Monthly Archives: February 2013

Google Spreadsheet Training

Spreadsheet, although not glamourous, are so amazing.  And the same goes for Google Spreadsheet.  I will not tell you that Google spreadsheets don’t have their limitations (they do) but for most people outside of finance they can work just as well, if not better, than any spreadsheet applications that you have to pay for.

BoxFreeIt give 10 reasons why Google Spreadsheet is better the Excel Web App:

10. Comments. Google Spreadsheet can add comments to a spreadsheet, a highly useful feature for collaboration.

9. Insert objects. Google Spreadsheet can insert forms, drawings, scripts, images, gadgets and charts into a spreadsheet. Excel Web Apps can insert tables and hyperlinks (as can Google Spreadsheet).

8. Conditional formatting. A cell that counts total expenditure can be set to turn red if it exceeds a set figure, for example.

7. Data validation, protecting and hiding sheets. Useful tools for preventing the wrong information being entered into (or read from) a spreadsheet.

6. Functions. Google Spreadsheet can perform a huge number of functions in the browser, from the common (sum, average, count) to the specific, such as engineering and math calculations or finance formulas. There are 11 categories with as many as 60 functions in each.

5. Scripts. Google Spreadsheet users can write their own scripts, choose from a gallery of scripts created by other Google Apps users, and create their own script library to use on any spreadsheet.

4. No right-click shortcuts. If you’re creating a lot of documents online, the ability to jump to the most common tools is a real time-saver. A right-click with your mouse brings up a contextual menu in Google Apps and Word Web Apps but not in Excel Web Apps. Google Spreadsheet can insert comments, find and replace, validate data and name ranges with a right-click.

3. Pivot tables. This function takes a spreadsheet of data, such as sales figures, and turns it into tables that recalculate themselves on the fly as you include or exclude fields. Pivot tables can be turned into graphs with a single click, making them very useful for analyzing large amounts of data.

2. No find and replace. A major omission from Excel Web App, which can only find data. Even then the search function is very basic compared to Google Spreadsheet, which can search from match case, match entire cell contents and search all sheets in a spreadsheet.

1. Can’t auto-complete by selecting the first two cells in an order (eg consecutive numbers, days of the week, months) and dragging to select cells below and automatically fill it with the next items in a list. There is no auto-copy either.

To see the presentation that we have on how to use Google Spreadsheets, please click here.

Belldandy: a RaspberryPi based school-bell system

When Logos first moved to their new campus we had a PA system installed. Part of the contract with that company was bell system… but their solution was horrendous (and never worked). Their approach was to wire 3 alarm clocks together and to have our staff get up and stop the alarm after it rang. I don’t remember the exact price, but I think they wanted $100 for their system.


That said, I can’t brag about my ‘temporary’ fix too much. I used an abandoned iPod touch and alarm app to cobble something together. To fix the problem of repeating alarms, I created mp3s containing 4 hours of silence, and then each bell used a play list with our desired sound plus a few repeats of the silence mp3. It was messy, but it worked in the day to day: for two years.

(Aside: since then, there are quite a few apps for iOS specifically designed for school bell systems. Clearly my approach wasn’t unique!)

While the system was good, we always ran into problems when we needed a special set of bells, or to change the schedule. You could do it, but it was a pain.

My immediate thought was for a RaspberryPi to replace the iPod. With precious little coding you could make a decent system.

Belldandy is the result. If you’re interested in the code, you can get it at my github account:

It’s a bit hackish itself, as I was using it to try some things out I’d been wanting to play with. Currently, all it requires is: a webserver, write access to the crontab file and a command line sound player.

The back end is a simple XML file that’s controlled by a PHP front end. With the easy video out of the Pi, I’ve got a simple, mouse-driven, interface that rests in our office. Bells are rung by the inbuilt cron system, and updated by a processing script that runs every few minutes.



For now it’s working great (and our time is always accurate!).

The Pi, without a hardware clock, does have one big disadvantage: without an Internet connection a power failure will result in the clock not displaying the correct time. It’s not a problem for us, but it does limit the device somewhat. That said, my solution is portable to any computer/computing device that can run a UNIX-like operating system.

From an IT/Administrative view of things, there’s no reason that this process should run as root. But, since it’s a single application device, from a practical point of view, it doesn’t matter. That said, there’s no reason we couldn’t use the Pi to also host a student information system, or any other number of school systems.

The real test of all of this is time (and when we need to change bells!)

Google Presentations Training

There are many amazing uses for Google Presentations and I know they can be well utilized in the classroom.  I was looking around online and found one teacher who loves the online presentation format because

Instead of my students sitting passively watching a student’s PowerPoint presentation, a presenter publishes their presentation online.  In the Computer Lab each student logs into a Google account and accesses the presentation URL.  I allow students to participate in the chat during the presentation as long as their comments are about the presentation, they type additional information about the content, or ask questions to the presenter.  I monitor the chat closely – but I have to say – when I have done this with my students – there is 100% engagement in the presentation and they handle the responsibility of being in the chat room well (it only takes one student to get kicked out and the rest shape up fast!).  They love it and its a great way to get the whole class involved in a presentation.

If you want some more ideas on how to use Google Presentations in the classroom, please check out the following links:

And, for the How To training that was done at LIS, please click here.



Google Forms Training

Google Forms can be used for so many different things!  I was doing a Google Search on “Ways to use Google Forms” and got a ton of information (tips and tricks) on how to use Google Forms in the classroom…

85 Interesting Ways to Use Google Forms in the Classroom

62 Ways to Use Google Forms in the Classroom

5 Ways to Use Google Forms (outside of the classroom)

Some things I learned from reading the links above is that Google Forms can be used for building a contact list, setting classroom culture, tests and quizes, and so much more.

Have questions on how to use Google Forms?  Check out the training here!