Friday, February 28, 2014

Explain 3D - Machines and Systems Explained With 3D Animations

Explain 3D is a site that offers a collection of 3D animations of simple machines. The animations use the Unity web player which enables viewers to zoom-in, zoom-out, and rotate animations 360 degrees. Recently Explain 3D made all of the animations available for free. In addition to the animations of simple machines like elevators and hand pumps, Explain 3D now offers 3D models of the universe and electrical systems.

Applications for Education
Explain 3D could be a good source of models to include as part of a larger lesson that you're constructing for your students to view online. To get the most out of the models your students will probably need you to explain what is happening and or the connections to the larger lesson.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

How to Create Appointment Slots in Google Apps Calendars

One of the handy features of Google Calendar within a Google Apps domain is appointment slots. In Google Calendar, Google Apps for Education users can create appointment slots. The appointment slots can be used to show people when you are available and allow them to sign-up to meet with you. The screenshots below provide directions for this process. (click images to view them in full size). 

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(Note, this will not work if you are using a Google Calendar through a Gmail account). 

A Crash Course on The Odyssey

John Green is back with a new Crash Course on literature. The first installment in the new course is A Long and Difficult Journey, or The Odyssey. In typical Crash Course style John Green packs all of the basics about The Odyssey into one fast-paced video.

Applications for Education
A Long and Difficult Journey, or The Odyssey is obviously designed as an introduction to the story. I would consider having students watch it after reading and then ask them to identify things that they think John Green should have spent more time on. Then challenge your students to produce their own videos to emphasize the key points that they've identified.

As is common in Crash Course videos, Green makes a few comments that some might consider PG-13. Watch the video and decide for yourself before sharing it with your students.

Create Public Courses on OpenEd

Since it was launched six months has seen a steady stream of updates. The latest update offers support for public courses. Any course that you create using the Common Core-aligned resources in can be shared publicly. This update should create a larger pool of shared resources for teachers and students.

As a registered OpenEd user (registration is free and takes less than thirty seconds to complete) you can create courses and playlists of videos and other materials that you find in the OpenEd directory. You can align your courses and playlists to Common Core standards. If you choose to align your course to a standard, OpenEd will suggest materials to you. OpenEd supports inclusion of assessments within your course.

Applications for Education
My favorite aspect of is the search tool. Rather than searching and hoping to find a video on YouTube that matches the standard(s) you're addressing in a lesson, you can start with the standard and have OpenEd locate videos for you. offers iPad and Android apps that your students can use to access your courses and assessments.

You Can Build Your Own Search Engine

Earlier this week I received an email from someone who had found the custom video search engine that I built last summer. The person who emailed me asked how I did it. There's not much to it other than following a few steps at As you can see in the directions embedded below, you don't need any coding skills in order to build your own search engine.

Applications for Education
Creating a custom search engine is a good way to provide some gentle search assistance to students. You can create search engines that only include websites that are appropriate for your students' reading levels.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Webinar Recording - Digital Storytelling With Comics

Last night I hosted a free webinar about digital storytelling with comics. The webinar was sponsored by Storyboard That. In the webinar we discussed how to create comic strips with Storyboard That and how to use them in other services including WidBook and WeVideo. The recording is embedded below.

StoryBoard That offers free and paid plans. The free plan is adequate for classroom use. The paid plans offer a slew of extra features like classroom account management, uploading custom images, and more storyboard formats. Through Friday Storyboard That is offering a 25% discount to readers of Free Technology for Teachers. To get the discount just go to

SpeakPipe - Receive Voicemail Through Your Blog

SpeakPipe is a neat little service that allows visitors to your blog to leave you voice messages without picking up a phone. I had it installed on a classroom blog for a while. Until this week the only way to have SpeakPipe appear on your blog was as a pop-out widget. Now you can embed the recording widget directly into your blog (the sidebar is the ideal placement).

