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Monday, February 29, 2016

The Month in Review - February's Most Popular Posts

Good evening from Maine where while the month of February is coming to a close I am getting ready for my favorite March event, the NCTIES conference. As I do at the end of every month, I have compiled a list of the most popular posts of the month. The list is based on the number of views for all posts on the blog. You might notice that one of the items in the list was originally published in 2014 yet it was one of the most popular posts this month.


Here are this month's most popular posts:
1. 7 Tools for Creating Multimedia Quizzes Compared in One Chart
2. Click to Spin - A Fun and Free Random Name Picker
3. 7 Blogging Platforms for Teachers Compared and Ranked
4. 13 Google Forms Tutorial Videos
5. Six Timeline Creation Tools for Students Compared In an Updated Chart
6. 5 Good Google Tools for Social Studies Students
7. History in Motion - Create Multimedia History Stories
8. 35 Permission Slip Templates
9. Quizalize - Create Interactive Review Games to Play Synchronously or Asynchronously
10. How to Blur Faces & Objects in YouTube Videos

Professional Development Opportunities!
There will be two Practical Ed Tech Summer Camps this year. There will be one tailored to schools that have 1:1 Chromebook programs and one for everyone else. Both Practical Ed Tech Summer Camps will be held in July. You can learn more about them here. Discounted early registration is available now. The Practical Ed Tech Summer Camp has sold out every year for the last three years.

Would you like to have me speak at your school or conference?
Click here to learn about my professional development 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. 
SlideModel offers great PowerPoint templates for teachers. 
Storyboard That is my go-to tool for creating storyboards and cartoon stories.
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.

Three Free Tools Students Can Use to Dictate Notes

Food speech recognition software can be very pricey, but it doesn't have to be. If you're looking for some free speech to text options for your students consider trying the following three options.

Mic Note is a free Chrome and Android app that allows you to create voice recordings, text notes, and image-based notes on one concise notebook page. The notes that you record with your voice can be time-stamped by clicking on your Mic Note note page while you're recording. You can also take notes without recording any audio. All notes support inclusion of images and links. The best part of Mic Note is that you can sync all of your notes to your Google Drive or Dropbox account. Watch the video below to see how you can create notes in Mic Note.



Google recently updated the voice command features in Google Documents. You can now use voice commands to do things like add and edit tables, select and highlight text, and format text. A complete list of voice commands can be found here.



Evernote users can make audio recordings on iOS and Android devices. Follow Evernote's directions available here to learn how to dictate a note on an iOS device.

Two Last Minute Lessons on Leap Year

Today is February 29th. My friend Rod's son is turning sixteen or four depending upon how you look at it. Why? Because there won't be another February 29 for four years. If you have students wondering why February 29th occurs only once every four years, share the following short videos.

The first video addresses the history and evolution of calendars. The second video deals purely with the mathematics of leap year.


Sunday, February 28, 2016

How Big Is The Sun? - And Five Other Lessons on the Size of the Universe

We had a beautiful winter sunset here in Woodstock, Maine tonight. It was a nice ending to a relaxing weekend. Watching the sunset while I was thinking about the week ahead prompted this post about the size of the sun and the scale of the universe.

How Big Is The Sun? is a short video that was released by Minute Physics. The video does a good job of putting the size of the sun into perspective that most students of middle school age or older should be able to understand.


The Scale of the Universe 2 features a huge selection of objects in the universe that are arranged according to size and scale. You can zoom-in on the image to objects as small as neutrinos and quarks or as large as planets, constellations, and galaxies. When you click on an object in The Scale of the Universe 2 a small window of information about that object pops up.


3D Solar System Web is a neat website that I discovered through the Chrome web store. 3D Solar System Web features a narrated tour of the solar system beginning at the sun and working out through all of the planets. The tour explains the classifications of each planet, how long it takes each planet to orbit the sun, and each planet's unique features.

Magnifying the Universe is an interactive infographic that allows you to see the size of atoms, animals, buildings, mountains, planets, stars, and galaxies in relation to other objects in the universe.

100,000 Stars is a Google Chrome Web GL Experiment that does a good job of helping viewers understand the scale of the universe. 100,000 Stars is a visualization of the 100,000 stars closest to Earth. You can view the stars on your own or take an automated tour of the stars. that also does a good job of helping viewers understand the scale of the universe. 100,000 Stars is a visualization of the 100,000 stars closest to Earth. You can view the stars on your own or take an automated tour of the stars. 

