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Showing posts from 2014

Enabling YouTube for Schools with ClearOS 6.6

Youtube for Schools is a filtered version of YouTube where the emphasis is on educational content. I've played about with it for a while in test environments and over the last year or so it has become ever easier to enable. We use ClearOS for gateway services and the latest release allows it to be enabled without any complex command line stuff.

However, there are some serious caveats surrounding using it which I've spelt out in the video below:

The YouTube for Education forum is worth a look and hints that something new may be coming. We shall see.

Homework Site Update

A while ago we started using our own homework site to make homeworks publically available, fire them into students calendars and email. You can see the original post here. I recently updated the site to allow users - particularly parents, to view homeworks for specific students.

This is anonymised by using the students four digit admin number and uses a second Google Sheet to match the individual students to their homework. The video below is a brief demo of the site and explanation of how it work.

Google Safe Search in Schools

There has been quite a bit of talk about safesearch recently as its moved to https which has caused issues for some with filtering explicit content. Google provide online documentation of how to do this here. I thought it might be useful to illustrate what each approach involves.
Via Chrome Management Policy If a user is signed into a device using their Google Apps account, you can force SafeSearch using policy. So this works on ChromeOS devices and where users are signed into Chrome on a PC. It also applies anywhere.

So set this in Chrome User Settings in the management console:

While this policy applies offsite - it does not apply if a user in not signed into Chrome on a PC or signed into their own device with a non-domain account. Which brings on the next option for PC's.
Via Chrome Group Policy If you use Chrome on PC's, you should manage it with the Chrome Group Policy adm. Once added to your domain controller, you can control the behaviour of Chrome, including forcing Sa…

Enabling Smart Unlock on Chromebooks for Google Apps users

You can now enable Smart Unlock for you Google Apps users in the management console. This feature is off by default and you will need to enable it if you want them to have the facility.

The policy to enable is shown below:

Once this is set a user can enter settings on the Chromebook and enable the feature (in advanced settings):

Before you click on enable, make sure bluetooth is turned on on the Chromebook and the phone. In addition make sure bluetooth settings are open on the phone to make it discoverable. 
Just follow the onscreen instructions to configure. Once done, if the phone is unlocked, you can unlock the Chromebook by pressing enter - no password required. 
At the moment it seems to work on the latest beta (ChromeOS 40) and android 5. Not tried with other devices yet. Update: also works on ChromeOS 39 - so now any ChromeOS device I login to picks this setting up and turns it on automatically - so working on my Chromebox on Stable 39 in my classroom.

Couple of options for working with Office Files directly from Google Drive

I've posted about how you access and edit MS Office files directly from Google Drive in the past. This is just a slight update to those posts. The two methods shown below work on ChromeOS and on a PC. Crucially you don't need to install the Google Drive app on a PC to use these methods. While the Google Drive PC app is convenient on a PC, its not well suited to a multiuser environment.

Of course - the answer is to ditch Office and have an easy life. However, there are odd occasions you still need to work with these files - so these two approaches may be of help.

Using Hangouts for remote lesson observations

We have equipped our new Asus Chromeboxes in classrooms with HD webcams for recording snippets of lessons, presentations or demonstrations for review later (all using Screencastify's 'cam' option). However, you can also use them to remotely observe lessons. So you can observe a lesson without the potential distraction of having an observer physically in the room.

There are two basic approaches to this.
Method 1 - Hangouts + Screencastify The observer in their office (or wherever) invites the person being observed to a video hangout. You can simply start and respond to these within your mail. The observe needs to mute their mic (unless you are going to use a bluetooth headset with the teacher and do real time coaching perhaps...).
Use the KeepOn app to ensure the classroom device does not go to sleep.
The person being observed minimises the hangout window and gets on with the lesson.
Some options To record the lesson the observer simply starts Screencastify with the followi…

Backing up with an unlimited Google Drive account.

It occurred to me when the unlimited Google Drive accounts for Education were announced a while back that I could use a 'backup' account to cloud backup my local server infrastructure. So I've just set this up now that we have unlimited accounts. Below are the basic steps I've taken.

