Friday, January 31, 2014

The Month In Review - The Most Popular Posts

When in London...
Good evening from Woodstock, Maine where it is a balmy 19F. It's hard to believe that the first month of the year is already at its end. This month started out slowly but quickly picked up as I conducted four webinars (three for, presented at Archbishop Williams High School in Braintree, Massachusetts, and attended TeachMeet BETT in London. Along the way I learned a bunch of new things that I've shared in this blog and or plan to incorporate in future workshops.

101 posts were published on Free Technology for Teachers this month. Here are the ten most popular posts.

1. Teachit Timer - A Slick Classroom Activity Timer
2. 7 Free iPad Apps for Science Lessons
3. Seven Free Online Whiteboard Tools for Teachers and Students
4. Nature Sound Map - Listen to the Sounds of Nature All Over the World
5. Thinking Blocks - Model Math Problems on iPads, Interactive Whiteboards, and in Your Browser
6. Click to Spin - A Fun and Free Random Name Picker
7. Three Good Tools for Building Flipped Lessons That Include Assessment Tools
8. 10 Tools to Help Students Keep Track of Tasks This Year
9. Wellcome Images Releases 100,000 Images Under Creative Commons Licensing
10. Seven Free Online Tools for Scheduling Appointments

Would you like to have me visit your school this year?
Click here to learn more about my professional development offerings.

Please visit the official advertisers that help keep this blog going.
Practical Ed Tech is the brand through which I offer PD webinars.
IXL offers a huge assortment of mathematics lesson activities.
Typing Club offers free typing lessons for students.
Discovery Education & Wilkes University offer online courses for earning Master's degrees in Instructional Media.
MasteryConnect provides a network for teachers to share and discover Common Core assessments. is a provider of free educational games for K-5.
The University of Maryland Baltimore County offers graduate programs for teachers.
Boise State University offers a 100% online program in educational technology.
EdTechTeacher is organizing two iPad summits this school year.
Classmint offers a nice multimedia flashcard service.
StoryBoard That is a great tool for creating comics and more.
Fresno Pacific University offers a wide variety of technology courses for teachers.

How to Subscribe to Free Technology for Teachers
Subscribe via RSSSubscribe via Email.
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Learning Pod - Practice, Create, and Distribute Quizzes

Learning Pod is a free service through which students can review thousands of practice questions on a wide variety of topics. Teachers can use Learning Pod to create sets of questions to distribute to their students.

When a student visits Learning Pod he or she has the option to sign-in or to use the service without registering. Either way students can browse through thousands of sets of questions called Learning Pods. Students will find pods that are organizing according to test type (SAT, GRE, ACT) and pods that are organized according to subject matter. In both cases the questions that students select will be multiple choice questions for which instant feedback is given after each answer is submitted.

Applications for Education
Teachers can create questions on Learning Pod and arrange them into sets to distribute to students. Each Learning Pod has its own URL that you can send to students via email or simply post it on your classroom blog for students to find. Learning Pods can also be embedded into blog posts as I have done below.

60 Second Civics Offers Great Civics Lessons Starters

60 Second Civics is one of my favorite resources for lessons on U.S. civics and government. 60 Second Civics is a daily podcast produced by the Center for Civic Education. Each 60 Second Civics episode offers a short lesson about US Civics. Along with each episode is a one question quiz about that day's episode. Today's episode and the three episodes prior to it dealt with questions about freedom of expression. Today's episode about the case of Tinker v. Des Moines is one that will grab the attention of most middle school and high school students.

You can find 60 Second Civics on the Center for Civic Education's website or you can subscribe to it on iTunes.

Applications for Education
Playing 60 Second Civics could be a good "starter activity" at the beginning of a US History or Civics class. You might consider combining and or alternating the use of 60 Second Civics with a resource like CNN Student News.

Videos - The TVA, the Hoover Dam, and More Stories of the Great Depression

After watching some of the Great Depression stories mentioned in my previous post I jumped into a set of videos from the US National Archives. In those videos I found historical film footage about some of the public works put into place during the Great Depression. I've embedded a few of them below.

Stories from the Great Depression.

The TVA at Work.

Boulder Dam (later named the Hoover Dam).

The Land of Giants (stories of conservation efforts in California).

Watch and Listen to First Person Accounts of the Great Depression

When I taught units on the Great Depression I liked to use video and audio clips of first person accounts of the effects of the Great Depression on individuals and families. The PBS documentary on the Great Depression was a good source of those clips. I always found those stories helped my students understand the total effects of the Great Depression better than just reading about the stories. Recently, through Open Culture, I learned that Washington University has digitized and archived 148 first person accounts of the Great Depression. The accounts cover events from 1929 to the beginning of U.S. involvement in WWII.

You can find all of the videos on Washington University's YouTube channel.

Applications for Education
When I used clips like these before showing students a video I would describe a scenario to them how and ask them how they would have responded in a situation similar to that shared in the video they were about to watch.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

How Electronics Work

A few years ago Gizmodo ran a series of mostly video posts about the inner workings of electronics. The series of four posts featured videos explaining things like resistive sensors, LEDs, diodes, volts, amps, and electrical pressure. You can find the posts in sequence here, here, here, and here. The first video in the series is embedded below.  

