Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Month in Review - #Masonshome

Good evening from Maine where the sun is setting on the month of March. The highlight of the month for me was bringing home a new family member. Three weeks ago I adopted Mason from Harvest Hills Animal Shelter. He's a nine year old German Shepherd and Golden Retriever mix and he is an awesome marshmallow of a dog.

In other news, this month the first registrations for the Practical Ed Tech Summer Camps came in. One month is left to grab your seat at the discounted rate. As you think about your summer PD plans, please take a look at the in-person and online workshops I'm hosting throughout the spring and summer.

Here are the most popular posts of March, 2016:
1. Click to Spin - A Fun and Free Random Name Picker
2. Three Helpful Google Docs Updates Released This Week
3. Travel the Iditarod Race in Google Street View
4. My Favorite Internet Search Tips for Teachers & Students
5. More Than 40 Alternatives to YouTube
6. 3 Tips for Using YouTube Videos In Your Classroom
7. 5 Things We Can do to Prepare Students to Work Independently
8. Six Tools for Creating Videos on Chromebooks
9. Five Tools for Sharing Portions of Videos
10. Three Tools Students Can Use to Add Annotations to Videos

Professional Development Opportunities!
There will be two Practical Ed Tech Summer Camps this year. There will be one tailored to schools that have 1:1 Chromebook programs and one for everyone else. Both Practical Ed Tech Summer Camps will be held in July. You can learn more about them here. Discounted early registration is available now. The Practical Ed Tech Summer Camp has sold out every year for the last three years.

Would you like to have me speak at your school or conference?
Click here to learn 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.
BoomWriter provides a fantastic tool for creating writing lessons. 
Cloudschool is a great online LMS and course creation tool. 
Google Forms in the Classroom is a good book on all things Google Forms. 
Storyboard That is my go-to tool for creating storyboards and cartoon stories.
Discovery Education & Wilkes University offer online courses for earning Master's degrees in Instructional Media.
PrepFactory offers a great place for students to prepare for SAT and ACT tests.
The University of Maryland Baltimore County offers graduate programs for teachers.
Boise State University offers a 100% online program in educational technology.
EdTechTeacher is hosting host workshops in six cities in the U.S. in the summer.

OpenDNS Family Shield - A Good Option for Home Network Monitoring

Family Shield, powered by OpenDNS, is a service that can be used to filter the content accessed by anyone on your home network. Family Shield is designed to filter adult websites, proxy and anonymizer websites, and phishing websites. Step-by-step directions are provided for setting-up Family Shield on your home computer(s) and router(s).

Applications for Education
While I generally prefer to emphasize education about the Internet over blocking access to the Internet  I also understand that a lot of parents would still prefer to have a way to restrict the content their children can access from home. If you're asked by a parent for advice on Internet filtering at home, consider referring that person to Family Shield.

Three Things to Consider Before Flipping Your Classroom

Flipping your classroom with video lessons can be a good thing in the right situation. Before you decide to completely flip your classroom there are a few things that you should consider.

1. Do the majority of your students complete their homework assignments on time on a consistent basis? If not, there may be a larger issue of student engagement and motivation to investigate. Furthermore, if you flip the classroom and students come to class having not watched the video lessons, how do you spend your classroom time the next day? Do you let students watch the videos in class? Do you reteach the lesson that they should have watched for homework?

2. Do all of your students have access to the web at home? If not, how are you going to address that? Will you distribute copies of your video files to students before they leave your classroom? Do you all of your students have computers or tablets to use at home? If the answer is "no" to one or all of these questions, are you setting up an inequitable learning environment?

3. Do you have time to create quality videos? If not, will you create some and then source the rest of from the web?

For the record, I'm not against flipping the classroom in the right situation. I just don't want to rush into a model that might not be the best solution for all situations.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Ten Things You Can Learn at the Practical Ed Tech Chromebook Camp

Chromebooks are quickly becoming the preferred choice of computer for 1:1 programs in schools. Chromebooks are reliable, inexpensive, and versatile tools. That said, teaching with Chromebooks may require you to learn some new tricks to make the experience great for you and your students. At the Practical Ed Tech Chromebook Camp on July 18th and 19th we will take an in-depth look at how to effectively integrate Chromebooks into your practice.

Ten things you can learn at the Practical Ed Tech Chromebook Camp:
1. How to use Chromebooks effectively even when the wi-fi fails.
2. Efficient workflow processes on Chromebooks.
3. Everything you could ever want to know about Google Apps for Education.
4. Fun and clever ways to teach search skills.
5. Create and manage digital portfolios.
6. Develop engaging video and audio creation projects.
7. Get parents involved with your students' projects in a meaningful way.
8. Digital storytelling with Google Maps.
9. Fun ways to conduct assessment exercises.
10. Anything you've ever wondered about blogging with students.

