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Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Week in Review

Good evening and Happy New Year from Maine. I'm celebrating the New Year by taking some cold medicine and going to bed early. I took some time off this week and immediately caught a miserable. cold. So miserable that I didn't even go skiing after we had a massive 22" snowfall on Thursday night. Hopefully, you have had a better holiday vacation week than I did.



Here are this week's most popular posts:
1. Two Ways to Visually Show Classroom Noise - Best of 2016
2. Blogging Platforms for Teachers Compared and Ranked - Best of 2016
3. 10 Sites and Apps for Vocabulary and Spelling Practice - Best of 2016
4. Kahoot Adds a Team Mode - Best of 2016
5. 15 Tools for Teaching History With Technology - Best of 2016
6. Great Tools for Creating Screencasts - Best of 2016
7. 5 Tips for New Chromebook Users - Best of 2016

Join me on Wednesday afternoon for Google Forms & Sheets for Beginners. If you're a history teacher, join me on January 9th for the start of Teaching History With Technology

Need a speaker for your conference? 
Click here to learn about my keynotes and workshops.

Please visit the official advertisers that help keep this blog going.
Practical Ed Tech is the brand through which I offer PD webinars.
Storyboard That is my go-to tool for creating storyboards.
QuickKey saves teachers tons of time when scoring formative assessments.
WriteReader is a fantastic multimedia writing tool for elementary school students.
Math Playground offers hundreds of math games and tutorial videos. 
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.
Boise State University offers a 100% online program in educational technology.
EdTechTeacher is hosts workshops in six cities in the U.S. in the summer.
My Simpleshow provides a great way to create explainer videos.

10 Ideas for Using Comics In Your Classroom - Best of 2016

As I usually do during this week, I'm taking some time off to relax, ski, and work on some long-term projects for the next year. This week I will be re-publishing the most popular posts of 2016. 

Over the last couple of months I've shared a handful of tools that students can use to create comics. I even conducted a webinar on the topic last month (the recording is available here). There is no shortage of tools for creating comics available to students. Regardless of which comic creation tool you choose to have students use, the ideas for using comics in your classroom are the same. Here are ten ways that your students can use comics in your classroom.

1. A fun alternative to traditional book reports.
Rather than just writing about a book, have your students illustrate their favorite parts of a book. Let them create illustrations of characters as they pictured the characters while reading a book. The Giver is a perfect candidate for this kind of alternative book report.

Another way to use comics for a book report is to have students illustrate an alternate ending to a favorite book. Or have them illustrate an epilogue to a book.

2. Create biographies.
For a history lesson have students pick a famous person and illustrate significant moments in that person's life. The further back in history, the better because students will have to really start to use their imaginations to illustrate scenes of people for whom there are few portraits or photographs.

3. Create autobiographies.
Let students tell stories from their own lives in a comic setting.

A variation on this idea is to have students depict themselves as the star of a superhero story.

4. Create goal or vision boards.
Many comic creation tools let students use a mix of pictures and illustrations. Let your students use that combination to illustrate their goals for the school year, for an athletic season, or as a response to  "where do you see yourself in five years?"

5. Illustrate procedures.
In elementary school classrooms you could have students create comics about appropriate recess behavior or lunch room behavior. With older students you might have them create a comic or storyboard about science lab safety concepts. A simple, one-frame comic tool like ToonyTool could be used by older students to create lab safety reminder signs.

6. Summarize events.
Students of all ages can use comics to create summaries of an event like a political debate. Or you might have students create comics about historical events. Pixton offers some extensive lesson plans based on that idea.

7. Craft a visual timeline of events.
Creating timelines is a classic social studies lesson activity. Have students enhance their timelines by creating comic summaries of the events on their timelines. They could create the timeline entirely in a tool like Storyboard That or they could create their comics then print them to add to an existing timeline they created on paper.

8. Write and illustrate fun fiction stories.
A lot of student struggle to write fiction stories when they're just given a blank document to write on. Comic creation tools often include lots of visuals that can help spark ideas in students' minds. Make Beliefs Comix offers a lot of fiction writing prompts for students.

9. Illustrate concepts and or vocabulary terms. 
Creating comics to illustrate the meaning of a vocabulary word is a fun alternative to simply writing definitions and studying flashcards.

10. Model polite conversations. 
A lot of schools use the parent-teacher-student model for first quarter and first trimester conferences. Before your conferences have your students illustrate how they would like the conference to go and how to phrase the things that they would like to say during the conference.

5 Tools for Creating Comics
Storyboard That and Pixton both offer comprehensive lesson plans that incorporate the ideas listed above. Of course, you don't need to use those tools to create great comics. You could also use Google Slides to create comics as I demonstrated in this video. To create simple, single frame comics you could try a tool like ToonyTool. Or you might try Make Beliefs Comix for creating comics in multiple languages. Make Beliefs Comix also provides PDF comic templates that you can print for your students.

Disclosure: Storyboard That and Pixton are advertisers on FreeTech4Teachers.com

A Cute Video About Email Etiquette for Students - Best of 2016

As I usually do during this week, I'm taking some time off to relax, ski, and work on some long-term projects for the next year. This week I will be re-publishing the most popular posts of 2016.