With SpeakPipe installed on your blog anyone can click on the "send voicemail" button and leave a message for you. When a visitor clicks the "leave voicemail" button she will be prompted to allow access to her computer. Then the visitor can start recording a message for you. Visitors can, but don't have to, enter their names and email addresses for you. You can listen to and download the messages left for you in your SpeakPipe inbox.

Applications for Education
When installed on a school website SpeakPipe could provide a good way for parents to leave voicemail messages. SpeakPipe messages can be downloaded to your computer so if you need a simple way for students to record their voices for use in a multimedia project, SpeakPipe might be handy to have on your classroom blog.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

How to Add Voice Comments to Your Google Documents

In an earlier post I featured a free tool for adding voice comments to Google Documents. That tool is called Kaizena. In the video below I provide an overview of how to use Kaizena to leave voice comments on documents that are shared with you through Google Drive.

Knowmia Introduces Personalized URLs for Sharing Flipped Lessons With Your Students

Knowmia is a great website and an iPad app for creating, sharing, and viewing video lessons. Today, they introduced the option to choose your own Knowmia URL to share with your students. This will allow you to simply send your students to your URL to view the lessons that you have created for them.

To claim your Knowmia address, login to myKnowmia and click "edit/view teacher profile."

One of the better features of Knowmia is the assignment wizard. The Knowmia Assignment Wizard allows teachers to design assignments that their students have to complete after watching a video. Students can check their own Knowmia accounts to see the assignments that their teachers have distributed to them.

To aid teachers in assessing their students, Knowmia offers an automatic scoring option. Knowmia's automatic scoring function works for multiple choice questions and numeric questions. The automatic scoring is based on your answer key. Assignments are scored when students make a submission. Along with automatic scoring teachers have the option to see when a student initially opened an assignment and how many questions they've tried before submitting the assignment.

Kaizena Improves Workflow for Voice Commenting on Google Documents

Kaizena is a free tool that you can integrate with your Google Drive account to leave voice comments on the the documents that your students share with you. With Kaizena authorized to access your Google Drive account you can highlight portions of your students' work and add voice or text comments to it.

Until this week Kaizena only allowed you to import one Google Document at a time. This week Kaizena announced support for importing entire folders from your Google Drive account. An archiving option was also added this week. The archive feature allows you to remove a document from your account, but the student retains the voice comments.

Applications for Education
Kaizena may not save you time in giving feedback to students. However, for students who need audio support Kaizena could be an excellent way to provide that support while giving them feedback on their written work.

Free Webinar Tonight - Digital Storytelling With Comics

Just a reminder that tonight at 7pm Eastern I'll be hosting a free webinar on digital storytelling with comics. You can register for the webinar here.

The webinar is sponsored by Storyboard That, but will not be limited to only using Storyboard That. You will also see WeVideo and Widbook in use. Storyboard That offers a free plan (which is more than adequate for classroom use) and a premium plan. A 25% discount code will be given to those who register and attend the webinar.

The webinar will be based on my free ebook Digital Storytelling Projects With Comics.

Monday, February 24, 2014

How Wikipedia Works

On Saturday evening while I was out having dinner I overheard a conversation that sounded like a father telling his daughter (I can't confirm the relationship as I didn't turn around to look at them) never to use Wikipedia because it's not reliable. That conversation could have just as easily been heard in any number of classrooms around the world. Often those conversations are based in a lack of understanding of how Wikipedia works.

A good resource to help people understand how Wikipedia works is Wikipedia Explained by Common Craft uses Common Craft's In Plain English style to explain how Wikipedia works. The video explains how Wikipedia entries are written, updated, verified, and maintained. Watch the video on Common Craft or as embedded below.

Purpose Games - Create Online Review Games

Purpose Games is a free service that allows users to create custom games, share games, and play games. There are two styles of games that you can create and play on Purpose Games. The simpler of the two styles is a fairly basic multiple choice game. The other style uses images and maps on which players have to name the places represented by placemarks on the image or map. For an example, try this game about the skeletal system. Purpose Games gives game creators the option to make their games public or private. If you select the private option, only the people to whom you send invitations will be able to play your game.

