News and Weather


There was a great deal of hubbub yesterday when word got out that Google had released a copy of its News and Weather Application for iOS.  It had been previously available for those who use the Android system.  I gave it a download to see what it looked like on iOS.

I guess that I shouldn’t be surprised when, if it looks like a duck and it quacks like a duck, … but other than the default dark display install of the familiar white of the Android, it looks and functions exactly the same way.  In fact, the first thing I did was go to the menu and add “Education” as a category.  Now both versions should pick up the same content.

But other than that I was off to the races.  Of course, location is important when you’re looking for the weather and there was no issue quickly picking up me at home.  A quick change of location and you’re pulling in the weather from wherever you want.

Like good news reading applications, a collection of “Top Stories” occupies the home for the application.

Tapping the now familiar hamburger menu lets you see the default news categories.  There is a nice selection to get started – World, Canada, Business, Technology, Entertainment, Sports, Science, Health, and of course the local stories from Amherstburg and Windsor.  Amherstburg just doesn’t have a whole lot to report so the application appears to pull in stories from around the country to fill.

With each story, a down arrow exposes related stories which is a very nice feature.  Once you’re done with the top stories, swipe left and right to work your way through your defined categories.

Clicking on a story takes you directly to the story.  There’s a navigation bar at top that will bring you back to the application.  Therein lies a problem for sharers.  Unlike other reading/sharing programs that connect directly to Twitter or Facebook, News and Weather doesn’t.  Fortunately, in this day and age, most sources have a way to use social media on their website.  The problem is that there’s no consistent way to access it.  It would be nice to have a native sharing button.

The layout is clean and you know that with Google who is already indexing things anyway, you’ll get relevant and fresh content.  For those on the iOS platform looking for a reader, I’d suggest downloading it and seeing if it has a home on your device.

Android Download

iOS Download

Lego In Your Browser


I don’t know about you but this news report is disturbing.  From the Toronto Star, “Lego shortage leaves toy stores between a block and a hard place“.

Oh, the humanity!

Fortunately, your browser comes to the rescue.  Check out “Build with Chrome” and be like a kid in a candy Lego store.

You have a whole collection of Lego blocks to choose from – along with colours – 

Just pick them up and drag them to your workspace and click to place.  I’ll admit to a bit of a spacial challenge when I first started because I seemed to be one row away from the perfect placement!  However, you can easily remove a brick and then place it back properly.

And, what would a Google product be without integration across services?

If you’re so inclined, you can log in with your Google account and post your masterpiece to a Google map for the world to enjoy your efforts.

As I write this post, I don’t see any published efforts from Essex County but there are some from our neighbours to the north.

It makes sense – head off to Silicon Valley if you want to see a great deal of early effort with this project.  There is a whole World of Build to allow you to snap in and extend the building.  As you might expect, there are some experiments that may be abandoned but getting the right people together could build something momentous.

There’s a lot of creative people with Lego.  Will you or your students be one more of them?

 

Google Forms Really Mature


I’ve been a user of Google Forms forever, it seems.  They’re a great way to collect opinions, quick testing, gathering observations, going paperless, …  Entries come in with a timestamp and you can ask for identifying information or just keep it random.  Things are done at the user keyboard and I think that, properly done, it’s one of the better electronic activities that you can use right in your classroom.

There are a couple of really neat features that you can use to make your work look and act even more professionally.  Google continues to work at their offerings to make them mature and just add additional functionality.

Themes

Of course, there’s nothing better than a great looking form.  But, don’t stick to the boring default – choose a cool theme.  Select “Change Theme” from the menu bar and select from some looks that range from fun to professional looking.

Even the best theme can sometimes use a little tweak!

Within each theme (or the blank default), select the “Customise” option and change to your hearts content!

Once you have the perfect customised theme, you may not want to use it just once.  In fact, you may have a theme that you’d like to use consistently throughout that class or that subject area.  

Copy and apply that perfect theme to your new form!  With a background or header image, you can have a consistent display (or even class messages) that appear every time you use that theme.  Lots of ideas can be incorporated.

Mix It Up (but not too much)

Now, I don’t want to say that I went to school with a bunch of cheaters, but I can remember paper tests that were labelled “Test A” and “Test B” and even duplicated on different coloured paper.  They were distributed such that even if you decided to take a peek at the person beside you the questions, while the same, were in a different order.  That functionality is available for your Google Form.  Of course, you could create two separate forms – but that’s old school!  This is 2014.

Just click the “Shuffle question order” and each visitor to the form will have their questions shuffled.  You’ve got to like that.

While you’re at it – there may be people trying to “game” your form by submitting multiple copies of it.  Supposed you’re doing a little quiz and you don’t want to take the best results for an individual making multiples in the hopes of getting one that’s right!  If they have and are logged into a Google account, check “Only allow one response per person”.

If you’re a Google Forms user, check out these features.  Your forms will look, and work, awesomely.

You’ll look like the professional you are with these features.

Better Searching


This story “10 Things You Probably Didn’t Know You Could Do With #Twitter Search” crossed my reading yesterday morning.  It’s a story about using advanced commands and modifiers to refine your Twitter Search.

I used to call this button the most useless link on the internet.

I wonder if anyone has ever seriously found anything that way.  Certainly, it is a curiosity and an amusement, but serious searching?

In fact, any search engine worth its salt has advanced commands and modifiers.  All that you have to do is learn and then commit them to memory or….

Use the advanced searching features!

So, while a Twitter search begins with this page….

….there is an advanced search page where you can use the sophisticated search features mentioned in the article.  Just click here instead.

 

Rather that memorizing the modifiers, just fill in the form and search.

No need to committing things to memory.

What a great way to zero in on the type of discussions happening on Twitter.

While at it, consider your other search engines.

For example, Google Basic looks like this..