Electrical Pressure from Sparkle Labs on Vimeo.

Applications for Education
If you teach any courses dealing with electronics, these videos could make a good supplement to your lessons. Some of the topics covered in the Gizmodo series deal with logic and sequencing (in fact the whole series kind of deals with sequencing) which could be worked into a mathematics lesson. Or perhaps you have a young person in your life who just likes to tinker with electronics (I loved to tinker with an electronics board from Radio Shack as kid in the 80's) and these videos could help that young person get a better understanding of electronics.

Build Flow Charts With Connect-a-Sketch

Update: As of November 2015 this service is offline.

Connect a Sketch is a free service intended to help people take their existing sketches and images and arrange them into an online flowchart. Creating a flowchart is just a matter of uploading JNP and or PNG images then arranging them into a sequence you want. You can then add connecting lines between your images. If you have a new element to add to your sequence you can go back and edit your sketch.

Applications for Education
Connect a Sketch was built for developing prototypes for industrial applications, but the service can just as easily be used for arranging any series of PNG and or JPG files into a sequence. Students could use Connect a Sketch to arrange images from news stories into a sequence, diagram a story they're writing, or show the steps for solving a problem.

Play Financial Football to Learn Some Money Management Skills

Practical Money Skills hosts a series of eight online games designed to teach students some money management skills. One of the games that is timely considering that the Super Bowl is just a few days away is Financial Football. Financial Football has students answer questions about budgets, savings, and spending to move their football teams down the field against another team. The games use real NFL team logos. Financial Football takes at least twenty minutes to play.

The Science of American Football

The Super Bowl is just a few days away. Take advantage of your students' interest in the big game and introduce some math and science concepts to them through NBC's Science of Football. The Science of NFL Football is a series of ten videos from NBC Learn explaining and demonstrating math and science concepts as they relate to football.

The list of topics covered in the Science of NFL Football includes Torque & Center of Mass, Pythagorean Theorem, Geometric Shapes, Projectile Motion & Parabolas, Vectors, Kinematics, Nutrition, and Newton's 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Laws of Motion.

Applications for Education
Every video in the Science of NFL Football is accompanied by a lesson plan appropriate for use in middle school classrooms. Click here to take a look at the lesson about Newton's 3rd Law.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Read and Download 250+ Art Books from the Getty Museum

Six months ago I shared with you the Metropolitan Museum of Art's collection of nearly 400 free art history books. Now the Getty Museum has put more than 250 art books online for anyone to read online and or download. You can find all of these books in the Getty Publications Virtual Library. You can search through the collection by author, keyword, or title. Alternatively, you can simply browse the collections. All of the free books are also available on Google Books. In fact, I've used Google Books to embed one of the books below.

Applications for Education 
The Getty Publications Virtual Library could be a great resource for art teachers and their students. Students who are researching artists and or art movements could consult the collection to find reference materials.

H/T to Open Culture

Learn Spanish With Spanish Is Your Amigo

Spanish Is Your Amigo is a series of video lessons taught by YouTube EDU Guru Kristen Williams. The lessons are designed for beginner and intermediate students. The short, upbeat lessons cover the basics of things like letter pronunciation, numbers, syllabic stress, verb conjugation, nouns and articles, and common Spanish phrases. Check out a sample lesson embedded below and the YouTube channel here.

Applications for Education
As I say with almost every series of video lessons, they won't replace direct in-person instruction. But video lessons can be good resources for students who need a review or for students who can benefit from a slightly different wording or way of looking at material.

Linking Projects, Ideas, and Concepts with Popplet

This is a guest post from Beth Holland at which is an advertiser on Free Technology for Teachers.

Recently, when looking for a new tool that would work across multiple platforms (Windows, Mac, & Chromebook in particular), I stumbled on Popplet. While I had used the free Popplet Lite iPad app as a mindmapping tool, I had been unaware of the truly awesome potential for using Popplet on the web!

At first glance, Popplet seems like most other mindmapping tools such as Inspiration,, or MindMeister. However, it has three critical features that separate it from the rest (on top of being FREE).

First, not only can you create objects with text, but Popples can also include links, drawing, images from either your computer or the web, and video from either YouTube or Vimeo. In fact, if you are working on Popplet from a Chromebook, you can even insert images directly from your Google Drive account!

Next, even with a free account, Popples can be shared in much the same way as a Google Doc, allowing for both synchronous and asynchronous editing and creating. This means that they could be used for group discussion, collaborative brainstorming, or even as a backchannel.

Finally, in addition to sharing directly with other collaborators, completed Popples can be published with a link or an embed code - making it incredibly easy to share via a web site, wiki, blog, or even a Learning Management Solution such as Edmodo or Schoology.

