Tuesday, October 31, 2017

October's Most Popular Posts on Free Technology for Teachers

Good evening from Maine where we just finished giving out candy to more than 500 trick o' treaters. Halloween marks the end of October and as I do at the end of every month, I have compiled a list of the most popular posts of the month. Take a look and see if there are any helpful resources that you missed during the month.

Here are October's most popular posts:
1. How to Prevent Plagiarism in Online Learning: Unicheck and Google Classroom
2. Typing Games to Improve Keyboarding Skills
3. Enhance Your Google Classroom Experience
4. Hyperdocs: Create Interactive Google Docs
5. Five Great Add-ons for Google Forms
6. Using NoRedInk to Spice Up Grammar Lessons
7. Virtual and Interactive Resources for Science Teachers
8. Five Gmail Extensions to Increase Productivity
9. Molecularium: Molecule Building Game
10. Grants for Teachers

Tomorrow, my Teaching History With Technology course will be available on-demand. This is an eight part course that you can complete at your own pace. Learn more and register here.

Four weeks from now Keith Hughes, Tom Richey, and I will be hosted a three night titled How to Teach With Video. Tom and Keith produce educational videos that garner tens of thousands of views from students. Learn more and register here for How to Teach With Video. 

Please visit the official advertisers that help keep this blog going.
Practical Ed Tech is the brand through which I offer PD webinars.
Storyboard That is my go-to tool for creating storyboards.
SeeSaw is my favorite digital portfolio tool.
Metaverse enables anyone to create amazing things.
Kids Discover provides fantastic tools for helping kids discover new information. 
University of Maryland Baltimore County offers a great program on instructional design.
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.
Boise State University offers a 100% online program in educational technology.

Sutori Updates Allow for Additional Embedding

Sutori is a great tool that allows you to create multimedia timelines. The product was just updated to include some features that make it better than ever.

Users are now able to embed nearly anything into a Sutori including Flipgrids, Padlets, Quizlets, Thinglinks, Instagrams,  Buncees, History Channel videos, Prezi, and Tweets, as well as Google Docs, Forms, Slides, Presentations, and Maps. More option will be added in the near future.

The other update is single sign-on for teachers and students using Microsoft Office 365.

Check out this video to learn more about Sutori.

Five More Gmail Extensions to Increase Productivity

Recently, I shared five extensions for Gmail that are designed to help boost productivity. There were too many to pack into one post, so here are five additional extensions to use with Gmail.

  • Right Inbox for Gmail- Schedule emails to be sent later and add reminders to follow up on emails. You can also schedule recurring emails and add private notes to emails. 
  • Mailtrack- Let's you know if the emails you have sent have been read or not. See how long ago they were read and how many times they were opened.
  • Snooze Email- Not ready to deal with a particular message? Set a custom time for it to reappear in your email.
  • Email Game- Checking email can be very boring and time consuming. This extension turns this mundane task into a fun game.
  • Newsletter Creator- Create visually appealing newsletters from inside of Gmail using templates. Drag and drop content until your newsletter is just the way you want it. 

Silly and Fun Halloween Tricks

Happy Halloween! This day is dedicated to tricks and treats. You probably have the treats covered, but what about the tricks? Today is a great opportunity to have some harmless fun with your students. These goofy tricks will have your students in stitches and they will appreciate your effort to have a little fun.
  • Mozilla X-Ray Goggles- Allows you to see the code on any website and alter text and pictures. The altered version can only be seen by you and this does not require any special skills. For Halloween you could alter a headline in your local paper to read something like "Local Teacher Kidnapped by Zombies" or something along those lines. This could lead to a discussion about digital citizenship and how tools like this should never be used to harm people.
  • Googlifier- This extension adds googley eyes to all photos on different websites. This works best on larger pictures and it takes a few seconds to load.
  • Catblock- Instead of blocking ads, it turns all of them into cat pictures.
  • OmNomNomify- This is too much fun! When you install the bookmarklet, you can turn images and videos on different websites into gifs that feature Cookie Monster. 

Monday, October 30, 2017

Getting Going With G Suite for Education

Last summer more than 100 people participated in my online course Getting Going With G Suite. Throughout the Fall I've fielded requests from folks who missed out on the summer course and would like to get into the next offering. I'm happy to announce that I have scheduled another offering of Getting Going With G Suite for Education. The next course will begin on November 30th at 7pm ET.