Create an account specifically for backups - call it whatever you want.Install the Google Drive Sync Tool on a local server (one that you perhaps use for backups anyways).Sign into the Sync Tool with the backup users account.Go to advanced settings:

Select 'Only sync some folders on the computer' - so you are only going to sync folders with things you want to backup. You could create a specific Google Drive folder and turn this into a network share so that other servers can copy backups into it (which is what I've done).On other servers - if you run Windows Server Backup - you could send the backup to this network share. This will mean backups as synced to the cloud as they appea…

Touchscreen Chromebooks - Acer C720p and the Lenovo N20p

We have been considering using some touchscreen Chromebooks in school and have just go two contenders in today - the Acer C720P and the Lenovo N20p.

A brief video tour of both devices: 

Touch is particularly nice when used with apps such as Google Earth and Realtime Board. So we are looking at it from the point of view being of writing equations on the screen and multiple users being able to interact with them.

Some key strengths and weaknesses of both devices:
Acer C720P
The good The could be better
Fast - Octane score ~11500 mark Does not do any folding tricks!
Relatively cheap - only about £20 more than the non touch version now. Power connector looks fragile.
Smooth and responsive touchscreen Keyboard not the best.
Decent if not exceptional screen

Lenovo N20p
The Good The could be better Does neet foldering tricks - so three ways you can use it. Not as fast as the Acer - Octane ~6700. However, it has 4Gb of RAM as opposed to the 2Gb of the Acer. A number of touch optimisations built in - so on scree…

Formranger - a look at what you can do with the new Google Forms Add-on

Formranger allows you to populate multiple choice type questions in a Google Form with lists of possible responses in a Google Sheet. In addition, it allows you to repopulate the list after form submission - so the options you have for the next respondent can change based on the previous responses.

This might be used for bookings or options for events. So examples might include booking time for a parents evening or students picking activities with limited numbers of spaces per option.

I've done a brief demo of how you can do this and some of the formulas you might use in the video below:
The first example is for a parents evening booking system - the formulas I used are shown below.

Clearly, you would need to add this for each member of staff involved - but hopefully it illustrates the principle.

The second example  is for students picking from a list of activities where there are a limited number of places per option. Its far simpler not to have the remaining places appear on the…

Snapseed on ChromeOS

There are an increasing number of Android Apps appearing in the Chrome WebStore. However, if your favorite app is not there yet, you can easily install it unofficially. I've tried quite few - some work fine - others don't. However, Snapseed, a great photo editor seems to work really well. Brief demo below:

Using Realtime Board and Screencastify to record video notes.

Just been playing with Realtime Board on a touch screen Chromebook (Pixel) to see if I could combine it with Screencastify to record video notes. It works quite well and is pretty easy to use + the results go straight into your Drive. I recorded my doodlings in the video below:

How to give access to Windows Apps on ChromeOS (or other devices) fairly cheaply

There has been some interest in giving access to a Windows desktop on ChromeOS in recent months. Some high end solutions involving VDI and server graphics acceleration are coming to the market. However, if you just want a standard rdp connection, you can do that now with using a terminal server and an appropriately deployed rdp app.

What do you need?

Server(s) with enough power to handle the number of users you have.An appropriate Microsoft Licence - e.g. a schools agreement with a spare server licence.A free external IP address - optional - only needed for offsite access.A mandatory windows profile you can use.
Our latest remote desktop server is made out of bit from Ebay - I have a separate blog post about it here. For decent performance, you need as many cores and memory as you can afford. In addition, a fast hard disk array - we now use 4 SSD's in RAID 10.

How you configure it is up to you, but we have ESXi 5.5 running on our servers and on this box the rdp VM runs on 8 co…

Asus Chromebox in the Classroom

We have just deployed some Asus Chromeboxes in a couple of classrooms as replacements for aging teacher PC's. I've been toying with the idea of ditching the old PCs in classrooms and replacing them with Chromeboxes for a while now and have elected to start with three rooms where the teachers are heavy ChromeOS users already.

So in my lab where I teach A level Chemistry the setup looks like this:

We bought the entry level 2Gb model as the 4Gb model comes with a wireless keyboard and mouse which are not really practical for the classroom. However, I picked up some cheap 4Gb DDR3l SODIMMS and have upgraded all the devices to either 8 or 4Gb. Upgrading one is a simple matter of taking the four screws out on the back (under the rubber feet) and popping in extra RAM. This, along with the included VESA mount sold the Asus over the HP model (only 1 memory slot compared the the Asus's 2) to us.

