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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Month in Review - The Most Popular Posts

Good evening from Philadelphia where I have been attending the ISTE conference for the last few days. I've met some great people and had a good time learning about new apps and new ideas here. Many of those things will appear in blog posts over the next few days. In the meantime it is time to take a look back at the most popular posts of the last month.

Here are the most popular posts in June 2015:
1. 10 Important Google Search Strategies for Students - A PDF Handout
2. 11 Helpful Hints for Combining Google Drive With Symbaloo
3. Three Helpful Gmail Settings for Students and Teachers
4. Using Google Apps in a Math Classroom
5. 7 Tools for Building Review Games
6. Use Your Phone to Control Google Slides Remotely
7. 5 Online Tools for Creating Picture Books
8. 10 Good Apps & Sites for Creative Writing Projects
9. Chromebook Rollout Through Teacher Leadership
10. 20 Good Map Creation Tools for Students

Summer PD Opportunities With Me.
Teaching History With Technology begins in two weeks.
Getting Going With GAFE starts on Thursday.
Blogs & Social Media for Teachers and School Leaders begins next week.

Would you like to have me visit your school? Click here to learn about my PD services.

Please visit the official advertisers that help keep this blog going.
Practical Ed Tech is the brand through which I offer PD webinars.
BoomWriter provides a fantastic tool for creating writing lessons. 
Storyboard That is my go-to tool for creating storyboards and cartoon stories.
MidWest Teachers Institute offers online graduate courses for teachers.
HelloTalk is a mobile community for learning a new language.
Discovery Education & Wilkes University offer online courses for earning Master's degrees in Instructional Media.
PrepFactory offers a great place for students to prepare for SAT and ACT tests.
The University of Maryland Baltimore County offers graduate programs for teachers.
Boise State University offers a 100% online program in educational technology.
EdTechTeacher is hosting host workshops in six cities in the U.S. in the summer.
SeeSaw is a great iPad app for creating digital portfolios.

Google Classroom Gets a Share Button and More New Features

This week Google Classroom received updates that teachers and administrators should note.

A new "share to Google Classroom" button is starting to appear on popular sites and services including Quizlet, Discovery Education, PBS, and Duolingo. The share button will enable teachers to quickly send resources from sites displaying the Classroom share button to their Google Classroom streams where they can be used as announcements or assignments.


Administrators and teachers will benefit from a new Google Classroom API that will allow developers to publish apps that can integrate with Google Classroom. An example of this is found in the new rosterSync for Sheets Add-on. rosterSync enables administrators to sync information from any student information system with Google Classroom. Watch the video below to learn more about rosterSync.


Thanks to Frank Franz and Ken Halla for the tips about the updates. 

81Dash Offers a Revamped Tool for Backchannels and More

Last summer at ISTE 2014 I learned about 81Dash. One year later 81Dash is still going strong and has launched a revamped user interface. All of the same great features of 81Dash are still there, they're just a bit easier to find and use than before.

At its most basic level 81Dash provides teachers with a place to host a chat or backchannel conversation that is moderated. Teachers can create and manage multiple chatrooms within their 81Dash accounts. In addition to chat teachers can post notes and task lists that are separate from the chat. Students can see those notes and task lists by selecting "notes" or "tasks" within an 81Dash room.

Students join your 81Dash room by going to the URL that is assigned to your room. When they arrive at your room for the first time they will be asked to register. There are two registration options. Registering as a "guest user" does not require students to enter email addresses. Students can also sign into 81Dash with their Google Accounts or Microsoft accounts.

Applications for Education
81Dash resolves the complaint that teachers have about many backchannel tools. That complaint is not having a way to delete messages or delete a room if students write inappropriate things in the backchannel. 81Dash's notes and tasks features could be helpful to students in keeping track of assignments for your class.

5 Takeaways from Redefining Professional Development

On Monday afternoon at the ISTE conference I was one of four people on a panel discussion titled Redefining Professional Development for the Curriculum of the Future. Unfortunately, I didn't get as much time to speak as I had hoped for. Throughout the discussion I was taking notes on what the other panelists were saying. These are my big takeaways from those panelists along with two points that I tried to make.

1. Nobody wants more for kids than parents. - Rob Burggraaf was talking about organizing parent night to show parents the benefits of their children using technology.

2. Saying no to technology is saying no to advancing student learning. - Linda Cole talking about getting teachers on board with technology integration programs.

3. Technology centers (in a classroom) aren't just for Kindergarten classrooms. - Ashley Hays talking about using technology throughout the school day.

4. Plan your technology goals to be a positive influence in students' lives beyond the time they are in your school. - Me talking about designing technology integration programs.

5. Celebrate the technology innovators in your school. Encourage them to their good work to with other teachers. - Me talking about getting teachers excited about using technology.

