling you?  Should he call out the accounts/kids responsible live on stage?  Should he shut down the event entirely?  Thinking on his feet, he came up with a third, better option.  He asked the audience to let him know if he was making an impact on them.  He gave them time to process and then tweet at him with their thoughts. The positive messages flowed in!  Within seconds, the four our five negative tweets were buried by hundreds of positive messages.  The realization that came to him from this experience was that we need to intentionally have the positive message drown out the negative ones.  While this is a very valuable idea, something else occurred to me as I listened to this story.

I found myself thinking about what I would do in a similar situation.  I really don’t know, even now.  I would find that experience horrifying and terrifying.  I realized what I find most admirable and powerful about this story is not the solution (which is very elegant), but rather the simple fact that he was able to think on his feet quickly enough to devise a solution in the first place.  

A few months ago, I wrote about the importance of adaptive understanding.  This story is a great example of that principle.  George’s years of experience as a teacher, administrator, and presenter gave him the requisite understandings necessary to quickly devise a solution to this unforeseen, complex problem.  Adaptive understanding is the high ground skill set that all of our kids will need to be successful in the 21st century global economy.  This type of skill set spans all vocations.  Successful and effective plumbers, lawyers, mechanics, and engineers are all able to solve these types of unfamiliar, emergent, devilish problems.  This is the “secret sauce” that makes people good at what they do.

So, how do we design for adaptive understanding in our classrooms and how do we prepare kids to face these types of challenges?  There’s a lot to unpack with this type of question — probably a book in and of itself.  But, here are a few quick thoughts…

Task and audience authenticity are central to these types of designs.  These “high value” problems that require adaptive understanding to solve are chaotic and sometimes unreplicable.  So, as designers we need to embrace these types of situations.

An artful balance is necessary to make failure a safe option while maintaining an appropriate level of concern.  Problems that require adaptive understanding are messy and learners will make mistakes and missteps.  

While content understanding content has a role in solving adaptive problems, a deep understanding of process skills is even more valuable.  Content changes, evolves, and is almost ubiquitously available, and therefore is inherently less value than process skills and habits of mind.

As always, I would be really interested in hearing from others on what we can do as a system to design for and teach the processes and skills necessary to build adaptive understanding skill sets in our kids.  I invite you to drop me a note or post a comment here with your thoughts.

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Full Version of Google Read&Write Available

As I’ve posted before, assistive technology is quickly turning into one of my passions.  So, I’m thrilled to announce that we have purchased and pushed out the full version of Google Read&Write extension to all students and staff at Prairie.  This purchase was made possible largely by Cheryl Kiburz.  Cheryl’s leadership and vision landed an AT usability grant for Prairie Creek that made this district-wide purchase a reality.  

Read&Write is an awesome tool that will benefit struggling writers as well as proficient and advanced writers as well. Another great thing about this tool is that it benefits a wide spectrum of ages, too.  It’s very usable for our younger learners, and I’m using it right now as I compose this post.  It’s intuitive, and it has very manageable learning curve.  Here are a couple of brief videos that cover the features.


This is a Chrome browser extension only.  So, you must be using Chrome to take advantage of this tool.  To get the extension pushed to you, you must also be logged into Chrome with your account.  All of our students using Chromebooks will have this done automatically.  But, again, students and staff using Macbooks need to ensure they are logged into Chrome with their account.  

I strongly encourage all staff and students to take advantage of this incredibly powerful tool.

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New(er) Stuff from Google


Google released some new content last summer.  I’m guessing many of you already know about some of this stuff. But, in case you don’t here were a few of the things that caught my attention.

Training for Google Apps. Google recently purchased a company called Synergyse which specialized in creating online, just in-time learning for all things Google.  The Google team has taken this content and released the Training for Google Apps extension for Chrome.  This is pretty cool! Just to be clear, this does require the use of Chrome as the browser.  I would really recommend everyone install it.  Once installed, you’ll see the Google logo with a question mark inside just to the right of your Google account information.Google Training ExtensionIf you have a question, just click on the logo.  You’ll see a list of common questions, but you can also search for your specific question.  Click on a topic to start an interactive “how to” video lesson.  I would recommend just opening the tool and viewing the common questions, too.  There’s a ton of great content for Docs, Sites, Forms, Classroom, etc…

Speaking of Classroom… It looks like Google has released some new features that include parental notifications.  I’m sure many of you already know about this, but again just in case you haven’t seen it.  There’s also a nice bit in here about Google Expeditions, too.