Register for the Practical Ed Tech Chromebook Camp by April 30th and you can save $50 off standard registration. Subscribers to the newsletter can save an additional $25 by entering the code "subscriber" at checkout.

Have a colleague or two who wants to join you? Special rates are available for two or more people registering from the same school district. Email me richardbyrne (at) for details.

A Mapped & Searchable Archive of American Newspapers

The U.S. News Map is a great resource produced by Georgia Tech and the University of Georgia. The U.S. New Map is an archive of American newspapers printed between 1836 and 1925. You can search the archive by entering a keyword or phrase. The results of your search will be displayed on an interactive map. Click on any of the markers on the map and you'll be shown a list of newspaper articles related to your search term. Click on a listed article to read it on the Library of Congress' Chronicling America website.

Applications for Education
The U.S. News Map has a neat playback feature that you can use to see the frequency with which a term or topic appeared in newspapers between 1836 and 1925. That playback feature could be a nice way to show students developments in technology. For example, search the term "telephone" and you'll see peaks and valleys in the frequency with which articles were written about telephones.

H/T to Google Maps Mania and Larry Ferlazzo

Three Ways to Generate Topics for Your School's Blog

Posting new content on a regular basis is one of the best ways to get parents to frequently check your school, library, or classroom blog. Coming up with blog post topics is the struggle that many people have in attempting to regularly update their blogs. At times, I have that problem too. I have three things that I do when I'm struggling to come up with a topic for a blog post.

Three things you can do to generate blog post topics:
1. Look at your email. Scroll through your email to take a look back at some of the questions that you're asking on a regular basis. Write a post or two or three that answer those questions.

2. Look at Google Analytics. If you have Google Analytics installed in your blog or website you can glean a lot of useful information from what is reported about visitors to your blog or website. One of the sections of Google Analytics that is particularly helpful is the section that shows you the keywords people use in searches before landing on your blog or website. Write a post or two related to those keywords.

3. Update old posts. Everything changes in time. What you wrote twelve months ago or even six months ago might need an update. Take a look at some of your old posts and see if any of them need updating.

Bonus tip:
When you find yourself writing a particularly long post, consider breaking into a series of posts. Your one 1000 word post could probably become a two or three part series. Like an 80's sitcom, "a to be continued" can keep people coming back.

Topics like this one and many others will be covered in depth during my spring and summer offerings of Blogs & Social Media for Teachers and School Leaders

Try the New Padlet Android App

Just a little more than twelve hours ago I received an exciting email from Padlet in which they announced the launch of their new Android app. Padlet has long worked well in the web browser  on Android phones and tablets, but this is the first time that there has been a dedicated Padlet Android app.

The new Padlet Android app does everything that makes me love Padlet. From the app I can create new Padlet walls, share walls with my students, customize the background, change the layout, and even moderate notes appearing on my Padlet wall. I can use the Padlet Android app to post notes containing pictures and videos that are saved on my phone and tablet. The sharing features of Padlet are extended on the Android platform as you can quickly share your walls through a variety of social apps including Twitter, WhatsApp, and Google+. Students can use the app's QR code option to scan QR codes for my Padlet wall and instantly join my wall in the Padlet Android app.

My favorite ways to use Padlet with students:

Padlet as a simple blogging platform:
Padlet walls can be arranged in free-form, grid, or stream layouts. Creating a Padlet page in the stream format could be a good way to create a simple, collaborative blog for students. You could create the page, select "stream" format, and make the page accessible for students to write short posts on. Their posts could include images and videos. If you want to, you can password protect your Padlet pages and moderate messages before they appear on your Padlet page.

Padlet Mini as a bookmarking tool:
Padlet Mini is a Chrome extension that you can use to bookmark websites. When you click the Padlet Mini extension in your browser you will be presented with the option to save to one of your existing walls or create a new Padlet wall. Click here for a video on using Padlet Mini.

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.

Padlet for group research and discussion:
A few 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 (Padlet's previous name) 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.

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.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

By Search Request - Bibliography Tools for Students

Over the weekend I was looking at the Google Analytics for and noticed that last week one of the most frequently searched terms that directed people to this blog is "bibliography generators." I took that as a clue that more than a few people are interested in that topic. To that end, here are the tools that I frequently recommend for creating bibliographies. As with any tool that automates a process, teach your students to check the accuracy of the citations created by any of these tools.

For Google Docs users the EasyBib Bibliography Creator is my go-to tool for creating bibliographies. The EasyBib Bibliography Creator makes it easy to properly cite resources and format a bibliography in APA, MLA, or Chicago style. Click here for directions for the process of using this add-on.