Monday, June 29, 2015

SeeSaw - Easily Create Digital Portfolios on iPads, Chromebooks, and Android Tablets

Disclosure: SeeSaw's parent company is an advertiser on FreeTech4Teachers.com

SeeSaw, a powerful and popular iPad app for creating digital portfolios, is now available as a Chrome web app and as an Android app. The new apps allow students to create and add content to digital portfolios.

Through SeeSaw students can add artifacts to their portfolios by taking pictures of their work (in the case of a worksheet or other physical item), by writing about what they've learned, or by uploading a short video about things they have learned. The SeeSaw apps students can add voice comments to their pictures to clarify what their pictures document. Students can create folders withing their accounts to organize content from multiple subject areas.

Applications for Education
To get started with Seesaw create a free classroom account. Students join the classroom by scanning a QR code (you will have to print it or project it) or entering a classcode that grants them access to your Seesaw classroom. As the teacher you can see and sort all of your students' Seesaw submissions. SeeSaw allows parents to create accounts through which they can see the work of their children. As a teacher you can send notifications to parents when their children make a new SeeSaw submission.

Create Stop Motion Animations with KomaKoma

This is a guest post from Kate Wilson (@katewilson13) of EdTechTeacher, an advertiser on this site.

Stop Motion was one of the original video creation techniques. By stringing together a series of single images and displaying them quickly in order, film was born. Now on iPad, Stop Motion can be used as a technique for capturing learning as it happens, making drawings, models, science projects, or counting exercises come alive. Consider the power of creating a digital flipbook that could later be viewed as a video.

Introduction to KomaKoma

KomaKoma is a FREE Stop Motion iPad App that can compile together a series of photos taken in the app and then export them to the Camera Roll as a video. With a simple user interface consisting of only a few buttons, KomaKoma is very intuitive. The app launches the camera automatically (first time app users will have to allow the Camera access). A big red record button captures each image in sequence, and a big green play button plays the images back as a video. The only other 2 editing buttons are a blue “X” to delete the last image taken, and a yellow arrow for saving the video to the app’s Gallery.

Koma Koma EdTechTeacher

A great feature that sets this app aside from a regular video creation app like iMovie, is the Onion Skin. While you move/draw/create each image, the previous image remains on the screen but slightly transparent allowing the creator to line up the old and new images to create a fluid video. Onion Skin and other settings such as playback speed, camera orientation, and a time lapse feature can be turned on and off under the Settings in the upper right corner of the app (a little wrench).

The number of images in a “FlipBook” is logged on a counter at the bottom. To preview the images in the sequence, tap the green Play button to watch your video on a continuous loop. Tapping the play button again will pause and allow for continued editing. Once you are satisfied with the video, tap the yellow up arrow to send the video to the KomaKoma app’s Gallery. If you would like to send the video the Camera Roll to use it somewhere else, or view it in another app, tap on the Gallery icon in the upper right and then select the clip. This automatically pops up an Options menu offering a variety of features including Saving to the Camera Roll.

Made with KomaKoma, EdTechTeacher logo


The biggest challenge for the app is coming up with a device that can hold the iPad steady enough to capture the images seamlessly. The example video using PlayDoh used the PlayDoh containers stacked up on either side of the iPad as a stand.

Ideas for using KomaKoma in the classroom:

  • Demonstrating mathematics understanding with manipulatives and/or hand writing
  • Showing the process carried out of a science experiment step by step
  • Bringing life to a diorama with moving Lego characters
  • Using the time lapse feature to study a slow moving process (Note: iPad must be plugged in and iPad sleep settings altered to NOT turn off).
  • Bonus Tip!: Have a Greenscreen App like DoInk’s Green Screen? Manipulate objects in front of green wrapping paper or construction paper, then bring the video into your favorite Green Screen app to place your objects anywhere!

EdTechTeacher CFP ettipad BostonDo you have a story to tell about using iPads in the classroom? Submit a proposal to the EdTechTeacher iPad Summit in Boston, November 17-18, 2015. Proposals due August 31, 2015. Learn more at ettipad.org/cfp

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Teaching American History Through Art

Picturing America is a project of the National Endowment for the Humanities and the American Library Association. Picturing America is an interactive gallery of artwork related to events, people, and themes in American history. You can browse the gallery chronologically or by theme. Click on any image in the gallery to learn about the artist and the artwork itself. Along with the background information for each image, Picturing America provides links to additional resources for learning about the artwork and artists.

Applications for Education
Picturing America's Educators Resource page contains a resource book that you can download for free. The resource book contains printable background sheets about each piece of art in the Picturing America gallery. The resource book includes questions and activity suggestions for using each piece of art in elementary school, middle school, and high school classrooms. The resource book can be downloaded as one file or you can download chapters individually.

