Creating a Google Custom Search Engine

Teaching students how to search effectively is essential. But letting an elementary student loose on Google makes a lot of people nervous (which is okay). School filters are good, but they aren’t perfect (which is also okay, but that’s another post altogether). A Google Custom Search Engine is a great compromise. It allows students to use the Google search engine, but it also allows you to limit the webpages and websites that are used for the results. And best of all, creating a Custom Search Engine is easy.

First, head over to

Look for the blue botton that says, “Create custom search engine.”

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If you’re not logged into a Google account, the blue button will ask you to sign in first.

Second, you need to add the websites you want your Custom Search Engine to use. Every time you add a new site, an additional box will appear for you to add another. In my example I’ve added some sites with good information on planets.

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Next, you name the search engine.

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Finally, find the blue “Create” button.

That’s it! It’s ready to go. You just need to get your students to the search page.

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Here Google gives you three options – you can:

  1. Get code – if you want to embed your search engine in a webpage. Google will give you some javascript you can plug into a webpage.
  2. Public URL – if you want to have students navigate to your search engine. It’s a long URL so you’ll want to find a way for students to not type it all in (email it, put the link on a webpage, make a qr code, etc.)
  3. Access the Control Panel – if you want to go back and change the sites that your custom search engine uses.

When I go to the link for my Planets Custom Search Engine (the link is:, I wasn’t kidding when I was long), the search page looks like this:

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And when I search for neptune atmosphere I get this (only results from the sites I specified):

Screenshot 2015-01-08 at 10.47.36 AM

Note: If a student follows one of the search results, and then follows a link from within that page, they can access the rest of the web. The Custom Search Engine only limits the results of the search; it doesn’t block students from following links to other sites.

Searching is an important skill. If you can’t find what you’re looking for in the first page of your search results, you’re using the wrong search terms. But keeping our students safe while they explore this is important too.


Making Book Trailers Better: Legacy

iMovie-2.0-for-iOS-app-icon-smallMany teachers have used the iMovie Trailer function to make book trailers. But what do we do with them? How do we make sure those trailers last? How do we make sure students, lots of students, see those trailers? How do we make sure students use those trailers to help them choose books they’ll like (because that’s really the point of a trailer)?

QR Codes!

Okay, first, I don’t love QR codes; I know some teachers adore them. I think they have limited use, but this is definitely one of them.

Book QR Code

Our first trailer. The student chose the color.

Once you make your trailer, put it in a public place on the web. We’re a Google Apps for Education (GAFE) district, so we put them in drive and then made them public to anyone with the link. Then create a QR code for the movie (we used the QRafter app and the QRStuff site). Then head to library and put that QR code on every copy of the book. Now, when students go to the library (we’re a 1:1 iPad district) they can scan the QR code and see a visual trailer for the book created by a student (in addition to the blurb on the back). If books are going to be displayed cover-out, put a copy of the QR code on the front too.

And (this is the best part), the movie file is stored in a stable place in the cloud. So as my elementary school students who created the trailers move through middle and high school the trailer will still be sitting in their Google Drive available for younger students to see it. Five or more years from now, students will be watching the trailers we created this year!

Our students do great work; make sure it isn’t lost when summer arrives. Help them create a legacy.


Note: I’ve written about iMovie trailers before. Here is a post with single-page, printable storyboards for all the trailer themes. Here is a post about using trailers as a way for students to introduce themselves to next year’s teacher. And here is a post about moving beyond trailers and getting into iMovie projects.

#Chromebook Keyboard Shortcuts

I’m a big fan of keyboard shortcuts (the alt-tab was a game-changer for me), so when I stumbled across this in my Chromebook’s settings, my mouth dropped. It’s beautiful interactive visual of how the keyboard functionality changes with the shortcut keys.

If you hold down the Control (ctrl) key, these are the shortcuts (click to enlarge):

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If you hold down the Control (ctrl) and the Shift key, these are the shortcuts (click to enlarge):

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There’s an awful lot you can quickly access.

On a Chromebook, use the URL chrome://keyboardoverlay/ to access this.

Getting Pics From Drive to Blogger, on a Chromebook

If you’ve ever tried to get pictures from your Google Drive to your (Google-owned) Blogger blog, you know that it can be a hassle. All the Google apps seem to play well together, except Blogger.

But on a Chromebook, it’s super-easy.

On the New/Edit Post page click the Insert Image icon.

photo 1

Then make sure you’re on Upload and click Choose Files.

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Make sure Google Drive is selected on the left, and you’ve got easy access to your entire Drive. You can even get to the Shared With Me (Incoming) and Recent sections.

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Find your picture, select it, click Open, select it after it loads, and click Add Selected.

With a Chromebook, it treats your Google Drive just like it’s your own hard drive. So anywhere online where you can upload a file/image, the Chromebook allows you to easily pull directly from your Google Drive.

One Space or Two?

origin_2593463316In high school, when I learned to type, I was told that a period (or any punctuation) at the end of a sentence MUST be followed by exactly two spaces. Ten years later when I was writing curriculum units for publication I was told that a period (or any punctuation) at the end of a sentence MUST be followed by exactly one space. What happened?

