Cool Tools for Schools, You Pick: Google Data Studio!

For the last several years, inspired by a Cool Tool topic I had worked on, I have been creating monthly library reports for my principal. I’ve been using Piktochart and have loved it-I was able to customize my report template just the way I wanted and reuse it month after month. My principal loved getting them as well. Unfortunately, I received an email that Piktochart was going to making some changes and my free account was about to be a lot less awesome. I will be limited to 5 visuals as of May and that’s just not enough for someone who likes to make (and save) monthly reports! As such, I’ve been on the hunt for something new to use for the last few weeks. Recently, a colleague went to a training where they learned about making reading dashboards and when they sent out there sample to the rest of us, I was delighted to discover there is a Google product I’ve never heard of called Data Studio. I couldn’t wait to try it out and see if it could be my Piktochart replacement!

One of my past Piktochart library reports

Things I liked:

  • Step by step getting started tutorial (almost too in-depth)
  • We’re already a GAFE school so it blends seamlessly with other products I already use on a daily basis
  • Template gallery so you don’t have to start completely from scratch
  • Maybe it will inspire me to log more traditional data

Things I didn’t like:

  • Template gallery isn’t very large
  • Templates provided by others weren’t searchable
  • Community templates aren’t all available to make your own copies from
  • Doesn’t have Google Images built in like other Google products (I had to find, save and, upload my own images when I wanted to add or change them)
My first attempt at using Google Data…

There’s definitely a learning curve to work with and it doesn’t completely operate like other Google products I’ve used but, I think I’m going to stick with it. I think the more I use it the better at it I’ll get and I don’t feel like I’ll have to worry about it suddenly becoming a paid feature like the other products I’ve used in the past. I’ve included the template I made for the April library report using Data Studio as well as the a past report using Piktochart. My latest version lacks some of the pizzazz of the past ones but, my first few attempts with Piktochart weren’t exactly top notch either! I’m sure like Piktochart, I’ll just keep tinkering and getting better. And I’m looking forward to getting more creative with some data I can add as well. I’m thinking I’ll tinker with the data I can download from circulation and see what I can do with that for our end of year report…and if anyone else does library reports (monthly, quarterly, whatever) I’d love to hear what you include!


Cool Tools for School, Thing 28: Anything Goes Google

This is another Cool Tool topic that never disappoints! I don’t know how Google keeps coming up with new things but they do and they do it faster than I can keep up with them-thank goodness Polly does this fabulous round up every year!

What I looked at:

What I’d like to do with them:

The Primarily Google blog and website were chockful of ideas! I love their post about embedding YouTube videos into Google Forms to both avoid the YouTube website and the various issues that can come with it and, for gathering feedback and information from your students when they are done watching the video. I’m so blown away about the ideas they presented I’m seriously considering signing up for their self paced class. It’s a little pricey but I think it could be worth it…

The Control Alt Achieve blog was full I can’t wait to share with my teachers! They basically gave me enough awesome ideas to fill the “Technology Tips” section of the monthly e-newsletter I send teachers for the rest of the school year (and maybe even into next school year!). That is, if I can hold off sharing for that long-that’s how exciting I found things like:

Sidenote: I loved the idea of the Google Spell Up game but can not seem to get to work. Every link I find for it (even through the Chrome Store) just takes me back to the regular Google homepage. If you know how to get it to work, please, please share the secret with me!

In keeping with my obsession with Library Centers, I was very excited to read on the Ditch That Textbook site about YouTube Editor and being able to edit and customize other videos to better fit our needs but, that appears to no longer be an available option. However, I did learn about a fun Google Experiment I think our music teacher might enjoy using with students: A.I. Duet!

What I’d like students to try with them:

I’d love to incorporate the Primarily Google blog’s YouTube/Google Form idea into our Awards Season centers. Currently, we’re watching videos of this year’s 3 Apples books and our mock Caldecott contenders in our center rotations. I think this could be a great way to have kids think about things they liked and didn’t like about the 3 Apples books and/or the contenders in our Mock Caldecott. They could even review their responses before casting their final votes.

So I know I said I wanted to share the ideas I found on the The Control Alt Achieve blog with my teachers but I do have some ideas on how they (and I) could use them in the classroom with students. Perhaps in the future we’ll add some of these games/ideas to our library centers.  