The setup shown is the photos has 8Gb RAM and is really very nippy to use (around 10700 …

Simple Random Group generator in Google Sheets

A member of staff asked me the other day if I could make a tool that would quickly generate a random set of groups from a list of students. Below is a brief video of spreadsheet I made that does the job. Its work in progress - in particular - I need to figure out how to use the indirect function in relationship to other functions for a dynamic range.

So the video:

Link to the spreadsheet here - feel free to make a copy - fix/improve etc.

Update - have fixed it so you don't ever have to fiddle with the formula - used the offset function for a dynamic range.

Set ChromeOS wallpaper by policy

You can now set the desktop wallpaper of ChromeOS via the management console. This is the top setting in 'user settings':
Simply upload a jpg file and away you go...
This is out one for the coming week:

Chris Bateman - our ace IT teacher made this image and a sequence for the whole year.

Special Characters and Definitions in Google Docs

Special Characters Demo

Definitions  in Docs

How to push bookmarks to users in Chrome via the management console

With the release of Chrome and ChomeOS 37 an update to the management console has arrived that allows you to push bookmarks to users.

Under Device Management > Chrome > User Settings > User Experience you will now find the option to add managed bookmarks.

In the example above, the bookmarks are applied to the sub-OU of 'students' - so all our students will get these bookmarks. Simply add your url and the bookmark name, click the + and save. These will appear in a folder called 'yourdomain bookmarks' - see below:

Be aware that to get these bookmarks applied on a Windows/OS-X device the user must be signed into Chrome. Update: if you install the latest group policy template you can push the bookmarks via policy on PCs - details are given here.
Video Guide:

How to Populate Students GAFE Profile Photos using GAM

With a couple of free tools you can populate your students profile photos automatically. Below is a guide on how to do this if you are running with Capita SIMS as an MIS as many UK schools do.

To do this, you will first have to setup GAM - Google Apps Management Tool. A fantastic guide on how to do this can be found here. You can download GAM here.

To extract the photos from you will need the photoextractor utililiy which can be found here. To use this you need access to your SIMS server - might be an issue if you don't locally host it... update - actually I think you can run it on any workstation with installed.

It looks a bit complicated - but once you have done it a couple of times it does not take long. You can do essentially the same thing for staff photos as well. We use Teacher Dashboard and the forthcoming version has the students profile picture on the homescreen for each class - so having real pictures will be rather helpful for staff.

ASUS Chromebox in school

I've just got hold of an Asus Chromebox for a short trial in school. I've been waiting a while for these devices to become available in the UK and they are finally starting to get here.

A few pictures and a brief video of the test setup:

Now I'm not too sure how many people have displayports on their monitors - but I'm guessing most people will need an adaptor or two. In this setup I'm using a displayport-to-dvi adaptor and direct HDMI to monitor (luckily this monitor supports HDMI). However, it does have a vesa mount to put it on the back of a monitor - something the cheaper HP Chromebox does not.

Performance wise it feels great to use - but does score a bit lower in Octane than the Chromebases do:

This score is with several extensions and two monitors (1920x1080 and 1280x1024) - so this probably has some impact.
So it looks like a promising desktop replacement. I'll see how it stacks up against the HP model when I get hold of one of those.

Timers in Chrome

I'm sure lot of people use the timer function in Chrome - a quick and easy way of putting a timer up onto the screen. Just search 'timer 2 min' or whatever time you want. However, now that 'OK Google' is working on the desktop version of Chrome, it sort of adds another dimension. Brief video of what I mean:

A couple of interesting Google Sheets Charts

There are some really useful Charts you can make in Google Sheets that you can then add to a site which then auto-updates. I've played with the maps chart quite a lot and only really discovered the 'dials' one today. Not sure how long its been there - but it is quite good fun and I can see it coming in handy.

The test site can be found here.

Brief demo of them below:

Brief overview of the new Google Drive

In the last few days the new look Google Drive has become available for users at to try out. To give it a spin, just click on the settings button in Drive (the cog in the top right corner) and select the new drive experience.

There are quite a few significant improvements to the interface - I've tried to demonstrate a few of them in the video below:

Servers on the cheap - supporting our move to ChromeOS

Just replaced one of our remote desktop servers at school. I did this on the cheap with bits from Ebay - so it does not have to cost a fortune - you just need to be prepared to hunt around a bit for the right parts.