RefMe is currently my favorite tool for creating bibliographies outside of the Google Docs environment. RefMe offers browser extensions, a free Android, and a free iPad app for saving resources and generating bibliographies from your collection of resources. Watch my video embedded below to learn more about how to use RefMe in your web browser.

Zaption Expands Free Options for Creating Flipped Lessons

Zaption is a popular tool for creating video-based lessons and quizzes. The service operates on a freemium model in which they offer a mix of free and paid options. Last week Zaption announced that the free options have been expanded. Teachers can now utilize all of the video lesson creation tools that Zaption offers. Those tools include adding required questions that students must answer before moving forward in a video lesson. The other enhancement to the free version of Zaption is the removal of the limitation on the number of viewers your lessons can have.

To create a quiz on Zaption you start by creating a "tour" in your account. A tour is a combination of videos, images, and text arranged into a sequence. To add a video to a tour you can search and select one within Zaption. Zaption pulls videos from YouTube, Vimeo, PBS, or National Geographic. After choosing your video, start watching it then pause it when you want to add a question. You can add questions in the form of multiple choice, open response, or check box response. When students watch the video they will see your questions appear in the context in which you set them.

Applications for Education
Zaption can be a great tool for creating flipped lessons to share with your students. Students do not have to have Zaption accounts in order to use the tours that you create. The free version of the service used to only allow only one video per tour/ lesson, but it now allows you to include multiple videos within a lesson/ tour.

Skip the Spreadsheet, Use This Add-on to Create Google Docs Word Clouds

This morning I received an email from a reader who had heard that there was a way to create word clouds in a Google Spreadsheet, but needed a little help doing that. She was worried about how to get all of the words in a document into a spreadsheet in an easy manner. My suggestion was to skip the spreadsheet and just use the Tag Cloud Generator Add-on for Google Documents. My video embedded below demonstrates how to create a word cloud within Google Documents.

Applications for Education
Word clouds can help students analyze documents written by others as well as documents of their own creation. By copying the text of a document into a word cloud generator your students can quickly see the words that appear most frequently in that document. Word clouds can also be used to help students see which words that they have frequently used in their own works. Have your students create word clouds of their work during the revision process of writing a story or essay. The word cloud will quickly show students which words they have used the most. Then ask them to think about synonyms for the words that they have used most often in their writings.

Topics like this one and many others will be covered in depth during my spring and summer offerings of Getting Going With GAFE

Tap to Learn Grammar

Tap to Learn produces a bunch of educational apps for Android and iOS. The Tap to Learn Grammar app for Android offers more than 200 self-paced grammar lessons. The lessons don't have videos embedded in them, but there are links to external videos hosted on YouTube. After working through a lesson students can test their new skills in a series of quizzes. Instant feedback is provided in the skills quizzes within Tap to Learn Grammar. The free app records and tracks students' progress for them.

Applications for Education
Using Tap to Learn's Grammar app isn't a revolutionary approach to learning. That said, if you're looking for an Android app that your students can use to practice and track their progress in developing their grammar skills.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Collaborative, Crowd-Sourced Reading with Prism Scholar Lab

EdTechTeacher, an advertiser on this site, has launched a new FREE video series called #ETTchat. Each week, one of their instructors posts a new video with ideas using technology in the service of learning. 

Collaborative Crowd-Sourced Reading with Prism

The Prism Scholar Lab is an experimental tool from the University of Virgina. Teachers can create a free account and then paste any text into Prism for their students to then annotate using various facets. In this video, Greg Kulowiec (@gregkulowiec) shows the potential for using this tool in classrooms as a way to quickly assess for comprehension, encourage class discussion, and scaffold analytical reading. 

Learn more about collaborative tools and ePub creation on the EdTechTeacher web site.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

ClassTag Streamlines Scheduling of Parent Teacher Conferences

ClassTag is a new service that aims to help you organize parent-teacher conference, classroom volunteer requests, and school events. The highlight of ClassTag is the option to create appointment slots that parents can reserve to meet with you.

To get started on ClassTag create an account and enter some basic information about your classroom or classes that you teach. To get the full benefit of ClassTag you will need to enter the email addresses of your students' parents. Once those steps are completed you can create a parent-teacher conference schedule. You can create time slots as short as 15 minutes or as long as an hour. Once a parent reserves a slot no one else can grab it.

The other core aspects of ClassTag are a requests feature and an event scheduler. The requests feature in ClassTag allows you to send out notes requesting things like field trip chaperones or material donations to your classroom. Parents can volunteer to fulfill the requests through the note that you send via ClassTag and ClassTag will keep track of the responses for you.

