Fluco Toolbox: AwesomeDrive and UFO

Welcome to Fluco Toolbox, a series of posts that showcases potential edtech tools for the Fluvanna County classroom. Each post will discuss the tool, the type of problems it can help solve, and how it can be used in the classroom. If you’re a Fluvanna County staff member and want to learn more about using the tool in your own classroom, please schedule to see your ITRT and we will develop professional development based around your needs. If you’ve stumbled upon this post and you’re not part of the district, no worries! Feel free to use the information provided to jumpstart your own research.

Have you ever wished that you could easily open Microsoft Office files (Word, Excel, and PowerPoint) directly from your Drive, and have any changes sync back to your Drive? Have you hated having to download and then reupload changed files?

Today’s Fluco Toolbox tool is: AwesomeDrive and Universal File Opener

First, the basics:

Name: AwesomeDrive / Universal File Opener
URL: AwesomeDrive / UFO
Cost: FREE
Problem this tool solves: Use both of these extensions hand in hand, and you’ll be able to create new Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files from within your Drive. You’ll also be able to edit the files on your computer’s version of Office, and then sync changes back to your Google Drive.


There’s a wedding set, and you’re invited! Well, it’s like a wedding, in a weird, techy way. I’ve always had people ask if there was a way to get Drive to play well with Office, and thanks to these two extensions by AODocs, there is most definitely a way! I do caution that these extensions are not meant to be used on a Chromebook. However, these extensions will up your PC game, especially if you find yourself working with both Google and Microsoft files on a regular basis.

First, visit the Chrome web store by using the links provided above. Add both Awesome Drive and Universal File Opener to your Chrome browser. Make sure you provide all permissions. Once Universal File Opener is added, you’ll find an alert that says you need to install a sync client to your computer. Don’t worry. This program will allow your Word, Excel, or PowerPoint file to sync changes to your Drive once the file has been saved. It’s a quick install, and once you’ve done that, you’re set.

Now that everything is added and installed, let’s see what kinds of cool tricks we can now do with Drive and Office!

First go to your Drive. With AwesomeDrive, you now have some new features. Try clicking the blue “New” button to create a new file. Before, you were only able to create new Docs, Forms, Sheets, etc. Now, you’ll also see options for Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. When you select one of these, you must name the file, and then it will open with the version of Office installed on your computer.


Once you’ve finished editing the document, simply save it and it will automatically sync to your Drive. No more downloading and uploading Office files for you!

Another cool feature you now have, thanks to Universal File Opener, is the ability to open any Word, Excel, or PowerPoint file from Drive. First, locate the file in your Drive. Instead of double-clicking on the file name, move your cursor to the right. You’ll see an icon of a computer with a pencil over it. Hovering over this shows the “Open File” text. Clicking it opens the file in your computer’s version of Office. Make any changes to the file and click Save. A small pop-up will notify you that the file is being synced to Drive. Make sure to save often!


After the file has been synced, another notification will pop up on the lower right corner of your screen notifying you that your file has been saved to Drive.

Using both AwesomeDrive and Universal File Opener should definitely make managing your files a lot easier. Give them a try!


A Technology-Infused Socratic Seminar

I spent most of my time yesterday with a team of 6th grade English teachers. These students were beginning their first Socratic seminar sessions in the library. Two classes come together. In the past, these classes have followed the traditional format for Socratic seminar where groups come together to discuss a text in a round table discussion setting. Some students were also along the sides taking notes as the discussion progressed, and others were observing the current session to provide feedback to classmates. The teachers were observing in the background as well, only stepping in to redirect if necessary.

This semester, the two teachers, Dawn Baber and Melanie Kennedy, wanted to change a few things with their seminars, and they wanted to add in some technology. They wanted to be able to assess student work after the task, and document student thought processes in terms of understanding the text. This would allow them to design further learning experiences for the students, as well as take notes for future instances where the text is used.

The first step was changing how the students took notes on the seminars that they were observing. Instead of taking pencil and paper notes, these teachers wanted to try using Padlet instead. Padlet would allow the students to see each other’s notes, and would also allow them to comment on each other’s replies to add to student notes. After the session, teachers can have students look back to these notes and add additional comments to keep the discussions flowing. It also becomes a way to review for any content quizzes or exams.

