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Monday, October 16, 2017

Virtual and Interactive Resources for Science Teachers

Virtual labs have come a long way in recent years. While nothing compares to completing a hands-on lab in an actual science classroom, sometimes it isn't possible. Cost and access to equipment are possible obstacles. Other barriers include location. As more classes are being offered online, it necessary for students to complete activities in virtual environments.


  • PhET- This website, from the University of Colorado,  has been around for over 15 years. It offers free interactive math and science simulations in game-like environment. Students can learn concepts in biology, chemistry, earth science, math, and physics through exploration and discovery. Here are tips and resources for teaching with this website. There is a PhET app available for both iOS and Android devices.
  • MERLOT II- MERLOT is an acronym for Multimedia Educational Resources for Learning and Online Teaching and it is a program out of the California State University System. Their database of peer-reviewed resources is searchable by keyword, level, and platform.
  • UCAR- The University Corporation for Atmospheric Research is based in Boulder, Colorado and is a consortium of universities and colleges offering degrees in the atmospheric sciences. Their mission is to develop state-of-the-art educational experiences that help create a scientifically literate society.
  • Human Origins- This resource is from the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. This institute is committed to expanding the public understanding of human evolution. Be sure to check out their 3D collection of artifacts and fossils.
  • AACT- Each issue of Chemistry Solutions, the periodical from the American Association of Chemistry Teachers, features a simulation. This website houses over a dozen simulations.


How to Teach With Video - Live Event With Tom Richey, Keith Hughes, and Me

In case you missed my excited post on Twitter last week, last week two of my favorite YouTube video producers, Tom Richey and Keith Hughes, agreed to help me host a live three night event all about teaching with video. Between us we have more than 250,000 YouTube followers. All three of us share a common background as social studies teachers and lovers of great videos. So on November 27th, 28th, and 29th we're hosting How to Teach With Video.

In this three night event you'll learn skills and gain confidence to produce educational videos in multiple formats. You'll learn how to incorporate video into your assessment process. And you'll gain an understanding of copyright as it pertains to classroom settings.

Course highlights:

  • Video editing on Mac, Windows, and Chromebooks.
  • Green screen video production.
  • What you do and don't need to create great videos.
  • Publishing on YouTube and how to handle YouTube comments.
  • How to maximize live video use.
  • Video-based assessment.
  • Copyright in the classroom and on the Web.
  • Live Q&A with Tom, Keith, and Richard

Every webinar will be recorded for those who register but cannot attend the live sessions.

The cost of this course is $97. Your registration includes three live webinars, copies of the recording of each webinar, handouts, and a PD certificate.


A note about fees for webinars:
Whenever I advertise a Practical Ed Tech webinar I am asked why they aren't free. There are two reasons. One, hosting professional development events is one of the ways that I am able to keep the lights on at Free Technology for Teachers. Two, while all of the tools featured in my webinars are free to use, my time for teaching about them is not free.

Harnessing Technology to Unleash Student Creativity

This is a guest post from Beth Holland, Doctoral Candidate at Johns Hopkins School of Education and educational advisor at Book Creator

Over the past several years, the idea of using technology to unleash student creativity has appeared in blog posts and conference sessions more times than I can count. For this reason, imagine my surprise when I discovered that the term Unleashing Creativity can actually be traced back to psychologist Ulrich Kraft! In a 2005 Scientific American article, he wrote that new ideas and creative solutions come as a result of “disassembling and reassembling the building blocks [of knowledge] in an infinite number of ways.” Following this logic, creativity can then be defined as the process of taking pre-existing knowledge and applying it in new and unique ways.

Sometimes, teachers and administrators worry that too much focus on creativity detracts from the content and information that students need to learn. Kraft argues that to be able to manipulate these “blocks” of knowledge, the student must first have a thorough understanding of the blocks themselves. In other words, you cannot have creativity without first having content.

Eight years after Kraft’s initial article, a group of Johns Hopkins University neuroscientists and educators extended these ideas about creativity. They argued that creativity could be considered a formula. First, students need to learn a domain of knowledge. Then, they learn how to apply that knowledge to solve specific problems or to complete specific tasks. Finally, once they have acquired this routine expertise, then they can exercise their creativity and apply what they have learned in infinite and flexible ways.

Some skeptics may wonder why we should even bother focusing on student creativity given the limited amount of time that teachers have to work through the required curriculum and prepare students for their assessments. However, I believe that the goal of teaching is not to just prepare students for the next assessment but to help them develop deep understanding of content and ideas. Once students develop this knowledge of the “blocks,” they need the opportunity to embark on new explorations and find solutions to new problems.

From a neuroscience perspective, only focusing on that routine expertise of applying learning to procedural tasks actually reduces creativity. In a book chapter, Kraft explains that repetition and a constant focus on searching for the “right answer” actually reinforces neural pathways and ultimately thwarts a student’s ability to think creatively. Consider this scenario: every day, you take the same route to get to school. One morning, you decide to change your route and go get donuts; and yet, despite your best intentions, you suddenly find yourself on the wrong street because of mental autopilot! It is the exact same idea with students.

Technology helps to break this habit of convergent thinking and provides students with the opportunity to unleash their creativity. Take an app like Book Creator as an example. It removes the barriers between students and their capacity to actively express their understanding. Once they have identified the building blocks of content - whether it be a scientific concept, a mathematical formula, a historical event, or a fairytale - students can take the knowledge that they have learned through classroom experience and then extend their learning through multimedia creation.

Digital tools afford students the opportunity to express their understanding through a variety of media. However, though the technology provides an unlimited outlet for expressing creativity, the opportunity lies in how we - as educators - encourage our students to apply their thinking in those infinite and flexible ways.

Tomorrow, Beth and I are hosting a free webinar titled Copyright for TeachersJoin us!

Library of Congress: Papers of Ulysses S. Grant Now Online


The Library of Congress has just put the papers of Ulysses S. Grant online for the first time in their original format. The collection of over 50,000 items that date back to 1819, was digitized from microfilm scans.

The papers from the 18th president of the United States, include family correspondence, reports, military records, scrapbooks, and other papers. These items provide a comprehensive picture of this popular Civil War general, family man, and world traveler.

The Library of Congress, the largest library in the world, began their efforts to assemble the Grant Papers over 100 years ago. In addition to making the Grant Papers accessible online, other newly available collections from Alexander Hamilton, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, William Henry Harrison, James K. Polk, and Sigmund Freud are also available.

Applications for Education
These papers are great primary sourced that will help engage students, build critical thinking skills, and construct knowledge.

QR Code Generators and Readers for Chromebooks

Last week a teacher contacted me to see if it was possible to read QR codes with a Chromebook. I had never tried this myself, but I figured it was possible so I did some digging and found some reader apps for Chromebooks.

After I tried these out I can say it is definitely easier to read QR codes with tablets or phones. I found it a little awkward to line up the QR code sometimes, but these readers still worked on my Chromebook.

  • Web QR- The website allows you to both create QR codes and scan them. 
  • QR Code Generator- This website allows you to create and scan QR codes as well as create videos using your webcam, screencast, and merge PDF files. 
  • Scan QR app- Simple app that will scan a QR code. 
  • QuickQR Code- Create and scan QR codes.

If you are looking for additional ways to create QR codes, check out Five Ways to Create and Use QR Codes in Your Classroom.

Applications for Education
QR codes can be used to distribute information to students or direct them all to the same page. They can be used for fun activities like scavenger hunts as well.