If you have a school event coming up, you can promote that event through ClassTag. Your ClassTag event page can include information about times, things you should bring to the event, or event costs. ClassTag will also keep track of RSVPs for you.

Overall ClassTag does offer a nice set of features of teachers. Many of the features can be found in other tools, but ClassTag does a good job of putting them all into one place for you.

Quizzy Offers a Quick Way to Create Online Quizzes

Quizzy is a free service that enables you to quickly make and publish online quizzes. To get started simply register for a Quizzy account then title your quiz and start writing multiple choice questions. When you have finished writing your questions you can publish your quiz publicly or keep it private. Quizzes that you mark as public can be shared with others by simply directing them to the URL assigned to your quiz. People taking your Quizzy quiz online receive a score as soon as they complete all of the questions. You can try my sample quiz here.

At this time Quizzy quizzes are entirely text-based without any options for inserting images or videos.

Applications for Education
Quizzy could be a good tool for creating practice quizzes for your students. At this time Quizzy doesn't have a mechanism for you to record students' scores on the quizzes that they take.

If you don't work in a 1:1 environment you can print Quizzy quizzes with just one click in your Quizzy account.

Need a Metronome or Timer - Just Google It

Whenever I run a workshop that is longer than an hour I use Google's built-in timer function to time breaks. All I have to do is type "set timer 5 minutes" into a Google search and a timer appears and starts counting down. You can enter any amount of time after set timer and you can pause the timer if you need to. Watch the video below to see how that works.

A new to me feature of Google search is the option to use a metronome. To access a metronome in Google search simply type "metronome" into your search and the metronome appears. You can adjust the tempo of the metronome by dragging the slider below the tempo display.

Thanks to Lifehacker for the metronome tip.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Now You Can Sync Your Google Classroom Roster With Quick Key

Quick Key is a free app that turns your iPhone or Android phone into a bubble sheet scanner. It has two parts to it that when combined make it very easy for you to quickly grade multiple choice and true/false quizzes. This week Quick Key introduced the option to sync your Google Classroom rosters to your Quick Key account.

Here are the basics of how Quick Key works; create your quiz on the Quick Key website then print and distribute a bubble sheet. After your students have completed the bubble sheet you simply scan the sheets with your iPhone or Android phone and the grading is done for you. From the app you can send grades to the classes that you have created on the Quick Key website. If you enter students’ email addresses into your class rosters on Quick Key, you can have grades emailed to students. Google Classroom users can sync their rosters with Quick Key for distribution of grades. Watch the video below to learn more about Quick Key's Google Classroom integration.

Quick Key: Sync Rosters with Google Classroom from Quick Key on Vimeo.

Applications for Education
Tools like Quick Key don't directly change the way that we teach, but they can give us more time to actually teach and build relationships with students instead of spending time manually grading tests and quizzes.

How to Use Google Slides to Crop and Filter Images

This week Google made the Nik collection free to all users. The Nik collection is a set of plug-ins for desktop editing tools like Photoshop and Aperture. While those tools are powerful they are probably more than most of need for editing images that we'll put into slideshows, collages, or documents. Google Slides and Google Documents have image editing tools built into them. Those tools are more than adequate for most classroom uses of images. In the video embedded below I demonstrate how to use the image cropping and filter tools in Google Slides.

Learn more Google Drive tips and tricks in the new section of Getting Going With GAFE starting on April 5th.

H/T to Lifehacker for the news about Nik.

The Week in Review - 50 Million Page Views

Good afternoon from sunny Woodstock, Maine where my dogs and I have just returned from a great morning of walking in the woods. The end of winter and beginning of spring is referred to as "mud season" around here and my boys made sure to find all the mud that they could walk and roll in. Wherever you are this weekend, I hope that you make time for some fun things too.

This week reached a new milestone. I only look at the blog traffic on Saturday so it was a surprise to me to see that at some point in the last week passed 50 million all-time page views. It still boggles my mind that so many people have visited and continue to visit this blog that I started as a side project nearly nine years ago. Thank you to everyone that has visited, followed, and referred your friends over the years. This would keep going without you.

Here are this week's most popular posts:
1. Six Tools for Creating Videos on Chromebooks
2. 5 Ideas for Using Google Sites in Your Classroom
3. A Nice Set of Animated Science Lessons for Children
4. JoeZoo Express Makes It Easy to Grade in Google Docs
5. More Than 40 Alternatives to YouTube
6. Gauging Your Distraction - A Game to Show Students the Dangers of Texting While Driving
7. 5 Great Writing Activities from Read Write Think

Professional Development Opportunities!
There will be two Practical Ed Tech Summer Camps this year. There will be one tailored to schools that have 1:1 Chromebook programs and one for everyone else. Both Practical Ed Tech Summer Camps will be held in July. You can learn more about them here. Discounted early registration is available now. The Practical Ed Tech Summer Camp has sold out every year for the last three years.