Dozens of Online Games and Quizzes About Grammar

Road to Grammar is a free resource featuring quizzes, games, and lessons for English language learners. Visitors to Road to Grammar will find grammar quizzes. Most of the quizzes provide students with instant feedback. Part of the feedback that students receive on the quizzes they take includes explanations why an answer is correct or incorrect. Before taking the quizzes visitors can work through a series of practice activities.

Applications for Education
In addition to the resources that students can use individually, Road to Grammar offers some downloadable resources for teachers. Teachers will find the collection of eight downloads offer discussion starters for English lessons, lesson warm-up activities, and some worksheets.

Design a Green Helicopter for Sikorsky's Helicopter 2050 Challenge

For the fifth year in a row Sikorsky is hosting a helicopter design contest for students. The Helicopter 2050 Challenge asks students between the ages of nine through sixteen, to design unique and environmentally-friendly helicopters.

To enter the challenge students should sketch/ illustrate their helicopter designs, how the helicopter will work, the environmentally-friendly aspects of their designs, and what makes their helicopters from others that currently exist. The winner of the design contest receives a scholarship from Sikorksy and a trip to Sikorsky headquarters.

Sikorsky has put together a nice brainstorming page to help students develop ideas for their helicopter designs. For schools and museums Sikorsky has a digital binder of activities designed around the Helicopter 2050 contest.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Week in Review - The Most Popular Posts

Good morning from an airplane somewhere over New England. I'm currently on my way to the annual ISTE conference in Philadelphia. It should be a great few days of connecting and re-connecting with other people who are passionate about teaching and educational technology. If you're going to be there too, please say hello. If you're not attending ISTE and you have something that you would like me to report on, please complete the one question survey here.

Next week, after ISTE, I will be starting new section of my online course Getting Going With GAFE. A few seats are still available. Graduate credit is available for the course. Click here for more information. 

Here are this week's most popular posts:
1. 10 Important Google Search Strategies for Students - A PDF Handout
2. 11 Helpful Hints for Combining Google Drive With Symbaloo
3. Three Helpful Gmail Settings for Students and Teachers
4. 5 Online Tools for Creating Picture Books
5. 10 Good Apps & Sites for Creative Writing Projects
6. Active Reading Strategies Using the DocHub Chrome App
7. Video - Three Google Docs Formatting Tips

Summer PD Opportunities With Me.
Teaching History With Technology begins in July.
Getting Going With GAFE is offered in June and July.
Blogs & Social Media for Teachers and School Leaders is offered in July.

Would you like to have me visit your school? Click here to learn about my PD services.

Please visit the official advertisers that help keep this blog going.
Practical Ed Tech is the brand through which I offer PD webinars.
BoomWriter provides a fantastic tool for creating writing lessons. 
Storyboard That is my go-to tool for creating storyboards and cartoon stories.
MidWest Teachers Institute offers online graduate courses for teachers.
HelloTalk is a mobile community for learning a new language.
Discovery Education & Wilkes University offer online courses for earning Master's degrees in Instructional Media.
PrepFactory offers a great place for students to prepare for SAT and ACT tests.
The University of Maryland Baltimore County offers graduate programs for teachers.
Boise State University offers a 100% online program in educational technology.
EdTechTeacher is hosting host workshops in six cities in the U.S. in the summer.
SeeSaw is a great iPad app for creating digital portfolios.

Friday, June 26, 2015

#NotatISTE Survey

The LEGO Liberty Bell in PHL
terminal A.
Tomorrow morning I am traveling to Philadelphia for the annual ISTE conference. I know that a lot of you would have liked to attend this year too. And while nothing can fully replace being there, I will try my best to share with you my big take-aways from the conference. I'll share on Twitter, Instagram, and here on FreeTech4Teachers.com. If there is something that you have a particular interest in learning about from the ISTE conference please complete the short survey below. I'll do my best to cover the most popular selections on the survey.


If you are going to be at ISTE, I would love to meet you. On Monday afternoon I'll be speaking on a panel discussion about professional development. On Tuesday morning you can find me in the Storyboard That booth in the exhibit hall. The rest of the time I'll be popping into presentations and hanging out in the Blogger's Cafe (open to everyone). Please stop me and say hello. (I look just like I do in my pictures except I won't have my dogs with me).

Otus Releases an Updated Online Learning Environment

Last summer I reviewed an excellent online learning environment called Otus. The first time that I saw it I was impressed by the functions that it offered. Since then Otus has steadily added more features and this week released a completely revamped web interface for teachers.

In addition to a more intuitive user interface some of the features of the updated Otus platform that jumped out to me include real-time analytics updates, third party app integration, easier seating chart movements, and easier recording of information. The improved analytics menu updates and recalculates as you record information about your students. This is true whether you're recording behavior and attendance information or you're recording scores from assessments.

Admittedly, it had been a while since I tried to update my student roster in Otus. When I went to update it today I found it was easier than before as I simply dragged and dropped student names into place on my seating chart.