The Abreviated Story:

First there were books…

Variable space typing has been part of printing for, well, basically forever. This meant that not all letters were the same width. A lower-case i didn’t take up as much space as a lower-case m, and making spaces of different sizes was easy. And at the end of a sentence a slightly longer space (though not as big as two spaces) was generally used.

Then came the typewriter…

origin_12149305295When most of us learned to type (or when our teachers learned to type) we learned on typewriters. Typerwriters are great, but they have an important limitation: every character has exactly the same width. Sentences look like this.  The i and the m were the same width. To add some extra clarity to the end of sentence, an extra space was added; so we all used two spaces.

Then came computers…

Then with affordable computers, the average person at home had access to variable space typing, letters and spaces of different widths; the computer took care of this automatically. Since then, the push for two spaces has been less common; many have gone back to one space. What do the style guides say now?

  • US Government Printing Office: One space between sentences.
  • Oxford Style Manual: One space between sentences.
  • Chicago Manual of Style: One space between sentences.
  • Modern Language Association (MLA): One space between sentences.
  • American Psychological Association (APA): Two spaces between sentences, for draft manuscripts. One space between sentences for published or final versions.
  • Style Manual for Political Science: One space between sentences.
  • Associated Press Stylebook: One space between sentences.

Oh, and now the Internet…

If you’re writing something that will end up on a webpage (like this blog post), it doesn’t matter what you do. HTML is programmed to ignore multiple spaces. No matter how many you put; one, two, three, four; it will be rendered as only one. Sorry. (That means in the “typewriter” text above I had to dig into the code to get the HTML to create a second space.)

What should we teach our students?

One space.


If you’re interested in longer versions of the history of sentence spacing you can find them here and here. For more specifics on what the style guides say about sentence spacing, that’s here.

photo credit 1: Cybjorg via photopin cc
photo credit 2: Marinw. via photopin cc

Embedding a PDF From Drive into a Blog

Embedding PDFs in a blog can be a great way to share information, especially with parents and the community. These days Google Drive makes this easy: when you’re viewing a PDF you can easily get the embed code and drop it into you blog. But, the code includes a preview pane and no options for zooming, so it’s not idea. The default Google Drive PDF embed code ends up creating this:

Getting the embed code is easy, but the result is in no way ideal. In fact you’ll notice that most of the first page of the PDF you can’t even see. Fortunately, there’s a better way. It take a little code (really, just a little), but it’s very doable.

The embed code Drive gives you looks like this (it’s what I used above):

<iframe src="" width="580" height="480"></iframe>

What we need to do though, is to use this code instead (it’s way better, for lots of reasons):

<iframe src="[put your file id here]&pid=explorer&efh=false&a=v&chrome=false&embedded=true" width="580px" height="480px"></iframe>

I know, the code looks a little intimidating, but most if it we can ignore.

There are only three things in the code we need to worry about:

  1. The file id.
  2. The height of the frame.
  3. The width of the frame.

The file ID for your PDF (one that is already in Google Drive) can be found in the PDFs web address. When you open a PDF, it’s the garbage-looking piece of the URL (it will be between forward-slashes, “/”).

The file ID is highlighted in yellow.

The file ID is highlighted in yellow.

In this case it’s the 0B3xoQi_oa7_hU2J5S1RQbFdqS3c

That id will need to be placed into the code in place of the “[insert your file id here]”. Make sure to get rid of the square brackets in the sample code.

Height and width are exactly that, height and width. You can change these numbers (they’re measured in pixels) to change the size of the frame that you’re PDF is enclosed in.

And what does it look like? If we take this code (notice that I’ve inserted my file ID)

<iframe src="" width="580px" height="480px"></iframe>

and put it into a blog (remember, when you’re embedding html code you have to use the HTML window of the editor, not the Compose window), you get this:

This is so much better. It zooms out so that the PDF is displayed page-width. There’s no preview pane. You can scroll down if there are multiple pages. There are zoom options if you want to zoom in. All the things we want when we embed a PDF.

A little code, and all the sudden that PDF becomes so much more user-friendly. But don’t forget, in Drive if you’re embedding a PDF you need to make the file public first, otherwise it won’t embed correctly. 

Note: I didn’t put this code together myself. I found it on a Google forum post here, from 2013, from user Yajeng.

iMovie Trailers and Coloring Books

iMovie-2.0-for-iOS-app-icon-smalliMovie on the iPad is pretty awesome. And the Trailer function is a great starting point (you can find my iMovieTrailer storyboards here). But remember, it’s just that – it’s just a starting point. Most of the teachers I know who have used it for a student project come away from the experience saying, “that was great, but now that I get it I wish it could do more.” Fortunately, you can.

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You see, the Trailer function is a lot like a coloring book; all you can do is color in the lines. Sure, you can assign a project to your students using the Trailers and they’ll all come out different, but they’ll also all kind of be the same. It’s like a coloring book: each kid can use different colors, but they all kind of end up with the same picture.

So use the Trailers, and then grow out of them. Start using the Movie function. Start drawing with a blank piece of paper. There’s so much more you can do.

And here’s a generic iMovie Movie storyboard. I think it’s a good idea to have students do some planning before they get a camera in their hands.