Uses for Popplet in the Classroom
Beyond using it as a mindmapping or graphic organizer tool, students could use Popplet to illustrate the steps of a process or sequence, such as a Popplet lab report showing reactions, steps, processes, and procedures. Similarly, Popplet could become an interactive timeline - complete with digital artifacts such as video and images from primary sources. Given the ability to incorporate links, images, and video, Popplet could even make a for a highly visual student portfolio tool.

From a teacher’s perspective, imagine posting an image, video, or piece of text and then asking students to brainstorm their ideas based on what they see or experience. Think about the potential for visual, linked, collaborative discussions. An English teacher could ask students to respond to a discussion prompt, connecting ideas off of the prompt as well as their peers. A History teacher might post a political cartoon and ask for students to respond with their own drawings, and a math teacher might pose a problem and ask students to submit their solutions.

When using Popplet with a group of teachers in a recent workshop, one participant realized that it could be an amazing tool for documenting student learning as part of the new teacher evaluation process. Popplet could be a curation tool for displaying student work as it relates to a specific unit or project as well as a student portfolio option - visually linking student learning artifacts to the desired objectives.

For even more ideas, check out the Popplet that I created while brainstorming all of the possibilities.

To learn more about Popplet and other web tools, EdTechTeacher will be offering a host of workshops this summer in 6 cities across the country.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Find a Slew of Cyber Safety Tips for Kids and Adults on Cyber Streetwise

As I was riding a train in London over the weekend I noticed an advertisement for Cyber Streetwise. I quickly punched it into my phone and made a note to check it out later.

Cyber Streetwise is a site developed for the purpose of sharing tips and techniques for protecting your identity and your electronic devices. The site is set-up as digital street that you walk along to learn about protecting your electronic devices, your identity, and digital footprint. Much of the content is geared toward businesses, but there is some good content for students and teachers too. Some of the content that applies to students and teachers includes crafting strong passwords, protecting mobile devices from malware, and responsible use of social media. Much of what you'll find through Cyber Streetwise is hosted on other sites, but the Streetwise setting provides a good way to find that information in one place.

QuizBean Offers a New Option for Distributing Online Quizzes to Students

QuizBean is a nice platform for creating simple image-based quizzes that your students can complete online. The service allows you to assign quizzes to students on a class-by-class or individual basis. Quiz results are automatically sent to your teacher dashboard when students have completed a quiz. The latest update to QuizBean allows you to bulk upload a list of students. If you prefer to have students do their own registrations on QuizBean you can now give them a "teacher code" assigned to you to enter to become a part of your class list.

Applications for Education
The option to include pictures makes QuizBean a good platform for asking questions that include diagrams and equations. One of the things that I like about QuizBean is that students get immediate feedback on each question that they answer. Before moving to the next question students are told if they answered the previous question correctly or incorrectly.

New Text Formatting and Color Options Added to WeVideo

My favorite online video creation tool, WeVideo, has added some nice new text options for users. WeVideo has long offered tools for adding text to your videos. Starting today you can customize the size, style, color, and opacity of the text that you add to your videos. Text call-outs are now an option too. As you can see in the video below, text call-outs can be used to annotate a video or to simply add text to element in your videos. The example that jumped out at me in the video below is adding text to a billboard in a video.

Applications for Education
Take a look at the WeVideo academy of a series of ideas for video projects including creating a personal narrative as demonstrated in the video below.

TouchDevelop Helps Students Understand Programming

TouchDevelop is a great platform through which students can learn to program simple animations and games. Miles Berry gave an entertaining presentation about it at TeachMeet BETT. As I watched his presentation I was struck by how much TouchDevelop reminded me of Logo Writer that I used as a student in 1990. If you used Logo Writer you'll probably notice the similarities too.

On TouchDevelop students program a series of actions by entering sequences of commands such as "move forward" and "turn right" that are carried out on the screen by a chosen figure such as a turtle. In addition to the direction commands students program the distances covered on screen, the colors, the animations, and the images to appear on screen. All commands have to be entered into correct sequences of "if, then" logic in order for everything to display as intended.

TouchDevelop works on most modern web browsers including Chrome for iPad. Students completed programs can be saved online and or exported for use as Windows apps or HTML5 applications.

Applications for Education
TouchDevelop provides a great way for students to begin to understand some essential logic behind programming applications. The visual aspect of TouchDevelop provides a fantastic format that gives students immediate feedback on their projects. Click here for a series of six tutorials that students can use to get started right away without much if any instruction required from you.

Remind 101 Adds Support for Sending Text Messages to Subgroups

Remind 101 has been busy to start 2014. Earlier this month they introduced the option to download your message history as a PDF. This week they introduced the option to send text messages to subgroups of students and parents. Previously you could only send messages to your entire class list. Now you can send text messages to a group as small as three students and parents. When you use this new feature that Remind 101 calls "send a few" you still have all of the protections of Remind 101's system that hides your real phone number from students and hides your students' phone numbers from you.

Learn more about Remind 101's "send a few" feature in the video below.