  • Land Lines-I think it would be interesting for primary students who are just learning shapes to see how those shapes can be found in real life, in both manmade and natural forms. Plus, it would give them a chance to practice mouse control while also practicing drawing the shapes.
  • Smarty Pins-A great way to practice geography skills and work in some basic research skills as well (like identifying key words, best places to find the answer etc).
  • Google Maps-Space & Access Mars-Our 5th graders do a planet research project every year and these would make great extension activities for students who finish up early or, a fun way to drum up excitement and interest before the project starts.
  • Mystery Animal-I think this could be a fun treat when a class has a few random minutes in their day or at the end of library class. But beyond being fun, it’s also a great way to fine tune their questioning skills, deductive reasoning skills and, work on their listening comprehension.

I had so much fun working on this Cool Tool topic. It really gave me that energized, excited feeling you get when you attend a great session at a conference and you’re just buzzing with ideas. Which is nice because our state conference is still months away and this stretch between February break and April break can be just a tad…draining. But now I’ve got some fun ideas to work on and experiment with in the meantime!

Cool Tools for School, Thing 14: eBook Creation

A few weeks ago, I got the email I expect but dread every. Single. Year: it was time to set up my observation. This year, the library department’s observations are being done by the head of the technology department. So, it seemed like a good idea to find a way to work technology into my lesson plan. But I was also in between projects with my intermediate grades (we’re on a flex schedule this year) which meant if I was going to complete my observation in the time frame I was being given, I was going to need to do my lesson with a primary class. Fortunately, we were going to be done with our current units and ready to start something new by observation time. But I didn’t want to teach them a technology lesson just to teach them a technology lesson and try to look good to the IT guy during my observation. I was a bit stumped.

Then, one night I was scrolling Instagram and saw a post about this book I am not just a Scribble by Diane Alber. It looked cute so I ordered it and when it arrived I saw that the last page encourages kids to make their own scribbles and it even comes with stickers so kids can give their scribbles eyes, arms, mouths and so on like, just like the Scribble in the story. I loved that idea but it didn’t have nearly enough stickers for even one class of students to do it much less a whole grade level. And that’s when I remembered the “Build a Snowman with Google Slides” activity by Control Alt Achieve that I had looked during Thing 43: Google Drawing and it all came together.

Screen Shot 2018-05-19 at 1.34.53 PM

Inspired by that activity, I created a new slide template called We Are Not Just Scribbles. The idea was the same as the original, my 2nd-grade students would learn how to use copy and paste to take the eyes, mouths, arms, legs and so on from the other pages of the slide template and add them to their creation. So, the class prior to my observation, we read the book and students created their own scribbles. I gave them a template I mocked up quickly that had four boxes on the front and four boxes on the back. They were told to make 8 completely different, creative scribbles and then circle the number of their favorite before they handed it in and started book exchange time. Before the next class (aka The Lesson That Was To Be Observed), I used my phone to take a picture of each of their favorite scribbles and uploaded them to Google Drive. Then, in Google Classroom, I opened each of their slide templates and added their individual scribbles to each of the templates. When they arrived for the next class, we reviewed the book, did a quick lesson on how to use the mouse or the toolbar to access the copy/paste tools and then sent them off to access their individual slide projects and personalize their scribbles. The next lesson we finished them up and the next time I see them, we’ll start typing in the “All about my scribble” box. When everyone is done, I plan on printing their scribbles and “all about my scribble” pages and binding them into one class book I can add to the library shelves. If there’s time, I’d like to make a second one to give to their classroom teachers as well.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

For my Kindergarten and 1st-grade students, we followed the same basic idea I did with 2nd-grade classes except I created a different version of the template with fewer choices for the personalization options so they all fit on the same page as the scribble. Instead of learning copy and paste they used the lesson to practice mouse skills like selecting, dragging and dropping.  

Screen Shot 2018-05-19 at 1.32.59 PM.png

All in all, the lesson went well. My IT guy was impressed, the kids loved it and, it not only taught them a technology skill but, I was able to connect it to something we did in library class. I will definitely be using lessons like this next year to teach basic computer skills to my primary students throughout the year!

Cool Tools, Thing 38: Augmented & Virtual Reality

I was so excited about this one! I have heard about Google Cardboard and Google Expeditions and even got to try out Google Cardboard briefly at a workshop a few months ago-these seem like guaranteed ways to get students excited about a new topic! Since I don’t have the actual viewfinders, I decided to check out Google Expeditions and just use the iPads I have available in the library.

My 6th graders were getting ready to start a Social Studies inquiry on China so I thought it would be cool to lead them on some guided expeditions of things like the Great Wall of China and get them familiar with the landscape, history and culture of China. Not only would it give them some background knowledge to draw from during their unit, it would hopefully get them more excited about learning even through their inquiry.