The Known Universe is a six minute video tour of the known universe that starts with Earth's biggest mountains in the Himalaya and zooms out from there. Watch the video below.

200+ Practical Ed Tech Tutorial Videos

Over the last fourteen months I've steadily created screencast videos for my Practical Ed Tech Tips playlist. That playlist now contains more than 200 tutorial videos.

In the playlist you will find videos about tools for flipping your classroom, videos on managing workflow, social media tips, search strategies, and media production. The playlist also contains videos about tools like Remind, Duolingo, ClassDojo, Classtools, Photos for Class, and many other popular web services for teachers and students. The entire playlist is embedded below.


You can subscribe to my YouTube channel to be notified whenever I publish a new Practical Ed Tech tutorial video.

Why Do Dogs Tilt Their Heads? - And Two Other Interesting Dog Lessons

My dog Max, like a lot of other dogs, tilts his head whenever I ask him a question like "do you want to go for a ride?" or "do you want a treat?" I assume that Max does this because he's excited. But there may be other reasons why Max and other dogs tilt their heads. The following Brain Stuff video explains three reasons why dogs tilt their heads.


Be a Dog Detective is an article and video that illustrates what a dog's body language can tell you. The visuals show examples of happy dogs, scared dogs, territorial dogs, and dogs that want to play. Further, Be a Dog Detective shows you when it might be safe to pet a dog and when to leave a dog alone. The video is embedded below.


How Do Dogs "See" With Their Noses? is a TED-Ed lesson that provides a great explanation of how a dog's nose works. The most interesting part of the video is the explanation of how dogs' senses of smell allow them to identify friends, foes, and potential threats. The video is embedded below. You can find the full lesson here.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

The Week in Review - The Most Popular Posts of the Week

Good evening from the Free Technology for Teachers World Headquarters in Woodstock, Maine. This week Max and I had two visitors to my office. My friend Sam's dog named Humbird has stayed with us all week. Yesterday and today we've also hosted my friend Jess' puppy named Fionn. Max has been a good dog host by sharing his toys and treats.

In other news, I'm spending the weekend getting ready for the NCTIES conference in Raleigh, North Carolina. This will be my fifth year in a row at NCTIES. It is one of my favorite events of the year. If you're going to be there, please say hello.

Here are this week's most popular posts:
1. 13 Google Forms Tutorial Videos
2. Six Timeline Creation Tools for Students Compared In an Updated Chart
3. History in Motion - Create Multimedia History Stories
4. 35 Permission Slip Templates
5. Click to Spin - A Fun and Free Random Name Picker
6. How to Blur Faces & Objects in YouTube Videos
7. 7 Blogging Platforms for Teachers Compared and Ranked

Professional Development Opportunities!
There will be two Practical Ed Tech Summer Camps this year. There will be one tailored to schools that have 1:1 Chromebook programs and one for everyone else. Both Practical Ed Tech Summer Camps will be held in July. You can learn more about them here. Discounted early registration is available now. The Practical Ed Tech Summer Camp has sold out every year for the last three years.

Would you like to have me speak at your school or conference?
Click here to learn about my professional development 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. 
SlideModel offers great PowerPoint templates for teachers. 
Storyboard That is my go-to tool for creating storyboards and cartoon stories.
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.

Friday, February 26, 2016

How to Create Interactive Writing Assignments to Share Through Google Classroom

Wizer is a neat tool for creating a variety of interactive assignments including writing assignments, multiple choice quizzes, and labeling assignments. You can distribute your Wizer activities to your students through Google Classroom or through the use of a link and pin system.

In the video embedded below I provide a demonstration of how to create an assignment in Wizer, how to distribute it, and how to view your students' responses to an assignment.

Open eBooks - Thousands of Free eBooks for Students and Teachers

Thanks to Larry Ferlazzo this morning learned about a new program that will provide Title I schools with access to thousands of free ebooks. Open eBooks is a program organized by the White House's ConnectED initiative. Through the program Title 1 schools as well as libraries, preschools, and community programs serving populations that have 70% or more students in need can access thousands of free ebooks on iOS or Android devices.

The ebooks in the Open eBooks collection come from the following publishing partners Bloomsbury, Candlewick, Cricket Media, Hachette, HarperCollins, Lee & Low, Macmillan, National Geographic Kids, Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster. Through the Open eBooks app students can access up to ten books at a time.

