Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Harnessing the Power of Wind - A National Geographic Interactive Lesson

National Geographic has a neat little interactive activity designed to help people understand how wind turbines generate power. Harness the Power of Wind walks viewers through the basics of wind turbine design. After reviewing the design principles you can design and "test" your wind turbine's efficiency. You can adjust the height of your wind turbine, the wind speed, the altitude, and the blade radius.

Applications for Education 
Harness the Power of Wind could be used for teaching a lesson on wind power that incorporates basic physics and mathematics concepts.

Draft - A Simple Collaborative Writing Tool

Draft is a new collaborative writing tool that makes you focus on writing and revising by providing a simple user interface. In Draft you won't find options for inserting images or messing around with font types. In Draft you just write. When you're ready to get feedback about your writing, you can invite someone to read your document by entering that person's email address. The person that reads your document can suggest edits. When the person reading your document is done you can accept or reject the suggested edits.

Applications for Education
For students who don't have Google Documents, Draft could be a nice tool for peer editing online.

Shareor - Another Social Bookmarking Site for Teachers

It seems like at least once a week there is a new social bookmarking site launched. This week's entry into that category is Shareor. Shareor is a free service that looks a heck of a lot like Pinterest. The basics of using the site will remind you a lot of the Pinterest interface. Shareor offers a little more than pinning by providing "workspaces" in which teachers can collaborate. Learn more about Shareor in the video below.

Applications for Education
Shareor has a nice infographic showing sixteen ways that teachers can use the service. That image is pasted below.

Ten Tools for Cropping, Resizing, and Enhancing Images Online

This afternoon as I worked through a backlog of email I replied to a couple of questions about resizing images to make them fit under the size limitation for images in the new Socrative image-based question feature. I have tried a lot of image resizing, cropping, and enhancing tools over the years. Here are ten good ones to try.

Pixlr is a great set of image creation and editing tools. Pixlr offers web-based image editing tools as well as image editing tools to use on Android phones and on iPhones. Pixlr also has Firefox and Chrome browser extensions for creating screen captures.Pixlr Editor is Pixlr's most full-featured image creation and editing tool. You can create drawings from scratch using the pencil and coloring tools that they provide. Pixlr Editor also has options for uploading images or importing images from other places on the web. The selection of creation and editing tools is huge. There are options for making multiple layer images, dozens of filter settings, and of course tools for cropping and resizing images. Your images can be saved to your computer or you can send them to Flickr, Picassa, Facebook, or you can save them in a Pixlr account.

PicMonkey is one of my favorite online image editing tools. To get started using PicMonkey you can upload an image by simply dragging it from your desktop to the PicMonkey editor. From there you can change things like saturation, contrast, size, and sharpness. You can then add custom frames and special effects like "Polaroid style" to your images. Want to add text to your images? PicMonkey provides a slew of font styles for your use. And if you have just one tiny part of an image that you want to enhance or obscure, PicMonkey gives you tools for that too.

GooEdit is a free image editing tool that operates as a Google Chrome extension. GooEdit allows you to edit images without having to leave your browser. You can add outlines, flip images, resize images, and do other basic image editing tasks in GooEdit. If you need a simple image editing tool for your students, give GooEdit a try.

Quick Picture Tools is a free service that offers twelve tools for editing and enhancing your pictures. Some of the things that you can do with Quick Picture Tools include cropping images, combining images, adding text to images, and creating calendar wall paper for your computer. Each of the tools provides the option to resize images and adjust the overall quality of your original image before you use it for a collage, calendar, or mini poster.

Picfull is a free online photo editing service. To use the service just upload a picture and select an effect to add to it.  Picfull offers eighteen basic sets of effects. After you select an effect you can customize it to your liking. When you're finished altering your photo you can download or share it via Twitter, Facebook, or email.

Picozu is a free online image editing tool. Using Picozu you can touch-up existing images or you can create new images from scratch. In the Picozu editor you will find tools for adjusting color saturation and clarity. The editor also includes tools for creating images containing multiple layers. And if you want to include text in your image Picozu has options for that too. Picozu offers the option to register and join their community or you can use the editing tools without creating an account. If you do choose to create an account you can save your images on Picozu and add them to the community albums. If choose not to create a Picozu you can save your images to your computer, send them to your Facebook account, or send them to your Dropbox account. is a beautifully simple web tool for quickly cropping your images. is a little different than a lot of the other services in this market. What makes different is its smart auto-crop option. If you choose this option, will auto-detect the focal point of your images and crop accordingly. allows you to upload and crop up to five images at the same time. You can crop your images to one of nine predefined sizes or you can specify a custom size.

Fotor is a free image editing tool available in your web browser, as a desktop application for Mac and Windows, as iPad app, as an Android app, and as a Windows 8 application. Fotor can be used without creating an account. With Fotor you can crop images, apply filters, add picture frames, insert clip art, and add text to your images. You can also create image collages on Fotor. All of your work can be saved on your computer or mobile device. is a simple service that anyone can use to add speech bubbles and some basic Instagram-like effects to your pictures. To use the service just upload a picture and choose a speech bubble. Drag your speech bubble into place then type your text. You can change the font style in your speech bubbles. Click the "add more drama" button to add one of four image shading effects.