Otus now allows you to integrate select third party applications into your account. A couple third party applications of note are Khan Academy and OpenEd. OpenEd offers thousands of math and language arts practice assessments aligned to Common Core standards.

If you're looking for a new online course management system to use in the next school year, give Otus a try. I think you will be impressed by the capabilities it offers.

Projection Wizard - Which Kind of Map is Best for Your Project?

Projection Wizard is an interesting tool developed by Bojan Šavrič at Oregon State University. The purpose of Projection Wizard is to help cartographers select the best map projections for their projects.

To use the Projection Wizard select a distortion property from a menu appearing to the left of the map. Then use the highlighting tool to select the portion of the map that your project focuses on. After you make your map and menu choices you'll be shown a list of the projections that are appropriate for your project.

Applications for Education
Projection Wizard is a more advanced tool than most high school geography courses would need. That said, I would use the Projection Wizard to have students discuss the flaws of  various map projections. We'd also talk about why a particular type of projection is better than another for different types of projects.

H/T to Maps Mania.

Three Tools to Help Students Find Books to Read This Summer

Summer is here (in the northern hemisphere) and it is a great time to dive into some good books. If your students need help finding a new book to read, the following three websites will provide recommendations based on their interests. Of course, they can always ask their local librarians for recommendations too.

The Book Seer is a neat book recommendation engine that I discovered few years ago through Kristen Swanson's Teachers as Technology Trailblazers blog. The Book Seer is very easy to use. To get a book recommendation just type in the title and author of a book that you've recently read and the Book Seer will spit out a list of related titles and authors that you might enjoy. I tested the Book Seer with four different titles. The more obscure titles that I searched for, Snow in the Kingdom, and A Good Life Wasted didn't yield any recommendations. When I searched for The World Is Open and Hatchet plenty of recommendations appeared.

Your Next Read is a neat little site that provides you with a web of book recommendations based on the authors and books you already like. Here's how it works; type in the title of a book you like or author you like and Your Next Read will provide you with a web of books that might also enjoy. Click on any of the books appearing in the web to create another new web.

Compared to the Book Seer and Your Next Read 2Titles takes a slightly different approach to making book recommendations. On 2Titles you answer a series of eight questions about your personality and interests before answering questions about books you've previously read. 2Titles will try to prompt you to create an account, but that is an optional step that you can skip if you can find the "skip" link.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

118 Practical Ed Tech Tips Videos

Six months ago I started to organize the screencast videos that I've made over the years. I called the list Practical Ed Tech Tips. Since I started that list I've made an effort to add one or two new screencasts to it every week. The Practical Ed Tech Tips playlist now contains 118 videos covering all kinds of resources. Some of the topics covered in the playlist include Gmail settings, creating backchannels, digital portfolios, blogging tips, and building educational games. In the playlist you will also find videos about tools for flipping your classroom, videos on managing workflow, social media tips, search strategies, and media production. The entire playlist is embedded below.

The Open Library - Borrow and Read Thousands of Ebooks

If you're looking for some new books to read this summer, take a look at the Open Library  which is a part of the Internet Archive. The Open Library is a collection of more than one million free ebook titles. The collection is cataloged by a community of volunteer online librarians. The ebooks in the Open Library can be read online, downloaded to your computer, read on Kindle and other ereader devices, and embedded into other sites. Some of the ebooks, like Treasure Island, can also be listened to through the Open Library.



Applications for Education
Much like Google Books, the Open Library can be a great place to find free copies of classic literature that you want to use in your classroom. The Open Library could also be a good place for students to find books that they want to read on their own. The audio option, while very electronic sounding, could be helpful if you cannot locate any other audio copies of the books you desire.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

How to Create a Picture Book Online With Jellybean Writer

Over the weekend I published about five tools for creating picture books online. Two of the tools in that post were accompanied by tutorial videos. I'm putting together tutorial videos for the other tools in that list. First up is a tutorial on Jellybean Writer. The video is embedded below.

Jellybean Writer is a free tool for creating picture books. Students can import pictures from their computers then write captions for each image. All stories can be saved online or downloaded and printed. If picture books are too simple for your students, they can skip using pictures and select one of the text only templates for the pages in their books. As you will see in the video below, teacher can create and manage student accounts in Jellybean Scoop.

Three Helpful Gmail Settings for Students and Teachers

Yesterday's post about the new (to some users) Gmail setting called "Undo Send" prompted a few questions to appear in my inbox. To address those questions I recorded the following video containing an overview of three helpful Gmail settings for students and teachers. The video covers using Gmail offline, setting the "undo send" grace period, and setting the "reply v. reply all" default function.