The first thing I did was download the app to my phone and tester iPad in the library (we’re no longer allowed to download and delete iPads from our teacher iPads on our own. We have to put those requests through help desk. If we want to test out an app there is one unlocked tester iPad in the library we can use.). Later at home, I convinced my husband to be a student and help me test out the guide/explorer format (Side Note: Every time I opened my camera app to snap some pics of what was happening on my screen, he would get disconnected from the guide but not until I tried to go back to Google Expedition. So if you want to try this with your classes and would like to get some photos or videos of the experience, you’ll have to have someone else be in charge of that with a separate device. Otherwise, it will really slow down the expedition). I loved that the expeditions have built in points of interest and questions for the teacher guide to prompt/ask the students. I also loved that they were scaled in rigor so you could adjust the questions for your students/classes as necessary. My husband thought it was cool that the explorers are guided to look at what the instructor wants them to look to help keep them on track and I loved that as the teacher, I get feedback from the app on how many student explorers are following along and looking where I want them to be looking (seriously, how do they do that!?!?). Since I only had one student explorer testing it out with me, I’m not sure if there is anyway for it to indicate who isn’t looking where they are suppose to be looking or if you just look around the room and see who’s looking in the wrong direction.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

You may have noticed that my last sentence implies that I never used Google Expeditions beyond that testing session at home with my every patient husband. That’s because I never did get to use it with my 6th grade classes. At school the next day I wanted to test it out one more time before I formally requested the app be installed on the library iPads (when we want an app that installed that isn’t already on the preapproved list, we have to fill out a form to request that it gets added to the pre approved list and then, if they notify you it made the list, you can request it be added to the iPads you want/need it downloaded to.) The form asks you all sorts of questions about your testing out process so I wanted to test it again as I filled out the form so I could answer completely and accurately. Except, I could no longer get the app to work.

It would open but on my device it kept telling me no explorers could be found and on the iPad it would say no guides could be found.



I double checked that both devices were on the same wifi, nothing changed. I tried turning the wifi on and off for both of them, nothing changed. I tried restarting both devices, nothing changed. I took them home and tested them out on my home wifi, worked perfectly.

So, as it turns out, the settings on the wifi used in our building blocks the devices from being able to find each other and makes it impossible to use Google Expeditions as intended. I’ll be submitting a form asking them to change that but, I’m not expecting a speedy resolution, if I get one at all.

I then looked at some of the other options I had learned about in this tool, namely Google Cultural Institute and Google Maps Street View Treks, to see if they could substitute for Google Expeditions so I wouldn’t have to scrap my idea entirely.

Google Cultural Institute is a swell idea but, to get the most out of the videos, you still need some kind of Google Cardboard viewer and I don’t have those (and can’t afford them or get them here in a hurry) so that kind of takes some of the wind out of the sales on that site. You can view the videos on a computer and move around within the video image but it definitely losing something sharing it on the larger smartboard or even computer screen. (Although, it wasn’t much different viewing them on the iPad than it was doing the Google Expeditions on the iPad.) It’s also a great resource for museum style resources in the comfort and convenience of your classroom-they had a great collection on The Art of Chinese Crafts. Most of the videos though were of museums and not the actual landscapes and major attractions (like the Great Wall expedition I had wanted to take my 6th graders on). If you’re looking to bring the museums of the world to your classroom and/or don’t mind pre-recorded Expedition style videos, this is a great resource for classroom use and has tons of topics from tons of places. But, it didn’t give me that free form exploration feeling I was looking to get (and didn’t have any videos I could find on the Great Wall).

So I moved on to Google Maps Street View Treks instead. I was definitely let down by this one more than the Cultural Institute. The Cultural Institute had plenty to offer, it just wasn’t exactly what I was looking to find. Google Treks was surprisingly sparse in comparison-there are currently only about 20 locations available. For those locations you can see some cool videos and some panoramic photos but it’s not as self guided as the Google Expeditions. Plus, I found it incredibly frustrating that when I clicked on “Explore in Street View” instead of taking me to the street view map for the location I was actually viewing (in this screenshot, the Eiffel Tower), it would just take me to a general landing page for Google Street View-and there was no way to search for the location I had been at and wanted to view in Street View!

In the end, I scrapped the lesson entirely and went a different route. The music teacher and I were going to collaborate on an end of year project for 5th grade so I reached out to him about modifying it slightly and doing it with 6th grade as well. While there are certainly some cool options out there and I probably could have made something work from Treks and/or the Cultural Institute, in the end what I really wanted to do was a Google Expedition and I decided if I couldn’t, I’d rather just do something else entirely.