Would you like to have me speak at your school or conference?
Click here to learn 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.
BoomWriter provides a fantastic tool for creating writing lessons. 
Cloudschool is a great online LMS and course creation tool. 
Google Forms in the Classroom is a good book on all things Google Forms. 
Storyboard That is my go-to tool for creating storyboards and cartoon stories.
Discovery Education & Wilkes University offer online courses for earning Master's degrees in Instructional Media.
PrepFactory offers a great place for students to prepare for SAT and ACT tests.
The University of Maryland Baltimore County offers graduate programs for teachers.
Boise State University offers a 100% online program in educational technology.
EdTechTeacher is hosting host workshops in six cities in the U.S. in the summer.

Friday, March 25, 2016

StoryTop Story Maker - Create Simple Image Based Stories

StoryTop is a good web-based tool for creating digital stories and comics. StoryTop features an easy-to-use drag and drop tool for creating your story. To use Story Top simply select your background, characters, and text bubbles from the menu and drag them into your story box. After selecting the basic story elements you can then add additional elements like plants, animals, and vehicles. When your story is complete you can save it in your Story Top account or send it to friend.

Applications for EducationStory Top is a good tool for getting students online and creating stories quickly. The user interface is easy to use and offers just enough features to allow students to create digital comics that they can be proud of.

Three TED-Ed Lessons About Stress

The weekend is here and hopefully you have some relaxing things planned for yourself. Taking time to reduce stress has many benefits to our health. From zits to headaches to colds TED-Ed has three lessons about how stress can affect your body.

How stress can make you sick.

Does stress cause pimples?

How stress affects your brain.

3 Tools for Creating Comics on iPads

This morning I received an email from a reader who was looking for suggestions for tools that her students can use to create comics on their iPads. I recommended some paid and free apps to her. The free tools that I recommend are featured below.

Make Beliefs Comix is a free multilingual comic strip creation tool that I’ve featured many times over the years on Free Technology for Teachers. Make Beliefs Comix iPad app supports the creation of comics in seven languages; English, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, and Latin. The free Make Beliefs Comix iPad app allows students to create two, three, and four panel comic strips. To create comics in the Make Beliefs Comix iPad app you simply select the number of frames you want to use then choose the characters that you want to feature in your story. After choosing your frames and characters you can type text into speech bubbles to tell your story.

Animation Desk is an iPad and Android app (free and premium versions available) for creating short, animated videos. The app allows you to create drawings using just your finger on your tablet's screen. In the free version of the app (the version that I tried) you can create up to 50 scenes in each of your projects. In each scene you can include as little or as much as you want to draw on the canvas. There are a few different brush and pencil effects that you can use in your drawings. The opacity of the colors you choose can be altered too. When you have completed drawing all of your scenes hit the play button to watch your animation unfold. If you're happy with your animation you can export it to YouTube. You can export all of your drawings as a set of PDFs.

Storyboard That provides templates in which you can create your stories in a comic strip style. Storyboard That doesn't have a stand-alone iPad app, but it is written in HTML5 and works well on all tablets. To help you create your story Storyboard That provides dozens of scenes, characters, and text bubbles to fill your storyboard's frames. Each element that you drag into your storyboard's frames can be re-sized, rotated, and re-positioned. Storyboard That has free and paid plans. The free plan allows you to create three and six frame stories. The free plan also limits you to three storyboards per week. A paid classroom account offers options for managing student accounts, limiting sharing to classroom members only, and a classroom account offers more frames per storyboard.

Disclosure: Storyboard That is an advertiser on

Buncee Buddies Connects Classrooms for Earth Day

Earth Day is a little less than a month away. This year Buncee wants to see what you and your students are doing to recognize Earth Day. Buncee Buddies is a free service that connects classrooms to Skype and or share messages through Buncee cards. Buncee Buddies: Earth Day 2016 aims to connect classrooms around the world to explore how they celebrate Earth Day in their parts of the world. Teachers worldwide can register their classes for the project and create Buncees about the importance of environmental protection, methods of execution, and what the local environment is like in their corner of the world.

Click here to register your classroom for Buncee Buddies: Earth Day 2016.

Disclosure: Buncee is a client of MindRocket Media Group. I am a partner in MindRocket Media Group.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Join Me at a Free PD & Networking Event in Chicago

A few months ago the folks at Otus reached out to me about speaking at a professional development and networking event in Chicago. I'm happy to announce that everything has come together nicely and on April 29th I'll be speaking in Chicago at the Aloft hotel.