This course offers everything you need to know to take advantage of the great things that G Suite for Education offers to teachers and students. Getting Going With G Suite is a webinar series designed for teachers and administrators who are new to using G Suite for Education. This is a five week course covering everything you need to know to integrate Google Drive, Google Classroom, Google Calendar, and Google Sites into your practice.

Course highlights:

  • Streamline your workflow with Google Classroom.
  • Get control of your inbox with Gmail hacks.
  • Create self-paced, self-grading assessments in Google Forms.
  • Develop an classroom website with Google Sites.
  • Organize meetings with Google Calendar.
  • Keep track of bookmarks and notes with Google Keep.
  • Make beautiful presentations in Google Slides.
  • Create guided reading activities in Google Docs.
  • A Google Classroom for Q&A during the course.

Getting Going With G Suite costs $147. (Subscribers to the Practical Ed Tech newsletter receive a discount code to save $15).

Can't make to all of the live webinars? Don't worry, every live session is recorded and emailed to you the next day. And you can still participate in Q&A through the discussion forum.

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

Planboard for Lesson Planning

Planboard is a lesson planning app that is free for individual teachers. Create digital lesson plans and access them from anywhere. Use templates to build lessons that can include attachments, photos, and videos. Add individual standards to your lessons and track student progression for each class. Cutback on lesson planning time by reusing lessons from one semester to another or share lessons with colleagues. 

An additional planning tool to check out is the lesson plan tool for Google Docs.

How to Create a Digital Breakout Game

Breakout EDU has been a breakout hit in classrooms over the last couple of years. The success of the physical Breakout EDU games has spurred the creation of many digital versions built on everything from Google Forms to full-fledged online game environments. Metaverse recently published a tutorial on how to make your own digital breakout game on their free augmented reality platform. These are breakout games that you can build and your students can play on their mobile phones. Of course, your students can also build their own games on the Metaverse platform. Watch the tutorial below to learn how to build your own digital breakout game.

Disclosure: Metaverse is an advertiser on FreeTech4Teachers.com

How to Enter Samsung's Solve for Tomorrow Contest

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post.

Last week I shared some information about Samsung's Solve for Tomorrow contest. he contest is designed to get students in grades six through twelve interested in STEAM projects that can have an immediate impact on local and global communities. As I wrote last week, initial entry into the contest is free and only requires answering a few short questions. In the video below I demonstrate how to complete the initial entry form. Entries are due by November 9th. Take a few minutes to enter and you could be on your way to winning $25,000 worth of Samsung products for your school.

All state finalists (255 in all) will receive a Samsung tablet (valued at $499.99). From those state finalists’ plans, state winners will be chosen. State winners will receive $25,000 in Samsung technology for their schools. State winners will be invited to submit a video about their projects. Those videos will be used in selecting ten national finalists who will receive $50,000 in school technology and a trip to the national pitch event where three national winners will be chosen. National winners will receive $150,000 in Samsung technology for their schools.

Library of Congress Congressional Data Challenge

The National Data Challenge from the Library of Congress is a competition that is asking "citizen coders" to develop creative ways to use technology to analyze, visualize, and interpret data sets from congress.gov as well as other platforms. The idea is to create a product that helps others discover, use, and explore the massive collection of legislative information that is available from the Library. 

Some examples of what the staff at the Library of Congress envision include:

  • A visualization of how the legislative process works. 
  • Tools that could be embedded on Congressional websites. 
  • A tool that will allow members of congress to be matched with other members who have similar legislative interests. 
 The Library of Congress will award $5000 to the first prize winner and $1000 for the best high school project.  Submissions must be received by April 2, 2018 and include a 2-minute video. 

Applications for Education
This could be a project that students could work on for a coding class or after school coding club. 

Last Minute Halloween Ideas

Halloween is tomorrow! You either love celebrating this day with students or you absolutely dread it. No matter which camp you are in, hopefully you have something planned to make tomorrow memorable. If you have procrastinated then keep reading! This is a collection of Halloween ideas that have been shared here on Free Technology for Teachers. We've compiled them into one post to make it easier to find a fun Halloween activity.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Games to Sharpen Geography Skills

These games provide students with fun and engaging ways to learn geography. They are a good way for students to explore new places on their own.

Smarty Pins Combines geography and trivia. There are lots of categories to choose from including arts & culture, science & geography, sports & games, entertainment, and history & current events.