Create Interactive Videos on Wideo

Wideo is a nice tool for creating Common Craft-style videos. You can create animated videos on Wideo by dragging and dropping clipart and text in storyboard frames. You set the position and animation sequence for each element in each storyboard frame. When you have completed your storyboards Wideo generates a video for you.

This week Wideo added a new feature that allows you to build interactive buttons into each frame of your video. The buttons can be hyperlinked to any webpage that you like. When people are watching your video they can click the buttons to be taken to the webpage you want them to land on. For example, clicking the buttons in the video embedded below will take you to the website of my favorite animal rescue organizations.




Applications for Education
Wideo can be a great tool for students to use to bring their creative short stories to life. Wideo could also be used by students to create animated explanations of historical events, to animate biographies, or to teach other short lessons. By adding interactive buttons to their videos students can direct people to websites where they can learn more about the subjects featured in their videos.

The free version of Wideo limits video length to 45 seconds. 45 seconds is long enough for a lot of video projects. Discounts are given to educators who want to purchase the capability to produce longer videos.

11 Helpful Hints for Combining Google Drive With Symbaloo

Last week I received an email from Travis Towne in which he described how he is using Symbaloo arrange and share Google Drive files. I thought it was a great ideas so I asked Travis if he would be interested in writing a guest post.

One of the problems I run into when trying to find documents, videos, or folders that I have saved in my Google Drive folder is trying to find them again quickly without having to dig through the myriad of my created folders. I also want the ability to quickly share with my students folders that have documents or videos without having to send them a link to each one. With these concerns in mind, I felt that combining one of the best visual web resources (Symbaloo) with one of the best storage resources (Google Drive) was the best way to go.

The video below describes how documents and folders can be linked to a Symbaloo webmix, the importance of groups, how images can be used to visually enhance Symbaloo tiles, and how to share the link or embed the webmix in a Learning Management System (LMS) or in a document.


Click the examples for several ways that Symbaloo has been combined with Google Drive.
1. Useful Technology Webmix
2. AH1 Unit 1 Webmix

Here are a few other Symbaloo Webmixes that I have created but don’t use Google Drive. They are however examples for how the tiles can be organized and images added.
1. AH1 Unit 1 Biographies
2. Historical Places Webmix
3. ACA 122 Webmix

All of these webmixes can be added to your own Symbaloo account by clicking the “Add this webmix” button. *Note: Several of these webmixes are larger than the gallery view so in order to see the full webmix with all of the tiles, you would need to add it to your Symbaloo.*

I’ve listed some additional helpful hints below:

1. Think through how how want your websites to be labeled and listed. Leave space between different sections if possible or sort the tiles by color. *Note: Sometimes it is easier to see it “on paper” so there are many times that I have spent time just moving around the tiles until I’m happy with the results. It probably won’t be perfect the first time you try to organize your sites.*

2. Organize your Google Drive into easy to remember folders. This way you can link either folders or individual documents/videos. *Note: The great thing about Google Drive is that if you move documents to a different folder or change the document, it automatically updates the link.*Use the Symbaloo grouping options as much as possible to help organize documents and websites.

3. Make sure that all Google Drive links have shared permissions (either “Anyone with the link can view” or “Anyone at ‘your organization’ with the link can view”). If not, the documents will not be able to be accessed.

4. Use the Symbaloo grouping options as much as possible to help organize documents and websites. *Note: Remember that groups can hold up to 16 tiles. You can also increase or decrease the webmix size to adjust amount of tile space available.*

5. Take advantage of the unlimited amount of webmixes that can be added to your account. All webmixes can be quickly accessed in the menu bar. *Note: It is helpful to use the webmix icons and colors to help you quickly locate specific tabs. I color code my by unit and give specific icons for each type of webmix.*

6. Spend the extra time choosing images that will be recognized quickly and label the tiles with easy to read wording. *Note: It is helpful to save these images in your Google Drive so you can always access the same ones used previously.*

7. It is helpful to use the Copy/Move feature for both the entire group and individual tiles. This keeps the same image copied in a tile so that you don’t have to keep uploading an image.

8. You can link other webmixes to your original webmix. *Note: This is a great option if you have found another webmix that you like or created one that is a supplement to your original.*

9. Utilize the Symbaloo embed feature when possible (in a LMS) to help keep everything in a central access point. If embedding is not possible, create a hyperlinked title that is easily accessible. *Note: I use Moodle as my LMS and you can click here to see a folder with some example of how I have embedded a Symbaloo into my course. Other LMS options that I have used the embed features are Blackboard and Canvas. Also, I have used the embed option on my school-based website*

10. Remember that Symbaloo does not automatically send out updated changes so you must click the update button in order for others with the link to see any changes you have done.

11. Students usually have good results with using Symbaloo and I actually have several assignments that require students to create their own Symbaloo and link Google Drive documents to it. It is an easy way for them to organize their resources especially if we are dealing with a research based project.