Next Vista for Learning is a unique video sharing website because it focuses on sharing videos made by students to help other students (you will also find some videos made by teachers). One good example of this can be found in Emailing Your Teacher, With Captain Communicator. The short video features two students demonstrating how to write an email to a teacher. It's cute and well worth 90 seconds of your time.


On a related note, the following video produced by a teacher and shared on YouTube outlines five email etiquette tips for students.

Practical Ed Tech Handbook - Best of 2016

As I usually do during this week, I'm taking some time off to relax, ski, and work on some long-term projects for the next year. This week I will be re-publishing the most popular posts of 2016. 

The Practical Ed Tech Handbook isn't just a list of my favorite resources. I've included ideas for using these resources and in many cases I've included links to video tutorials about my favorite resources. In The Practical Ed Tech Handbook you will find resources arranged in seven categories; communication with students & parents, web search strategies, digital citizenship, video creation, audio production, backchannels & informal assessment, and digital portfolios.

The Practical Ed Tech Handbook is embedded below. You can also grab a copy of it here.



The link and the embed above are both hosted by Box.com. If you cannot see the embedded document or you cannot access the link, check with your domain administrator to see if you're allowed to access Box.com at school. 

Friday, December 30, 2016

Great Ideas for Using Scratch in Elementary Math - Best of 2016

As I usually do during this week, I'm taking some time off to relax, ski, and work on some long-term projects for the next year. This week I will be re-publishing the most popular posts of 2016. 

Last month I received an email from Jeffery Gordon in which he shared with me an online binary calculator that he created for his students. When I asked him for more information about the calculator and what he was teaching in general, he shared another cool resource with me. That resource is ScratchMath.

ScratchMath, written by Jeffery Gordon, is a free ebook filled with examples of using Scratch in elementary school math classes. The examples are Scratch models through which students can learn concepts dealing with place values, multiplication, and division. Each example includes the steps that need to be completed in Scratch to create models like a multiplication array, a divisibility checker, and factoring game.

For folks who are not familiar with Scratch, it is a free programming tool designed for students between the ages of eight and sixteen although it has been successfully used by younger and older students. Scratch uses a visual interface that helps students see how the parts of a program fit together to create a final product. Students create programs by dragging and dropping commands into a sequence. Programs that students create can vary from simple animations to complex multiplayer games. Visit the Scratch Educators page to learn more about how to use it in your classroom.

Control What's Projected With Chromecast or Extended Display - Best of 2016

As I usually do during this week, I'm taking some time off to relax, ski, and work on some long-term projects for the next year. This week I will be re-publishing the most popular posts of 2016.

Whether it is to quickly search for a video, find a bookmark on Pinterest, or dig-up a file in your Google Drive there are times when you'll find your computer hooked to a projector, but you don't want everything projected in front of your classroom. That's when using the "extended display" mode is handy. Extended display allows you to project one thing while looking at another on your computer's screen.

Let's say you want to find a in your Google Drive, but you don't want to project your entire Google Drive dashboard to your students. With extended display activated you could search within your Google Drive for your file then when you find it you can move its display from your computer's screen to your projector screen. Similarly, if you a Chromecast you can search in your web browser and or have multiple tabs open in your web browser then choose which specific tab to project.

How you extend your display varies slightly depending upon the operating system that you're using on your computer. Mac users can find directions here. Windows 7 users will want to follow these directions. Windows 8 users should follow these directions. Windows 10 users will find these directions helpful. Chromebook users can follow the directions here to connect and extend displays.

How to Create Online Collaborative Whiteboards - Best of 2016

As I usually do during this week, I'm taking some time off to relax, ski, and work on some long-term projects for the next year. This week I will be re-publishing the most popular posts of 2016. 

Stoodle is a free online collaborative whiteboard tool hosted by CK12. On Stoodle you can create a whiteboard space and invite others to use it with you. Registration is not required in order to use Stoodle. In the video embedded below I demonstrate the features of Stoodle.


Applications for Education
One of the best features of Stoodle is the option to import files from a wide variety of sources including Dropbox, Google Drive, and Evernote. Students could use Stoodle to import a file, highlight portions of it, draw on it, and chat about it in real-time as part of peer editing exercise. Stoodle could also be used for peer tutoring sessions on math problems as the whiteboard allows free hand drawing on iPads.

How to Enable Automatic Grading in Google Forms - Best of 2016

As I usually do during this week, I'm taking some time off to relax, ski, and work on some long-term projects for the next year. This week I will be re-publishing the most popular posts of 2016. 

The new automatic grading function in Google Forms seems to be a hit with many readers. I've received a bunch of questions about it in the last week. To answer many of those questions I created the short video that you can see embedded below and or on my YouTube channel.


In Google Forms & Sheets for Beginners you can learn many more ways to streamline processes and save time. 

Thursday, December 29, 2016

15 Tools for Teaching History With Technology - Best of 2016

As I usually do during this week, I'm taking some time off to relax, ski, and work on some long-term projects for the next year. This week I will be re-publishing the most popular posts of 2016. 