Applications for Education
There are hundreds of places to find educational games and quizzes on the Internet. That said, sometimes you still cannot find quite what you're looking for. In those cases a tool like Purpose Games can be useful. You might also consider having your students create their own review games on Purpose Games.

A Quick Comparison of Five Popular Backchannel and Informal Assessment Tools

During yesterday's webinar on backchannels and informal assessment tools Poida suggested that I create a chart comparing the key features of popular backchannel and informal assessment tools. The chart embedded below provides a comparison of seven questions frequently asked about TodaysMeet, Padlet, Socrative, Infuse Learning, and Kahoot. (Click here for the recording of webinar that I gave about these tools).

Click here if you cannot see the chart.

Free Copyright and Creative Commons Courses for Educators

Peer 2 Peer University is again offering some free courses on Copyright and Creative Commons for educators. Copyright for Educators and Creative Commons for Educators begin in March and run through early May. Copyright for Educators has an enrollment limit and requires an application. Creative Commons for Educators does not have an enrollment limit nor does it require an application.

Here are the goals of the Copyright for Educators course:
  • Understand the basic concepts of copyright law.
  • Identify copyright issues in education.
  • Understand when fair use or other copyright exceptions apply to teacher, librarian, or student use of copyrighted content. 
  • Strategize and talk with your students, peers, and administrators about how to use copyright exceptions in education.
These are the goals of the Creative Commons for Educators course:

  • Find educational resources that are open for sharing and remix 
  • Remix open educational resources 
  • Share remixes on the web 
  • Attribute CC licensed materials 
  • CC license your work 
  • Explain CC licenses and how they work 
  • Edit collaboratively 
  • Work transparently 
  • Advocate openness
Thanks to Jacques Cool for sharing the announcement about the courses on Twitter. 

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Webinar Recording - A Teacher's Guide to Backchannels & Informal Assessments

Earlier this evening I hosted a free webinar on using backchannel and informal assessment tools. In the recording embedding below I demonstrate how to use Kahoot, TodaysMeet, Socrative, and Padlet. I also answer a bunch of questions from the participants in the live session. A copy of the guide that I mention in the beginning of the recording is available here.

Click here if you cannot see the video.

Glove and Boots Fix Your Grammar

Thanks to Denise Blain I have been sucked into the web series Glove and Boots. The video that Denise shared with me is all about grammar. In the video below Glove and Boots use fun examples from the the web to tackle the differences between "its" and "it's," "your" and "you're," and the proper uses of "there," "they're," and "their." Glove and Boots also teach you when it is appropriate to use "literally." The video is appropriate for high school audiences.

Group Reading With Google Documents

Using the commenting feature of Google Documents is a good way to create a record of classroom conversations about an article that you have shared with your students. Using the commenting feature is also a good way to have the conversation about an article occur entirely online. In the video below I give a demonstration of how to do this.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Week In Review - Signs of Spring

Good morning from Maine where one of my favorite signs of spring has returned, the Tim Hortons Roll Up the Rim to Win contest. This annual event adds a little fun to my coffee routine from late winter into early spring. Like the beginning of every baseball season, hope springs eternal with each cup of coffee.

Another sign of spring for me is an increase in my travel schedule. Over the next few weeks I'll be speaking at events in four cities. Next week I'll be in Little Rock, Arkansas and Toronto. The following week I'll be in Raleigh, North Carolina. And the week after that I'll be speaking in Salt Lake City. If you're attending any of these conferences, please say hello.

Here are this week's most popular posts:
1. How to Use Google Slides to Organize Research
2. Rubrics for Blogging and Multimedia Projects
3. Kids Can Create Alphabet Books With Alphabet Organizer
4. Browse Hundreds of Old Newspapers in the Google News Newspaper Archive
5. Students Will Enjoy Creating Fiction Stories With These Story Starters
6. StoryToolz - Writing Prompts and More
7. Design an Olympic Diet

Would you like to come learn with me in Maine this summer?
Click here to learn more about 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.
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 offers professional development workshops in Boston and Chicago.
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.