Lastly, I am primarily a History teacher so most of my focus is towards this area and I freely admit that history does lend itself to specific topic areas which can be easier to section out. I know, however that several of my peers have used Symbaloo in combination with their Google Drive in Math, English, and Science classes. It can work with any class structure and I know of several teachers that use this resource to help them organize their individual units. Hopefully, you can use these tips and tricks to enhance your classroom environment and please feel free to share any additional ways that you have used Google Drive and/or Symbaloo in your teaching.

About Me: I teach American History, World Issues, and Life Skills at Johnston County Middle College in Johnston County, NC. I am a digital learning coach for Johnston County and have developed several online courses for the school system. I also teach College Transfer Success at Johnston Community College. I have a Master of Arts in Teaching from Lee University and have taught for 10 years. I also served in Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) with the Arizona Army National Guard as an Aviation Operations Specialist. I have been married for 16 years and have 3 daughters. I can be contacted at travistowne@johnston.k12.nc.us.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Set an "Undo Send" Grace Period in Your Gmail Account

If you have ever hit send too early on an email and wished that you could take it back, now you're in luck. As announced on the Google Apps Updates Blog, beginning today Gmail has setting for all users (previously only available to Gmail Labs users) that allows anyone to un-send an email up to 30 seconds after it has been sent. "Undo Send" is a setting that you can enable in your Gmail/ Google Apps mail under the general settings panel. You can find that panel by opening the gear icon in the upper-right corner of your inbox.

Click image to view full size. 

How X-rays and CT Scans Work

I enjoy some of the TED-Ed lessons so much that I have an alert on my phone that goes off whenever a new TED-Ed lesson is published. How X-Rays See Through Your Skin is the latest TED-Ed lesson. I found the lesson fascinating because it not only explained how modern x-rays and CT scans work, but it also explained some of the history of x-ray development.

Video - Three Google Docs Formatting Tips

The transition from Word or Pages to Google Documents often prompts a lot of questions about formatting settings. In the video embedded below I address three formatting questions that I am frequently asked about in my email and in my workshops.

Active Reading Strategies Using the DocHub Chrome App

This is a guest post from Beth Holland (@brholland) of EdTechTeacher - an advertiser on this site.

Active reading strategies are just as critical with digital reading as with their paper-based counterpart. However, until recently, it has been a bit cumbersome to highlight, add notes, and draw on documents - particularly in a BYOD environment with Macbooks, Windows laptops, and Chromebooks. However, by using the DocHub Chrome app, this capability is now possible on any device.

Students and teachers can login to the DocHub app (or DocHub.com) using their Google account. From there, it is possible to upload any PDF, text document, or Microsoft Office file from Drive, the web, or even your computer/Chromebook download folder. Once a document had been uploaded, students can highlight, draw, insert text boxes, and even incorporate sticky notes. These annotated PDFs can then be sent to Drive or even shared with a link. Unlike some other web-based annotation tools, all of the annotations remain with the PDF after it has been sent to Drive though the sticky notes only appear when shared with a link.

DocHub EdTechTeacher

DocHub also allows multiple people to read and annotate the same document at the same time. It’s important to keep in mind that unlike Google Docs, the changes are not instantaneous and do not appear on the other person's screen until after the page is refreshed. In many ways, this makes for an improved reading experience as individuals are not as easily distracted by changes appearing on the screen while attempting to read. From the perspective of providing feedback, this is also beneficial as students would not necessarily see your annotations until after you ask them to reload their document.

Beyond having students use DocHub for active reading, it could also be useful for assessments. With DocHub, students can fill in PDF forms and teachers can even create templates that would allow multiple people to fill in copies of a single document. Much like many of the PDF annotation apps for iOS and Android, DocHub is an excellent option for the Chrome browser and Chrome OS.

Looking to learn more about Reading, Writing, & Research this summer? Beth will be leading Summer Workshops for EdTechTeacher in Boston, MA in July.

Ready or Not...The New Google Drive UI is Coming to You

For over a year now Google has been pushing a new user interface on users. You've probably seen it and you might have even reverted back to the old user interface as I did for a while. Soon you won't have a choice between the old and new interface. Last Friday Google announced that beginning on July 7 all Google Apps users will lose the ability to revert to the old Google Drive user interface.

The change from the old Google Drive user interface to the new UI will not impact the files you have saved in your account or how you go about using Docs, Sheets, Slides, and Forms. The change may impact where your files appear in your Google Drive dashboard and could change the way you sort some files. It took me a couple of a days to adjust. Since that initial adjustment period I haven't had any problems using the new Google Drive UI.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Knoword - A Fun and Challenging Vocabulary Game

Knoword is a fun and challenging game that tests your ability to match definitions to words. Knoword is played like this; you're presented with the first letter of a word, its part of speech, and the definition. You then have to fill in the correct spelling of the word. If you enter the correct word, you earn points. If you don't get it right, you lose points.