The second step was adding a backchannel chat option to the seminar. Originally, students in this section were observing and taking turns switching in to ask questions during seminars. The teachers had found an option for this called Backchannel Chat. They really liked the setup of this site, especially since students logging into a chatroom could have that login tied to their Google accounts. Students would be unable to create goofy names, or be anonymous with comments. Teachers could also remove comments or set the chat to moderated, even with a free account.

Originally, it was decided that Backchannel Chat would be used for students to post questions as they listened to the seminar in the center. However, when we implemented this, it did not work as well as we wanted. Students were so busy asking questions that they weren’t really focusing on the seminar in progress. Instead, this became an online discussion where students could ask questions and answer back and forth. I typically started the discussions with a question, and the students would take over after a few minutes.

We ran sessions every period, implementing these tools, and learned a lot along the way. There was definitely a lot of risk involved, and some failure along the way, but that’s how trying something new works. Things don’t always go as planned, and sometimes it takes seeing the lesson in action to see the failure.

Based on both sessions, we realized that every class period needs a separate Padlet. The students were putting on short notes, which in turn added to the amount that had to load on the page. While Padlet can have unlimited users, it struggles to load massive boards, and our students encountered traffic jam error messages. I would also like to look at having students take notes in just one post on Padlet, versus every time they hear something new. It might make things a little easier. We also may look at removing it from Socratic seminar sessions, as it may not be the best tool for the job, and we don’t want to use it just to be using it.

Backchannel chat went over pretty well. We had issues with one of the groups in the last block of the day not being able to handle it, but otherwise students picked it up very quickly. It was nice to have a chat room that students cannot log into without their G Suite account. I could also mute students who were having trouble responding, and students were also able to “like” comments in chat.

Often, I started the chat with a question, and students began by answering that question. From there, they would discuss and ask more questions about the text. If I felt that things were a little quiet, I would through out another question based on the text, and that would help things pick up. We did have some students who did not respond, but they were engaged and following along with the chat. I think that with a few more sessions, these students will do much better.

The one group I mentioned above did have issues with chat. They were not ready to handle it in a group that size (about 10 students), and would often spam chat with ridiculous hashtags or unneeded information. The good thing was that I could remove comments and warn them first, then switch them to read only if they continued. With this group, I would try again with a smaller amount of students.

The best positive from using Backchannel Chat as the session the groups would attend before doing a Socratic seminar in the center of the room was that they were able to prepare better. They could pull from questions they had asked in chat, and continue discussions from chat. We noticed an improvement in the conversations that took place once we were using Backchannel as an online discussion tool instead.

The other great positive with Backchannel was that we set a Chromebook by the seminar leader at the center table. When they couldn’t think of a question, they could pull one in from chat and use it. Of course, students with me were pleased when they heard their question used in the discussion.

Overall, a lot of positives occurred, but so did a lot of failures. We are using these failures to redesign and rethink the next session so that we see more successes. Who knows what Socratic seminar will look like next time?

Fluco Toolbox: Kaizena

Welcome to Fluco Toolbox, a series of posts that showcases potential edtech tools for the Fluvanna County classroom. Each post will discuss the tool, the type of problems it can help solve, and how it can be used in the classroom. If you’re a Fluvanna County staff member and want to learn more about using the tool in your own classroom, please schedule to see your ITRT and we will develop professional development based around your needs. If you’ve stumbled upon this post and you’re not part of the district, no worries! Feel free to use the information provided to jumpstart your own research.

Have you ever wanted a beefed up version of Google’s comment feature for Docs? Wished you could stop repeatedly typing the same comments over and over, or wanted to add voice comments? Wished that you didn’t need a program that required yet more student accounts and was instant?

Today’s Fluco Toolbox tool is: Kaizena

First, the basics:

Name: Kaizena
URL: Link Here (Or find with the Add-Ons menu in Google Docs)
Cost: FREE
Problem this tool solves: Kaizena’s recent switch to focusing on Google Docs makes it easy to add text comments, voice comments, track skills, and reuse common comments over and over again. No need for a special account for students, and everything syncs with Google.