One of the things that teachers often ask me for is a set of tools to get them started on using technology in their classrooms. This is a common request because it can be overwhelming to look at a website or a read a stream of emails with tips and try to figure out where to start. For that reason, I have started to put together short PDFs that contain a few options for a three or four common activities in a subject area. These are not meant to be comprehensive guides, they're meant to be starter kits. The first starter kit is for social studies teachers.

In the handout embedded below you will find my recommendations for tools to create timelines, tools to create videos, tools to create digital maps, and tools to help students conduct better web research. You can download the document from Box or grab the Google Docs copy.

Learn more about how to use these tools in Teaching History With Technology starting in January.


Learn more about how to use these tools in my online course Teaching History With Technology

Two Ways to Visually Show Classroom Noise - Best of 2016

As I usually do during this week, I'm taking some time off to relax, ski, and work on some long-term projects for the next year. This week I will be re-publishing the most popular posts of 2016. 

Bouncy Balls is a free online noise meter that shows students the volume of the noise in your classroom. Bouncy Balls does this by displaying a set of colorful bouncing balls on your screen. The louder your students are, the higher and more frequently the balls on the screen bounce. To use Bouncy Balls simply go to the website, click "begin bouncing," and then click the microphone icon to allow the site to access your computer's microphone.

Calmness Counter is similar to Bouncy Balls. The difference is that Calmness Counter displays a dial meter to display the decibel level in your classroom. You can adjust the microphone input sensitivity directly on the Calmness Counter screen.

Applications for Education
Projecting either of these meters for all of your students to see could be a good way to help them understand the appropriate volume for conversations while working on group activities in your classroom.

Google Cast for Education - Best of 2016

As I usually do during this week, I'm taking some time off to relax, ski, and work on some long-term projects for the next year. This week I will be re-publishing the most popular posts of 2016. 

This morning at the ISTE 2016 conference Google announced some great new features for teachers. One feature that immediately jumped out at me is the new Google Cast for Education Chrome app. The Google Cast for Education Chrome app enables teachers and students share their screens over wireless networks. The app integrates with Google Classroom to make it easy for you to quickly share your screen to your students' Chromebooks or laptops and for them to share with you. See the Google Cast for Education Chrome app in action in the video embedded below.



Applications for Education
The Google Cast for Education Chrome app will solve a problem that has plagued teachers for years. That problem is getting all of your students to look at the same webpage or app at the same time without having to rely on them to accurately enter a web address or click the correct link.

The Best Ways to Use Padlet - Best of 2016

As I usually do during this week, I'm taking some time off to relax, ski, and work on some long-term projects for the next year. This week I will be re-publishing the most popular posts of 2016. 

This afternoon at the ISTE 2016 conference I had a nice meeting with Melanie Broder from Padlet. She told me about some of the things that Padlet is working on developing during the rest of the year. One of things is a community for educators. That community should help teachers find creative uses of Padlet as well as sharing lesson activities in general. Until that community gets going, take a look at Padlet's Best of Education wall.

Padlet's Best of Education wall features twenty-seven Padlet walls created by teachers. One of my favorites in that collection is 100 Picture Books to Read and Share. All of the books in that Padlet wall are linked to Goodreads pages. Another good wall in Padlet's Best of Education is a collection of student blogging prompts.

Watch my video embedded below to learn how to use the latest version of Padlet's website.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Blogs & Social Media for Teachers & School Leaders

  • Have you ever started a classroom blog with the best of intentions only to see it fall by the wayside after a couple of months? 
  • Are you wondering, "what's the big deal about Twitter?" 
  • Would you like to engage your students, their parents, and your community as a whole in more consistent and efficient manner?
If your answer to any of those questions is "yes," then my online course Blogs & Social Media for Teachers and School Leaders is for you.

Blogs and Social Media for Teachers and School Leaders is a five week webinar series during which teachers and school administrators will learn the how to choose the best blogging platform for their situations, how to set-up a blog for classroom and school-wide use, and learn about strategies on how to manage blogs in classroom and school-wide settings. Participants will also learn how to avoid the mistakes that often lead to blogging endeavors being abandoned. After establishing blogs we’ll jump into using social networks like Twitter, Google+, and Instagram to reach out to parents, students, and other members of school communities.

The course starts next Tuesday at 7pm Eastern Time. There is still time to register.

Don't worry if you cannot attend every live webinar in the series. Every live webinar is recorded and emailed to you after the meeting is completed. 

Are you wondering why I charge for these classes? Please watch this short video

More Than 100 Sets of Primary Source Documents for Students - Best of 2016

As I usually do during this week, I'm taking some time off to relax, ski, and work on some long-term projects for the next year. This week I will be re-publishing the most popular posts of 2016. 

A few years ago I wrote a post about searching through the Digital Public Library of America to locate primary source documents to use with students. At that point the DPLA had relatively few, loosely organized collections. Yesterday, I received an email from DPLA informing me that they now have more than 100 primary source document sets for students.