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Friday, February 21, 2014

How to Add 450+ Fonts to Your Google Documents & Slides

Earlier today I posted the picture you see to the left on my Google+ page with the comment "I decided to play with some new fonts found in Google Drive." A couple of people asked how I added new fonts.

To access and add custom fonts to your Google Drive Documents and Slides select "add fonts" from the bottom of the font selection menu that you've always used in Google Drive. Selecting "add fonts" will open up a new menu in which you can mix and match fonts to your heart's content. The screenshots below provide visual directions.
Click image to view full size. 
Click image to view full size. 

Online and Offline Fun With the Science of Pickles

Exploratorium is one of my favorite places to look for interesting science lessons, activities, and iPad apps. If you head to the Explore section of Exploratorium you will find a great mix of online and offline activities that students can do to learn about the science that is around them in their daily lives. Two of the activities that I like that are currently featured on Exploratorium's Explore section are Pickle Lab and Kosher Dill Current.

Pickle Lab is an online activity in which students experiment with the quantity of salt, temperature of their pickling solutions, and length of time to make pickles. In each round of the activity students get feedback on whether or not their chosen combinations of variables will or will not produce a quality pickle.

Kosher Dill Current is a hands-on activity in which students create a electric circuit using a pickle and some other fairly common household goods (the alligator clips and buzzer are the only things you might not have at home, but can get cheaply at Radio Shack). The purpose of the activity is to help students see how two metals suspended in an ion-rich liquid or paste separate electric charge and create an electrical current around a circuit.

Frame Bench - Host Online Discussions Around PDFs and More

Frame Bench is a nice service for sharing PDFs, images, videos, and other files with colleagues and students. Within Frame Bench you can create multiple workspaces to share files with different contact groups. When you upload a file to a workspace everyone who has access to that workspace can see it. In the workspace you can mark-up the file with drawing tools and text comments. If you're working at the same time you can use the chat features to host live discussions about the files you have shared in your workspace.

Applications for Education
Frame Bench could be a great tool for teachers of graphic design to use to give feedback to their students. Students could use Frame Bench to give each other feedback and collaborate on the creation of a visual project.

Frame Bench offers a variety of plans. The free plan allows you to share up to 30 files at a time. 

Two Sites for Safely Experimenting with Electric Circuits

Earlier this week I shared a short video explanation of how light bulbs work. To extend that lesson you might want to take a look at Electric Circuits from Hyperstaffs. On the Electric Circuits site your students can learn about the power sources used by common household products and then safely experiment with the creation of electric circuits. Electric Circuits presents students with a circuit to construct by using virtual power sources and switches.

When your students are ready for more advanced challenges, send them to 123D Circuits123D Circuits is a free tool from Autodesk for collaboratively designing electronic circuits online. On 123D Circuits you can design your circuits and test them on the simulator in your browser. You can create circuits from scratch or use and modify templates and other publicly shared projects. All projects are public unless you pay a subscription fee to make your projects private. Watch the video below to learn more about 123D Circuits.

Note, Electric Circuits is a UK site using some vernacular that US & Canadian students may not be familiar with. For example, "torch" is used instead of "flashlight." Your students may also notice that the plugs displayed on the site are displayed using the UK style plug. 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Have You Tried the New Google Maps?

Last spring Google announced the availability of a new desktop version of Google Maps for those who wanted to try it out. I've been using it since then and occasionally reverting to the old version. This week Google announced that the new Google Maps desktop version will be rolling out to all users over the next couple of weeks.

In the new version of Google Maps you can quickly find Streetview imagery, videos, and panoramic imagery by opening the "Explore" tray at the bottom of the map. Simply click the "Explore" link in the bottom, right corner of the map to open a menu of imagery. Placing your cursor over one of the images will generate a line that shows you where that image was captured in relation to the center of your current view of the map. Clicking on an image in the Explore tray will put you into Streetview or showcase the image if it is not a Streetview image.