Applications for Education
Remind 101's "send a few" option could be great for sending out messages to the students who were absent from your classroom on a given day, sending reminders to parents who haven't sent in permission slips, or for sending messages to students who have forgotten to bring in the permission their parents signed. Remind 101's "send a few" does require that messages be sent to at least three people so it would not be a way to send updates to parents about their individual child's behavior or grades.

Monday, January 27, 2014

A Great Message from a Student About Autism Awareness

My friend Rushton Hurley recently sent me a video that a student had posted on Next Vista for Learning. The video, embedded below, features a student named Michael and story of living with autism. I encourage you to read the story about the video after watching it.

Click here if you're viewing this in email or RSS and cannot see the video.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Nature Sound Map - Listen to the Sounds of Nature All Over the World

Nature Sound Map provides a wonderful way to explore the soundscape of the natural world. On the Nature Sound Map you will find placemarks containing recordings of nature. The recordings have been added to the project by professional sound recordists. Some of the recordings you will find feature the sounds of just one animal, the sounds of a jungle, sounds of a marsh, sounds of a storm, or sounds of oceans and rivers.

Applications for Education
In science courses the sound map offers a nice way for students to hear the sounds of animals that they're learning about in different regions of the world. In some cases the sound recordings combined with Street View imagery could give students a more complete picture of what it is like to be at ground level in a place.

H/T to Google Maps Mania

In Praise of Instagram

One of the benefits of Instagram that I think gets overlooked by students and teachers is that by Instagramming you're building a library of pictures that you own and can re-use whenever and wherever you want. I find that since I installed Instagram on my phone in 2012 I've taken pictures far more often than I ever did before installing it. These pictures often end up in blog posts and presentations.

Applications for Education
Instagram supports hashtags just like Twitter does. If you want to build a library of pictures with your students ask them to use a hashtag that you all agree to use to share pictures that can be re-used during the course of the semester or year. By doing this you and your students will build a gallery of b-roll pictures and videos. And if Instagram doesn't appeal to you, consider creating some of the other methods I've shared for creating a shared media gallery.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Easyclass - A Free Multilingual Online Course Management System

Easyclass is a newer entry into the online course management market. When it comes to user interface, Easyclass lives up to its name by being quite easy to use. I was able to create a course in Easyclass in less than five minutes and at no point in that time was I wondering what to do next.

On Easyclass you can host classroom discussions, post assignments, post resources for students, and deliver online quizzes to your students. To get started on Easyclass you create a class and either invite members or tell all of your students to visit the site and enter a class ID code. As you are viewing your class in Easyclass select "discussions," "quizzes," or "assignments" to share with your students.

Easyclass discussions and assignments allow you to post notes to the whole class. Assignment notes include due dates. Discussion notes don't include due dates. Both types of notes can include file attachments and links.

Through the quizzes option in Easyclass, you can create multiple choice, true/ false, or essay quizzes. Pictures can be included with your quiz questions. You can make instant feedback available to students at the end of the quiz (except for essay questions). Quiz scores can be sent directly to your Easyclass gradebook.

Applications for Education
If you don't currently have your course materials online and or don't have an online discussion component to your courses, give Easyclass a try. I'm particularly impressed by the ease of use for first-time users.

Easyclass is available in six languages; English, French, Turkish, Italian, Romanian, and Arabic. I spoke to one of the developers at BETT this week and asked him about the translations. He said that they are not using the Google Translate API to offer Easyclass in six languages. Rather they are having six versions of the service coded by native speakers.

The video below provides an overview of some of the best features for teachers and students.

The Week In Review - Lost In London

Good morning from London where I have spent the last two days at BETT and TeachMeet BETT. The TeachMeet event was the highlight of the two days. During the TeachMeet a dozen or more teachers gave mini-presentations about the interesting ways they're using technology in their classrooms. I sat in the front row and gleaned some great ideas from the presentations. I'll share a bit more of that experience in some new posts next week.

Now I'm off to see the British Museum. I got lost yesterday trying to find the right tube station, so I'm sure it will happen again today. But that's part of the fun of learning about a new place. Wherever you are this weekend, I hope that you have something fun planned too.

Here are this week's most popular posts:
1. Teachit Timer - A Slick Classroom Activity Timer
2. Wellcome Images Releases 100,000 Images Under Creative Commons Licensing
3. Read Write Think Timeline - A Timeline Tool for Almost All Devices
4. An Interactive Timeline of Music Genre Popularity 1950 to Now
5. Activities for Practicing Listening and Speaking Skills
6. How to Develop Web Search Challenges for Students
7. How to Create Contact Groups to Make Sharing Google Documents Easier

Would you like to have me visit your school this year?
Click here to learn more about my professional development offerings.

Please visit the official advertisers that help keep this blog going.
Practical Ed Tech is the brand through which I offer PD webinars.
IXL offers a huge assortment of mathematics lesson activities.
Typing Club offers free typing lessons for students.
Discovery Education & Wilkes University offer online courses for earning Master's degrees in Instructional Media.
MasteryConnect provides a network for teachers to share and discover Common Core assessments. is a provider of free educational games for K-5.
The University of Maryland Baltimore County offers graduate programs for teachers.
Boise State University offers a 100% online program in educational technology.
EdTechTeacher is organizing two iPad summits this school year.
Classmint offers a nice multimedia flashcard service.
StoryBoard That is a great tool for creating comics and more.
Fresno Pacific University offers a wide variety of technology courses for teachers.