Imageoid is a free, simple service for adding a variety of effects to your images. To use Imageoid you just upload an image from your computer then choose the effect(s) you want to apply to it. You can combine effects if you like. If you don't like the way your image looks with a chosen effect, just click "reset" to start again. Imageoid can also be used to resize your image. Imageoid offers twenty-two effects that you can apply to your image.

Monday, April 29, 2013

ExamTime - Create & Share Flashcards, Mind Maps, and Quizzes

ExamTime is a new service that middle school, high school, and college students can use to prepare for tests. I tend to like any service that offers a mind map option for students and ExamTime does so I had to try it out. When students signs into their ExamTime accounts they can create flashcards, mind maps, and practice quizzes to help them study. Students can arrange their materials into topics. All materials can be shared with other Examtime users. Learn more about ExamTime in the video below.

Applications for Education
ExamTime allows users to share study materials. You could have your students create accounts to share review materials with each other. Have students share their review materials with you so that you can make sure they're on the right track in their preparation for an exam.

Climate Commons - An Interactive Map of Climate Change Stories

Climate Commons is an interactive map developed by the Earth Journalism Network. The map features weather data and emissions data related to climate. The map allows you to compare baseline weather data with anomalies and extreme weather events. The map also features articles about climate change. The articles are displayed on the map according to location.

Applications for Education
Climate Commons could be a good place to find stories about how climate change could be impacted various parts of the United States. You could have your students compare the effects of climate change in their neighborhoods with other parts of the country.

Explore 20th Century World History Declassified

The Wilson Center Digital Archive recently published a new set of 73 collections of declassified historical documents. The documents contain memos and transcripts of communications between diplomats and country leaders. The collections are arranged into topics and themes. You'll find collections of documents related to the construction of the Berlin Wall, the origins of the Cold War, and Sino-Soviet relations.

Applications for Education
My first thought when looking at these collections of documents was to have students use these documents to fill-in the gaps in their history textbooks.

You could also give students some of the communications without the names of countries or diplomats showing. Then ask them to use their knowledge of the situation to determine which country or diplomat would have sent that communication.

H/T to Open Culture.

Wonderville - Collections of Digital Materials for K-5, not to be confused with, is a new site that is organizing educational videos, ebooks, pictures, and quiz sets into pre-packaged lessons for K-5 students. Teachers can register on the site for free to find these materials arranged by grade level and content area.

The TechCrunch article that I read about Wonderville made it sound like it was packed with features, but when I created my account and signed into it I couldn't get some of those features to work. The marketing for Wonderville mentions that materials in the galleries are aligned to Common Core standards, but I didn't see standards mentioned when I registered and signed into my Wonderville account. The service also has a "schedule" for teachers' classes but I couldn't get the schedule in my account to do anything other than show me the materials that Wonderville suggested. Finally, Wonderville allows you to send messages to your class. The problem with that is that students have to request to join your class which seems like a lot of extra work that could be saved by simply creating accounts for your students.

There appears to be an option to award badges to students in Wonderville. I couldn't figure out how to actually award those badges.

Applications for Education
Until all of the features of Wonderville are working (perhaps I missed a few things, but I spent nearly an hour trying to make them work which should be adequate to understand how a service's features work) it's just another place to find videos and related web resources aligned to subject areas.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

New Webinar Course - Blogging for Teachers and School Leaders

Blogging isn’t new and it isn’t as flashy as say iPads in the classroom, but it is a very valuable activity for students, teachers, and school leaders. In fact, I think that too often it is under-utilized by teachers and school leaders. One cause of that under-utilization is due in part to not having a clear strategy for implementation. Another reason for under-utilization of blogs is a lack of understanding of just how many ways blogs can be used by students, teachers, and school leaders. Of all the presentations that I give and workshops that I run every year blogging is my favorite topic. Blogging is also the topic that I receive the most questions about in emails every week. To help teachers and school leaders develop an understanding of the many ways they can use blogs and to help them develop a strategy for implementation, I’ve developed a new Practical Ed Tech webinar series.

Blogging for Teachers and School Leaders is a three hour, two 90 minute parts, webinar series in which you will discover the many ways that blogs can be used in school and through which you will develop a strategy for using blogs in your school. Blogging for Teachers and School Leaders will also cover the nuts and bolts of how to create, develop, and maintain a blog on Blogger and on WordPress-based platforms like Kidblog and Edublogs. And because we’re talking about blogging in the context of schools, we’ll take a look at common questions about privacy and digital footprints.

Blogging for Teachers and School Leaders is a three hour course divided into two 90 minute sessions. Enrollment in the course is limited to twenty-five people. The course does cost $87 per person. Downloadable recordings of each webinar will be available to all participants. Between each meeting participants will be able to participant in a discussion forum to ask questions and exchange ideas. Click here to register today. The course meets May 6 and May 13 at 7pm to 8:30pm EST.

FAQs About Practical Ed Tech Webinars
Q1. What type of computer and or software do I need in order to participate?
    • A1. You will need a Windows or Mac computer. GoToTraining is Java based. GoToTraining currently supports Windows Vista, Windows 7, and Windows 8. GoToTraining currently supports Mac OSX

Q2. If I miss a webinar or I am late to a webinar can I watch a recording of it?
  • A2. Yes, all webinars are recorded and those recordings are available within 18 hours of the completion of each live webinar.

Q3. Can I pay for a webinar using a check or purchase order from my school?
  • A3. Yes, but there is an additional $15 fee for invoicing and purchase order processing.