Applications for Education
For classroom settings the best feature of the new Google Maps is the enhanced Streetview imagery which students can use to virtually explore interesting places all over the world.

How to Use Google Slides to Organize Research

Like many of you, when I was in middle school and high school I was taught to create index cards to organize our research. After creating the cards we sorted them into an order to support writing our research papers. That same concept can be applied to organizing research with Google Slides. In the video below I demonstrate how this is done.

Browse Hundreds of Old Newspapers in the Google News Newspaper Archive

Google Books is a great place to find books and old magazines, but if it is newspapers you're after then check out the Google News Newspaper Archive. In the archive you will find hundreds of newspapers that have been digitized for reading online. You can search for a specific newspaper by title or browse for articles by date and title.

Applications for Education
The Google News Newspaper Archive could be a great resource for history students. One of the activities that I might have students do is select a significant event like a Presidential election and compare how it was reported by newspapers in different parts of the country.

H/T to Lifehacker

The Global Screencasting Project with Explain Everything & Knowmia Teach

This is a guest post from Greg Kulowiec of, an advertiser on Free Technology for Teachers. 

One of the most powerful capabilities of iPads is the capacity to collaborate asynchronously on multimedia creations. By combining a creation tool (Explain Everything) and a collaboration tool (Google Drive), students and educators across the country - and world - have the ability to create, share, combine, and publish collaborative projects entirely from iPad.

To highlight this capability and have educators, and students, from across the world participate in a global collaborative project, Greg Kulowiec of EdTechTeacher is facilitating the Global Screencasting Project. The scope of the project is the English alphabet, and anyone who would like to participate needs to simply claim a letter of the alphabet by completing the Google Form below.

Global Screencasting Sign-up Google Form

Once a letter has been claimed, participants need to create a 30 second screencast using Explain Everything or Knowmia Teach (on iPad) that captures the meaning, perspective and interpretation of that letter. Explain Everything projects can be shared by uploading to Google Drive (share the file) or Dropbox (share the link to the file). Whether submitting through Google Drive or Dropbox, all content will be sent to
greg (at)

Google Drive Sharing Process:

Dropbox Sharing:

Finally, all of the screencasts will ultimately be merged into one global Alphabet Screencast within Explain Everything on iPad and published online to both YouTube and Vimeo.

If you are using Knowmia Teach to create your screencast, upload it to YouTube and tag the YouTube upload as Creative Commons. This allows the project editor to use the footage in a final product while using the YouTube editing tools from a computer.

The current deadline to participate is March 31st, and three screencasts per letter will be included in the final project. If the letter is available in the sign-up form, it can be claimed for submission into the final project.

To read more about the Global Screencasting Project, please visit Greg’s History 2.0 Classroom blog.

Greg will be discussing iPad collaboration during the EdTechTeacher Summer Workshops as well as the July 28-30 EdTechTeacher Learning Futures Summit.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

How to Add Free Apps to Your Edmodo Group

I recently received an email from a someone who has just started to explore possibly using Edmodo with her students next fall. One of the aspects of Edmodo that she found appealing is the option to add apps that her students can access through their Edmodo accounts. That's one of the features of Edmodo that I like too because I'm a big fan of not requiring students to keep track of a different user name and password for every online app I want them to use.

Adding free apps to your Edmodo group is a simple process. The screenshots below will walk you through the steps. (Click the images to view them in full size).

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Road Salt and Salt Sculptures

Like many other towns and cities in North America, my town's maintenance crews are pouring road salt and sand at a seemingly frenetic pace. The town manager is concerned that the salt supply will run out before spring. This leads me to the question, "where does road salt come from?" Your students might wonder the same thing.

Last week National Geographic published a short article about where road salt comes from. Today, they followed up on that article with a video explanation of where road salt comes from. The video explains the primary ways that salt is made. The end of the video includes an explanation of how salt can prevent icing of roads.

Applications for Education
After learning about where road salt comes from, have your students try this Exploratorium activity to learn how salt crystals are formed.