The DPLA's primary source document sets are organized by subject and time period in United States history. Depending upon the time period the DPLA primary source sets include documents, drawings, maps, photographs, and film clips. A list of points to consider accompanies each artifact in each set. Teachers should scroll to the bottom of the page on each artifact to find a teaching guide related to the primary source set.

Applications for Education
The DPLA's primary source sets provide teachers and students with a convenient way to find primary source documents. For teachers it can be a good way to locate resources to use in a lesson plan. For students the sets can provide a good start to a research project.

On the topic of primary sources, this video provides students with a great explanation of the differences between primary and secondary sources.

Join Teaching History With Technology to learn more about using technology and primary sources in your classroom. 

10 Ways to Use Adobe Spark in School - Best of 2016

As I usually do during this week, I'm taking some time off to relax, ski, and work on some long-term projects for the next year. This week I will be re-publishing the most popular posts of 2016. 

On Tuesday morning I published a video about how to use Adobe's new creative suite called Adobe Spark. That video was focused on how to use the three parts of Adobe Spark; post, page, and video. If you haven't seen the video, it is embedded below.


Now that we know how the tools work, let's take a look at some ways that teachers and students can use Adobe Spark.

Post:
Post is the part of the Adobe Spark that lets you create graphics like posters, announcements, and Internet memes.
  • Students and teachers can create simple posters to print and post in their schools to announce club meetings, campaigns for class elections, or to post encouraging messages to students.
  • To help students understand and show that they understand what propaganda messages look like, I have had them create simple early 20th Century-style propaganda posters of their own. Adobe Spark has built-in Creative Commons search that can help students find pictures to use for those posters. Students can also upload pictures they've found in the public domain.
  • Create a meme-style graphic to share on your classroom, library, or school website. The graphic could be intended to encourage students and parents to remind each other of an upcoming school event. You could also create a meme to encourage students to continue reading over the summer. 
Video:
As the name implies, this is the Adobe Spark tool for creating videos. Videos are created by adding text and images to slides. You can record yourself talking over each slide. A library of free music is available to layer under your narration or you can use that music in lieu of narration.

  • Create a short flipped-lesson with Adobe Spark. The recording tool makes it easy to precisely record your narration over the slides in your lesson. 
  • Have your students create video lessons. The slide aspect of Adobe Spark's video tool lends itself to students creating short Ken Burns-style documentary videos. Have them use Spark's search tool to find images to use in their videos or have them use a place Flickr's The Commons to find historical images. I've had students make this style of video to tell the stories of people moving west across the United States in the 19th Century. 
  • This is the time of year for end-of-school assemblies and celebrations. Use Adobe Spark's video creation tool to make a video of highlights of the school year. Rather than narrating the video you can use music from Adobe Spark's library. 
Page:
Page is the tool for creating simple web pages to showcase pictures, posters, videos, text, and links. 
  • Create an event invitation page. Create a page that outlines the highlights of an upcoming school event like a fundraiser or open house night. Include images of past events, images of prizes, or include a video about the event. Should you need people to register for your event, include a link to a Google Form. (Learn how to use Google Forms).
  • Create a digital portfolio. Spark pages provide a great format for digital portfolios. Students can organize their pages into sections to showcase videos they've made, documents they've written, and their reflections on what they've learned. 
  • Make a multimedia timeline. While it wasn't designed specifically for making timelines, Spark Page's formatting does lend itself to timelines. Ask your students to research a series of events, find media representative of those events, caption the events and media with dates, and then place them into the proper order.
  • Write an image-based story. Students can write a story about themselves by using pictures they've taken placed into a Spark Page. Another way to think about image-based stories is to have students search for images and use them as writing prompts. Ask them to choose five pictures and write a story that connects the images. 

Adobe Spark works in your web browser including on Chromebooks. Adobe Spark is also available as a series of iPad apps for Page, Video, and Post. 

Great Tools for Creating Screencasts - Best of 2016

As I usually do during this week, I'm taking some time off to relax, ski, and work on some long-term projects for the next year. This week I will be re-publishing the most popular posts of 2016. 

Over the last few weeks I have shared my favorite tools for creating screencast videos on Chromebooks, on Windows and Mac computers, on iPads, and on Android tablets. Many people who read this blog work in BYOD environments or otherwise need tools for creating screencasts on a variety of devices. Therefore, this morning I put together a PDF featuring my favorite screencasting tools and methods. You can view the document as embedded below or you can grab a Google Docs copy here.

10 Sites and Apps for Vocabulary and Spelling Practice - Best of 2016

As I usually do during this week, I'm taking some time off to relax, ski, and work on some long-term projects for the next year. This week I will be re-publishing the most popular posts of 2016. 

Last night I watched the conclusion of the Scripps National Spelling Bee. A recap of the finals is available on the Associated Press YouTube channel. Like many others who watched the finals, I have to admit that there were some new-to-me words in the final rounds. That reminded me that I have a bunch of sites and apps in my archives that can help students learn new vocabulary words and practice spelling new words.