Q4. I have a bunch of teachers from my school that I want to enroll, how can I do that?

  • A4. If you have ten or more teachers from your school or district that you want to enroll there are a few benefits made available to you. First, we can schedule a webinar series just for you at a time that works best for you. Second, rather than registering each person individually you can just send me a list of those people and their email address and I’ll enroll them for you which will save you an hour or more of time. Third, if you are registering ten or more from the same school or district and you’re paying with a check or purchase order I’ll waive the purchase order processing fee which saves you a minimum of $150.  

A Nice Cheat Sheet for Gmail Shortcuts

If you rely on Gmail for personal or professional use (including Google Apps for Education email messages) take a look at this nice little guide to Gmail shortcuts. These shortcuts, highlighted on one page, could save a few minutes or more the next time that you face a backlog of email messages.

Applications for Education
Download this guide, print it, and display in your classroom, computer lab, or library as a quick reference for you and your student.

H/T to Life Hacker.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

A Quick Round-up of New Google Drive Features

This week Google Drive received a few new updates. One of them is fairly obvious if you collaborated on a document this week. The others were not as obvious, but are none-the-less significant.

Now if when you collaborate on a Google Document you will see the Google+  profile picture of your collaborators. Click the image to learn more about the person. The chat feature of Google Documents is tied to the Google+ integration. Click the new chat icon to start a group chat with your collaborators. It's important to note that if you have anonymous collaborators (which can happen if you share a document using the "anyone with link" option) they appear as animal avatars. If you're working in a Google Apps for Education school that has not enabled Google+ you won't see this new feature either.

We've been able to use Google Drive offline for a while now. There are two new aspects of this to note. First, now you can use Google Drawings offline. Second, Google Drive will now automatically synchronize all files that are supported for offline use. You do have to have offline access enabled in order for these two new features to work. Click here for directions on how to enable offline access for Google Drive and remember that you have to enable it on each computer that you plan to use offline.

To keep up with all of the new features of Google Drive as they're announced, follow Google Drive on Google+.

Week In Review - Deep In the Heart of Texas

Good morning from Maine where I'm home after a week of presenting at conferences in South Dakota and Texas. Thank you to all who came out to attend one of my workshops or keynotes. It's truly a privilege to get to work with so many teachers, librarians, and school leaders. I very much appreciate the kind people who go out of their way to come say hello when I'm out at a conference. And it's because of all of you that read this blog and share links from it that I'm able to speak at so many events throughout the course of the year. Thank you.

Here are this week's most popular posts:
1. VideoNotes - A Great Tool for Taking Notes While Watching Academic Videos
2. gClassfolders Version 2 Improves Google Drive File Management
3. How to Add Voice Comments to Google Documents
4. 5 Ways to Blow the Top Off of Rubrics
5. Lots of Answers to Common Google Apps Privacy & Security Questions
6. 5 Sites Students Can Explore to Learn About Career Options
7. Persistence - The Key to Successful Classroom Blogging

Would you like to relax and learn with me this summer?
10 Seats are available for the Practical Ed Tech Summer Camp.

Please visit the official advertisers that help keep this blog going.
Practical Ed Tech is the brand through which I offer PD webinars.
Fresno Pacific University offers online courses for teachers.
Discovery Education & Wilkes University offer online courses for earning Master's degrees in Instructional Media.
Vocabulary Spelling City offers spelling practice activities that you can customize.
MasteryConnect provides a network for teachers to share and discover Common Core assessments. is a provider of free educational games for K-5.
Lesley University offers quality online graduate programs for teachers.
The University of Maryland Baltimore County offers graduate programs for teachers.
Boise State University offers a 100% online program in educational technology. is hosting workshops in Atlanta, Chicago, and Boston this summer.

How to Subscribe to Free Technology for Teachers
Join more than 56,000 others who subscribe via these links.
Subscribe via RSSSubscribe via Email.
Like Free Technology for Teachers on  Facebook.
Find me on Twitter, on Google+, or on Pinterest.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Reminder - Posterous Is Shutting Down - Here's What To Do Next

Like many others this morning I received a reminder from Posterous that the service will close on April 30th. If you don't export your content from Posterous by April 30th it will be gone forever. So if you have anything on a Posterous blog that you want to save, take action now.

In this post I used annotated screenshots to show the basics of how to export your content from Posterous.

In this post Wes Fryer provides detailed directions on how to import your Posterous content into WordPress.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Three Good Ways to Use Socrative In Your Classroom

The last part of the short presentation about backchannels and informal assessment that I gave at the Texas Library Association's conference was spent on Socrative. Just as I did for Padlet and TodaysMeet, I shared three ways that Socrative can be used in school. Those ways are outlined below.

Use Socrative to gather anonymous questions and answers:
The single response activities in Socrative allow students to reply to your prompt or question without entering their names. In a single response activity you verbally pose a question or prompt to your students and they respond with a word, sentence, or multiple choice selection. The anonymous reply format is useful for surveying students when you’re asking them to submit responses to questions or prompts that they might be reluctant to share in an open format.

Use Socrative to administer short quizzes:
The quiz-based activities in Socrative allow you to give your students short quizzes that include multiple choice, true/ false, and short answer responses. The new option to include pictures in your questions allows you ask questions about diagrams, charts, and any other item that you have an image of. You can set the quiz to give students immediate feedback on the multiple choice and true/ false questions. You can see the results of the quizzes in real-time and download a report of all students’ answers when all of your students have completed the quiz.