Pursued tests your ability to use clues around you to escape your captors. Work through different levels and have fun exploring locations from around the world.

Geoguessr You are dropped into random locations and you have to use clues around you to guess your location by exploring using Google Street View.

Geosettr allows you to create a game where you customize up to five different locations. This is great for reviewing locations.

Geography Games for Kids are designed for younger students to learn about countries, capitals, and longitude and latitude.

Learn all about using Google Maps and Earth in many subject areas in the upcoming To Geography & Beyond With Google Maps & Earth

Typing Games to Improve Keyboarding Skills

There seems to be no shortage of typing games that help students develop their keyboarding skills. This collection of games are free, fun, and engaging.

  • Nitro Type- Improve your typing skills while competing from other typers from around the world.
  • Alphabet Rain- You must type the letters as the fall from the sky before they hit the ground.
  • Learn 2 Type- Type in a paragraph of text to see how many WPM you can type.
  • Outerspace Fleet Commander- Type words or groups of letters before they run into your spaceship. Three different levels to choose from.
  • Timed Typing Test- Type quickly and accurately to see how many WPM you can type. You can set to allow for backspacing or turn this feature off.
  • Typing on Ghosts- Type the letters that appear on the ghosts to make them disappear. 

Find even more typing games here and here.

Five Inspiring TED Talks for Teachers

The beginning of the school year is full of anticipation and promise. Our students come back to school in the fall excited to learn and we cannot wait to share new ideas and lessons with them. However, as the weather turns cooler and the leaves begin to fall from the trees, the condition we refer to as October Slump can set in. We are tired, irritable, and might even begin to question our ability to make it to Thanksgiving break.

These five TED Talks were the ones I would listen to when I needed a reminder of why I went into education. I hope they provide you with some inspiration as well.

  • How to Learn From Mistakes Diana Laufenberg shares her insight about how to learn from mistakes.
  • What I Learned From 100 Days of Rejection Jia Jiang shares his story about spending 100 days of seeking out ways to get rejected and in the process discovered a world of possibilities.
  • Bring On the Learning Revolution! Sir Ken Robinson makes a case for shifting from standardized schools to creating conditions where kids' natural talents can flourish.
  • School is Broken  Chris Lehmann passionately discusses that schools should encourage students to pursue what they care good at instead of making them do more of what they are bad at.
  • The Surprising Truth About Learning in Schools Will Richardson shares what he has discovered about learning during the last decade while working with schools from all over the world. 

Using Video to Improve Teaching Practice

This is a guest post from Harrison McCoy.

Speaking transparently, I have to admit I don't like the way I appear in videos. To be totally truthful, I dislike the way my voice sounds even more. Yet, I recognize the effectiveness of using video in teaching, coaching, and training, and one of my professional goals for this year is to create a podcast.

However, if we, as educators, want to be in the same room with a lot of other "professionals", we are going to have to put our egos aside and realize what an amazing tool video is for evaluating and improving our performance.

Teaching is a performance profession, but not in the sense that we are actors on a stage pretending to be someone we are not. There are, however days when we might be tempted to see things that way. You know what I mean. You wake up with a migraine on the same day that you are scheduled to lead an important review for your state assessment AND your principal has emailed you that he will be visiting your fourth period class. So you mumble something about "the show must go on" and down a double espresso on the way to school. Showtime!

Paul Bambrick-Santoyo, in Get Better Faster (p. 25), makes the point that "educators are not much different than a cardiac surgeon performing an emergency operation." Nearly every aspect of what we do as teachers is done "live" and without a net. Teachers are much like NFL quarterbacks who have to make decisions on the run with 400-pound linemen chasing them from behind. Many professions rely heavily on video to enhance and assess performance. So, why don't we?

Technology now makes it easier than ever to use video in coaching. At a very basic level, every teacher with a smartphone has the ability to create a video of herself/himself teaching. Even without a coach, that video can become a tool for teacher self-improvement On a higher level, technology also makes it possible to combine multiple camera views, Bluetooth microphones, and cloud-based storage to enable virtual coaching complete with discussion threads. My employer furnishes two tools that I have used with some success; IrisConnect Discovery Kits and Swivl.

Both of these have, in the last year, begun offering a "live" coaching options that involve all of the above AND two-way communication between the coach and teacher with immediate feedback and mid-course correction on the fly.