But, there is an advanced search page here…..

Ditto for Yahoo!….

and the advanced search

 

As you can imagine, just with these few examples, there is no actual standard for advanced searching.  But, by using the Advanced Search features, you don’t need to know the syntax of a particular site.  Just fill in the form and start reeling in the results.

For the serious searcher, it makes more sense to me that you head directly to the advanced searching page to get to the precise results 

Interesting Learning with a Couple of Google Tools


Google Maps Gallery was a new resource for me.  It’s a place for organizations to make their maps public.  Why?  Read the reasons why here.

That sounds so good.  I decided to dig into the maps in the gallery just to see what people were posting.  One really caught my interest.  Most of the maps in the collection were in English which intuitively made sense to this English speaker.  But this one didn’t.

Quite clearly, it’s a map of Japan with markers all over it.  But, the description is in another language – presumably Japanese.  (nothing gets by me…)  Mousing over the descriptor reveals a link, I check the link to make sure it’s OK – it points to another Google Map so I click it.  I’m presented with a gallery of three – I check one of the links to dig deeper.

Interesting, but I’m really no closer to understanding the map.

Ah!  Time to Translate. 

I open a new tab, and head to Google Translate.

Back to this tab where I select the text above, copy it, and then over to the new tab with the translation utility open and paste the text into the left pane.

Google Translate immediately confirms that the text is indeed Japanese and then does its best to translate the text and make it appear in the right pane. 

I do listen to the original text by clicking on the speaker icon.  It’s a reminder of what a beautiful language Japanese is even though I didn’t understand anything.

I look to the right pane and read the text.  It’s a reminder that online translations are not entirely perfect but I’m able to read enough to understand the point of the map. 

Stepping back, it never serves to be humbling that I’m able to do all of that on my laptop while sitting in a reclining chair.  No matter your age, think back to an activity in school similar to this.  The best I could remember was working with a piece of French text.  The process was painful.  I can’t help but marvel that today’s students will have these sorts of tools at their fingertips.

In my day, in addition to snowing more, true research and exploration was done in English and limited by the collection in my school’s library or, if I was ambitious and walked downtown, in the public library.  If I really needed another resource and the library had it in a collection elsewhere, I could place an order and it would arrive within a week.  Today, speedy delivery is only limited by bandwidth!

Are these sort of research activities used in your class?  Shouldn’t it be if we want students to be global citizens in the best sense of the words?

Back to the original exploration of the Gallery.  This appears to be a new Google endeavour.  At the time of writing, only a limited number of collections are included.  (The numbering system confuses me.)  But, the collections are of really interesting content.  This will be worth monitoring to see it grow.

Thoughts?

A Tecumseh Trip


Last weekend, we returned from up north and a class reunion.  We’ve made this trip so many times and it doesn’t make any difference what route we take; it always seems to take the same length of time.  Usually, it’s a race to get home but this Sunday was different.  The dog was boarded and we couldn’t pick him up from the Hound Dog Hilton until Monday so there was no real rush.

As we entered Kent County, we saw the familiar signage for the Tecumseh Parkway.  It didn’t take long to say forget the 401; let’s run the Parkway and see the sights.  We’ve stopped at the Tecumseh Monument and the Fairfield Museum in the past but it was a quick stop en route to our destination.

The Parkway follows the Thames River which is absolutely not a straight river.  Throughout the drive, there were “pull offs” where you could stop and read information about the history that happened at/near the spot.  It was fascinating.

When I got home, I decided to do some research and found the wonderful site linked above. 

But there was another incredible resource.  I think that we’ve all seen the use of Google Maps on websites to document locations.  But, I’ll bet that you’ve never seen anything this detailed and inclusive.

Notice all the pin drops.  What a monumental task!

I could kick myself for not having this preloaded on my phone to help with our drive.  This really is a great example of history meeting modern technology.

I’m also thinking that his is a perfect exemplar in the classroom.  Certainly, it’s a great resource for the War of 1812.  But I know that many people use Google maps to document their community or to show historical events. 

Why not use this as a model and an inspiration for inclusion and detail?

Jaimie Was Here


Numerous times a day, Jaimie and I go for walks.  I swear that he can tell time and knows when his next walk is due.  At least twice a day, we do a walk through the King’s Navy Yard.  There are lots of flowers to look at and we mark the trail on our travels.  Actually, he marks while I pause for a bit.

It was with great interest that I read that Google Maps now allows for multiple points as it maps out a total distance on a map.  I thought – why not mark out our walk?

Off we went to find that our usual walk would be shorter than usual.  It was Sidewalk Sale Days in the downtown and the last thing that we would want to do is take our normal jaunts through the displays.  If you get my drift…

When I got home, I marked out our route on Google Maps.  It was easy to add multiple points – just right click where you want the point and the resulting menu …

… has the option to mark a “Distance to Here”.  I took a shot at mapping out our walk.

It was actually kind of difficult at first since the brick pathways weren’t on the map.  Then, I clued in … switch to Earth View and zoom in!  The path was very clear.

A little back and forth between map displays and I was able to come up with the route and the distances.

But, how accurate was my drawing?

Fortunately, I also had my smartphone with me and the app My Tracks installed.  I asked it to map things for me from beginning to end of our walk.

I had to smile.  According to this, we didn’t walk in straight lines!  It could be an error or more likely could be our little dodges to the bushes and interesting distractions on the way!

When I look back, I was quite impressed with the functionality of Google Maps and the abilities to add markers along the way.  This is a definite keeper.  Imagine drawing maps for walkathons or marathon races or just anything that needs multiple points!

I’d be remiss not to point out a favourite spot along the way…the signature Hostas Garden.  Of respect, we walk by it and not through it!

Have you checked out this new functionality in Google Maps?  How would you use it?