Use Socrative to host a “space race” in your classroom:
A fun way to use Socrative is to host a team "space race." A space race is a competitive format for quizzes. Space race can be played as a team or individual activity. Each correct answer moves a rocket ship across the screen. The first person or team to get their rocket across the screen wins. Your space race questions can be pulled from a quiz that you have stored in your Socrative account.

Disclosure: Socrative's parent company, MasteryConnect, is an advertiser on this blog.

Three Good Ways to Use Padlet In Your School

This afternoon at the Texas Library Association's annual conference I gave a short presentation about backchannels and informal assessment. Some of you may have seen the Padlet wall that I posted here for a few hours as a part of that presentation. During the presentation I mentioned three ways to use Padlet in schools. Those ways are described below.

Using 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.

Using Padlet for group research:
A couple of 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 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.

Using 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.

Three Good Ways to Use TodaysMeet in Your Classroom is a completely free service for hosting backchannel discussions. Over the years I’ve used it in a variety of ways including as a real-time discussion during a classroom viewing of a video, as a tool for quickly polling my students, and as forum for students to anonymously ask questions.

Using TodaysMeet to support lectures:
What I've done in the past is post my slideshows (which are basically lecture outlines) on the classroom blog two days prior to discussing that content in class. Then in class we discuss the content of the slideshows and I add "spice" to the slideshow content. While this discussion is going on, my students write questions and comments as they pop into their heads. This enables more students to ask more questions and share more comments than if they all had to raise their hands and wait to be called upon to speak.

Using TodaysMeet while watching videos in the classroom:
Using TodaysMeet for back-channeling while showing a video is a great way to handle clarifying questions and comments in real-time. Prior to using backchannels when I showed a video I would stop it at various intervals to discuss the students' reactions and questions. Now when I show a video in a classroom, I set-up a backchannel using TodaysMeet. The back-channel allows students to record their reactions to what they see while at the same time I am able to answer questions that arise as they watch the video.

Using TodaysMeet to collect anonymously questions and comments:
TodaysMeet does not have an option for requiring users to log-in with an email address. This is both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because it means that your students don’t have to remember a username and password to use the service. It’s a curse because students can use any alias they like when they join your TodaysMeet room. If you want your students to use aliases in your TodaysMeet room, ask them to right them down for you so that you can determine who is who if you have to step into a conversation that goes awry.

I love a good keynote...but...

I love to listen to a good keynote presentation. Dan Meyer's Math Class Needs a Makeover is still one of the best I've seen in terms of challenging status quo in education. I also love to give a keynote when I'm offered the opportunity. But given the choice of attending a keynote-style presentation or a hands-on workshop, I'll take the workshop nine times out of ten (there are some keynote speakers that are really, really good and some - Rushton Hurley is one educator I'd pay good money to see give a keynote). Likewise, while I enjoy giving keynotes I love even more the opportunity to spend hours working with teachers in hands-on workshops because at the end of the day I know for sure that those teachers are walking away with something new that they can use. This is why I'm so excited to lead the Practical Ed Tech Summer Camp in July. I spent two years thinking about doing something like this and talking with trusted colleagues about offering it and now that it's going to happen I can't wait for July to get here. If you would like to join us eleven seats are currently available.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Are Your Students Standing On The Shoulders of Giants?

If you visit Google Scholar right now you will see the tagline, "stand on the shoulders of giants." This is something that I mentioned a couple of times while talking about search on Tuesday at the TIE Conference. Google Scholar allows us to see what other researchers have cited in their works. Middle school and high school students may find the material on Google Scholar is above their reading levels, but the concept of seeing what others have cited can definitely be applied to K-12 classrooms.

Two ways students can stand on the shoulders of giants.
Create a Diigo group in which your students share links that they find throughout the year when researching for your class. Save these bookmarks from year to year and have your students consult that list before searching elsewhere. That could save them time on researching the basics of a topic and show them what others have found useful before going to look for more in-depth material. 

If you're asking your students to deliver a slideshow presentation to their classmates, your students can probably find a completed slideshow rather quickly by searching for .PPT files in Google or visiting a site like When students find those slideshows the challenge becomes finding more information than can be found quickly through a Google search. The challenge is to bring their own ideas to the presentation and go beyond the basics.

A Simple Activity to Help Students Analyze Characters in Books

Scholastic's Character Scrapbook is a nice little online activity that could help your students analyze the characters in the books that they read. The Character Scrapbook asks students to create a digital drawing of what they think a character from a book looks like. The Character Scrapbook allows students to create digital drawings of people or animals. After creating their drawings students then complete a list of ten things that they know about the character, ten words to describe the character, ten details about the character, ten challenges facing the character, and ten things about the character's personality. When students have completed each page of the Character Scrapbook the pages can be printed.

Applications for Education
Character Scrapbook isn't a revolutionary tool. In fact, you could do the same activity on paper. The one thing that I really like about Character Scrapbook is that digital drawing tool allows students who might not think of themselves as creative artists to create a visual representation of their favorite characters from the books that they read.

Three Ways Students Can Explore Space From Their Desktops

Someone recently emailed me after reading this post about Google Sky for Android to ask if there were similar tools available for use on laptops. The answer is yes. Here are three tools that students can use to explore space from their desktops.