I will be speaking about how we can help students learn, work, and live independently. And, of course, there will be plenty of references to the role that technology plays in helping students learn, work, and live independently. After my talk there will be time for networking over refreshments and appetizers. If you're in the Chicago area, I hope that you can join us.

This event is free, but space is limited. Please register early through this Eventbrite page.

About Otus:
Otus is a free platform for developing and delivering course materials to your students. You can create, collect, and grade reading and writing assignments, quizzes, polls and surveys, and develop resource libraries in Otus. Otus also has tools for managing attendance and other day-to-day classroom tasks.

TinyTap Partners With Oxford University Press to Create Interactive Picture Dictionaries

TinyTap is a great tool for creating games and other interactive activities for students to play online, on their iPads, or on their laptops. Back in January I shared 16 ways to use TinyTap.

This week TinyTap announced a partnership with Oxford University Press that resulted in the creation of nine interactive picture dictionaries for kids. Unfortunately, it appears that only three of the dictionaries are available for free and others require you to be a "pro" subscriber to TinyTap. The picture dictionaries cover the following topics:

  • at home
  • at school
  • community
  • The United States
  • Health
  • Life Science
  • Physical Science
  • Earth and Space Science
  • Math

JoeZoo Express Makes It Easy to Grade in Google Docs

JoeZoo Express is a free Google Docs Add-on that could change the way that you grade students' work in Google Documents. JoeZoo enables you to give feedback on students' Google Documents by simply highlighting text then selecting feedback statements from a huge menu of options. For example, in my sample document I highlighted text then chose the category of "structure" within the structure category I then chose to tag the sentence with the comment "awkward." When a student sees the feedback he or she will also see an explanation of "awkward" and how he or she can fix it.

JoeZoo Express doesn't limit you to using just feedback phrases that they have listed. You can create your own feedback phrases and explanations.

Teachers who want to use rubrics to give feedback and grades can do so within JoeZoo Express. JoeZoo offers a free rubric builder tool. You can customize the rubric to meet your specific needs. The rubrics that you create can be saved and inserted into students' documents when you are grading their work.

Applications for Education
JoeZoo Express could save you a lot of time when you're giving feedback and grading students' work in Google Documents. The initial set-up of JoeZoo, including creating rubrics and custom feedback phrases, could take a while but should prove to be a time-saver in the end.

JoeZoo Express does integrate with Google Classroom. You can import your Google Classroom rosters into JoeZoo to streamline the process of returning work to your students.

Learn how to use Add-ons like this one and many others in my online course Getting Going With GAFE. Check out my other online courses offered this summer

MoveIt - A Chrome Extension to Keep You Active

MoveIt is a free Chrome extension that aims to help you avoid sitting in front of your computer for too long. At intervals of your choosing MoveIt will prompt you to get up and complete a short exercise. You can set the intervals to be as frequent as every five minutes or as infrequent as every hour. You can also disable MoveIt altogether for the times when you absolutely cannot be interrupted. An overview of MoveIt is included in the video below.

Sworkit Kids is a free Android and iOS app that also offers prompts for short physical exercises your students can do in your classroom.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

An Interactive Cartogram of News

Unfiltered News is a new site that uses an interactive cartogram to help you find trending news stories from around the world. To find stories through Unfiltered News simply open the website and click on a topic listed within one of the circles on the map. Once you've made a selection a list of stories will appear on the right side of your screen. Click on a story to read it in full. From the menu on the right side of the screen you can choose a different location and a new list of stories will appear.

Applications for Education
Unfiltered News could be a good resource for social studies classes in which students are learning about current events. Unfiltered News does a nice job of showing visitors which stories are trending where in the world. This could lead to a good discussion with students about why certain topics are trending in one part of the world, but are not trending in another part of the world.

H/T to Google Maps Mania

5 Settings You Should Know for School or Classroom Facebook Pages

As I mentioned yesterday, maintaining a Facebook fan page for your school or classroom can be a good way to keep parents informed of upcoming events. When you create a Facebook fan page for your school or classroom there are some default settings that you will want to change in order to keep the page as school-friendly as possible. Those five changes are outlined below. You can make all of these changes from the general settings panel of your Facebook page.

1. Profanity filter. This one is self-explanatory. You'll want to turn it on.

2. Visitor posts. This setting enables you to decide if you want visitors to be able to write posts on your page's wall. I have this option turned off because I don't want to worry about parents or students posting things that they shouldn't share publicly and or airing a grievance in public. I also don't want to worry about having to manually filter spam from the wall.

3. Messages. I turn off the option for people to send private messages through the Facebook page. I turn it off because I want parents and students to use my school email address for questions. I do that just in case there ever needs to be an archive of a message or series of messages. The school can archive email, your Facebook page cannot.