To register for the Open eBooks program, click here. You can find all of the qualifications for the Open eBooks program here.


Improved Voice Commands and More New Google Apps Features Released This Week

A few months ago Google adding voice typing as a native feature in Google Docs. This week they improved the voice typing feature by adding a slew of new commands. You can now use voice commands to do things like add and edit tables, select and highlight text, and format text. A complete list of voice commands can be found here.


The Google Sheets Android app received an update this week. The next time you update the app you will be able to view images that are included in your spreadsheets.

The Google Slides Android app was updated this week. The latest version of the app allows you to choose and change the themes of your presentations.

Applications for Education
Of these three updates, the improved voice typing is the most significant one for students and teachers. Voice typing and voice commands in Google Docs should prove to be a benefit to students who need more accessibility options in Google Documents. For more about Google Docs accessibility see the Google Apps user guide to accessibility.

Padlet Adds Helpful New Attachment Previews

Padlet is a fantastic tool that I have used and recommended countless times over the years. My tutorial video about it is the most viewed video in my YouTube channel. This week Padlet introduced some improvements that might not jump out at you right away, but will be helpful to you in the long run.

You have always been able to add attachments to your sticky notes on Padlet. Now those attachments will be color coded to give you a better preview of the file. Attachments will be color coded as follows:
Audio = purple, Video = yellow, Image = pink, Document (including slideshows and spreadsheets) = green, Link = blue, Everything else (zip file, e.g.) = grey. Image preview sizes have been shrunk to allow for better and more consistent viewing on mobile devices.

Applications for Education
Here are five ways that I frequently use Padlet:

Padlet as a simple blogging platform:
Padlet walls can be arranged in free-form, grid, or stream layouts. Creating a Padlet page in the stream format could be a good way to create a simple, collaborative blog for students. You could create the page, select "stream" format, and make the page accessible for students to write short posts on. Their posts could include images and videos. If you want to, you can password protect your Padlet pages and moderate messages before they appear on your Padlet page.

Padlet Mini as a bookmarking tool:
Padlet Mini is a Chrome extension that you can use to bookmark websites. When you click the Padlet Mini extension in your browser you will be presented with the option to save to one of your existing walls or create a new Padlet wall. Click here for a video on using Padlet Mini.

Padlet as a KWL chart:
Padlet can be used to create a KWL chart that students can contribute to anonymously (or not anonymously if you want them to sign-in). Create a wall, make it public, and ask students to share what they know and what they want to know about a topic. If you allow anonymous posting you might get contributions from shy students who might not otherwise speak-up in class. Of course, if you allow anonymous commenting you should have a conversation with your students about what an appropriate comment looks like. (You could also turn on moderation and approve all notes before they appear). Padlet works well when projected on an interactive whiteboard.

Padlet for group research and discussion:
A few years ago I showed my special education students a short (18 minutes) video about cultural changes that took place in the US during the 1920's. After the video we discussed what they saw. Then I had students search online for other examples of cultural change in the 1920's. When they found examples they put them onto a Wallwisher (Padlet's previous name) wall that I projected onto a wall in my classroom. The wall started with just text being added to the wall and quickly progressed to YouTube videos being added to the wall. Once every student had added a video to the wall we stopped, watched the videos, and discussed them.

Padlet as a showcase of your students’ work:
If your students are creating digital portfolios, creating slideshows, or producing videos you could use Padlet to display all of your students’ best work on one page. Create the wall, call it something like “my best work this year,” and have your students post links to their works.

How to Blur Faces & Objects in YouTube Videos

Sharing video highlights of school events can be a great way to build community interest in the good things that are happening in your school. The challenge that many teachers and administrators run into is making sure that the privacy requests of parents are honored.

In the past YouTube offered an automatic face blurring tool, but it was a bit crude as it blurred all faces including those that you might want to show like your own. This week YouTube introduced a better object and face blurring tool. In the YouTube video editor you can now select which faces and objects you want to blur in your videos.

In the video embedded below I demonstrate how to blur faces and objects in your YouTube videos.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Six Timeline Creation Tools for Students Compared In an Updated Chart

Last August I published a chart in which I compared the core features of six online timeline creation tools. Since then one of the tools, Dipity, seems to have gone offline. In its place I now feature History In Motion which allows students to create timelines that are synchronized with placemarks on a map. My complete chart of timeline creation tools for students is embedded below. You can also get the Google Docs version here.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Join Me This Summer for the Practical Ed Tech Summer Camps

All winter people have been asking if I will be hosting the Practical Ed Tech Summer Camp again this year. I’m excited to announce that not only will I be hosting the Practical Tech Summer Camp this year, I’ll be doing it twice!