Stumpy’s Alphabet Dinner is a fun app in which students feed letters and shapes to cartoon characters. The letters and shapes that students feed to the characters have to match the letter or shape displayed on the character’s stomach. If the child makes an incorrect match the character spits out the letter.

Building Language for Literacy offers three nice little language activities from Scholastic. The activities are designed for pre-K and Kindergarten students. The spelling activity is called  Leo Loves to Spell. Leo Loves to Spell asks students to help a lobster named Leo identify the first letter of a series of spelling words arranged in a dozen categories.

Spell Up is a fun Google Chrome experimentSpell Up is a game in which you hear a prompt to spell a word then have to speak into your laptop or Chromebook to see the word spelled on your screen. If you spell the word correctly it stays on the screen where it becomes part of a tower of words. If you spell a word incorrectly, it will fall off the screen and you will be prompted to try again (you can skip a word after a few tries).

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. 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.

Your students can test their spelling skills against those of past winners of the Scripp's National Spelling Bee on Vox's Spell It Out challenge. Vox's spelling challenge presents you with the final winning words from twenty past national spelling bees. You will hear the word pronounced then you have to type it in the spelling box to submit your answer. Before submitting your answer you can hear the word used in a sentence and see the origin of the word.

WordWriter is a neat writing tool from BoomWriter. WordWriter allows teachers to create vocabulary lists that they want students to incorporate into a writing assignment. Assignments are distributed directly to students through the class lists that teachers create in their BoomWriter accounts. Students do not need email addresses to receive the assignments. Teachers can log-in at any time to see if and when a student has completed an assignment. Click here for videos on how to use the service.

World’s Worst Pet is a free iPad app that contains a series of fun vocabulary games. In the app players have to help bring home Snargg, the world’s worst pet, who has run away. To get Snargg back players have to fill his food dish by learning new vocabulary words. Each of the six levels in the game contain ten dishes (each dish represents a new set of words) that can be filled. Four games are available for each dish. The games are fill-in-the-blank, synonym identification, antonym identification, and definition identification. World’s Worst Pet is designed for students in grades four through eight. The app contains a total of 1,000 vocabulary words.

PrepFactory is a free service for high school students can use to prepare for the SAT and or ACT. PrepFactory offers students a series of tutorial videos and written tips to help them prepare for both tests. After completing a tutorial students can test themselves in a series of practice questions. Each question set is timed and and limited to chunks of ten questions at a time. Students can earn badges for completing tutorials or question sets. Click here for video of PrepFactory in action.

Spell 'til You Drop is a free iPad published by McGraw-Hill. To play the game students have to correctly spell words as they are read aloud to them. The app gets its name from the game format used throughout the app. For each correctly spelled word students move across a footbridge. For each word spelled incorrectly a piece of the bridge drops away. The object is to cross each bridge before it collapses.Spell 'til You Drop offers eight levels of difficulty for students to play. The levels are loosely based on grade levels. One complaint about the app is that it lacks a QWERTY keyboard. Students who are familiar with QWERTY keyboards may be frustrated by searching for letters in Spell 'til You Drop's letter bank.

Flippity offers a great template for creating spelling practice activities for your students. Using Google Spreadsheets you can create an activity in which students hear a word read aloud then have to type it correctly into a quiz form. Students receive instant feedback on their practice attempts. A demo of the Flippity spelling practice activity is available here.

Disclosure: Prep Factory and Boom Writer are advertisers on FreeTech4Teachers.com.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Kahoot Adds a Team Mode - Best of 2016

As I usually do during this week, I'm taking some time off to relax, ski, and work on some long-term projects for the next year. This week I will be re-publishing the most popular posts of 2016.

This week Kahoot, the wildly popular quiz game platform, released a new team mode. The new team mode is designed to be used with students who are sharing computers, tablets, or phones. In team mode students arrange themselves in teams around a shared computer or tablet. When you start a Kahoot game you'll now choose "team mode." With team mode selected your students will be prompted to enter a team name and a list of the team members.

After the teams have entered their names you will be ready to start the game. One of the nice features of team mode is that students have time to discuss their answer choices before they are allowed to submit a response. From there the game is played and scored as any other Kahoot game is.

Applications for Education
Kahoot's new team mode could be a great option for teachers who have wanted to try Kahoot but didn't have enough devices for all of his or her students to play along. Even if you do have enough devices for every student the team mode could still be a good way to promote collaboration and a little less competition in your review activities.

Take a look at Socrative's Space Race mode if you are looking for a review game that students can play in teams with individual devices.

Learn more about Kahoot, Socrative, and other fun formative assessment tools in Fun Formative Assessments on January 11th.

Quizalize - Best of 2016

As I usually do during this week, I'm taking some time off to relax, ski, and work on some long-term projects for the next year. This week I will be re-publishing the most popular posts of 2016.

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.



In Fun Formative Assessments on January 11th we'll take a more detailed look at tools like Quizalize and how you can use them in your classroom. 

More Than 40 Alternatives to YouTube - Best of 2016

As I usually do during this week, I'm taking some time off to relax, ski, and work on some long-term projects for the next year. This week I will be re-publishing the most popular posts of 2016. 