Are there costs involved? Depending upon the package you choose, you could spend a lot of money. Put that in perspective by comparing it to the cost of hiring and training a new teacher for every good educator that you lose to burnout. Coaching is proving to be one way to help solve the retention problem in education today. Add video and the quality of coaching goes up dramatically.

Jim Knight, in Focus on Teaching, (p. 4) observes that video “helps us see exactly what it looks like when we teach or our students learn.” It's not uncommon for me to hear teachers say something like "I had no idea that I said that/looked that way/only focused on certain students that way" when when watching their video with me as their coach.

Video improves both the process of teacher improvement and the results. It will also help us to have something to talk about the next time we find ourselves at a cocktail party with an NFL quarterback or a heart surgeon.

About the author:
I am employed by the Education Service Center, Region 11, in Fort Worth Texas. I am part of an instructional coaching team that works with more than 70 school districts in north Texas to ensure teacher improvement. I have been an educator for nearly 20 years. I enjoy connecting with educators around the world on Twitter and blogging as a means of reflecting on my practice as an educator.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

The Week in Review - Leaves Everywhere!

Good evening from Maine where the leaves that are still on the tree are beautiful. The leaves on the ground, however, are just a nuisance that I had to spend all morning moving into piles for removal. As I shared earlier on Facebook, my record with small engines is not good as evidenced by my leaf blower spontaneously stopping a few times. It's a good thing that I don't rely on lawn equipment to make my living. Tomorrow, it's going to rain so I'll take a break from the chores to enjoy another fall tradition, watching the Patriots play.

Here are this week's most popular posts:
1. How to Prevent Plagiarism in Online Learning: Unicheck and Google Classroom
2. Hyperdocs: Create Interactive Google Docs
3. Padlet Now Has Voting and Grading Tools
4. History of Hashtags and How Teachers Can Use Them
5. Updates to Google Calendar
6. Resources for Family and Consumer Science Teachers
7. Using Classcraft for Gamified Motivation and Formative Assessment

On Monday afternoon I am hosting a webinar about formative assessment. And on Wednesday Teaching History With Technology will start.

Please visit the official advertisers that help keep this blog going.
Practical Ed Tech is the brand through which I offer PD webinars.
Storyboard That is my go-to tool for creating storyboards.
SeeSaw is my favorite digital portfolio tool.
Metaverse enables anyone to create amazing things.
Kids Discover provides fantastic tools for helping kids discover new information. 
University of Maryland Baltimore County offers a great program on instructional design.
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.
Boise State University offers a 100% online program in educational technology.

Slack for Improved Communication

Slack is a digital workspace that helps improve how teams communicate and collaborate. It gives teams a unified location to share messages and files which can cut down on email clutter. Slack works on all devices so you have access no matter where you are.

The purpose of Slack is to help teams create a workflow to help increase productivity. While Slack has been popular in the business world for some time now, it is just starting to gain traction in education. Slack is free for small teams, with upgraded plans available. Education accounts are eligible for an 85% discount.

With a free account you can participate in different conversations, send and receive direct messages, share files, create to do lists, and install up to ten different apps to further customize how you use Slack.

Applications for Education
Slack cannot be used by students who are 13 or younger, but it could be an option for older students who are collaborating on projects. Slack is a good option for small teams of teachers or administrators who are looking for a fast and easy way to communicate.

Google Street View App

The Google Street View app is available for both Android and iOS devices. This free app allows you to do some pretty amazing things that were not possible just a few years ago.

Street View allows you to create 360 degree photos directly from your phone with no special equipment. You can choose to keep your images private or publish them to Google Maps. If they are approved by a team at Google, your images will be viewable to others to enjoy and explore.

Street View has collections of places from around the world to explore. Photospheres are best viewed using Google Cardboard. Cardboard resembles the View-Master that some of us had when we were kids. To use Street View with Cardboard, you will need to click on the mask icon then place your phone in your Cardboard or other VR viewer. If you don't have a VR viewer, you can click on the compass icon to open what many of us call the magic window. No matter how you view the photospheres, you will get to experience places around the world through the eyes of people who have been there. The beauty of our magnificent planet has been captured and it's ready to be discovered by our students!

Applications for Education
Street View can be used to teach in ways that were not possible until recently. Are your students learning about volcanoes? Send students to different ones around the world and have them compare and contrast what they see. Are they studying different countries? Have them explore those countries using this app.