This summer I will host the Practical Ed Tech BYOD Camp on July 11-12, 2016 and the Practical Ed Tech Chromebook Camp on July 18-19, 2016.

The Practical Ed Tech BYOD Camp is for people who work in schools that have BYOD programs and 1:1 laptop programs (Mac or Windows), iPads, Android tablets, Windows tablets, or who have shared computers in a classroom or lab setting. Click here to register or to read more information. Registration is limited to 25 people.

The Practical Ed Tech Chromebook Camp is for people who work in schools that have 1:1 Chromebook programs or are interested in learning more about Chromebooks in education. This two day event is very similar to the BYOD event but is tailored to address the unique aspects of teaching with Chromebooks. As you might expect, there will be quite a bit of attention given to using Google Apps in the classroom. Click here to register or to read more information.

Subscriber discount! People who are subscribed to the PracticalEdTech.com newsletter can receive an additional $25 discount on early registrations completed online. Send me an email richardbyrne (at) freetech4teachers(dot)com for details on how to get that discount.

The 2016 Google Science Fair is Now Open

The 2016 Google Science Fair is now open. This annual event asks thirteen to eighteen year old students to carry out a test or experiment on a topic that they are passionate about and then submit their projects online. The theme of this year's Google Science Fair is on improving a process, solving a global problem, or generally making change through science. To that end the 2016 Google Science has a slogan of "#howcanwe make things better with science?"

To help students develop project ideas the Google Science Fair website offers a Make Better Generator. The Make Better Generator site asks students to complete the phrases "I love," "I'm good at," and "I will make better." From the students' responses to these questions the Make Better Generator site generates a collection of videos and websites that could spark project ideas in their minds.
Entries into the 2016 Google Science Fair are due by May 18th.


Applications for Education
The Google Science Fair website includes a section for teachers in which you will find lesson plans addressing the topics of how science changes the world and what good science looks like. These lesson plans are designed to guide students in the processes of inquiry and experiment design.

Organize Research While Creating Slides on Buncee

For years I've used the slideshow creation process as a means of organizing my thoughts. I teach the same idea to students. The process of sequencing slides and elements within slides can help students organize the ideas that they will later write about in a research paper or persuasive article. Buncee is one of the tools that students can use in that process.

Last month I wrote a post in which I featured Buncee's integrated image search. The integrated image search within Buncee makes it easy for students to find appropriate images and animations to use within their multimedia slide presentations. Organizing slides within Buncee is a simple drag-and-drop process. Using the drag-and-drop process can be a good way for students to organize their thoughts and their research.

To get started organizing ideas in Buncee students can search for images, videos, animations, and audio files related to their chosen keywords. Once they have found media assets that they like students can drag and drop them into place on their slides. The drawing tools within Buncee slides can be used by students to draw connections between items in their slides. If students create slides out of order or later decide that there is a better sequence, they can simply drag and drop slides into a new order.



Disclosure: Buncee is a client of MindRocket Media Group. I am a partner in MindRocket Media Group.

Tagboard Offers New Features for Following Hashtags Across Multiple Networks

Tagboard is a tool that allows you follow a hashtag and see all of the Tweets, Instagram, Facebook, and Google+ posts about it in one place. Last year I created a tutorial video about Tagboard in which I demonstrated its primary features. Today, Tagboard added some new features that teachers will probably appreciate.

Tagboard now offers some post moderation tools. You can now block or remove posts and users within a saved Tagboard. Within a saved Tagboards you can now filter by keyword, post type, and or social network.

Applications for Education
Tagboard can be a good tool for tracking trending news stories with your students. The new moderation features will be helpful if you are planning to display a Tagboard in your classroom. Before displaying the Tagboard go through and remove any content that you don't want to share with your students.


Monday, February 22, 2016

Wizer - Create Interactive Writing Activities to Share Through Google Classroom

Wizer is a free service that bills itself as a tool for creating "blended worksheets." While that is a fine a description I think it doesn't tell the whole story of what can be done through Wizer.

On Wizer you can create interactive writing assignments in a couple of ways. You can create fill-in-the-blank activities that provide students with instant feedback as they work. The other style of writing assignment that you can create on Wizer is an interactive image assignment. You can upload an image and have students label it. As they write their labels they can receive feedback as to whether or not they labeled the image correctly. In that regard it is like Thinglink but with a quiz component.