You don't have to register to play Knoword, but you can register if you want to. Registering for Knoword gives you the option to keep track of your game statistics. Registered users can also earn badges based on their performances.

Applications for Education
In the few games that I played I noticed that Knoword is probably best suited to use by students in middle school and high school. I think many of the words would be too difficult for elementary school students and they could end up frustrated with the game. For middle school and high school students though Knoword could be a fun way to refresh their memories of words they already know and add new words to their vocabularies.

Book Creator for Windows - Create Multimedia eBooks

Book Creator has long been a popular iPad and Android app for creating multimedia ebooks. Today, the developers of Book Creator released a Windows version of the app.

Book Creator for Windows (Windows 8.1 or higher required) allows anyone to create his or her own ebooks using images, text, videos, and audio recordings. You can arrange your book in three different formats; portrait, square, or landscape. Each page in your book can include pictures and videos. In addition to the pictures and videos you can include as much as text as you can fit on each page. In fact, if you just want to have text on a page you can do that. If you would like to narrate your book you can tap the record button to add your voice to each page of your book. Every page in your book can have a custom color scheme.


Book Creator for Windows from Book Creator on Vimeo.

Applications for Education
Book Creator can be a fantastic tool for students to use to create short stories or to create longer research papers that include multimedia elements.

10 Important Google Search Strategies for Students - A PDF Handout

Last summer the folks at Canva were kind enough to create a great infographic for me based on a set of search tips that I sent to them. The infographic makes a great poster to display in your classroom, but it is a little light on the details of how and why to use some of the search strategies. The PDF embedded below provides more detail on the search strategies that I frequently share with teachers and students.


Click here if you cannot see the embedded PDF.

A Quick Tip on Google Docs Formatting

This afternoon I was working on a document in Google Docs that included a list. I did want to use numbers for my list, but I didn't want to use the formatting that Google Documents was trying to force on me. I spent a few minutes of manually adjusting the formatting after Google Documents had inserted. That process worked, but it quickly became tedious. Rather than trying to continue to override the default formatting I just turned it off altogether by using the preferences settings in Google Documents.
Click image to view full size.

You can find the Preferences settings under the Tools drop-down menu in Google Documents. In the Preferences menu you can turn off automatic list detection, set link detection, and specify all kinds of automatic character replacements.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

5 Online Tools for Creating Picture Books

My recent about Jellybean Writer, an online picture book maker, was one last week's most popular posts. If you missed it, I have a description of it below along with four other good tools for creating picture books.

Using pictures as the basis for a story can be a good way to get students to write a story. The pictures can serve as prompts for writing the story. All five of the tools listed below have that capability.

Picture Book Maker allows students to create six page stories by dragging background scenes into a page, dragging in animals and props, and typing text. All of the elements can be sized an positioned to fit the pages. Text is limited to roughly two lines per page. Completed stories are displayed with simple page turning effects. Stories created on Picture Book Maker can be printed and or saved as PDFs.

MyStorybook is a nice online tool for creating short storybooks. MyStorybook provides blank pages on which you can type, draw, and place clipart. Your storybook pages can also include pictures that you upload. After signing into your MyStorybook account you can start creating your first book. Click on the text fields to edit any existing text in the title and author fields. You can add more text by clicking "text" in the editing menu. To add a picture of your own select "items" in the editing menu. At the bottom of the "items" menu you will find an option to upload your own images. MyStorybook provides lots of stock imagery that you can place on a page or use as the background to a page. If you want to branch-out beyond text and images, use the drawing tools on your pages.

Storybird provides templates and artwork for creating digital stories. To use Storybird you simply select a theme (layout) then drag and drop the drawings you like into your story. Once you've selected drawings for your story, you then write in the text of your story. Using Storybird, anyone can create great-looking digital picture book stories regardless of your drawing skills or lack of drawing skills. Storybird can be used on your iPad. The video embedded below demonstrates how.


Storybird Editor from Storybird on Vimeo.


Alphabet Organizer is a great little tool from Read Write Think that students can use to create alphabet charts and books. The idea behind Alphabet Organizer is to help students make visual connections between letters of the alphabet and the first letter of common words. In the video below I demonstrate how to use this tool.



Jellybean Writer is a free tool for creating picture books. Students can import pictures from their computers then write captions for each image. A variety of layout templates, background colors, and fonts are available to Jellybean Writer users. All stories can be saved online or downloaded and printed. If picture books are too simple for your students, they can skip using pictures and select one of the text only templates for the pages in their books.

10 Good Apps & Sites for Creative Writing Projects

Developing fiction stories comes easily to some students. For others it can be a struggle to come up with ideas for fiction stories. The apps and sites in the PDF embedded below can help students start creative stories. A few of the tools in the document will also help you provide your students with feedback on their stories.