3 Tips for Using YouTube Videos in Your Classroom was one of the most popular posts of the week on FreeTech4Teachers.com. Those tips are all well and good if you can access YouTube in your classroom. If you cannot access YouTube in your classroom then you will want to consult my list of more than 40 alternatives to YouTube. Over the years I've updated the list as new sites emerged and old ones shut down. The list includes a search engine for videos that are not on YouTube.

If you do have access to YouTube in your school, consider using tools like ViewPure and Watchkin to display videos without showing the "related" videos comments from YouTube.

YouTube has some great hidden features for teachers. So if you do have access to YouTube in your school, take a look at YouTube, It's Not Just Cats & Khan Academy

Three Tools Students Can Use to Add Annotations to Videos - Best of 2016

As I usually do during this week, I'm taking some time off to relax, ski, and work on some long-term projects for the next year. This week I will be re-publishing the most popular posts of 2016. 

When we talk about flipped lessons it often involves a lot of heavy lifting on a teacher's part. From finding a video to adding questions to the video, it is a time-consuming process and in the end we're still not always sure if the students actually watched the video or they just guessed at the answers to the questions. One way to flip the standard flipped classroom model is to have students find and annotate videos that then submit to you. The following three tools can be used by students for that purpose.

Using VideoANT anyone can add annotations to any publicly accessible YouTube video. To do this copy the URL of a video and paste it into the VideoANT annotation tool. Then as the video plays click the "add annotation" button when you want to add an annotation. To have others annotate the video with you, send them the VideoANT link. You are the only person that has to have a VideoANT account. Your collaborators do not need to have a VideoANT account to participate in the annotation process with you. Nathan Hall wrote a complete run-down of all of the features of VideoANT. He also posted a how-to video. I recommend reading his post and watching his video here.

Vialogues is a free service that allows you to build online discussions around videos hosted online and videos that you have saved on your computer. Registered users can upload videos to Vialogues or use YouTube videos as the centerpieces of their conversations. In the video embedded below I provide a short overview of how Vialogues works.



MoocNote is a free tool for adding timestamped comments, questions, and links to videos. To do this on MoocNote you simply paste a link to a YouTube video into the MoocNote editor. Once the video is imported you can start to add your comments, questions, and links. The link features is particularly useful for providing students with additional resources for learning about the topics covered in your shared videos. MoocNote allows you to organize playlists (MoocNote calls them courses) of videos according to topics that you identify. MoocNote could be a good tool for high school teachers who want to organize playlists of videos for their students and add some clarifying information to those videos. You could also have students use MoocNote to annotate videos to demonstrate an understanding of the topic at hand.

Check out Quick & Powerful Video Projects to learn how to use video creation tools in your classroom. 

Monday, December 26, 2016

Blogging Platforms for Teachers Compared and Ranked - Best of 2016

As I usually do during this week, I'm taking some time off to relax, ski, and work on some long-term projects for the next year. This week I will be re-publishing the most popular posts of 2016. By the way, if you want to learn more about using blogs in school, join Blogs & Social Media for Teachers & School Leaders starting in January.

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.

Click to Spin - Best of 2016

As I usually do during this week, I'm taking some time off to relax, ski, and work on some long-term projects for the next year. This week I will be re-publishing the most popular posts of 2016.

Random Name Picker is free tool from Russel Tarr at Classtools.net. The Random Name Picker lets you input names and spin a virtual wheel to have a name randomly selected from the list. After a name is selected you can remove it from the wheel so that it is not selected again.

Random Name Picker is free to use and does not require a registration on Classtools.net. You can save your lists by assigning passwords to them. You can re-use your saved lists. The Random Name Picker wheel can be embedded into your blog or website. The Random Name Picker was written in HTML5 so that it will run in the browser of your iPad.

Applications for Education
At one point or another every teacher has asked for volunteers and not had any hands raised. In that situation using the Random Name Picker could be a fun way to select the order in which students will present to classmates.Or for those times when all of your students raise their hands for something fun like being the line leaders, the Random Name Picker is a convenient tool to have at your disposal.

3 Hours of On-Demand PD

In December I hosted three one-hour webinars on Wednesday afternoons. The first was Quick & Powerful Video Projects, the second was Winning Blog Strategies, and the third was YouTube, It's Not Just Cats & Khan Academy. Each webinar features five take-aways that you can use in your classroom in a relatively short amount of time.

All of my December webinars are now available on-demand. You can choose an individual webinar or get a bundle of all three webinars.  Learn more about the recorded webinars and all of the webinars I'm offering in January on the Practical Ed Tech Wednesday Webinar page.

5 Tips for New Chromebook Users - Best of 2016

As I usually do during this week, I'm taking some time off to relax, ski, and work on some long-term projects for the next year. This week I will be re-publishing the most popular posts of 2016.

The new year isn't far away now. For some teachers that could mean it's time to start getting accustomed to using a Chromebook for the first time. If your school has decided to start using Chromebooks and you're using one for the first time, check out my video embedded below to learn the answers to five questions that first-time Chromebook users frequently ask. Those questions are:

1. How do I change the background picture on my Chromebook?
2. Where do files go when I save them on my Chromebook?
3. How do I access files without an internet connection?
4. Where do I find the app for X on my Chromebook?
5. How do I add new apps to my Chromebook?