This server gives all our users on and off site access to their Windows desktop and apps. Brief look at the bits I used:

If you want to know more about how to do it or the bits to buy - let me know.

Remove Duplicates - a Google Sheets Add-on

Remove duplicates is a Google Sheets add-on that literally identifies duplicates in a sheet and removes them (if you want it to). It also allows you to compare two sheets and identify any differences. This has rapidly become one of the add-on that I'd not want to do without.

A brief video demo of what its all about:

Google Classroom a first look

Update: Classroom has now been launched and should be available to all gafe domains now. Google documentation can be found here. Key differences from the pre-release shown below:

Teachers can now see and comment on work in progress.Teachers can create a 'class information' page that sets out resources for the class. 
I've just been playing with Google Classroom. This is a tool that allows you to setup classes, share content and set assignments. The interface can be found at At the moment, you need an invite to have a go with it, but its due for general release in a month or two.

Video of Student and Teacher View:

The interface has been beautified from the demo I saw the other week and feels very slick to use.

I found adding students to a group rather tricky. I have all my students in Google Groups (we use Teacher Dashboard which sets these up). While I could select a group to add, I got an error message when trying to add them. This would be the quick …

Using the Query function to analyse homework

A few months back we started experimenting with a homework site that allows teachers to set homework and publishes the homeworks for parents. It also sends them an email and pops an event in their calendar. You can read a bit more about it here.

Since then we have started using this whole school and it generates a fair amount of data that we can play with. So I've been using the homework data to explore the Query function alongside Importrange to answer question such as 'What homework has X just been set?", "How many homeworks have Maths given out?". You can use the Query function to answer these sorts of questions. Below is my brief look at what I've done to date.

ChromeOS 35 Keyboard bug fixed...

So it looks like the defaulting to US keyboard bug has been fixed. Will try updating a few devices tomorrow - fingers crossed no more shift-2 needed to login!

From Chromebook Central:

New update for Stable Version 35:

The Stable channel has been updated to 35.0.1916.155 (Platform version: 5712.88.0 / 5712.89.0) for all Chrome OS devices. 

Notable fixes are below:

[376632] Fixed issue where keyboard defaults to US English.
[380338] Fixed touchpad issue where it wasn’t responding on certain devices.

For more information, check out the full Chrome Releases Blog announcement here. Systems will be receiving updates over the next several days.

Samsung Chromebook 2 11" & 13"

I had a chance to play with an 11" Samsung 2 Chromebook a while back before they were generally
released. Now I've got on on a trial basis and have been putting it through its paces.
I'm not a great fan of the fake leather look on the top - but otherwise its a good looking machine. Build wise its much better than the old Samsung 303. It feels very sturdy and well constructed - similar to the Dell Chromebook.
The screen is better than the Samsung 303, but not as bright as I would like. In terms of performance, I ran Octane (javascript) and Peacekeeper (HTML5) benchmarks for this device, a Samsung 303, Dell Chromebook and a Pixel. Both the Samsungs are on v36 beta channel as this gives a bit of a boost to ARM based devices. The Dell and the Pixel are on 35 Stable.

Peacekeeper Octane Samsung 2 11” Samsung 2 11” Samsung 303 Samsung 303 Dell Dell

Chromebases - A brief look

We received a shipment of LG Chromebases today - 30 in total. We have unpacked some of them and deployed. Apart from the annoying ChromeOS keyboard bug (defaults to US keyboard after updating to 35) - they seem a very good desktop replacement.

Couple of brief videos below:

Bit of screencasting

Will post a bit more when I have time next term when we have a class setup.
OK - so a bit of an update. We have 29 machines now deployed - 1 had a duff screen and needs to go back. The others are running well. We did have to wipe about 4 of them to get them to enrol correctly - there is a reset button on the back. Picture of some setup in a classroom:

ChromeOS 35

ChromeOS 35 is rolling out across our managed devices from today. This is a brief demo of the main new feature - the ability to put your apps into folders - not the login screen bug.

Connect to your Windows Desktop on School Chromebooks/bases/boxes

There are times when you still need to use Windows applications - SIMS being the main one for staff. The video below is a brief guide on how you can.  To have a Windows desktop running on a ChromeOS device.