GCT update.  It also looks like Google has revamped the Google Certified Trainer program.  As far as I know, we don’t have any GCTs at Prairie, but it’s great program if you are looking to extend your own professional learning.  Let me know if you are thinking about this.  I probably can’t do much to support it from a district perspective with dollars/time, but it would be a fantastic personal certification.

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Student Google Groups


Just a quick FYI, our student Google Groups are now available. Remember that we have a Group for every period/class section in Campus that is populated with students.  Due to the number of Groups (around 5,000) and memberships (around 100,000), it took us a couple of days to get these setup for the year. The group name will begin with a building abbreviation, the course number, period, and course name.  So, for example, phs-1020-1-ap-english-lit– is the address for the AP English Literature period one group.  The course number, period, and name are exactly as they appear in Infinite Campus.  All of these groups will appear when typing in Group names in the Gmail web client.  So, you can just begin typing in the “to” field to search up a particular Group. These groups are particularly handy when sharing other Google content like Sites, Sheet, Slides, and Docs.

While these Groups are extremely useful, please be careful.  We’ve had a few instances over the last year where staff have accidentally sent sensitive information intended for Prairie teachers/staff to these student Groups.  So, double check the Group name before sending.  

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Chrome Extension and Student Devices


We’ve made some changes this year with how students access and use Chrome extensions.  We discovered last year that many students were using certain Chrome extensions to circumvent our internet filtering and logging.  The extensions in question were various VPN and proxy extensions.  Many of these extensions have legitimate uses outside of the education realm.  We tried blacklisting the ones we knew about, but, there are new ones published all the time.  So, the only way to ensure that students could not access these was to block all extensions and allow only whitelisted extensions to run on student devices.  This is a change we really need to make to ensure that we are complying with CIPA.

This does not mean that students cannot use Chrome extensions, however. But, they must now get them approved before they can use them.  Here’s the processes we’ll be using — depending on device and scope.

For students using Macbooks, the request for the extension must be approved by a teacher.  Teachers should email any member of the technology department with the name of the of the extension — a link to it from the Chrome Store would be great, too — , who needs it, and the date when needed.  Assuming the extension in question is not one used to circumvent filtering/logging, etc… we will whitelist the extension in the Google Management Console.   If the request is for all students, we can push the extension out via Casper.   If the extension is for a small number of students (less than a grade level), we will create a Self Service package that students can use to install the extension.  My team will need at least two days notice to complete these tasks.

For students using Chromebooks, again the request must be approved by a teacher. Teachers should email any member of the technology department with the name of the of the extension — a link to it from the Chrome Store would be great, too — , who needs it, and the date when needed.  Assuming the extension in question is not one used to circumvent filtering/logging, etc… we will whitelist the extension in the Google Management Console. If the request is for all students, we can push the extension out via the Google Management Console.  If the extension is for a small number of students (less than a grade level), it will be available for students to manually install from the Chrome Store.  As with the Macbooks, my team will need at least two days notice to complete these tasks.

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Minor Change to Campus Messenger


Based upon teacher feedback and some changes we’ve made over time, we’ve tweaked how Campus Messenger now works.  It is now set so that the default “from” address or sender address is the email address of the person logged into Campus.  This means that when you create a new Campus Messenger email, it will automatically put in your email address as the “from” or sender.  This is a change.  Previously, the default “from” or sender address was “”.  This should make life a little more convenient for teachers when sending class emails to students and parents.  If teachers left in the “ address, parents and students could not reply to these notes and reach the teacher.  This should make personalized communication to students and parents a little easier.

We are keeping the “ account around, however.  There may be times when staff feel the need to broadcast a message that does not need to be responded/replied to.  In these cases,  staff will need to manually change the “from” or sender address back to “  

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First Responders and Digital Literacy Trainers for 2016-17

DLT 2016

It was great to see all the new Prairie teachers yesterday!  What a great group!  For their reference and everyone else’s, below is a list of the Digital Literacy Trainers and Technology First responders for the 2016-17 school year.