Cool Tools, Thing 41: Anything Google

I almost skipped this one but I’m glad I didn’t! We’re a Google Apps for Education School and I’ve taken plenty of PD on the various tools over the years so I wasn’t sure I’d find something substantial enough to warrant a Cool Tools blog post. As always though, Polly put in some amazing leg work and found some great tools I didn’t know I was missing out on-or needed!

The one that immediately caught my eye was DriveSlides. Our district overhauled the entire district website earlier this you and all classroom/teacher websites had to be moved from SchoolWorld to Google Sites. The transition happened in January so I spent my December break trying to create my new library website in Google Sites. It was time consuming and frustrating and in the end, I wished it could have turned out better.

One of the things I really wanted to be able to have on my site was a link to my library’s Instagram account for a “Library Picture of the Day”. As a WordPress user, I know some platforms give you plug-ins and widgets that make embedding media easy and seamless. GoogleSites, as far as I can tell, doesn’t have a lot of plug-in and widget options that aren’t related to other Google products. Not to mention that Instagram is blocked in our school so even if they did, none of the pictures would display for people viewing on the district internet anyway. I was ready to give up on that dream when I read about DriveSlides in the article 2 BRAND NEW tools to help students display work, reflect on the Ditch That Textbook website.

We told spooky stories around this campfire I made during Halloween week. We turned the lights off and everything-the kids loved it!

Eager to get started, I followed the directions outlined in the article and downloaded the Chrome extension (which, thankfully was not blocked at school-so many more things are blocked this year!). Then, I created a new folder within the folder I’d already made on Google Drive for the library website. I called this folder Library Life since I would be uploading “day in the life” type photos to it. Then, I uploaded a sampling of photos from the library’s Instagram account to the Library Life folder. I picked one from each month of the school year (although I noticed I never posted anything in January or February!) just to try it out.

Students loved the Wonder Can so much they asked to use it when while they waited for the rest of the class to finish book exchange time.

The next step tripped me up for a few seconds. After adding my photos to the Drive folder I was going to use with DriveSlides, the directions say to “Open the folder with your photos in Google Drive. Click the DriveSlides icon.Voila! Your slide presentation is created”. It took me a little bit to realize they meant the DriveSlides icon now up in my Chrome Extensions toolbar. Once I figured that out and clicked on it, poof!, I had a GoogleSlides presentation in that folder with one photo on each slide! I was then able to hop over to my GoogleSite and add that slideshow to the main library page under a heading called, “#LibraryLife”. It was all up and running in a matter of minutes! I finally had some kind of “photo of the day” setup on the library website!

Loved getting all my Hour of Code swag out in December!

My excitement was tempered a bit though when I started experimenting and testing out adding more photos to my site’s slideshow. When I added more pictures to the folder I’d created for my #LibraryLife section, they didn’t automatically get added to the DriveSlides and updates on the website slideshow. To update the DriveSlide, you have to go into the folder where the DriveSlide and your photos are stored in Google Drive and click on the SlideShare icon again. That will update your DriveSlide to include the new photos but, it still doesn’t seem to automatically update the DriveSlides being shown on the library website. I had to then go to the website, delete the current slide show and then embed the updated version from my Google Drive to get the new photos to show up. Having to do all these updates manually means my pictures won’t be perfectly up to date on the website but, it’s a start and better than what I had before.

Stealing this idea for my ILLs next year!

Another thing I’m experimenting with is creating an IF This Then That recipe that will automatically save the library Instagram photos to the Google Drive folder I’ve created for DriveSlides. There’s already a recipe for that but I’m having trouble figuring out how to get my photos to go to the exact folder I want them to go to (that one I’ve already set up), instead of the one IFTTT creates for you. If I can get this figured out, it would at least cut out the extra step of having to upload my Instagram photos to the folder. I’ll still have to update the DriveSlide and re-embed it to the library website periodically but any step I can cut out is a good one. Maybe I can set up an IFTTT recipe to remind me to do that once a week? 

Lots of great civic minded convos in November when I wore my “I voted Today!” sticker to work. 

Overall, I’m pretty happy with what I learned during this tool. I’ve learned about a fun Google Chrome extension, I gave my website a more personal touch, I finally had a reason to experiment with If Then Than That (albeit not successfully, but I’m not giving up that easily either) and, I bookmarked a bunch of other Google related articles to read and experiment with later.