How to Subscribe to Free Technology for Teachers
Subscribe via RSSSubscribe via Email.
Like Free Technology for Teachers on  Facebook.
Find me on Twitter, on Google+, or on Pinterest.

Friday, January 24, 2014

A Quick Way to See If a Website Is Down For Others or Just You

Down - get it? 
A brief Twitter exchange that I had this afternoon with Mark Barnes reminded me of a handy site that I use on a fairly regular basis. Down For Everyone Or Just Me? will tell you if a site that you're trying to visit is down or not. To use the site just enter the name of a site into the search tool on Down For Everyone Or Just Me? and you will quickly get a yes or no answer.

Applications for Education
The next time you try a site in your classroom and the kids say to you, "it's not working" put the site's address into Down For Everyone Or Just Me? to see if the problem lies with the site or with your school's filters.

Get a Summary of Information About Sites in Google Search Results

Through Dan Russell's excellent Search ReSearch blog I learned that Google has recently added a potentially helpful new aspect to the search results page. Now when you view your search results page you will see the titles of some sites in gray text next to the URL. When you see that gray text click the little drop-down menu to see a brief summary about the owner of the site. For example, in the screenshot below you will see that when I clicked on the gray link next to Washington Post it opened a bit of information about the Washington Post.

Applications for Education
Right now the new summary tool doesn't appear next to every result. In my testing it seems to only appear next to large, well-known sites. In the future it could be a good tool for helping students understand who is behind a website and account for that in evaluating the quality of a site.

On a related note, your students can also find out who is behind a site by looking at the WHOIS information for a site. Students can run a WHOIS search using Go Daddy,, or Whois-Search to see who has registered the domain. When there isn't a proxy in place it's easy to locate the contact information (email, phone, fax, mail) for the person or organization that registered the domain. In some cases the person or organization that registered the domain might have used a proxy to hide their contact information. If that is the case it can be hard to find the contact information. Likewise, a Whois search will not work for subdomains. An example of a blog on a subdomain is

QuickCast Arrives in the Mac App Store

QuickCast is a free screencasting tool that I initially tried a few months ago. This week QuickCast became an official Mac app that you can download for free from the Mac App Store.

Like most screencasting apps QuickCast allows you to capture all or part of your screen while you talk. Your recordings can be saved directly to your computer and or shared online through the QuickCast website. Each of the recordings that you publish is assigned its own URL that you can share with anyone. Recordings can also be embedded into blog posts and webpages.

What makes QuickCast slightly different from other screencasting tools is that it provides options for adding short intro and outro text. If you want to include your face in your screencast, you can do that with QuickCast by just turning on your webcam before you start your recording. QuickCast can also be used to create animated GIFs.

Applications for Education
QuickCast is another option to add to your toolbox to access when you need to create a short instructional video for your students or colleagues. Creating screencasts can be a good way for students to practice giving clear and direct presentations of information. One of my former colleagues used to have her students create screencasts as means for practicing scripting and narrating while teaching their classmates about help aspects of software on their laptops.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Use Aurasma to Create Augmented Reality Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Activities

Aurasma is a free app for iPads, iPhones, and most Android devices. Using Aurasma you can create augmented reality layers, Aurasma calls them "auras," that pop-up when you scan objects with your phone or tablet.

This afternoon at the BETT Show I saw James Pollock give a nice presentation about Aurasma which I've been playing with for a couple of years. I like going to presentations like Mr. Pollock's because it gives me an opportunity to see how others are using the same apps that I love. One of the uses of Aurasma that he showed that I really liked was creating Aurasma auras that served as the jumping-off point for review activities. The demonstration that James Pollock gave was having students scan an explanatory diagram with their iPads. When they scan it an "aura" pops-up on their iPads. The aura has three boxes students can tap to indicate if they understand the content, don't understand it, or somewhat understand it. The students' choices send them to a new resource for either review or further challenge.

Watching what Mr. Pollock's students are doing with Aurasma prompted me to think about using multiple part Aurasma auras to create augmented reality choose-your-own-adventure challenges. Through the sharing of Aurasma auras your students could create a multiple part story about historical artifacts, landmarks, and models. Then as viewers of the story scan each item they can jump to different videos or webpages based on their choices in the auras. Watch the video below for a basic overview of the Aurasma aura creation process.

What a Cloakroom Can Teach Students About Web Search Strategies

I’m currently in London, England for the BETT Show and TeachMeet BETT 2014. As is the case with most flights going to Europe from the east coast of the U.S. my flight left in the evening and arrived in London in the middle of the morning. This meant that I was too early to check into my hotel. I knew this ahead of time and figured that I could probably check my luggage at the ExCel Conference Center where the BETT Show is being held. I wanted to confirm this ahead of time so I spent some time searching on the BETT and ExCel websites for “coat check,” “bag check,” “coat room,” and “bag storage” in the hopes of confirming my assumption. My searches were fruitless.