How Light Bulbs Work and Activities for Learning About Electricity

Minute Physics recently released a short video that features an explanation of how modern light bulbs work and how light bulb design has changed over the last 100+ years.The video also includes explanations of the different types of modern light bulbs and their applications. The video is embedded below.

Applications for Education
You could use the video as part of a lesson on electricity. In that same lesson you might want to have students learn about how electricity is produced and delivered to their homes. Hydro to Home is an interactive story of hydro-electric power from raindrops to homes. The story walks visitors through each step of the process of generating hydro-electric power and delivering to consumers' homes. The story is narrated and along the way there are interactive images that visitors can click on to learn even more information about hydro-electric power.

After students understand how electricity can be generated and delivered to their homes, introduce them to The Blobz Guide to Electric Circuits. The Blobz Guide to Electric Circuits is a neat series of interactive animations designed to help students of elementary and middle school age learn how electric circuits work. There are five sections to the series. Each sections builds upon the lessons of the previous section. The series starts with the basics of what makes a circuit complete and concludes with diagramming and building circuits. Each section in the series has a few short lessons and is followed by an animated interactive activity to which students can apply what they have just learned.

Teaching Literary Terms With Comics

Disclosure: Storyboard That is an advertiser on Free Technology for Teachers. 

One of my favorite ways to get students interested in the creative writing process is to have them create comic strips. Knowledge literary terms and devices is an important aspect of understanding how to craft good fiction. In Hero vs. Antihero Rebecca Ray explains shares examples of using Storyboard That to create comic strips to help students understand literary terms. Rebecca includes a sample scoring rubric and Common Core standards at the end of the activity outline.

Applications for Education
As is demonstrated in the Hero vs. Antihero activity outline, you could have students create short comic strips in which they showcase the use of a literary term or device. Your students could also use Storyboard That to share re-create and share the use of a literary device as they found it in a book.

If you have not tried Storyboard That, consider attending my free digital storytelling webinar next week. Included in that webinar will be a demonstration of using the Storyboard That Edmodo app.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Kids Can Create Alphabet Books With Alphabet Organizer

Alphabet Organizer is a great little tool from Read Write Think that students can use to create alphabet charts and books. The idea behind Alphabet Organizer is to help students make visual connections between letters of the alphabet and the first letter of common words. This is accomplished by having students choose a letter of the alphabet, write a word that begins with that letter, then upload a picture that is representative of that word. For example, I chose "D," wrote "dog," and upload a picture of my dogs.

Alphabet Organizer allows students to create charts or simple booklets from the words and pictures they've uploaded. Completed works can be saved as PDFs, printed, or emailed to teachers.

Applications for Education
Read Write Think offers a bunch of lesson plans based around the use of Alphabet Organizer. Some of those lesson plans include alphabetizing with original stories, creating ABC books as assessment, and learning about the alphabet book genre.

Students Learn About the Science of Hearing on The Interactive Ear

The Interactive Ear is a neat website through which students can learn about how the human ear works. The site has three sections; the outer ear, middle ear, and inner ear. In each section students can click on little pinmarks on the drawings to learn about the parts of the ear and their functions. Students can also click the "journey" button to see how sound travels through the ear.

Applications for Education
On its own The Interactive Ear is a good resource for students of anatomy and physiology. Combine use of the site with the free iPad app Sound Uncovered to help students understand how sound travels and how we hear it.

Your Next Read Helps You Find Books You Might Like

Your Next Read is a neat little site that provides you with a web of book recommendations based on the authors and books you already like. Here's how it works; type in the title of a book you like or author you like and Your Next Read will provide you with a web of books that might also enjoy. Click on any of the books appearing the web to create another new web. Below you'll see the web of recommendations that appeared when I typed in Gary Paulsen's book Hatchet.

Applications for Education
Your Next Read could be a great resource for teachers that are trying to locate fiction works that their students might enjoy. Rather than having to rely on your own list of books, you can have students name books they've enjoyed in the past and instantly find some other appealing titles.