On a related note, I recorded this video on my Chromebook by using the CaptureCast Chrome extension.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

The Week in Review - Christmas Eve Edition

Good morning from Maine where vacation will begin when this post is complete. This week was full of my typical scramble to buy Christmas presents at the last minute. But I still made plenty of time to take my dogs for fun walks, play with my daughter, and lead a couple of webinars. Now it's time to relax for a few days. I hope that all of you enjoy the next week or two of school vacation too. Happy Holidays!

Here are this week's most popular posts:
1. 8 Ways to Create Videos on Chromebooks
2. My Go-to Google Tools for Social Studies Classrooms
3. Chronas - Interactive Historical Map and Data Sets
4. Three Ways to Create Image-based Formative Assessments
5. Five Strategies to Help Students Conduct Better Informational Searches
6. Math Vocabulary Cards in English and Spanish
7. Online Activities for Teaching With Primary Sources

I'll be offering more professional development webinars in January including one designed for Google Forms and Sheets beginners. And if you're looking for in-person professional development, please get in touch with me at richardbyrne (at) freetech4teachers.com

Need a speaker for your conference? 
Click here to learn about my keynotes and workshops.

Please visit the official advertisers that help keep this blog going.
Practical Ed Tech is the brand through which I offer PD webinars.
Storyboard That is my go-to tool for creating storyboards.
QuickKey saves teachers tons of time when scoring formative assessments.
WriteReader is a fantastic multimedia writing tool for elementary school students.
Math Playground offers hundreds of math games and tutorial videos. 
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.
Boise State University offers a 100% online program in educational technology.
EdTechTeacher is hosts workshops in six cities in the U.S. in the summer.
My Simpleshow provides a great way to create explainer videos.

Track Santa and Learn About Christmas Traditions Around the World

If your family celebrates Christmas and you're looking for a nice activity to do with young kids at home, take a look Google's annual Santa Tracker website. The site lets kids see when and where Santa is traveling from his home at the North Pole. The Santa Tracker site shows you where Santa is in relation to your location at any given time. One of the neat educational tie-ins is that you can click on Santa's current location to learn more about the Christmas traditions in that place.

The Santa Tracker site also has a little geography quiz based on Santa's travels around the globe.

Explore Maps of Historical Sites in Every U.S. State

The Traveling Salesman Problem is a website developed by William Cook at the University of Waterloo. The site features interactive maps that chart the short distance between a series of places. One of those maps is of all of the places in the United States National Register of Historic Places, all 49,603 of them.You can view the whole country in one map or visit each state's individual map.

Naturally, I jumped to the map of Maine's historic places to see how many I was familiar with. One that's close to my home is this old cattle pound that I often stop at while riding my bike in the summer. I clicked on the image on the map and was able to click through to the asset detail provided by the National Parks service. The asset detail includes when the site was added to the national registry and why it is significant.

Applications for Education
These maps of the National Register of Historic Places could be useful assets for teachers developing lessons on state history. You might ask students to look at the images and try to determine the significance of the sites before looking at the site asset details.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Free World and U.S. Map Puzzles for iPads & Android Tablets

Digital Gene offers a variety of educational apps for iPads and for Android tablets. Two of the Digital Gene apps that could be useful for elementary school geography review are Enjoy Learning World Map Puzzle and Enjoy Learning U.S. Map Puzzle. Both of these free iPad apps have the same basic types of puzzle activities.

In Enjoy Learning U.S. Map students have to drag and drop the states into their proper places on the map. The app has three levels of difficulty beginning with state names and borders drawn out for students and progressing to a blank map that doesn’t have any border or state name hints. The map in Enjoy Learning U.S. Map places Hawaii and Alaska in their geographically correct locations instead of off the coast of Mexico.

Enjoy Learning World Map uses the same drag and drop puzzle concept as Enjoy Learning U.S. Map. Enjoy Learning World Map allows students to study the regions of the world one at a time or the whole world at once.

More Than 300 Ed Tech Tutorial Videos

Throughout the year I offer webinars on a variety of educational technology topics. But I also publish a tutorial or two on my YouTube channel every week. That playlist now contains more than 300 tutorials on everything from graphics editing to podcasting to tips for new Chromebook users. The entire playlist can be found here or viewed as embedded below.


Twelve Posts from One Topic

One of the most frequently cited reasons for discontinuing a blog that I hear is "I don't have anything to write about." Said another way, "I've run out of ideas." Keeping your blog fresh does require coming up with a lot of blog posts topics.

A method that I regularly use to develop blog post topics is making lists on pieces of paper. I take one topic and try to write as many sub-topics as I can below it. Doing this often leads to the generation of ten or twelve blog posts related to one overarching topic.

The biggest source of topic ideas still remains to be my email inbox. Questions from colleagues, students, and parents are often great fodder for blog posts. I'll take the main idea from a question and split it into many sub-topics to turn into blog posts. Doing this just once a week can give you enough content to keep a classroom, library, or school blog fresh for month.