4. Tagging ability. I set this so that only page administrators can tag the page in posts. It gives me a little more control over where page appears.

5. Expiring posts. Turn on this option to set expiration dates for posts. This is handy because you might be posting information that has a limited shelf life. For example, you probably don't need a reminder about an open house night to continue to appear three weeks after the event.

This topic and many like it will be covered in depth in the latest section of Blogs & Social Media for Teachers and School Leaders. Click here to learn how to earn CEUs or graduate credit for the course. 

10 Somewhat Interesting Things About Me and Free Technology for Teachers

Over the last few months there have been a lot of new visitors and subscribers to and the Free Technology for Teachers Facebook page. Welcome and thanks for joining me here. And thank you to long-time followers who have helped this blog and the corresponding Facebook page grow. Whether you're new here or you've been with me for eight years, here are some things you may not know about me and 

1. With very few and infrequent exceptions, everything that you see here is written or recorded by me. Last year only 32 of 1181 posts were guest posts. 

2. I love dogs and cats. I make regular contributions of time and money to Harvest Hills Animal Shelter and Buddy Up Animal Society. (Adopt, don't shop).

3. I was a high school social studies teacher before and other consulting work became my full-time job a few years ago. I also coached middle school basketball. (If you're thinking about becoming a full-time blogger/ consultant bear in mind that when I made the jump I was on the 10th step of my district's pay scale and still didn't make $35k. I also don't have any dependents other than dogs). 

4. I do miss being in the classroom on a regular basis. I especially miss the special education students that I worked with.  Fortunately, living in a small town means that I often run into former students. In fact, that happened last weekend at the grocery store. 

5. Inspiration for blog posts comes from questions from readers, press releases that I'm sent, conversations with teachers and administrators, and sometimes from my dreams (yes, I have dreamed about blog posts). 

6. Sitting still is not something that I do well. My hobbies are biking (road and mountain), skiing, fly fishing, and paddling. Other than home, Iceland is my favorite place in the world. 

7. is technically owned by Byrne Instructional Media, LLC. Income comes from advertising, speaking at conferences, running workshops in schools, hosting summer workshops, hosting online courses, and some consulting with start-ups. 

8. Instagram is the place that I post fun things like pictures of my dogs, places I ski and bike, or the goofy selfies that I take.

9. Outside of this blog I post content on the Free Technology for Teachers Facebook Page, on my YouTube channel, and on Practical Ed Tech.

10. My number one blogging tip is, "create helpful content." 

Questions? You can email me richardbyrne (at) or find me on Twitter

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Gauging Your Distraction - A Game to Show Students the Dangers of Texting While Driving

Update November 2020: This game was Flash-based. Flash is a standard that will be deprecated in December 2020. The game is no longer available.

The New York Times has a nice interactive game that every teen driver or aspiring driver should play at least once. Gauging Your Distraction requires players to try to read and reply to three text messages while negotiating lanes of traffic. At the start of the game players simply have to navigate a car through lanes of the highway. Once that is mastered a text message will appear on the screen that players have to reply to while navigating traffic. The game ends when three text messages have been sent.

Applications for Education
Gauging Your Distraction is an excellent activity to incorporate into a driver training program. The beginning of the game is easy which builds a player's confidence. The game gets tricky when a player's confidence is high. Much like in real life students might think, "I've got this" when they really don't have the control they think they do. 

Six Tools for Creating Videos on Chromebooks

As I've written many times over the years, creating videos is one of my favorite classroom projects. Recently, I shared some of my tips for planning classroom video projects. Shortly after publishing those tips I was asked for a recommendation for creating videos on Chromebooks. Here are some of my go-to video creation tools to use on Chromebooks.

WeVideo offers the most features of any of the tools in this list. It is an online video creation tool that I have written about many times over the last few years. WeVideo offers templates that new users can follow to create their first videos. Advanced WeVideo users can skip the templates, use the full editor, and apply themes to their videos by choosing them from the themes menu in the editor. In the video editor you can upload your own media clips or use stock media clips to produce your video. WeVideo's Google Drive app allows you to save all of your video projects in your Google Drive account. WeVideo also offers an Android app and an iPhone app that students can use to capture images and video footage to add to their projects.

Wideo is a neat video creation service that allows anyone to create animated videos and Common Craft-style videos online through a simple drag-and-drop process. A couple of months ago Wideo started offering templates to help users start their video projects. Wideo templates provide a basic framework for a video's theme. A couple of the templates that might be of interest to teachers are the slideshow template and the curriculum template.