The Microsoft WorldWide Telescope makes very detailed, high resolution images (scientific quality) from space available to anyone with access to a computer and an internet connection. The goal of the WorldWide Telescope is to enable users to use their computers as virtual telescopes. The WorldWide Telescope can be downloaded and run on Windows-based computers. Mac users will have to use the web client to access the WorldWide Telescope. The educators page on the WorldWide Telescope site has lesson resources and ideas for middle school and high school use.

Celestia is a free space exploration simulation program. Celestia is a free download that works on Mac, PC, and Linux systems. The advantage of Celestia over other satellite imagery programs is that in addition to seeing the Earth's surface, students can zoom in on moons, stars, and planets. The user controls what they see. Operating the program is easy enough to be used by students as young as six or seven. The user guides for Celestia are very thorough and available in four languages. There is a companion website to Celestia called the Celestia Motherlode that features add-ons to Celestia and educational activities that teachers can use in their classrooms.

Google Sky allows you view images of space in your web browser. Google Sky offers great images of outer space captured by the Hubble Space Telescope and the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. Google Sky has images that have captured x-ray and infrared wavelengths. The Google Sky web browser also has some more basic images in a collection referred to as "backyard astronomy." 

Find Free Sound Effects on SoundGator

The next time you need common sounds like doorbells ringing, dogs barking, or car horns honking to use in a multimedia project you could try to record those sounds yourself or you could turn to SoundGator to find free recordings that you can download. SoundGator offers free sound recording downloads. There are twenty-three recording categories that you can browse through to find the perfect sound for your project.

You do have to register on SoundGator in order to download recordings. After registering you can download recordings directly to your computer to re-use in your projects.

Applications for Education
Whenever I talk about having students create multimedia projects I encourage having students create and use their own sound samples. Creating their sound samples isn't always feasible and in those cases it is good to have a site like SoundGator at your disposal.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Persistence- The Key to Successful Classroom Blogging

My mom and brothers in 1990
I've been fortunate to have been invited to speak about blogging at a number of schools and conferences. One of the points that I always try to make in my talks about blogging is "keep blogging even if only your mother is reading your blog."

Teachers (and many others) often give up on blogging because they think that no one is reading their blog posts. It takes persistence to make a blog work if you're the only author. Keep writing even if only one person is reading it. That one person may tell another about your work and then you'll have doubled your readership. But if you stop writing because you think no one is reading then no one will be reading or sharing your blog posts.

To take this idea to classroom blogs remember that it takes time and persistence to get students and their parents to regularly check your classroom blog. These are the pitfalls to avoid that I'll fully admit I fell into the first time I tried to use blogging in my classroom. My first use of a blog was simply to distribute information and have students comment on it. The pitfall here was allowing to students to email comments instead of posting them on the blog when they forgot their log-in credentials. My second use of blogging was having students write reflections of what they had learned during the week. The pitfall here was, again, letting students email their reflections instead of posting them on the blog. The whole point of having the classroom blog was to have students share with each other and comment on their classmates' ideas. When I didn't have the persistence to say, "no, you need to reset your password" then the blogging activity lost its momentum. When I started saying, "no, you need to post to the blog" then my classroom blogging activities became successful.

How to Add Voice Comments to Google Documents

The sharing and commenting features in Google Documents are fantastic for giving students feedback about their work. Likewise, those features are great for students to use for peer editing. But if you want to really add your voice to then you'll want to add the Voice Comments application from to your Google Drive account. Thanks to a Tweet from Alec Couros I learned about a Google Documents voice comment tutorial produced by Jennifer Roberts. Her video tutorial is embedded below.

5 Sites Students Can Explore to Learn About Career Options

One of my favorite parts of having a student advisory group of sixteen to eighteen years-old students was talking with them about their college and career aspirations. One of the great things about the web is that students can quickly discover and research career options as opposed to having to consult a few books in the school library or career center. Here is a handful of sites that students can use to learn about career options.

Career Thoughts is a site that aims to help students make informed career decisions. On Career Thoughts students can find career profiles that outline what a person in a particular career field actually does, the education requirements for that field, salary ranges, and employment prospects. The Career Thoughts YouTube channel provides even more information through video profiles of careers. Students who are ready to start applying for jobs will find plenty of resume writing, job hunting, and interviewing tips on Career Thoughts too.

iCould is a UK-based website that features videos of people sharing their career stories. The stories cover people in all types of careers and at all phases of their working careers. One of the the main purposes of iCould is to expose viewers to what different types of jobs really entail. Visitors to iCould can search for stories by job type, life theme, or keyword tags.

Inside Jobs is a site that offers information about careers and the training required for them. On Inside Jobs visitors can search for career information by keyword or browse through categorized collections of information. Each career in the list has a short video featuring someone in the industry explaining what they do and how they got into the field. Inside Jobs provides lists of schools that offer programs related to the careers that students are interested in. (Note that the schools do pay to be included on Inside Jobs).

Career Sighted is a new website designed to help students learn a bit about jobs in careers they have an interest in. The videos introduce students to the essential functions of each job and education needed for it. The videos feature real people talking about their jobs and what they like about them. Career Sighted is only a couple of months old so at this point it only has a few dozen videos, but hopefully they'll be adding more over the next few months. 