Eventually I confirmed my assumption about a baggage check when I stumbled upon a map of the conference center. In browsing around the map I discovered a “cloakroom.” When I hear “cloak” I instantly think of the Count Chocula character from the cereal boxes of the 1980’s (my mother never let us eat that kind of cereal despite our pleas). I never thought to use the word “cloak” in any of my searches for information about storing my jacket and small bag for the afternoon. Cloak is just not a regular part of my American vernacular.

I have no doubt that students sometimes run into roadblocks in their searches for the same reason that I didn’t find anything in my searches; we’re stuck in our own vernacular. Had I used a thesaurus when I got stuck, I probably would have found the word cloak and confirmed my assumptions about checking my luggage for the day. The lesson here is when your search has hit a roadblock, try a thesaurus to find words that might lead you to better search results.

Teachit Timer - A Slick Classroom Activity Timer

I've tried a bunch of online timers in the past. Until now was my favorite. Yesterday, Peter Vogel introduced me to an online timer that will be my go-to timer from here on. The Teachit Timer is a free online timer that allows you display a countdown timer and a count-up timer on the same screen. The Teachit Timer also allows you to choose an alarm sound.

Applications for Education
Whenever I have long blocks of instructional time I like to break it up with short breaks and or timed hands-on activities. One tool that can help to prevent the students and me from stretching the "break times" is to use a countdown timer like Teachit Timer.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Untangle the Web With Me, Adam Bellow, and Steve Dembo

Last year Adam Bellow and Steve Dembo published a book titled Untangling the Web. Next week I am going to join them for a Google+ Hangout of the same name. We'll be talking about strategies for avoiding information overload in the information age. And as I'll be fresh off the plane from London where I'm attending the BETT Show and TeachMeet BETT, I'll probably have some things to share from that experience too.

The Untangling the Web Google+ Hangout will be held at 8pm EST on January 29th.

Now You Can Download Your Remind 101 Messages

This week the popular text messaging service Remind 101 introduced a new option to download all or part of your message history. To download your message history just look for "export message history" while viewing your account settings page. From there you can have a PDF of your messages emailed to you by Remind 101. You can have all of your message history sent to you or you can select a specific set of dates from your message history.

For those who haven't tried Remind 101 (currently works in the U.S. and Canada) it is a free service that allows you to send text messages to groups of students and or parents from your computer, your iPhone, or your Android phone. The benefit of using Remind 101 over Google Voice, which I used to use for this purpose, to text students and parents is that your phone number is not revealed and your students' cell phone numbers are not revealed to you. Students and parents have to opt-in if they want to be added to your text messaging list. Students and parents have to enter a confirmation code to state that they do want to be contacted by you through the service.

Applications for Education
As Remind 101 pointed out in their announcement about the new message export option, it could be a good way to present your communication log during evaluations or to save for your teaching portfolio. The pragmatist in me also thinks it's a good option for covering your butt to have an offline record of messages sent to parents and students.

What an Insect Can Teach Students About Search Strategies

Last week in my house I found an insect that I had never seen before. I tried to get the clearest picture I could of it before settling on the not-so-clear picture you see to the left. The construction of my house was just completed in October so I was worried that this bug might be something that could damage my house. I immediately went to Google to try to figure out what this mysterious insect was and if it could damage my house. Let's take a look at the search strategies I used to try to find my answers.

1. I tried uploading the picture to Google Images and adding the words "insect" and "Maine." That wasn't terribly effective because my picture was of a low quality and what I ended up with didn't get me very far. (I didn't expect that this method would work given the low quality of my image). Read more about this strategy here.

2. As I always encourage others to do, I created a list of the information I already had before going onto my next search attempt. Here's what I knew:

  • The insect is brown-ish. 
  • The insect was in my house which has lots of pine board, tongue and groove, ceilings. 
  • My house is sided with wide live-edge pine boards that were installed and sealed in October. 
  • If I type "bug" into Google I'm going to get results for the insect and the car. I needed to search using the word "insect" to refine my search from the start.  
  • I was worried about invasive insect species. 
3. Given everything I knew about the situation what I ended up using for search terms were "Maine insects home" which landed me here where I found a picture of the insect in question. From there I jumped to a fact sheet about the insect. The fact sheet answered my question about whether or not the insect could damage my house.  

Feel free to use this picture (click it to enlarge it) and search challenge with your students. Can your students find out if this insect will damage my house? Is the insect native to the ecosystem of Maine? 

Wellcome Images Releases 100,000 Images Under Creative Commons Licensing

The Wellcome Library recently made more than 100,000 drawings, photographs, paintings, and advertisements available to the world under Creative Commons licensing. The images available through the Wellcome Images library are primarily of a historic nature. You can browse the galleries or search for images by keyword.
Credit: Wellcome Library, London

Applications for Education
Last week I had a conversation with a couple of teachers about the power of images to prompt students to ask questions and investigate their answers. The Wellcome Images library could be a great place to find images to spark questions about a wide variety of topics in cultural and scientific history.