In addition to writing activities, you can use Wizer to create multiple choice, matching, and open-ended question activities. All of the activities that you create on Wizer can be shared to your students through Google Classroom. If you do not have Google Classroom you can share your activities by giving students a link and an activity pin code.
The following video provides an overview of how to create an assignment on Wizer.

Newsela Offers Text Sets About the 2016 Election

Newsela is a popular service that aims to help teachers find current events articles that are appropriate for their students' age and reading abilities. For the 2016 presidential campaign Newsela is offering a section devoted just to news about campaigns, primary election results, and caucus outcomes.

The articles in the campaign 2016 collection come from Newsela's publishing partners which include The Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, and the Associated Press along with many other notable publishers. You can search for articles according to campaign issue, language (some articles are available in Spanish), and reading level.

Applications for Education
One of the challenges of teaching lessons about the 2016 election or any election is finding issues and articles that seem relevant to our students. Newsela's campaign 2016 collection could be helpful in locating differentiated articles that you can use to engage students in lessons about the election season.

Google's Guides to Apps Accessibility

This morning I received an email from a reader who wanted to know if I had any resources about user accessibility of Google Apps. I couldn't think of a better resource to share than Google's own guides to Google Apps accessibility.

Google offers two Google Apps accessibility guides. There is a guide for administrators and a guide for users.

The Google Apps user guide to accessibility is designed for end users. The user guide is divided into sixteen sections. In the first section you will find recommendations for the best screen readers to use while using Google Apps on Mac, Windows, and Chrome OS computers. The other sections of the guide are devoted to specific products within the Google Apps suite including Google Classroom. Each section contains information on accessibility shortcuts, screen reader instructions for each app, and in some sections you will find how to videos like this one for using a screen reader with Google Docs.


The Google Apps administrator guide to accessibility covers much of what you will find in the user guide, but also includes recommended settings to apply within your Google Apps admin console.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Collaboratively Create Reminders & Task Lists on Pinside

Pinside is a free online sticky note service. Pinside can be used to create boards of notes for yourself or boards to share with others. You can create a mix of private and shared notes within one account. Sticky notes on shared Pinside boards are designed for creating to-do lists. As each item on the the notes is completed you and or your collaborators can delete completed items.

Applications for Education
Pinside could be a good little tool for students working on group projects to assign tasks to each other and check them off as they go. Pinside could also be used by students to create a board of action items for each of the courses that they are taking.

Elementary School Lessons About Fossils and Rocks

The American Geosciences Institute produces K-5 GeoSource which is a site that hosts lesson plans and other educational resources for teachers. K-5 GeoSource has a very Web 1.0 look to it, but if you do a little digging you'll find some helpful materials. A few of the resources that I looked at were this free chart about types of rocks (link opens PDF), a science fair project guide, and a short Earth scientist career guide.

Applications for Education
As I mentioned above, K-5 GeoSource isn't the fanciest site you'll find on the web and it lacks any kind of interactive element for students. If you just need to find some ideas to use in your classroom, K-5 GeoSource could be worth bookmarking. The most useful aspect of the site might be the science fair project guide that you and your students could work through to plan a hands-on Earth science project.

Summarize the Day With Pic Collage

Creating collages can be a good way for students to organize their thoughts in a visual manner. In creating their collages they are organizing images that may later become writing prompts for them. I've had students create collages as a way to summarize field trips. Pic Collage is the app that I like for doing that activity. Pic Collage is a free app available for Android and iOS devices. The collage you see above is a very basic use of the app on my Android phone.

After creating a collage students can add interactive elements to it by using Thinglink. Watch the two videos that I made and embedded below to learn how to use Pic-Collage and ThingLink to create interactive collages.


Saturday, February 20, 2016

The Week in Review - Thinking About Summer on the Coldest Day of Winter

Skiing across Moosehead Lake.
Good morning from Maine where the snow flurries are reminding us that winter is still here. Last Sunday we had the coldest day of the year at -17F! It was on that day that I announced that there will be two Practical Ed Tech Summer Camps this year. There will be one tailored to schools that have 1:1 Chromebook programs and one for everyone else. Both Practical Ed Tech Summer Camps will be held in July. You can learn more about them here. Discounted early registration is available now. The Practical Ed Tech Summer Camp has sold out every year for the last three years.