If you looked at Kaizena before and cast it aside because you had to be using the website, you might want to give it another shot. I remember looking at this particular tool before and putting it aside because it just seemed like one more thing. However, Kaizena has changed their focus as of the end of January 2018. While their website still exists, and can be used, G Suite schools will find that Kaizena is focusing mainly on their new Google Docs add-on. This add-on is easy to use, and only teachers need accounts to provide feedback. Students do not need any special accounts, just the add-on. Based on that premise alone, I was intrigued, and I think you will be, too.

First, load Google Docs and go to the Add-Ons menu. Search for Kaizena, and add it to your account. Docs will install it in the background. Once installed, open it like any other add-on. A new window will slide into view.

When you first open Kaizena, you will be asked if you are a Teacher or Student. Teachers need to have an account to give others feedback, and clicking the Teacher button will walk you through this process. If you are just a student, chose that route, and give Kaizena any permissions that it asks for to access your Drive and Docs.

Every other time Kaizena loads, you’ll see a screen with a few different options- Voice Message, Track a Skill, Attach a Lesson, and Text Message. Let’s break each of these down:

  • Voice Message: Record your voice and leave a comment for students to listen to later. Students can also download the comment.
  • Track a Skill: This lets you give students feedback in the moment on how they are doing with a particular skill or standard, much like a rubric. Customize and reuse as necessary.
  • Attach a Lesson: When giving feedback, you can attach a lesson that has links to guides or videos about a certain skill, such as capitalizing beginnings of sentences. Reuse your custom lessons again and again!
  • Text Message: Similar to the regular commenting feature, this does just as you think. Write a text comment to be viewed later.


Since lessons and skills can be used again and again, they are stored and created on Kaizena’s website instead of in the add-on. More on how to create these later in this post.

Let’s look at using Kaizena. First, have a student share a document with you. This can be done in many ways, but chances are that Google Classroom is the most common method. Open the student’s document, and then start Kaizena from the Add-Ons menu.

Read through the student document. When you are ready to make a comment, highlight the text to be commented on. Choose to either make a text comment or a voice comment. Do note that you can change the color of the text that has been highlighted. This can be handy if you and a collaborative teacher will both be giving feedback on the document.


If choosing to make a text comment, simply type the text and post. If choosing to make a voice comment, first agree to allow Kaizena to access your microphone. Then record your comment. Notice that highlighted text stays highlighted as long as the Kaizena add-on is active. It will be hidden from the screen if turned off, but not deleted.


Example of a text comment with highlighted text.


Example of a voice comment with highlight

All comments are immediately available to the student. All the student must do is open the same document and load Kaizena from the Add-On menu. They will be able to review any comments left by the teacher, and leave replies, just as with the regular Google commenting feature.

Commenting, whether text or voice, is a great tool, but Kaizena lets you do more than just that. By utilizing their website, you can create reusable lessons or track skills. Let’s take a closer look at each of those.

Any time you make a comment on a student’s work, you can attach a lesson. Lessons can be customized and reused. They must be made on the website side of Kaizena. For example, if students are always forgetting to capitalize letters at the beginning of sentences, you can create a lesson on capitalizing that includes what students should do, and provides links to other websites or resources.


Click + New Lesson to create a new lesson for your Kaizena account.


Add comments that include links to videos or websites. You can even add voice comments as well!


Go back to the document and Add a Lesson. Start typing the name of the lesson, and click to add it.

Track a Skill is like a mini rubric. If you are focusing the assignment around certain skills, such as organization, this tool will let you track student progress toward mastery. Create a skill on the website and then edit to provide further details. You can describe what it means to receive each level, or modify the number of levels for a skill.


On the website, click the + New Skill button to begin.


Name the skill, and edit the different levels, as well as provide descriptions for each.


Go back to the document and Add a Skill. Start typing the name of the skill, and click to add it.

With all of these extra features, Kaizena takes adding comments and feedback to student work to the next level. Step up your feedback game and give this add-on a try!


Presenting Professional Development: Know Your Audience

One thing I have learned over the years about presenting professional development to school staff is that it works so much better if you know your audience. Just like with a classroom, staff members are not one size fits all, and what works for one school or district won’t necessarily work for another.