Thanks to Domhnall O Hanlon for sharing this resource with me.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Activities for Practicing Listening and Speaking Skills

The BBC's Skillswise website offers lots of good activities for learning and practicing skills in language arts and mathematics. A section of the site that could be useful in a lot of classrooms is the speaking and listening section. The speaking and listening section contains subsections offering lessons and activities to develop a specific skill. Those skills are listening for specifics, communication skills, formal and informal speaking, and giving presentations. Each section has a short introductory video followed by a set of quizzes and interactive games in which students test their skills.

Applications for Education
While all of the activities are good, the speaking and listening activities on Skillswise that I would be most inclined to use with students are the types of listening and listening for specifics games. The games in both sections require students to listen and follow a set of detailed instructions to complete tasks like delivering products to addresses, recording details of story, and responding to emergency situations.

A Helpful TED-Ed Lesson for Aspiring Novelists

How To Build A Fictional World is a TED-Ed lesson that I recently watched on Open Culture. In the lesson Kate Messner explains the key elements of creating a fictional world like those conjured-up by Tolkien and Rowling. If you're not a fan of that type of fiction, you'll probably want to jump ahead to the three minute mark in the video. It's after the three minute mark that the instruction actually takes place.

Bitly's Real-Time Media Map Shows the Media Outlets States Prefer

Bitly's real-time media map is an interesting display of which major media outlets are most popular in which U.S. states. There are four categories that you can choose to display on the map. Those categories are tv/radio, newspapers, magazines, and online only. The map is continuously updated in real-time.

Applications for Education
One of the first things that I do with every high school social studies class is talk about the roles of media and bias in how people understand and feel about political issues. Bitly's real-time media map could lead students into investigating questions about why a particular news network is more popular in the south than in the west.

Show Your Students How Far Their Blogs Can Reach

Last week during a presentation that I gave about Google Apps I mentioned that the URL shortening tool will show you where in the world people are when they use one of your links. The point that I was making was that it can be interesting to students to see how far something they share can spread. is not the only tool that will do this and it's probably not the best option if you want show students the global traffic of their blogs as a whole rather than showing the global traffic of just one post.

ClustrMaps is a free service that you can use to show students the global traffic sources of their blogs. ClustrMaps will display a real-time map of where in the world visitors are when they visit your blog. To get a ClustrMap for your blog just visit, enter your blog's URL, and enter your email address. After your URL and email address are verified you will be able to get a ClustrMaps embed code to place anywhere on your blog.

Blogger users have a built-in set of visitor statistics that will show you where your visitors are coming from. To access these statistics select "Stats" from the drop-down menu next to the name of your blog when you sign-in at

If you want to get really geeky with your blog statistics you can use Google Analytics to gather all kinds of information about visitors to your blog. To use Google Analytics you do have to add a bit of code to your site (Google Analytics offers good directions for doing this). Some of the statistics that Google Analytics will enable you discover are where visitors come from, which posts and pages are most visited, the top referrers to your blog, and how much time people spend on your blog.

Applications for Education
Depending upon which tracking method you use there is a lot that you and your students could do with blog visitor statistics. At the elementary school level looking at the geographic dispersal of visitors could lead into a geography lesson about countries and states. At the middle school and high school level you could have students investigate the visitor statistics to try to determine what keeps a visitor on a blog or why their blog posts are more popular in one location than another.

Word Dynamo - More Than Just Vocabulary Games

Word Dynamo is an academic review exercises site hosted by The Word Dynamo name might make you think that it only offers vocabulary exercises, but there is more to it than that. In addition to vocabulary quizzes and flashcards, on Word Dynamo you will find quizzes, games, and flashcards for studying topics in social studies, science, math, and fine arts.

Students visiting Word Dynamo can choose exercises based on their grade level, subject they're studying, or standardized test that they're preparing to take. Students who register on the Word Dynamo can save their scores and progress. After completing their first activity students may be asked to create an account, but that step can be skipped if they don't want to register on the site.

Applications for Education
Word Dynamo is the kind of site that I like to have bookmarked and or linked to on a classroom website for students to access to use for constructive downtime. One of the ways that I've seen this done in elementary school classrooms is by creating a Symbaloo page of teacher-approved academic games that students can use on those days that recess has to be held indoors.

Monday, January 20, 2014

GE Teach Version 5 - A Good Resource for Teaching With Google Earth

A couple of years ago I introduced some of you to GE Teach developed by Josh Williams. Recently, GE Teach was updated again. The latest version provides some helpful options for changing views while retaining the original intent of the site. GE Teach is built around the Google Earth browser plug-in. The purpose of the site is to help teachers develop lessons in which students explore spatial distributions. Watch the video below for a tour of the new GE Teach features.

Applications for Education
Visitors to GE Teach can select from a variety of physical geography and human geography layers to display and explore. A fantastic feature of GE Teach is the option use the "two Earths" mode to show two maps side-by-side. For example, you could use the two maps option to view a map of climate regions on one side of the screen and compare it to a view of population density on the other side of the screen.