Here are this week's most popular posts:
1. 7 Tools for Creating Multimedia Quizzes Compared in One Chart
2. Quizalize - Create Interactive Review Games to Play Synchronously or Asynchronously
3. 3D Printers in Elementary School
4. PicLits - Inspire Creative Stories Through Pictures
5. 7 Blogging Platforms for Teachers Compared and Ranked
6. How to Create Video-based Quizzes on Blubbr
7. How to Use Find & Replace in Google Docs

Would you like to have me speak at your school or conference?
Click here to learn about my professional development 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. 
SlideModel offers great PowerPoint templates for teachers. 
Storyboard That is my go-to tool for creating storyboards and cartoon stories.
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.

35 Permission Slip Templates

If you have ever organized a field trip, you have probably had to gather permission slips signed by your students' parents. Your school might have a standardized template for permission slips or it might not. Should you find yourself having to create your own permission slips and field trip letters, take a look at the templates available on Template Lab.

On Template Lab you will find 35 permission slip and field trip letter templates. All of the templates are available to download for free. The downloads are Word files that you can edit to meet your specific needs.

Before you start writing a permission slip or field trip letter from scratch, take a look at Template Lab.

A Crash Course on Philosophy

Last fall I shared more than 100 animated lessons about philosophy. This week, through Open Culture, I learned about a new Crash Course in philosophy. The new video course stars Hank Green talking about the origins of philosophical thinking. As I've come to expect with Hank and John Green there is a fair amount of sarcasm in the videos. So far two segments of the course have been published. Both segments are included in the playlist embedded below.


H/T to Open Culture.

Friday, February 19, 2016

7 Blogging Platforms for Teachers Compared and Ranked

Last week I published an updated version of one my popular ed tech tools comparison charts. That chart was about creating multimedia quizzes. This afternoon I updated my chart of seven blogging tools for teachers. The chart is available as a Google Doc or as a PDF embedded below. Unlike some of my other charts, at the bottom of this one I included my ranking of the tools. That ranking is also written below the chart embedded into this post.


1. WordPress.org - If you have the technical accumen or the time to learn it (it’s not that hard), self-hosting a blog that runs on WordPress software will give you the ultimate in control and flexibility. You will be able to create and manage student accounts, have a nearly infinite variety of customizations, and you’ll be able to move your blog from server to server whenever you want to. That said, you will have to pay for hosting (or convince your school to give you server space) and you will be responsible for maintaining security updates and backing-up your blog regularly.

2. Blogger - It’s free and easy to set-up. It can be integrated into your Google Apps for Education account which means that you and your students can use the same usernames and passwords that they use in all other Google tools. You can make your blog private (up to 100 members invited by email). The drawback to it is that a lot of school filters flag it as “social media” and block it on those grounds.

3. Weebly for Education - It’s free to have up to 40 students in your account. You can manage your students’ accounts. You can have students contribute to a group blog and or let them manage their own individual blogs.

4. Edublogs or Kidblog - Both services allow you to manage your students’ accounts. Both require you to pay for a subscription in order to get the features that you really want. Those features include embedding videos and other media from third party sites. Both services are powered by WordPress. I give a slight edge to Edublog because they have proven, outstanding customer support. Edublogs also offers mobile apps while Kidblog does not.

5. SeeSaw.me - SeeSaw was originally launched as a digital portfolio tool. The addition of a blogging component was made in January 2016. The blogging component of SeeSaw allows you to import and display your students’ digital artifacts publicly or privately. There is not much you can do with SeeSaw in terms of customization of layout and color scheme. SeeSaw is free for teachers and students to use, but charges parents for access to see their students’ digital portfolios.

6. WordPress.com - It’s easy to use and is free, but with some serious limitations at the free level. The free version displays advertising on your blog which you cannot control. The free version also doesn’t allow embedding content from many third-party sites.

The Instructional Technology Tool I Recommend in Email More Than Any Other

Every week I receive at least a handful of emails from readers who have watched one of my Practical Ed Tech tutorial videos and wanted to know how I created the video. Often those people want to know how I get the yellow circle to appear around my cursor in my videos. The answer to both questions is, I use Screencast-o-Matic to create my instructional videos.