The Atlantic has a great article titled What People Don't Get About My Job.The article is comprised of 26 contributions from readers explaining what most people don't understand about their jobs. There is one job for every letter of the alphabet. In the article you will find jobs like Kindergarten Teacher, IRS employee, zookeeper, and even unemployed.

Tagboard - Organization for Following Hashtags

This morning while I was preparing to give a talk about personal learning networks at the TIE Conference in South Dakota I was watching the conference when I saw Gwynn Moore Tweet about Tagboard. Tagboard is free tool that allows you to enter any hashtag and view all of the Tweets, Instagram pictures, Facebook posts, Google+ posts, and Vine posts associated with that hashtag. All of the posts are displayed in a bulletin board or Pinterest-like display. You can reTweet and or reply to messages while viewing Tagboard.

Applications for Education
One of the things that I always mention in my talk about online personal learning networks is that you don't have to always be connected in order to benefit from having an online PLN. You can check in for fifteen to thirty minutes per day during the commercial breaks of your favorite television show and glean a lot of useful information in that time. A tool like Tagboard could enable to you catch up even faster because you will see more messages in the same amount of screen space. You can also participate in multiple social networks from the same screen while using Tagboard.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Lots of Answers to Common Google Apps Security & Privacy Questions

This morning I received an email that I get on a fairly regular basis. The question always goes something like this... "we're thinking about using Google Apps in our school but we worry about storing company projects on a third party servers, can you give us some guidance?"

The first thing that I always share with people asking that question is a link to the Google Apps security and privacy overview. There you will find answers to the most common questions about security and privacy including perhaps the most frequently asked question, "who owns the data that organizations put into Google Apps?" Google's response is copied below.
  • To put it simply, Google does not own your data. We do not take a position on whether the data belongs to the institution signing up for Apps, or the individual user (that's between the two of you), but we know it doesn't belong to us!
    The data which you put into our systems is yours, and we believe it should stay that way. We think that means three key things.
  • We won't share your data with others except as noted in our Privacy Policy.
  • We keep your data as long as you require us to keep it.
  • Finally, you should be able to take your data with you if you choose to use external services in conjunction with Google Apps or stop using our services altogether.

ReadWorks Offers 1,000+ Reading Passages Aligned to Common Core Standards

ReadWorks is a free service that has cataloged hundreds of lesson plans and more than one thousand non-fiction reading passages aligned to Common Core standards. With a free ReadWorks account you can search for lessons and reading passages by grade and skill. In your account you can create digital binders of the lesson plans and reading passages that you want to use. Learn more about ReadWorks in the video below.

Intro to ReadWorks from ReadWorks on Vimeo.

Edit and Create PowerPoint, Word, and More Inside

When I'm not saving and sharing files through Google Drive, is the tool that I use. Now has become more useful by adding a new feature that allows you to create and edit PowerPoint, Word, and Excel files within your Box account. Box is also supporting the use of Google Drive to create documents and spreadsheets through your Box account.

Applications for Education
If you or your students prefer PowerPoint or Word to Google Documents or Google Slides, could be a good option for you to use create and share your work online.

New PDF Annotation Options in Evernote Skitch

Skitch for Mac and iOS is an excellent app that I've used for creating annotated screenshots for quite a while. In fact, I used it to create the screenshots in A Short Guide to Using Google Drive on Your iPad. Recently, Skitch for Mac and iOS received some updates that make annotating PDFs easier and better than ever before.

Skitch now allows you to import and annotated single and multiple page PDFs. New stickers and call-outs have been added to Skitch as well. If you're an Evernote Premium account holder you'll have access to even more features including an annotations summary page.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

VideoNotes - A Great Tool for Taking Notes While Watching Academic Videos

VideoNotes is a neat new tool for taking notes while watching videos. VideoNotes allows you to load any YouTube video on the left side of your screen and on the right side of the screen VideoNotes gives you a notepad to type on. VideoNotes integrates with your Google Drive account. By integrating with Google Drive VideoNotes allows you to share your notes and collaborate on your notes just as you can do with a Google Document.

Applications for Education
My first thought when I saw VideoNotes was that it would be a great tool for students to use to take notes, ask questions, and answer questions while watching "flipped" instruction videos. You could assign a video for homework and have your students ask and or answer questions using VideoNotes. Have students share their notes with you so that you can see their questions which in turn can influence how you structure your next lesson plan.

5 Ways to Blow the Top Off of Rubrics

This is a guest post from Shawn McCusker of which is an advertiser on this blog. 