Click here if cannot see the embedded document.

10 Resources for Teaching and Learning About Weather

It's a rainy Sunday morning here in Maine. I'm sure the rain put a damper on a few picnics today. It certainly caused a change in my plans for the day. But at least the rain inspired me to look back at some of the many resources for teaching and learning about weather that I have reviewed over the years. Here are ten resources for teaching and learning about weather.

The History of the Barometer. This TED-Ed lesson covers the history, development, and use of barometers in forecasting the weather.




Why Are There Clouds? is a relatively new Minute Earth video that explains how clouds are formed and how they rise or fall in the sky. The nice thing about Minute Earth videos is that a list of references is included in each video's description on YouTube.



Thirstin's Water Cycle takes students on an animated and narrated tour of the water cycle from water, to vapor, to clouds, to rain. Thirstin's Tour of a Water Treatment Plant takes students on a narrated tour through a typical water treatment facility found in the United States.

Waterlife is an interactive story about the water cycle in the Great Lakes. Waterlife is a twenty part story through which students can learn about the role of water in our lives. Through the story students learn about things like fishing, pollution, invasive species, wetlands, and the politics of water conservation. When students select a part of the Waterlife story they will be able to hear narration, see visuals, and read the text of the story. Some parts of the story also contain links to external resources that student can explore.

Scholastic's Interactive Weather Maker is an activity in which students adjust temperatures and humidity levels to create rain and snow storms. Students simply move the temperature and humidity sliders until rain or snow begins to show up in the scene on their screens.

The Smithsonian Science Education Center's Weather Lab is a simple online activity designed to help elementary and middle school students learn about weather patterns. In the Weather Lab students select an ocean current and an air mass then try to predict the weather pattern that will result from their choices. The Weather Lab provides an overview of the characteristics of each air mass and ocean current. Students should use that information in making their weather predictions.  After making their predictions the Weather Lab will tell students if they were correct or not. In the feedback given to students they will find links to videos for further learning about each weather pattern featured in the Weather Lab.

The following short explanatory video from Presh Talwalkar explains how windchill is calculated


Wild Weather Kitchen Experiments is a short series of instructional videos produced by The Open University. Each of the four videos in the series features a short lesson followed by directions for an experiment that you can carry out to see the lesson's concepts in action. The four lessons are on avalanches, tornadoes, floods, and dust storms.

Television news reporters like to use the word "extreme" whenever we have a lot of rain or snow in a short amount of time. Is the weather really "extreme" or is that just our impression of it? The following Minute Earth video takes on the topic of how extreme weather affects our thinking about weather patterns in general. I found the video to be interesting from a psychology perspective. The video is embedded below.



The following episode of Bytesize Science embedded below explains how snowflakes are created.


Videos like those in the list above are excellent candidates to be used as parts of flipped lessons. VideoNotes, Vialogues, and EDpuzzle are solid tools for hosting discussions around shared educational videos.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

The Week in Review - The Traffic Lights

Good morning from sunny Woodstock, Maine where I'm home after a great week in which I spent time with teachers in Nappannee, Indiana. A big thank you to all of Val Anglemyer and Jim Bennett for making that possible. While I was in the school I noticed a set of traffic lights in the cafeteria. I was curious about them and asked what they were for. The lights are connected to a sound meter so that the students can see when they are being too loud during lunch. I thought it was a clever strategy.

Here are this week's most popular posts:
1. 7 Tools for Building Review Games
2. 20 Good Map Creation Tools for Students
3. How to Get Your School Announcements to as Many People as Possible
4. 10+ Resources for Learning About the Math and Science of Sports
5. Use Your Phone to Control Google Slides Remotely
6. Jellybean Writer - An Online Tool for Creating Picture Books
7. 5 Good Online Educational Resources from the Smithsonian Museums

Summer PD Opportunities With Me.
Teaching History With Technology begins in July.
Getting Going With GAFE is offered in June and July.
Blogs & Social Media for Teachers and School Leaders is offered in July.

Would you like to have me visit your school? Click here to learn about my PD services.

Please visit the official advertisers that help keep this blog going.
Practical Ed Tech is the brand through which I offer PD webinars.
BoomWriter provides a fantastic tool for creating writing lessons. 
Storyboard That is my go-to tool for creating storyboards and cartoon stories.
MidWest Teachers Institute offers online graduate courses for teachers.
HelloTalk is a mobile community for learning a new language.
Discovery Education & Wilkes University offer online courses for earning Master's degrees in Instructional Media.
PrepFactory offers a great place for students to prepare for SAT and ACT tests.
The University of Maryland Baltimore County offers graduate programs for teachers.
Boise State University offers a 100% online program in educational technology.
EdTechTeacher is hosting host workshops in six cities in the U.S. in the summer.
SeeSaw is a great iPad app for creating digital portfolios.