In Blogs & Social Media for Teachers & School Leaders I explain in more depth how to make your blog relevant to students and parents.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Math Vocabulary Cards in English and Spanish

One of the challenges that some students face in learning math is just understanding the vocabulary used in mathematics. Math Vocabulary Cards can help students overcome that challenge. Math Vocabulary Cards is a free iPad app designed for elementary school students. The app offers exactly what its name implies, a series of flashcards of mathematics vocabulary terms. Each card contains a term, a diagram, and a definition. By default the term is hidden and students have to guess the term based on the definition and diagram. Students can also use the cards with the definitions hidden and the terms revealed.

Math Vocabulary Cards can be used in Spanish or English. Simply select a language at the bottom of each card. Students can browse through the entire gallery of flashcards or choose a specific category of terms to study.

Five Strategies to Help Students Conduct Better Informational Searches

Google is great for navigational and transactional searches. If you need to find your way to the movie theater or find the best price for a vacuum cleaner, Google handles those requests quite well. Searches for more meaningful information aren't always handled well by Google. For example, see the some of the nonsense "suggested" search terms that sometimes appear with your search. To break away from the cycles of Google's suggested searches and typical search results, students need to employ some solid search strategies. Here are five strategies that can help students conduct better informational searches.

1. Create a list of things that you already know about the topic. This helps students pick better keywords and helps them more quickly identify information that may not be relevant to their searches.

2. Develop of list of ways that other people might talk about your topic. I will let students poll their peers for ideas about how they would describe the topic.

3. Search by file type. A lot of good information is hidden way inside of PDFs, Word files, KML files, PowerPoint, and spreadsheet files. Unfortunately, those file types generally don't rank high in commercial search engines so students will need to search by file type to find those files.

4. Try a different search engine. Contrary to what a lot of students think, Google is not the only search engine. Your school library probably has a subscription to a database or two that students can search within and find resources that a Google search won't find. Students can also try Google Scholar, Google Books, Bing, Choosito, or Yahoo.

5. Search within webpages and documents for clues that can help you form your next set of search terms. As they read through webpages and documents students should be taking note of things like how the author is describing a topic. Students can then use that description to help them form their next search queries.

I will cover all of these strategies in more depth in Search Strategies Students Need to Know

Online Activities for Teaching With Primary Sources

As a history teacher I have a natural attraction to old maps, dusty documents, and all manner of primary source media. While it is a passion for me, I fully recognize that learning to read, evaluate, and utilize primary sources can be long process for some students. The following are some of the online activities incorporating primary sources that I've done with my students over the years.

Learn more about these activities and many others in my online course Teaching History With Technology.

1. Compare textbooks, primary sources, and Wikipedia.
This is a rather simple activity that I've done over the years as an introduction to the value of primary sources. In the activity I provide students with a textbook entry, a Wikipedia entry, and a primary source document about the same event or topic. I then have them read all three and compare the information about the event. The outline of questions for students is available in this Google Document that I created.

2. Guided reading of primary sources through Google Documents.
One of my favorite ways to use the commenting feature in Google Documents is to host online discussions around a shared article. Through the use of comments connected to highlighted sections of an article I can guide students to important points, ask them questions, and allow them to ask clarifying questions about the article.

3. Historical Scene Investigations.
Historical Scene Investigation offers a fun way for students to investigate history through primary documents and images. Historical Scene Investigation presents students with historical cases to "crack." Each of these thirteen cases present students with clues to analyze in order to form a conclusion to each investigation. The clues for each investigation come in the forms of primary documents and images as well as secondary sources. HSI provides students with "case files" on which they record the evidence they find in the documents and images. At the conclusion of their investigation students need to answer questions and decide if the case should be closed or if more investigation is necessary. (Once you have done a couple of these with your students it becomes easy to craft your own HSI activities or have them craft HSI activities for each other).

4. Layer old maps on top of modern maps.
In Google Earth your students can layer images of old maps on top of current maps. This is a great way for students to see how early cartographers saw the world. It can also provide some insight into how and why early explorers chose the paths that they traveled. The David Rumsey Historical Map collection is my go-to place for historical maps.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Quick Lessons About the Winter Solstice

The winter solstice is today in the northern hemisphere. Should you need some short explanations of solstices to share with your children or students, take a look at the following resources.

On National Geographic's Education page you will find this hands-on activity designed to help students understand the changes in intensity and duration of sunlight on their part of the world throughout the year. This is an activity appropriate for elementary school students.

Mechanism Of The Seasons is a six minute video about why the length of daylight we receive in a location changes throughout the year. This video could be helpful in a flipped classroom environment as it covers the same information that your students will review in the National Geographic lesson featured above.

Sixty Symbols offers an eleven minute video about equinoxes and solstices. It's not a video that most kids will find engaging, but I'm including it because in it you can see a demonstration of how you can use the free Stellarium software in your lessons.

Although it is not about the winter solstice, Why the Full Moon Is Better In Winter is a good companion resource to go with those featured above.