When I first began working in instructional technology as a technology integration specialist in West Virginia, I did what any newbie does – offered all professional development training after school. I was a bit restricted in this fashion, as any PD given in the district had to be approved by someone at central office first. It was a hindrance, and I actually ended up offering less professional development because of it. The approval process made it seem as though we could not be trusted to design training for staff that would be beneficial without this approval.

All of the sessions I offered were after school. I usually picked a general topic, and created something we could all do, whether it worked best for everyone or not. Rookie mistake. Professional development in the district was not as successful as it could be. Session attendance was low, and with the schools in the county so spread out, it was hard to have a location where people could easily attend. I chalk it all up as a learning process.

When I moved to Virginia, I became an instructional technology resource teacher, or ITRT. I was assigned to work in both a middle school and high school, so my time was split. I continued my rookie mistake in my first year. Nobody’s perfect, right? It was during this time that I began researching more into professional development and how to make it work best for my staff.

Most of my research led me to developing potential ideas and programs. I decided that I would not offered after school professional development unless absolutely necessary. It was not successful, and since it was the end of the day, most folks were brain exhausted. I also had those who had other after school obligations, so they were never able to attend, even if they wanted to do so.

This year I have focused mostly on 1:1 professional development, and letting staff know what’s out there. If I need to offer professional development to groups of staff, I will do rolling sessions during the day so that staff can attend when it works for them on their schedule. I have found that I can be much more personalized, and I also know my staff better.

When offering 1:1 professional development, called Tech Bytes, I usually select 3-4 options for the month. Staff are aware that they are not limited to these options, but these are the featured ones. These featured options usually come from my Fluco Toolbox posts on this site, as a result of staff saying they don’t always know what’s out there. Staff sign up to attend during their planning periods, and we work out a time that’s best for them. I usually have some idea of their technology abilities, so I can already begin tailoring how to pace my lesson for them.

When it comes to group sessions, these can be trickier. I usually block off the entire day to focus on these, and do rolling sessions for staff so that they can attend when it’s convenient to them. I have gotten remarks from some (not the staff I teach) that it’s a bit inconvenient to do in terms of spending a whole day for just a small group. I don’t feel that it’s inconvenient to me, as I just set up camp in the room I’m using and work on my other stuff in between. Sure, I repeat my presentation multiple times, but my goal is to be flexible for my staff so that they want to attend. It is not about my discomfort, or how it might inconvenience me. It’s about making it work for my audience.

I know my high school audience. These staff members already work from 8 until 4 PM each day. Even though it’s the same as any other school day, doing something after school lets out just seems like too much. As a whole, my staff won’t attend these sessions. They’ve already had a full day of kids, and anything more is a bit too much to handle, mentally. They like the freedom to schedule when they like, and with just me if they prefer.

I actually really love the 1:1 trainings because I get to really focus on the staff member and their needs. It allows me to build a better relationship with them as well. This in turn makes them more open to the group sessions because they already know what to expect of me and my teaching. I’ve gotten to work with a wider variety of staff because of this, and I plan to continue this next year.

No matter what district or school you are in, learn your audience. Learn about their needs and their wants. This may take some time, and some mistakes to get it right. If you have a gut feeling about something that will work best for your staff, then give it a try. Don’t let someone deter you from that. If something doesn’t work, head back to the drawing board, and try again. It’s okay to fail, but it’s not okay to stop giving professional development.

Final Teacher Thoughts: Polygons & Minecraft

Today I met with Mrs. Kerr and Mrs. Hogue about the Polygons lesson we’d completed in Minecraft with 4th grade students. I feel strongly about reflecting on new lessons and tools after they’ve been completed/used, and this is no different. This is the first day that all 3 of us have had available to sit down and discuss our thoughts.

We began with the pros of the lesson. Both teachers really loved the creativity and engagement seen in students. This comes from observation during the initial play and learn lesson, as well as the polygons lesson. They were amazed to see the different ways that students responded to the tasks provided. They also felt that Minecraft provided chances for a lot of discussion and teaching. Students talked to classmates and partners as they designed. We also had students who knew a lot about Minecraft that assisted classmates as the need arose. Kerr and Hogue were easily able to see how students could assist in the teaching process, as well as allow students to take on more of a leadership role.