Digital Literacy Trainers (DLT)

Prairie Crest:
Becky Sammons
Courtney Coughlin

Prairie Heights:
Kelly Rudd
Courtney Templeton

Prairie Hill:
Brad Koch
Tricia Ward

Prairie Ridge:
Tara Tolly
Laura Hahlen

Prairie View:
Mark Ganzeveld
Shalyn Huerter

Prairie Creek:
Marija Musselman
Patrice Becicka
Ernie Cox

Prairie Point:
Martha Wilding
Emily Nash
Megan Hanson

Aric Folden

Prairie High School:
Sarah Oldenkamp
Kim Hynek
Kent Noska
Amy Jabens

While our DLT team certainly does know the “nuts and bolts” of fixing tech problems, we have another team that we rely upon to help us for more “techie” problems – our Technology First Responders. These are great folks to turn to for help when you have a technical problem. They can either fix it themselves or get a ticket started for you if the job is a bit more complex. Here is the list of First Responders for for all buildings:

Technology First Responders

Prairie Crest
Andrea Hora
Faith Curtis

Prairie Heights:
Judy Janssen
Kelly Rudd

Prairie Hill:
Dona Howe
Brad Koch

Prairie Ridge:
Lori Pleiness
Lindsey Shaull

Prairie View:
Audrey Kossayian
Mark Ganzeveld

Prairie Creek:
Stephanie Johnson
Marija Musselman

Prairie Point:
Jesse Gearheart
Michelle Walter

Prairie High School:
Sarah Oldenkamp
Kim Hynek

Prairie Edge:
Leah Gass



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Start the New Year Grieving

Honeycutt 2016

On Monday, I saw something remarkable.  We hosted Kevin Honeycutt to present digital literacy PL to our staff.  During the keynote, he produced a headband that wirelessly monitored his brain’s activity in real time via a smartphone app.  The Melon app tracked his level of focus and showed graphs that displayed the distribution of his brainwave frequencies.  The core idea is that higher frequencies indicate higher cognitive load and engagement.  This device can give immediate, easily understandable, and measurable data on physiology of student engagement.  It’s a little like a Fitbit for the mind.  Kevin posed the question, “How would your teaching or instructional design change if you could view this type of student data?”  He then challenged everyone in the room to act as if they did have a tool like this all the time.  In other words, make engagement core to the work of teaching.  This was a great message — a powerful message.  And, while I agreed and appreciated what he was saying, all I could think about was Koan.

My youngest child, Koan, was born eight years ago.  If you don’t know, a “koan” is an answerless riddle that Zen-Buddhist monks meditate upon (and try to answer) in order to reach enlightenment. A well known koan is “What is the sound of one hand clapping?”  We named Koan before he was born.  

Just a few days after bringing him home from the hospital after he was born, he began to have grand mal seizures.  He spent the next month in the NICU while various medical professionals looked for a diagnosis.  When he was around four months old, the seizures stopped.  But, we were already starting to notice that he was missing developmental milestones.  As time went on, it was pretty clear that Koan was going to face some significant challenges.  Our worry was compounded by the fact that there was never a formal diagnosis or label to describe what had happened to him. He was a true riddle; his own namesake.   The uncertainty in those first few weeks and months was almost unbearable.  Koan continued to grow and develop but at age eight, he does not walk or talk.


When I saw Kevin’s headband, I wondered about the type of data we would see if we put this on Koan.  With Koan, I’ve always believed that he was processing more of the world than he can show.  This headband might be tool to see into his mind: it might just give us another way to get to know him.  When I shared this idea with Kevin, he could not have been more kind and generous.  He insisted on meeting Koan.   He shared his perspective and his expertise on what might be happening inside Koan’s world.  He also loaned us the headband.  So, over the next few days, we’ll be gathering baseline data on ourselves and Koan to help us understand what is happening with Koan.  I’ll keep you posted on what we find.

While this is a great story and remarkable all on it’s own, a more powerful idea emerged out of a conversation Kevin and I had as I was driving him back to the hotel.  Earlier in the evening, Jeri had related some powerful advice she got from a close friend when it became clear that Koan would face some challenges our that other kids would not.  “Take time and grieve for the child you thought you were going to have.  Let that go. And, then love the child you have.”

