Friday, August 29, 2014

A Cautionary Reminder About Backchannels

I frequently write about and talk about the benefits of using backchannel tools like TodaysMeet in the classroom. Some of my favorite backchannel tools are featured in this guide. Here's a cautionary tale from my early days of using backchannels in my classroom.

Four years ago I had a short (15-20 minutes) video that showed to students in my Civics class. For some reason I got the idea that I would award a bonus point (added to a quiz I recently gave) to the first student to correctly answer the questions I posted in the back-channel. In hindsight making chat a contest was a very bad idea because most of my students either posted guesses as quickly as they could or they tuned-out because they didn't think they could answer quickly enough. In the end, because of my mistake, my students didn't pay attention to the video as well as they would have otherwise. So while a back-channel can definitely improve the educational value of showing a video in class (case in point here), it must be done correctly.

Two Google Apps Updates You Might Have Missed This Week

This week Google released a couple of updates that many of us have been eagerly waiting on for months. The most significant of those updates is the release of the Google Slides iPad app. The app allows you to create and edit Google Slides presentations on your iPad. The app also supports editing PPT files on your iPad. And as you would expect from Google, the Google Slides iPad app supports collaborative editing of slide content. Click here to grab the new Google Slides iPad app.

The second update of note, although not nearly as significant as the iPad app update, is a new way to search for special characters in Google Slides, Documents, and Drawings. You can now perform a keyword search for special characters to insert into your slides, documents, and drawings. To perform a keyword search open the "insert" menu then select "special characters."

IXL Math Practice - A Free iPad App for Elementary School Students

IXL Math Practice is a free iPad app from the popular online math practice service, IXL. IXL Math Practice offers hundreds of math practice problems for students in Kindergarten through sixth grade. The practice problems are arranged according to grade level and mathematics skill. To find a set of practice problems students select their grade level then select a mathematics skill to practice.

Applications for Education
IXL Math Practice can be used without creating an IXL account by simply tapping "continue as guest" after opening the app. Guests can use the practice problems. However, guests cannot track their points or receive digital trophies for reaching points levels. Students who have IXL accounts (accounts are not free) can track their points and earn digital trophies.

Disclosure: IXL is an advertiser on

ABCya's 100 Number Chart Offers a Fun Math Activity for Kids

From time to time I like to feature offerings from the sponsors of Free Technology for Teachers. is the longest running sponsor of this blog.

ABCya's 100 Number Chart offers a simple online activity for elementary school students. The chart offers "beginner" and "challenge" activities. In both activity levels students have to drag numbers into their proper places on a number line. In the "beginner" level students are shown a number line of ten numbers at a time. In the "challenge" activities students are shown numbers 1-100 and have to drag the missing numbers into place in the number line.

Applications for Education
ABCya's 100 Number Chart isn't a revolutionary online activity by any stretch of the imagination. That said, it is a well-designed and fun little practice activity for young students. ABCya's browser-based activities are now written in HTML5 which means that they will work on iPads and Android tablets.