Another positive that both teachers enjoyed was how we had structured the lessons. We had set up the first assigned task to be more rigid and strict. There were certain things that needed to be done in a time frame, in this case 3 designed polygons with a sign. The second task was more open ended, and allowed students to be more creative and daring. The second task for this lesson had them designing a home using polygons. Assessing this piece was done in class, as students explained the polygons in the designs to their teachers.

A final pro was that kids without access to internet or computer games at home got to try something new. Minecraft isn’t something default on every computer, nor is it free to get. Students were able to try it in school as part of their learning, and gain experience with a program they may never have seen before.

Not everything can be a pro, of course, so we delved into the cons of the lesson. These will lead to improvement with future lessons. One of our cons was figuring out who wasn’t doing what they should be. Some students enjoyed getting off task and ended up being destructive with classmates. We have since corrected part of this with a good seating chart that lists which account is signed into which computer. Kerr and Hogue are also learning how to recognize characters in game.

Our second con was the invisibility potion. Students find a way around being detected by using the invisibility potion to wreck havoc. I have to say that this isn’t something that I considered when putting together the lesson, though I’m not entirely surprised. I have club kiddos who love utilizing this trick. Since we can’t get rid of the potion itself, we’re going to take some time to work on classroom management techniques in Minecraft. I also informed both teachers that drinking milk makes the potion wear off, and that /ban and /kick commands existed as an option.

The final part of our quick meeting was to focus on needs to cover this summer. The three of us are going to do some in depth work with Minecraft, including me teaching them how to run and manage the server. They want to learn to be independent, so that I don’t have to visit the school to get them set up. We’ll do a lot of practical run throughs to give them practice. Ideally, I should only have to design and upload templates from afar.

We would also like to create a cheatsheet of basic commands, and create at least 1 lesson per subject area for teachers to utilize. Both Kerr and Hogue would love to get more teachers on board with Minecraft in the classroom. In order to do this, we’d like to have a lesson that could be easily implemented into each teacher’s curriculum. As for the basic commands cheatsheet, this is to be used as a refresher/guide for teachers as they work with students. Students are still expected to learn the game through play and problem solving. We’re going to look at potentially meeting in the beginning of July for all of this training.

So far so good with Minecraft use! Our next topic is to tackle science. We will be taking a lesson where students are designing a plant and using Minecraft as the program to model in. It will also give students some more experience using graph paper. Can’t have enough of that!

Fluco Toolbox: Formenate

Welcome to Fluco Toolbox, a series of posts that showcases potential edtech tools for the Fluvanna County classroom. Each post will discuss the tool, the type of problems it can help solve, and how it can be used in the classroom. If you’re a Fluvanna County staff member and want to learn more about using the tool in your own classroom, please schedule to see your ITRT and we will develop professional development based around your needs. If you’ve stumbled upon this post and you’re not part of the district, no worries! Feel free to use the information provided to jumpstart your own research.

Have you ever had a multiple choice quiz set up in Google Docs, and wished you could easily make it a Google Form as well? Ever wished that the process was quick and easy?

Today’s Fluco Toolbox tool is: Formenate

First, the basics:

Name: Formenate
URL: Go here (or get the Add-On in Google Docs)
Cost: FREE
Problem this tool solves: Take a multiple choice quiz that has been set up in Google Docs and easily convert it into a Google Form. Don’t spend wasted time copying and pasting each question. Just select your desired options and go!

I stumbled onto this Google Docs add-on by accident. A colleague had told me to check out another add-on that allowed a user to convert a quiz set up in Google Docs to Google Forms. I installed it, and found it was almost as much of a hassle as simply copying and pasting. It was quickly removed, and I searched for another option instead. Formenate popped up in my results so I gave it a try. Right away I knew my teachers would love it!

First things first: Open up Google Docs and click the Add-On menu button. From there, select to get add-ons. Formenate will appear after a search, so go ahead and install it. Give Google Docs time to install the add-on before going to the next step. It will take less than a minute.