It’s become clear to me that there’s is an important distinction between preconceptions and expectations.   My preconceptions about who Koan should have been were the root of my negative emotions: worry and fear.  I don’t mean that these preconceptions were wrong, bad, or somehow unhealthy.  They’re a byproduct of hope — the best of things — to quote Andy Dufresne.  Preconceptions are normal, understandable, and reasonable.   But, when the train goes off the track, they become inherently empty.  The anxiety I experienced due to missed milestones were not helpful to Koan.  So, they were not only making me unhappy, but worse, they were getting in the way of me being at my best to help Koan.  

By embracing the available  joy,  the small successes, and even the short falls Koan experiences each day — each moment — I am able to see and sometimes find my best self.  I started to rely upon more global expectations rather than specific preconceptions.  Jeri and I developed three big expectations we share with anyone working for Koan:  happiness, good health, and independence.   These three ideas guide everything we do with him from planning his trust, setting IEP goals, or working with therapists or respite workers.  When we see growth or progress on any of these expectations, no matter how small, it brings us great joy.  And, this is an incredible gift that Koan has given us.

As I was articulating this idea to Kevin, he something remarkable — “What if each year teachers took time to grieve for the kids they hoped to have,  acknowledged that grief, then put it aside to embrace and love kids that are there?”  What a powerful idea!  As funny as it sounds, I had never until that moment translated this personal understanding to a professional one.  Put aside the preconceptions that naturally appear with hope and excitement, and accept the reality of the present.  This doesn’t mean abandoning high expectations or the belief that all kids can do great things:  Success for All!  But, acknowledge that our preconceptions of how things “should be” can be a significant obstacle to doing our work well.  

I encourage all of you to relish the anticipation of the start of the school year.  There are few things in life that are better than hope and anticipation.  But, when you hit that first big bump in road, take some time to grieve for your preconceptions. Let them go, maintain your high expectations, and embrace the gifts your students are offering to you right now.

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New iPad App Purchase Process


As I wrote last spring, we spent a lot of time working on iPads this summer.  Apple has redesigned a lot of the management tools, so we also redesigned our local app purchase process.  We believe it’s simpler for everyone.  

Here’s a PDF that shows how the whole process works.  However, there are really only two things you to do to make a purchase:

  1. Complete a requisition form and send it to Lisa Smith in the business office.  Of course, to complete the form you will also need to know the account code that will be used to pay for the purchase.
  2. You will also need to complete a Google Form that Angela Sleeper will send directly to you once she gets the requisition from Lisa.  In order for us to automatically deliver the new app, we’ll need to know the asset tag number, serial number, and Apple ID associated with the iPad.  The Google Form gives instructions on how to find all three.

Here are a few additional things to keep in mind when purchasing apps going forward.

  • This new procedure is the only way we will be purchasing apps.  There are no alternative methods.  We worked with the business office to develop a streamlined process that still meets all of the Iowa DE and federal legal rules for the use of public funds.  These are the rules that prevent us from being able to use iTunes gift cards.
  • There are no redemption codes or anything you need to do to install the apps.  Once you complete the Google Form, we will push the app(s) to your iPad(s) automatically.  App updates will also be automatically applied.
  • The new process will allow us to seamlessly give and take back apps from devices.  We could not do this before.  So, for example, an iPad goes missing or is stolen, we can revoke the apps on that device and automatically redeploy them to a new device.  
  • Again, we will be using this new purchase system exclusively, and as I indicated in the spring, it only works with newer iPad hardware.  It will not work work with anything that does not use a “lightning” sync cable — the thinner one.  The older 30 pin (larger) sync cable iPads won’t run this new system.  So, this means that you can still use older hardware, but you cannot purchase new apps for these devices.
  • Apple’s new management system will only work with iPads that have been purchased directly from Apple.  We cannot manage iPads that were purchased from resellers like Target or Walmart.  So, if a device was not purchased directly from Apple, we can’t manage it, and, therefore, we can’t purchase apps for it.  For the last three or four years, we’ve had a policy that requires all iPad purchases to be done this way.  Now, it is essential  that all iPad purchases come through the district technology office.  This would include iPads that are purchased by PTOs, the booster club, from grants, etc…
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