Do you have a rubric for that? Rubrics, designed to help teachers grade fairly and convey their learning objectives and performance standards to students, can serve a critical role especially with technology-rich projects. Teachers also like them for standardizing grading among teachers teaching the same course. At their best, rubrics firmly establish a minimum standard for learning and product construction. At their worst, rubrics become a recipe that can lead to all students producing the same product. In these cases, creativity and the development of unique products become a casualty to tightly constructed standards.
"If you assign a project and get back 30 of the exact same thing, that's not a project, that's a recipe." - Chris Lehmann
Especially with 1:1 or BYOD classrooms, where individualized learning should be the norm, this is a huge potential problem. In these classrooms, it is still important to effectively convey the learning objective. However, it is the rare rubric that both provides guidance as well as addresses the task of grading the widely varying assignments generated when students have real freedom to choose what they create.
“Individualized instruction is a method of instruction in which content, instructional technology (such as materials) and pace of learning are based upon the abilities and interests of each individual learner” via Wikipedia
Rubrics can become barriers to creativity and fall short when they provide a stopping point - where, once each component is checked, the assignment is done and learning and creation stop. There is incredible power in letting students pursue their interests and express their creativity. The products that result from this pursuit of passion and interest will always stand out when placed next to those created through a sense of duty and obligation. Placing a list of “have to’s” at the top of a rubric is like building a wall at the bottom of a slide. It completely destroys the ride and subverts the joy of the creative process, providing an off-switch. The way teachers assess individualized learning needs to be adapted in consideration of this.
“It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in the creative art of expression and knowledge.” Albert Einstein
Blow the top off of your rubrics to encourage students to keep pursuing their learning. Leave the basic level standards in place to help students meet the assignment’s objective and support students who need more structure, but then create a rubric with a blatant challenge and ample encouragement for students to push themselves beyond the basic requirements.  

5 Ways to Blow the Top Off of Rubrics:
  1. One of my favorites is to modify the definition of an “A” to include this language: “A project that in some way redefines the teachers definition of excellence.” The video below is an example of a student who did just that: she could have submitted a Venn diagram for this project but chose instead to do this RSA style video.
  2. Where possible, eliminate simple checklists from your definition of “Exemplary”. Students who are given a checklist will do just that, check off the list. When everything is checked, their minds will tell them that they are done. That is not how excellence is created.
  3. Avoid having too many rules and extraneous limits in your rubric. Making too many restrictions stifles creativity, and makes students nervous and cautious. Stick to standards that make the learning objectives clear without being overwhelming. Rubrics don’t need to reaffirm every standard of work established over the course of the year.
  4. Use language that supports taking creative risks. Encourage “Daring” and “Unique” work. Charge students with something more than simply meeting or exceeding a standard. Often rubrics can sound too clinical, use rubrics to issue a challenge.
  5. Allow room for mistakes and errors in excellent work, especially where new tools and technologies are concerned. Creativity takes time to polish, and overly punitive standards can make students feel that creative risks aren’t worth their effort.
Rubrics have been a valid and effective tool for teachers to evaluate both a student’s process, as well as their products, and can remain so if they are adapted to fit within the models of freedom and creativity. Like a fence, rubrics can keep students confined to a learning objective, but where excellence is concerned, make sure that the gate is left open. Ultimately, the goal is to allow for creative projects that you can’t imagine, but that your students can.  
Shawn will be one of the lead instructors at our Summer Workshops in Chicago and Boston.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

gClassFolders Version 2 Improves Google Drive File Management

Last fall I introduced many of you to gClassFolders. gClassFolders is a Google Drive script that will create folders for you for as many course sections as you need. The concept behind it is this; students have a "dropbox" folder in their Google Drive accounts that you have shared with them. To submit work students drag files into that "dropbox" folder. From there gClassFolders sorts submissions to the correct folder for each student.

The latest version of gClassFolders is part of gClassHub which includes other useful scripts like Doctopus. This means that after your students have submitted their work through Google Drive you can grade it, write feedback, and have emails sent to students from one spreadsheet in your Google Drive account.

Some other highlights of the latest version of gClassFolders include the option to add students to add students without having to re-create all of your folders and an option for moving students from one class to another without having to re-create folders.

Applications for Education
It does take a few tries to really understand using gClassFolders and Doctopus. Once you get the hang of it though it can save you a ton of time in the management of the files that students share with you. Visit the instructions page on gClassFolders for detailed directions on running gClassFolders.

The Week in Review - Thinking About Summer In the Snow

Good morning from Greenwood, Maine. It has been a week like no other here in New England. In a matter of minutes on Monday I went from celebrating a Red Sox win to worry and sadness for my friends in Boston. Like everyone else, I was very happy to hear that the second suspect was arrested last night.

The last seven days have been busy. Last Saturday morning I announced the Practical Ed Tech Summer Camp while I was waiting for a flight in snowy Fargo, North Dakota. More than one-third of the seats have already been sold for that event. I also spent quite a bit of time this week creating new materials for a new webinar series that I'm going to officially announce next week. It's going to be all about blogging. And to wrap-up my week I've put together the list of the most frequently read posts of the week.

Here are this week's most popular posts:
1. 10 Good Video Sources for Math Students and Teachers
2. Updated Again - Best of the Web 2013
3. Slides and Outlines from my Presentations at TAIS
4. Come Relax and Learn With Me This Summer
5. 5 Free Timers to Help You Time Classroom Activities and Breaks
6. Visuals for Foreign Language Instruction Offers Hundreds of Visuals
7. 5 Good Places to Learn to Write HTML

Would you like to have me to visit your school this year? 
Click here for information 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.
Fresno Pacific University offers online courses for teachers.
Discovery Education & Wilkes University offer online courses for earning Master's degrees in Instructional Media.
Vocabulary Spelling City offers spelling practice activities that you can customize.
MasteryConnect provides a network for teachers to share and discover Common Core assessments. is a provider of free educational games for K-5.
Lesley University offers quality online graduate programs for teachers.
The University of Maryland Baltimore County offers graduate programs for teachers.
Boise State University offers a 100% online program in educational technology. is hosting workshops in Atlanta, Chicago, and Boston this summer.