Read Write Think Timeline - A Timeline Tool for Almost All Devices

Read Write Think offers a bunch of great web, iOS, and Android applications for students. One of those that I recently learned about from David Kapuler is Read Write Think's Timeline creator. RWT Timline is available as a web app (Flash required), as an Android app, and as an iPad app. All three versions make it easy for students to create timelines for any series of events.

To create a timeline with RWT Timeline students first tap or click along a blank line to add an event. Events can include dates in any format. Each event has room for a brief description and an image. Longer descriptions can be written but they won't appear on the timeline, they'll only appear in the printed notes about the timeline. Students can drag and drop events on their timelines to create appropriate spacing between each event.

Applications for Education
The Android and iPad versions of RWT Timeline support multiple user profiles making it a great choice for classrooms that have more students than tablets. The web version of RWT Timeline also supports multiple users.

The aspect of RWT Timeline that I appreciate the most is the flexibility of date formats. In fact, if you look at the following screenshot of my sample timeline you'll see that I didn't use specific dates at all. The use of RWT Timeline doesn't have to be limited to history courses. Students could use RWT Timeline to create timelines of the plot of a story they've read. Or they could use it to plan the plot line of a story they're planning to write.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

New Newsletter Option - The Practical Ed Tech Tip of the Week

This weekend I finally set-up a newsletter option that many people have asked for over the years, a once-per-week email with a list of the most popular posts and a tip or two.

Beginning today you can sign up for my new newsletter, The Practical Ed Tech Tip of the Week. Along with an idea for making your technology integration experience better, the seven most popular posts of the week on Free Technology for Teachers will be included in the email. The email will go out on Sunday night/ Monday morning depending upon your timezone. If you prefer to see the posts directly rather than through email, they will be posted on

This week I'm including the Practical Ed Tech Tip of the Week on Free Technology for Teachers, but in the future it may only appear on and in email to subscribers.

Here's this week's Practical Ed Tech Tip of the Week:

error-63628_640One of the things that I've learned through introducing new web tools to thousands of students and teachers is that if something can go wrong, it probably will. So when I'm setting up a workshop or setting up a lesson for students, I try to eliminate as many opportunities for things to go wrong as possible. One of the ways that I do this is through unified browser use.

Not all browsers handle every website the same way. If it's at all possible, a day or two before your training session send an email to all participants asking them to install your preferred browser or update it to the latest version. If that's not possible, at the start of your workshop tell everyone which browser you are using and encourage them to use the same for the day. If getting all participants in your training session to use the same browser isn't possible, at the very least stress to them importance of having the latest version of their preferred browsers installed. Not only will doing that improve their experience with most web tools, it will lower browser security issues as older versions of browsers are more susceptible to security threats).

Initially, it might be uncomfortable for some people to use a new browser, but by the end of the day most people will be comfortable with a different browser. Having everyone use the same browser will make your day easier and in the long run make it a better day for everyone. When everyone uses the same browser if there are unexpected glitches or problems they will likely be the same for everyone in your training session. Solve the glitch once and you’ve solved it for the whole group for the day.

Here are the most popular posts of the week from Free Technology for Teachers. 
1. Seven Free Online Whiteboard Tools for Teachers and Students 
2. Free Ebook - Digital Storytelling With Comics 
3. Would You Rather - Quick and Fun Math Lessons 
4. TED Introduces TED-Ed Clubs to Get Kids Talking About Big Ideas 
5. Compare the Size of Countries and States With These Map Mash-ups 
6. Webinar Recording - Digital Storytelling With Comics 
7. Three Good Tools for Building Flipped Lessons That Include Assessment Tools 

Click here to subscribe to the Practical Ed Tech Tip of the Week. 

How to Create Contact Groups to Make Sharing Google Documents Easier

A couple of days ago I received a question about sharing Google Drive files. The person who emailed me wanted to know if there is an easier way to share with a group than typing each person's email address individually. The answer is yes. The method is to create a contact group in your Gmail settings (personal Gmail or GAFE). That group will then carry over to your Google Drive where you can use it to quickly share Google Drive files. Screenshots of process are included below (click the images to view them in full size.

Step 1: Open your mail, place your cursor over "Mail" and choose "contacts" from the drop-down menu.

Step 2: Click the "add contact" icon.

Step 3: Select at least one contact name to reveal and open the "contacts group" icon.

Step 4: Name your new contacts group.

Step 5: Your new group is now created. You can add more names by simply selecting them from your contacts list and assigning them to your new group. Contacts can be members of more than one group.

Step 6:  Now when you open the sharing menu on a Google Document you can type the name of a contact group rather than entering emails individually.

Applications for Education
By creating contact groups you can quickly share with a group of students or faculty members without having to enter individual email addresses. I've used contact groups frequently when teaching multiple sections of a course. This makes it easy for me to simply type, "period 1" into the sharing menu on a document to have all of my students in that class receive it at once.

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