Screencast-O-Matic is available in a free version and a pro version. The free version allows you to record for up to fifteen minutes at a time (that is plenty of time for most screencasts), publish to YouTube in HD, and save videos to your computer as MP4, AVI, and FLV files. The pro version ($15/year) includes video editing tools, unlimited recording lengths, a script tool, and removal of the Screencast-O-Matic watermark. Both versions of Screencast-O-Matic include a highlighted circle around your cursor so that viewers can easily follow your movements on the screen. A webcam recording option is included in the free and pro versions of Screencast-O-Matic.
Click image for full size. 

Screencast-O-Matic won't work on Chromebooks. I recommend using Screencastify or Snagit for Chrome to create a screencast video on a Chromebook.

On a MacBook you can use QuickTime to create a screencast video.

Applications for Education
Screencast videos can be helpful in delivering instruction on how to use a program on a computer or how to use a website. You can also use screencasting tools to create short flipped lessons by capturing yourself talking over a set of slides that you display on your screen.  

13 Google Forms Tutorial Videos

Last week the new version of Google Forms became the default version in many Google Accounts. But, as many people have pointed out to me, not all Google Accounts have made the transition. This is particularly true in Google Apps for Education accounts. Therefore, I put together a new playlist of Google Forms tutorials that includes videos demonstrating features of the new version of the Google Forms and the older version of Google Forms. By the way, for the time being, you can revert to the older version at any time.

In my new Google Forms tutorials playlist you will find videos demonstrating how to customize both the old and new versions of Google Forms, how to install Add-ons in both versions, and you will find tutorials on some of my favorite Google Forms Add-ons. The new playlist is embedded below.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Fun Math Activities for Parents To Do With Their Kids

Bedtime Math is a great site on which you can locate fun mathematics activities for elementary school and middle school students. The activities are designed for students to do at home with their parents. Of course, the activities could also be used in your classroom. The Bedtime Math activities incorporate common household objects. Today's lesson is about the comparative values

In addition to the written math lessons Bedtime Math has a few math videos that you may want to check out. I've embedded a couple of them below.


Growth Mindset - Big Ideas for the Classroom

Last month ClassDojo launched a new video series that they are calling Big Ideas. The series is all about growth mindset as it pertains to classrooms. The series introduces students, parents, and teachers to big ideas or trends in education. ClassDojo's Big Ideas does this through the use of videos and accompanying discussion guides. The fifth installment in the Big Ideas series was released this week. This installment, embedded below, teaches students about the importance of attitude when facing a challenge in learning something new.


A discussion guide for the video can be found here.

C-SPAN Offers a Free Electoral College Poster and Lesson Plans

C-SPAN Classroom is one of my go-to sources of ideas for lessons on current events related to U.S. government and politics. Membership in C-SPAN Classroom is free and provides members with lots of digital and physical resources. One of the resources C-SPAN Classroom is currently offering to members is a poster about the Electoral College.

C-SPAN's 2016 Electoral College Map shows the number of Electoral votes each state has in 2016. The poster also includes the Electoral vote and popular vote tallies of the every election dating back to 1900. You can get a copy of the poster here.

Applications for Education
The poster on its own is nice, but students will need some guidance in understanding what all of the information really means. To that end C-SPAN Classroom offers a set of guiding questions to use with your students in conjunction with the 2016 Electoral College Map.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Quizalize - Create Interactive Review Games to Play Synchronously or Asynchronously

There is certainly not a shortage of interactive quiz platforms available to teachers today. Platforms like Socrative and Kahoot have turned boring review activities into fun games that students want to play all the time. The trouble with those platforms is that to get the most out of them all of your students need to play at the same time. That's where Quizalize is trying to be distinguish itself in a crowded market.

Quizalize is a quiz game platform that will remind you of Socrative or Kahoot. Like Kahoot, students play your quiz games on their laptops or tablets by going to the Quizalize website then entering their names and a class code. Students are awarded points for correctly answering questions quickly. Students are given feedback instantly on every quiz question that they answer. A total score is presented to students at the end of every quiz. What's different about Quizalize is that you can have students play a quiz game as a classroom activity or you an assign to them to play at home. Either way that they play students receive immediate feedback and can track their own progress on a game when they play it multiple times.

In the video embedded below I provide an overview of how to create, distribute, and track quiz games in Quizalize.

How to Use Find & Replace in Google Docs

The latest addition to my playlist of more than 90 Google Apps tutorials videos addresses a question that I received in my email this morning and probably receive every few weeks. That question is, "does Google Docs have a 'find and replace' function?" The answer is yes. You can locate "find and replace" in Google Docs under the "edit" menu or use "ctrl + H" to open the menu. The video embedded below demonstrates how to find and use "find and replace" function in Google Docs.