Screenshots of Google Street View.


Chrome Extensions to Help You Stay Focused

Some people have no problems staying focused while they work on the web while others find themselves drowning in a sea of distraction. These Chrome extensions might help you remain on task if you spend long hours working online or if you tend to get easily distracted.

Visor- Dims your screen which helps reduce eye strain. There are also some assistive features including overlays and a horizontal point of focus feature which helps reduce the tendency to skip lines of text.

Read Mode- Turns off ads and flash animations temporarily to make it easier to focus on the content that you are reading. This extension turns your page into black text on a white background.

StayFocusd- If you find that certain websites are distracting and cutting into your productivity, then this extension is for you. You set time limits for how long you can spend on different sites. Once you have used up the allotted time, you will be blocked from that particular site for the remainder of the day.

Strict Workflow- Allows you to create a customized blacklist of pages you find distracting. You will have to work an amount of time that you specify before being allowed to browse any of the blacklisted websites.

WasteNoTime- Provides reports on where you spend time on the internet. This extension allows you to block some sites all of the time and set time quotas for others. There is also a feature that allows you to lockdown everything so you can focus for a set period of time with little internet access. You can also customize when these settings will be in place.

Momentum Is your personal dashboard where you can create a to do list, see a reminder of your top priority, and view the weather. This page will appear each time you open a new tab. 

Applications for Education
Students can benefit from these extensions as much, or maybe even more, than adults. It might be useful for students to see where they spend time when they are online.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Connect with Real Scientists

Yesterday we took a look at the history of hashtags and how teachers can use them to find information about different topics. Today, I would like to introduce you to the hashtag #ActualLivingScientists and the role it played in my World Geography classroom last year.

One of the projects required students to make contact with a specialist on their chosen topic. Many of the topics they selected were closely related to science in some way. Just by chance I happened to come across the hashtag #ActualLivingScientist that started gaining popularity just a month or so earlier. Scientists from all over the world began using this hashtag to in their tweets to showcase pictures of them working in the field and to help people understand what scientists do during the day. I began following the #actuallivingscientist hashtag and when I came across an expert that fit any of the topics my students had selected, I added them to a Twitter list which was linked on my classroom website to make it easy for my students to access. It was still up to my students to make the connection with a scientist, but the list made it pretty easy! For my students who did not use Twitter, they were able to use the information from the Twitter bio section to connect with them.

Applications for Education
The exchanges my students had with the scientists were great! If it had not been for this hashtag, my students would have wasted lots of valuable time tracking down experts who may or may not have been happy to hear from them. No matter what topic we are researching, hashtags save us time and provide a way for us to connect with experts around the globe in a matter of seconds.

Advanced Google Search to Gain Different Perspectives

One of the activities that students are frequently asked to do is search for information on current and historical events from around the world. The issue is that when students perform a search, they typically are not searching in a manner that will provide results that offer different perspectives.

For example, if a student is asked to research the causes of World War II, they are most likely going to do a Google Search for "Causes World War II" or something along those lines. They will read the first few articles and assume they have all of the facts they need. The problem is that they do not view any results that provide more global answers to this question. There is a simple change they can make to their search that will improve their results. Once they enter their search, they can either go into the Search Settings or Advanced Settings and change the region where the search takes place. If students are searching in the United States, they will see very different results than when they set the region to Japan or Germany.

Students can also search results from different countries without modifying anything in the setting by using country codes on the omnibox. A search for causes of World War II using results from Germany would look like this: "site:de Causes World War II."

Applications for Education
It is imperative that students are taught how to critically evaluate information and how to view events from a multitude of perspectives. We need to emphasis the importance of locating quality results and not assume that students know how to complete good Google searches.

Update on 10/28/17- Ironically, just hours after this post was published, Google will no longer allow you to change the country code using the omnibox. You will have to select the country you wish to search in the actual settings as described in the second paragraph.

You can learn more search strategies in the on-demand webinar, Search Strategies Students Need to Know.

Resources for Family and Consumer Science Teachers

This is a collection of resources for FACS teachers. It includes links to professional organizations, lesson plans, grants, and more.