PowToon is similar to Wideo and is also a great tool for creating animated videos online. PowToon provides a drag-and-drop editor for creating animated videos. The videos that you create feature digital paper cut-outs on a colorful background. Think of PowToon as an online tool for creating videos in the style made popular by Common Craft. PowToon provides drawings of people and objects that you can arrange on blank canvas. After adding your narration to the arrangement you can publish your video.

Within YouTube there is a free tool for creating audio slideshows. You supply the images and YouTube supplies the audio track. You can pick from thousands of audio tracks to match to your slides. After adding your slides and selecting an audio track you can add speech bubbles to your slides. I demonstrate all of these steps in the video embedded below.

Last year at the Practical Ed Tech Summer Camp a number of us used Stupeflix to create videos. Stupeflix doesn't require users to register in order to produce a video. In the video embedded below I demonstrate how to use Stupeflix to create a video without registering on the site.

For creating a screencast video on a Chromebook TechSmith offers Snagit for Chrome which supports creating screencasts that you can save into your Google Drive account. To use the screencasting option in Snagit for Chrome you will have enable the both the Snagit for Chrome extension and the corresponding Snagit Chrome app.  The Snagit Chrome extension is what allows you to capture your screen. The Snagit Chrome app allows you to save your screen captures in your Google Drive account. You do have to install both the extension and the app for Snagit to work correctly.

Topics like this one and many others will be covered in depth during the Practical Ed Tech Chromebook Camp on July 18th and 19th. Discounted early registration is now available. Group discounts are available. Email me richardbyrne (at) or click here to learn more.

How to Use Canva to Promote School Events

One of the things that I always talk about in my workshop on Blog & Social Media for Teachers and School Leaders is using regular Facebook page updates to keep parents informed about school and classroom events. One of the things that you can do to help your Facebook posts reach more people is to include high resolution graphics in your posts. Canva is a great tool for creating high resolution graphics to include in your Facebook posts. Canva provides a huge catalog of free templates for creating graphics to use in your social media posts. In the video below I provide a demonstration of how to use Canva.

When you're creating graphics to use in your Facebook posts try to limit the text to only the most important information. In the post itself you can link to more information for parents and or students to read. You should also try to use some type of call to action to increase parents' interaction with your posts. See my sample image below.

These images can also be used in Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and regular blog posts. The reason that I stress using them in Facebook pages is that Facebook posts that contain high resolution images get liked and shared much more often than posts that do not contain images.

To be clear, I'm talking about using Facebook pages for a school or classroom. I am not talking about using a personal Facebook account to interact with students and their parents.

Monday, March 21, 2016

A Nice Set of Animated Science Lessons for Children

The Children's University of Manchester has great collections of animated lessons covering seven science subjects for students of early elementary/ primary school age. The lessons cover The Body and Medicine, Energy and Environment, Earth and Beyond, Teeth and Eating, Micro-organisms, The Brain, and Exercise.

For each science subject covered by The Children's University of Manchester there is an introduction followed by seven to ten interactive animations. For example, in The Earth and Beyond students can see how the position of the sun affects the length of shadows. Students can advance the sun through the sky. As they advance the sun they can use a ruler to measure the lengths of the shadows that they create.

Applications for Education
The Children's University of Manchester science lessons could be good place to find supplementary interactive materials for your elementary school science lessons. You could extend The Earth and Beyond shadows activity by having your students measure shadows in your school yard throughout the day at different times of the year.

5 Great Writing Activities from Read Write Think

Over the years Read Write Think has published dozens of excellent templates and tools for elementary school language arts lessons. Five of my favorite Read Write Think activities are featured below.

Read Write Think offers a good interactive guide that can help students craft a good persuasive essay. The Persuasion Map asks students to start with a thesis statement before walking them through developing support for that thesis. Students can print their persuasion maps or email them to you. RWT offers a number of lesson plans that incorporate the Persuasion Map. You can find those lessons here.

Essay Map provides students with step by step guidance in the construction of an informational essay. Some of my students seem to struggle most with constructing an introduction and conclusion to their essays. Essay Map is particularly good for helping students visualize the steps needed to construct good introductory and conclusion paragraphs. After students complete all of the steps in their Essay Map they can print their essay outlines.

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. In the video below I demonstrate how to use this tool.

RWT Timeline 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 a timeline for a series of events. In the video below I demonstrate how to use the web version of the RWT Timeline creation tool.

RWT's Animal Inquiry guide is a good fit for elementary school science lessons. Animal Inquiry provides students with four templates; animal facts, animal babies, animal interactions, and animal habitats. Each template is an interactive template in which students respond to three prompts to help them create short reports about animals they are studying. Read Write Think suggests using the questions in the Animal Inquiry template as prompts for research. The questions in the templates could also be good for helping students brainstorm additional questions to research.

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