Google Earth will change the way you teach in your classroom (in 2-3 years…)

Last week, Google (Alphabet) announced to the world that users will be able to post their own stories, photos and experiences on Google Earth.

Kind of like turning Google Earth into a social network – users can post private or public stories about their world for others to see.

(And, all without advertising revenue. Google Earth Director Rebecca Moore told Reuters, “Google Earth is our gift to the world… and not everything Google does has to make money.”)

It sounds like this will be an extension of the Google Earth Voyager tool which currently lets students visit interactive sites and map-based stories.

Right now, Google Earth voyager story guides are written by Google Earth partners. They tell stories written or curated by professionals about a variety of topics, including…


Your students can view current content about the world, all from their web browser. (Well, ok. Google Earth doesn’t have satellite photos of Quebec city in 1608, but you can use streetview to explore modern day Quebec right now.)

What is Google Earth becoming in the next 2-3 years?

It sounds like Google Earth is becoming more like a social network, where regular, average, typical people around the world can add posts, stories, videos, photos into the Google Earth framework.

Rebecca Moore, Google Earth’s Director told the crowd in Brazil at the “I am Amazon” launch that soon people could post “the story of your family history, the story of your favorite hiking trip – it could be anything. It doesn’t have to be profound.”

The difference will be that average Joes will be able to post stuff – unedited, uncurated stuff.

And this becomes an incredible teaching resource to bring into the classroom.

How is this Earth shattering educational technology?

Well, let’s be honest. Lots of teachers base their program around a textbook… That the school bought a few years ago… Which was already in print for a few years before that… With content that was researched just slightly before…

So the idea that you can have a living textbook in the form of Google Earth, with content from everyday people sharing snippets of their life… It’s wikipedia meets global satellite photography on an epic scale. 

Textbooks can be great tools. They’re safe, comfortable and easy for teachers to use from one year to the next.

(They’re also familiar for parents and students: read this chapter, answer those questions, use the glossary, and google the answers online when you’re stuck.)

But textbooks also have the danger of providing outdated information, as well as perspectives of the authors.

Hans and Ola Rosling make the argument in their TED Talk about “how not to be ignorant about the world.”

“Teachers tend to teach outdated worldviews, because they learned something when they went to school, and now they describe this world to the students without any bad intentions, and those books, of course, that are printed are outdated in a world that changes. And there is really no practice to keep the teaching material up to date.”

So, imagine a world where we start the conversation with printed textbooks to learn about global warming, fair trade farming, or developed / developing economies…

And then use Google Earth as a tool to find real-life case studies about the world today.

Doesn’t this classroom technology already exist?

A little. Google Earth and Google Maps are already great teaching tools.

  • You can see geo tagged photos on google maps to see what websites and users have posted around the area.
  • Students can zoom in and see relatively current satellite images about places they are studying.
  • You can use Streetview to zoom in and walk along where the Google Streetview camera has driven or trekked. (Heck, people can even upload their own 360 degree streeview images.)

We don’t need to rely on textbooks for our view of the world.

Right now Google Earth Voyager allows students to look at prepared curated content. Students doing a novel study on Harry Potter, could use Google Earth as a virtual textbook to study the Harry Potter world in Britain

How will this change the classroom in 2-3 years?

Students will be able to find Google Earth Voyager content and stories made and produced by everyday citizens.

Even better, in 2-3 years, students will be able to create and publish their own content on Google Earth just like that.

And that will be a game changer.

March Break and Getting Unstuck

Sometimes, it’s hard to get unstuck.

My buddy suggested getting out of the house. Hang out in a coffee shop and work away on the free wifi. So, here we are – double double in hand, and marking bins left at home.

Here are 10 things that I want to think about over the next little bit:

  1. Google Classroom and why I love it (mostly.)
  2. Google Maps as a research tool
  3. Trello as a way to organize life
  4. How to explicitly teach planning to students
  5. Voice dictation into Google Docs
  6. Keyboard shortcuts that make life better for students
  7. Free typing programs. Where are they hiding.
  8. Google Chromebooks, and why I still love them in the classroom.
  9. Bloom’s Taxonomy and digital literacy
  10. Three things I wish Google Slideshow could do (that Powerpoint does better.)

There we go. That’s my future vision of where I want to be. I will be “unstuck” when I’ve written about these 10 ideas. Go team.

You can do better than a 10% discount for Dragon NaturallySpeaking 13 premium.

If you’re going to buy Dragon NaturallySpeaking 13 premium, don’t pay full price.

Sometimes, when you’re on the Nuance website, just as you’re about to leave, they will offer you a discount.

When I bought the voice recognition software, it offered me a 20% discount which I took right away. (Darn.)

20 percent discount

 Yesterday, I was peeking around the site and just as I was about to leave, it offered me a 10% discount.

2015-06-05 21_49_57-Nuance Americas Online Store - Shopping Cart

The long and the short of it is that discounts vary and you should look around. If you use this promo code link, you’ll get 25% off the regular price for Dragon NaturallySpeaking 13 premium.

In other words, instead of spending $199.99, it will only cost $149.99. You save 50 bucks.

2015-06-05 21_59_08-Nuance Americas Online Store - Shopping Cart


Windows 10 is coming and I just reserved my free upgrade.

2015-06-05 21_10_31-Get Windows 10Right now, I’m using Dragon NaturallySpeaking 13 with Windows 8.1 Pro.

But, in a few months, on July 29, 2015 to be exact, my computer will apparently auto magically download and upgrade to the newest version of Windows.

And, I like that it’s free.