Once the add-on is installed, then you’re ready to convert a Docs quiz to Forms. First, open your multiple choice quiz in Docs, or create a new quiz. Formenate requires that the quiz be set up as a Numbered list. If you’re creating a quiz from scratch, then this is easy. Just make sure to select the icon on the right side of the that has numbers 1, 2, 3 and what looks like writing beside it. Now, type in 1. and press space. Your document will automatically be formatted. Finish typing in the question and press enter. The next line is automatically formatted to be 2., but if you press the tab key on your keyboard, you can tab in and have the options to add answer choices a, b, c, etc. Use the decrease indent button to move back to using numbers and to start the next question.


Make sure to select Numbered List before creating your form. Make sure any already created quiz is formatted this way!


Decrease Indent button

Once the quiz is created, go to the Add-Ons menu button. Look for Formenate and select “Start”. A new window slides in from the right side of the document. Select the options that apply to your quiz. Give it a title, select if all questions are required (or not), whether to collect email, and so on. If you need Forms to grade, make sure to select to make it a quiz at the bottom. Choose how many points each question will be. If the option you are looking for is not available, don’t worry. You’ll always be able to edit the settings once the Doc has been turned into a form.


After all necessary options have been selected, click the blue “Formenate” button. If you have done everything correctly, you’ll see a red “Success!” message below this button, and if you scroll down, you’ll find links to preview your form, as well as to edit it. Your form is saved in the main area of your Drive, so make sure to move it to the appropriate folder.


Now that your quiz is in Google Forms, you can finish making any necessary changes. Don’t forget to complete the answer key portion! Formenate doesn’t do this, so it must be done in Forms instead.

This tool will help you save so much time, and you can now have copies of the Doc and Form version of your quiz. Easily edit the Doc version of the quiz and create a new form with the click of a button. From looking at the creator’s website, it seems that there will be an add-on in the future that will allow you to convert from a Form to a Doc. If one is released, you can bet it’ll be featured on the Toolbox!


Minecraft & the Ideal School, Day 2

When you let your imagination run free, you’re sure to come up with some amazing ideas. That’s exactly what some of my students are doing with the Ideal School project.

Day 2 began with students picking up where they left off. Many of them had completed half of the work with the 3 different Padlets. They spent some time today working on their School Design questions, which many enjoyed, and of course, some got distracted with all of their ideas. There was definitely some great discussion between students about the facilities they would offer, and how they would design their schools.

Once work was completed on all 3 Padlets, students were able to begin Task 4- Sketching their School Design. Prior to the class meeting, I had modified this section of my original lesson plan. I wanted students to be able to messy sketch and just get an idea of what would be in their schools and where it would be located. I didn’t want them to have to worry about carefully plotting the design layout just yet. I had made my own samples of a messy sketch and a good sketch to share with them in Google Classroom. My samples only show a small section of a school building.

This is where many students ended class. They were laying out the messy sketch designs. Some will have a school with multiple floors, and others will have a single level school. I even had some students want to come down during dismissal time to continue working on their sketches. This is perfectly fine by me, and I love that they are eager to keep working outside of class time. Students will be able to move on to the second sketch when they show me their completed messy sketch and I make sure that the requirements for the school are met. They will not get to the end of the project, only to be told they are missing something.

Overall, day 2 went well, but I think that was mostly because I spent time before the class tweaking the lesson plan again so that it was more specific, and really got students to put some thought into their work. Originally I just had them graphing their sketch with all measurements and such, but I realized that this was not a good idea because they would have had no idea how the overall sketch of the school should look. I felt that this could lead to mistakes and frustration. I also added into the lesson that the messy sketch needed my approval before the good sketch so that I could make sure that all required pieces were included.

This revision led to me creating my own examples of both the good sketch and the messy sketch. I wanted students to see a model so that it would be clearer to them, and many did appreciate it. I am really hoping that the graph version turns out well, because I have so many students who struggle with this when it comes to Minecraft. They have trouble creating their design on graph paper so that it transfers easily into Minecraft.

I am certain that my changes to Day 2’s part of the lesson made the difference in how the activity proceeded. Day 3 is meant to be a continuation of Day 2, and I expect most students to finish the messy sketch and be working on their good graph copy. Below, you can see the work from Day 2 from some of the students:

Very much looking forward to Day 3 next week. I am looking forward to seeing what the students come up with for their ideal schools!