A Convenient New Way to See Who Has Access to Your Google Drive Folders

Creating shared Google Drive folders provides teachers and students with a great way to contribute to a pool of B-roll media, to share study guides, or to collaborate on research projects. Keeping track of who has access to those folders can be a bit cumbersome. That will soon change as Google announced yesterday that a new view of shared Google Drive folders is coming soon. Over the next couple of weeks you will notice a new "people icon" to Google Drive folders. You will now be able to hover your cursor over the "people icon" to see a list of people who have access to your folders.

Applications for Education
The best way to have students avoid accidentally using copyrighted images or videos in their own projects is to use media that they've created themselves. One of the strategies that I frequently recommend to teachers as a way to help students avoid any copyright issues in their work is to use media from a classroom b-roll gallery. You can build this gallery by having students contribute pictures, video clips, and sounds to a shared Google Drive folder. In the video below I demonstrate how to create a shared Google Drive folder.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

PicLits - Inspire Creative Stories Through Pictures

PicLits is an excellent site for finding creative writing prompts. PicLits aims to provide inspiration for writing short stories. PicLits tries to reach this goal by providing users with images upon which they can build their writing. To get writers started, PicLits provides a list of words which can be dragged and dropped into sentence form. If you don't want to use or don't need a word list, you can select the "freestyle" option to begin free-form writing.

Applications for Education
The idea of PicLits is not to write a full story within the images, but rather to use the images as the inspiration for longer pieces. In that regard PicLits could be a good source of inspiration for the reluctant writers in your classroom.

4 Videos That Help Students & Parents Understand Financial Aid

The FAFSA and financial aid packages offered by universities can be difficult for the first-time college student to navigate. And if you're a first generation college student it can be even more difficult because you may not know who to turn to for advice. Fortunately, a lot of high school guidance departments are doing more than ever to help students understand the FAFSA and financial aid. Planet Nutshell produced two good videos that will also help students and parents understand the FAFSA and financial aid. The videos are embedded below.


Choosing Financial Aid in a Nutshell from Planet Nutshell on Vimeo.



Borrow Wisely: FAFSA in a Nutshell from Planet Nutshell on Vimeo.

Understanding how federal student loans are different from private student loans can help students and their parents choose the best financial aid package. The following two videos, also from Planet Nutshell, do a nice job of explaining private vs. federal student loans.



Understanding Federal Student Loans in a Nutshell from Planet Nutshell on Vimeo.



Federal vs. Private Student Loans in a Nutshell from Planet Nutshell on Vimeo.

These videos were produced by Planet Nutshell with funding from the U.S. Depart of Education, the Utah Higher Education Assistance Authority, and the Utah Education Network.

5 Dice - A Fun Math Activity on iPads

5 Dice is a nice iPad app designed to provide students with a place to practice and develop their understanding of the order of operations.

The 5 Dice app presents students with a number that they have to write an equation for using all of the dice presented to them. When students think that they have created an equation that will result in the number given to them, they click "shoot" to hit the target number. If students have written a correct equation, 5 Dice will show them other equations that will also work. If they have not written a correct equation they will be prompted to try again.

Applications for Education
5 Dice is designed for upper elementary school and middle school students. In addition to the "target number game" students can simply use the app's whiteboard option to try out various ways to hit their target numbers.

Monday, February 15, 2016

The Electoral College Explained

We're choosing a new President of the United States this year. We're still in the primary and caucus phase of picking candidates. Once that's done we'll be moving toward the general election in the fall. But unlike other elections in which popular vote decides the winner, the president is chosen based on the outcome of the Electoral College votes. It's a bit of a complicated process. Both of the videos embedded below do a good job of succinctly explaining how the Electoral College works.

How the Electoral College Works, embedded below, gives a nice overview of the Electoral College. The video isn't perfect, I wish the producer had included that the number of Electoral votes a state receives is tied to the number of Senators and Representative it has. Instead the video simply stated that the number of Electoral votes is tied to population. Overall, it's not a bad summary of the Electoral College.


Another good video overview of the Electoral College can be found in Common Craft's Electing a US President in Plain English. The video can be viewed on YouTube, but cannot be embedded unless you're a subscriber to Common Craft's service. (Disclosure: I have an in-kind relationship with Common Craft).