I wasn’t expecting to upgrade to Windows 10. There was a little innocent button at the bottom of my screen inviting me to get Windows 10. A few clicks later, and I’m on the waiting list.

2015-06-05 21_12_18-get windows 10 icon

And then I had to figure out what was new about Windows 10.

I watched their lovely promo video, but nothing really jumps out at me. Apparently I can do familiar things, unexpected things, and even great things. We’ll see.

Windows 10 will have voice recognition.

I’m a little bit interested because it looks like you can dictate text using speech recognition in Windows 10. I’m not sure how accurate it will be compared to Dragon NaturallySpeaking 13 – we’ll have to wait to find out.

I watched a quick preview of Cortana, Microsoft’s voice assistant. (It kind of looks like Siri, on a Windows PC.) It was an early build at Microsoft’s preview event, so I’m sure it will improve.

The reporter was in a crowded room speaking to a laptop microphone which didn’t understand all of his instructions. (I’ve seen Dragon NaturallySpeaking work in a demonstration in a loud crowded exhibit hall with impressive accuracy. Mind you, the demonstrator was talking into a USB microphone headset and not the laptop microphone like in the Windows demo.)

Personally, I don’t use voice recognition to control my laptop. (If you have a physical disability, or carpal tunnel syndrome, then using voice recognition to control your computer might be essential.)

I dictate into Microsoft Word and I use my mouse to click on things, but I could see how voice-recognition could speed up the process. After all, we speak into Siri and our phones with simple commands. Maybe that’s the next step for PCs and desktop computers.

How will Windows 10 voice recognition compare against Dragon NaturallySpeaking 13?

Time will tell.

How accurate is Dragon NaturallySpeaking in a noisy classroom?

cat-8511402100_fea15da1c5_cI have a cat. I also use Dragon NaturallySpeaking.

One day, my cat was meowing at me as I dictated to my computer. Really loud persistent meows.

There I was, trying to talk to my computer, correct mistakes (to train Dragon), and play with my cat all at the same time.

It didn’t work very well. The voice recognition software kept on making tons of mistakes that I had to correct and my cat just got annoyed with me.

Normally, I get around a 97 to 98% word recognition accuracy with Dragon NaturallySpeaking. Having my cat around really dropped the word recognition rate, and that made sense to me because my cat felt strongly that I wasn’t paying enough attention. But, what surprised me the most was that the next day I used Dragon NaturallySpeaking, it seemed to continue to make more mistakes than it normally did.

Was this because while I thought I was correcting my word mistakes to teach Dragon NaturallySpeaking the nuances of my voice, I was actually training Dragon to make more mistakes because I was corrupting my user voice profile by adding a Kitty sound track?

Things I’ve learned about Dragon NaturallySpeaking from my cat

This was back in the day when I first started playing with Dragon NaturallySpeaking 11, so I simply deleted the user profile and started over from scratch. Everything seemed to work better after that, and I walked away with two important life lessons:

  1. Close the office door when I’m dictating to my computer because it seems Dragon NaturallySpeaking works better in a quiet environment.
  2. Feed the cat more.

Armed with those two basic principles, I’ve had a lot of success with Dragon NaturallySpeaking. (Unfortunately, my cat has become a little bigger as well.)

Having an audio profile with few background noises make sense to me.

  • When I teach Dragon NaturallySpeaking new vocabulary, I find I get the best results when I speak clearly.
  • When I sit down to use Dragon NaturallySpeaking, the first thing I do is adjust my microphone and then do the audio check to get Dragon NaturallySpeaking to adjust the volume levels.

It made sense to me that Dragon would work better in a quiet environment. After all, when you’re speaking with someone over the phone, isn’t it easier to understand them when they are in a quiet office, as opposed to a loud cafeteria?

Is Dragon NaturallySpeaking a good tool in the classroom? Things to consider:

So, based on these experiences, I’m not an incredibly big proponent of using Dragon NaturallySpeaking inside of the classroom. Like everything, Dragon NaturallySpeaking is not a magic solution that will cure all ails. For the most part, I’d rather have my students use something like WordQ.

However, Dragon NaturallySpeaking can be a great assistive technology device for some students. Students and employees with physical impairments may find voice recognition software allows them to be incredibly productive. Some students and adults with learning disabilities may find it easier to produce work using the computer, as opposed to paper and pencil.

Here are some things to consider: Continue reading “How accurate is Dragon NaturallySpeaking in a noisy classroom?”

10 Things to Know Before You Buy Dragon NaturallySpeaking Premium Student/Teacher Edition

What’s the Difference between Dragon NaturallySpeaking Home and Premium (and Student) Editions? Click here for more info. 

Dragon NaturallySpeaking 12.5 UPDATE

Are you a student or teacher? Are you thinking about getting Dragon NaturallySpeaking? Did you know there’s a student/teacher version which is $100 cheaper than the regular premium edition?

Here are 10 things to know before you buy Dragon NaturallySpeaking Premium Student/Teacher:

Continue reading “10 Things to Know Before You Buy Dragon NaturallySpeaking Premium Student/Teacher Edition”

How to Hide Unmoderated Comments from Students in WordPress

Many teachers are blogging in the classroom. It’s authentic writing that hooks struggling readers and writers, especially boys.

However, there is one huge flaw with using WordPress or Edublogs in the classroom. Students can read unmoderated comments when they are logged into the edublog or class blog before the comments get moderated and published online. They can’t edit the comments, but they can still read them.

What does this mean? Continue reading “How to Hide Unmoderated Comments from Students in WordPress”