How to Subscribe to Free Technology for Teachers
Join more than 56,000 others who subscribe via these links.
Subscribe via RSSSubscribe via Email.
Like Free Technology for Teachers on  Facebook.
Find me on Twitter, on Google+, or on Pinterest.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Video - How to Use the New Features of Socrative

On Thursday I wrote a post highlighting the new features of Socrative. Over the last eighteen hours I received a few questions about how to use the new features so I sat down and put together a short screencast demonstrating how to add pictures to Socrative quizzes and how to set up a quiz for self-grading. The video is embedded below.

National Geographic and the Common Core

National Geographic Education's website continues to evolve and it no longer has the "beta" label attached to it. One of the resources that I spotted on the site this morning is about Common Core standards. National Geographic and the Common Core is a small collection of web and print materials from National Geographic that can be used in ELA lessons aligned to Common Core standards. There isn't a ton of depth to the collections and I think that National Geographic could certainly add a lot more of their resources to the collections, but it's a good starting place if you're looking to bring some geography into your ELA lessons.

10 Educational Resources for Earth Day

This coming Monday is Earth Day 2013. As I've done in the past, I've compiled a list of resources for teaching about Earth Day and environmental science in general. Here are ten resources for teaching and learning about Earth Day and environmental science.

The Earth Day Network is a good place to start your search for Earth Day information. The Earth Day Network offers nine lesson plans about preserving the environment. This year the Earth Day Network is looking for people to share stories of climate change by uploading pictures that represent "the faces of climate change."

National Geographic has some other great resources for learning about environmental science and Earth  Day. On the National Geographic website students can learn about the Green House Effect through an interactive lesson. After learning about global warming in the Green House Effect interactive lesson, students can learn about alternative energy through the Wind Power interactive lesson.

Breathing Earth is an interactive map demonstrating CO2 emissions, birth rates, and death rates globally and by individual countries. From the moment that you first visit Breathing Earth it starts counting the number of births occurring worldwide. Placing your cursor over any country on the map reveals information about birthrate, death rate, and rate of CO2 emissions. One of the additional resources linked to Breathing Earth is an ecological footprint calculator. Using this calculator students can calculate their personal footprints, take quizzes, and learn about the ecological footprints of various businesses.

Google offers tours in its Explore Climate Change series. The tours explore the actions of organizations to prevent or adapt to climate change in different parts of the world. These tours include the World Wildlife Foundation's efforts in the peatland swamps of Borneo, Greenpeace's actions to prevent deforestation of the Amazon, and Conservation International's efforts to reduce deforestation in Madagascar. The tours can be viewed three ways, in Google Earth, in the Google Browser plug-in, or through YouTube.

Google offers tours in its Explore Climate Change series. The tours explore the actions of organizations to prevent or adapt to climate change in different parts of the world. These tours include the World Wildlife Foundation's efforts in the peatland swamps of Borneo, Greenpeace's actions to prevent deforestation of the Amazon, and Conservation International's efforts to reduce deforestation in Madagascar. The tours can be viewed three ways, in Google Earth, in the Google Browser plug-in, or through YouTube.

Turf Mutt is a nice free resource from Discovery Education. Turf Mutt features ten free environmental science lesson plans for K-5 teachers. The lesson plans have clearly defined objectives and detailed directions for carrying out each lesson plan. The majority of the lesson plans span several days. The lesson plans use a combination of hands-on activities, see Discovering Dirt, and reading/ research activities. Although not directly connected to the lesson plans, Turf Mutt has some videos to help students learn about topics in Environmental Science.

My Garbology, produced by Nature Bridge, is an interactive game that teaches students about sorting garbage for recycling, reusing, and composting. Students sort garbage into four bins according to where they think each piece of garbage should go. When a piece of garbage is sorted correctly a series of short animations explains why it should be there.  For example, a banana peel should be sorted into the compost bin. When the banana peel is placed into the compost bin students watch and hear a series of animations explaining how composting works.

Changing the Balance is a website for students to use to explore climate change through looking at its impact on mosquitoes, malaria, and the West Nile virus. There are nine sequential parts to Changing the Balance. In the first four parts students learn about mosquitoes, Malaria, and West Nile and how climate change may be a contributing factor to the spread of those diseases. In the beginning students also learn how mosquitoes bite and how Malaria affects the human body. The last five sections of Changing the Balance are geared toward a more general explanation and examination of causes and effects of climate change.

The Great Energy Challenge is a National Geographic feature that offers some nice interactive posters for evaluating personal and global energy consumption. Global Electricity Outlook is an interactive display of electricity consumption across the globe. You can view the global picture or click on the map to view regional consumption. The display shows the means of electricity production globally and regionally. To see how shifting production sources would impact the world or a region use the sliders below the map. The Personal Energy Meter is a tool for evaluating your personal carbon footprint. The meter asks for your location then asks a series of questions about your energy consumption. The result compares you to the average person in your region. I was below average in my footprint until I entered the number of flights I take every year. Wow! Flying leaves a huge carbon footprint.

EcoKids is a Canadian organization that provides free resources for teaching and learning about topics in environmental science. The resources designed for teachers require registration, but the resources for students can be accessed without registration. The games and activities section for kids offers dozens of online games across eight categories. Within each of the eight categories the games and activities are again categorized according to age appropriateness. The eight games and activities categories are: wildlife, climate change, energy, water, waste, land use, the North, and First Nations & Inuit.