  • American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences- Professional organization that provides leadership and support to students and professionals from both multiple practice settings and content areas.
  • FamilyConsumerSciences- Website that is full of ideas on a wide range of topics including child development, foods and nutrition, interior design, life skills, and clothing.
  • NASCO FCS Lesson Plans- Over 3 dozen lessons aligned to national FCS standards.
  • FCS Livebinder- Collection of resources related to FCS.
  • FACS Exploration- Home Economics curriculum for students in grades 7 & 8 from the Utah Education Network.
  • FCCLA- Resources, lessons, grants, contests, store, and more. 
Here are some additional FACS resources that have appeared on Free Technology for Teachers: 

Join Me for Fun With Formative Assessments

Conducting formative assessments is one the ways that we can gauge our students' understanding of the topics that we teach. Formative assessment doesn't have to be boring for your students and it doesn't have to be tedious for you. To help you make formative assessment fun for your students and informative for you, I am hosting a Practical Ed Tech webinar titled Fun Formative Assessments. This live webinar will be held on Monday afternoon at 4pm ET. (Yes, it will be recorded).

In this webinar you will learn how to use free tech tools to create and conduct fun, engaging, and informative formative assessments. Whether you teach elementary school, middle school, or high school, you will come away from this webinar with fun formative assessment activities that you can do the next day.

Fun Formative Assessments addresses the needs of teachers who don't have computers or tablets for every student. And teachers who do have laptops, Chromebooks, or tablets for every student will learn some new ways to have students use those too. Register here.

Five Things You Can Learn In This Webinar:

1. What makes a formative assessment valuable to you while also fun for students.

2. How to create fun formative assessments for classrooms that aren't 1:1.

3. Why you should leverage students' picture-taking habits for formative assessment.

4. Development of engaging formative assessment activities that use a variety of question formats.

5. How to include students in the creation of formative assessments.

The cost of this webinar is $20.

Can't make it to the live webinar? Don't worry because, as long as you register in advance, you can access the recording on-demand the next day.

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

Using Classcraft for Gamified Motivation and Formative Assessment

This is a guest post from Rachel Langenhorst. Rachel's work has appeared here in the past and been quite well received. I was excited to get another guest post submission from her. 

Every teacher in this day and age must be able to juggle 3 to 45 things at any given moment. There are days when I feel that my head might spontaneously combust because, quite simply... Nothing. Else. Will. Fit. Classcraft, however, has proven to be a tool with which I can most effectively lead with the least amount of disruption, in a way that is both engaging and motivating for students of all ages. Gamification is a research-based way to take the fundamental appeal of play and apply it to non-game activities such as schoolwork and classroom management. My first experience with the game came at a Google Summit session I attended this summer. At first, I was curious, although admittedly skeptical. How effective could a game really be? However, upon signup and the interactivity provided during that session, a fire was lit. I signed up for the free version and experimented with it throughout the summer. It didn’t take long to see that this was the real deal. Since then, we have been able to successfully incorporate Classcraft into our at-risk room, elementary classrooms, as well as my middle-high school technology team, with more sure to follow!

What sets Classcraft apart from other forms of gamification is the fact that it is grounded in actual classroom behavior and accomplishments. There is the ability to create teams within Classcraft, which, I have found, adds a particularly effective form of peer motivation. Teachers can and should be the creators of their own environment and should adapt the experience to fit their own classrooms. There is a preset list of items for which students can receive or lose points, but they are completely customizable. While these are touted as “classroom management” points, I have found that with a little ingenuity, I was able to tie points to anything, including other types of formative assessments I do in classrooms like Kahoot, Wizer, and Quizzizz. These points can be divvied out to individuals or teams as desired.

There are five different point types found in the game. There are HP (Health Points), XP (Experience Points), AP (Action Points), GP (Gold Pieces), and PP (Power Points). Each serves a distinct purpose that helps maintain student interactivity and success. Additionally, there is a parent connection, where you open up the ability for them to award GP to their child for good deeds done at home. Within Classcraft, students have the capability to completely customize their own avatars and select from the role of Warrior, Mage, or Healer. Each role comes with a certain set of skills that can be advantageous for their team. With a coordinating Classcraft app and a Chrome Extension, you are able to manage your class with ease. This video helps describe a typical day in Classcraft.

A Typical Day in Classcraft from Classcraft on Vimeo.

Classcraft does offer premium access to their site for a minimal cost of $12 a month, discounted to $8 per month if you pay for 12 months up front. There is also a school/district account package available. If you should decide to upgrade, all data will be carried over into your premium version. The paid account allows for additional features such as linking to Google Classroom, analytics, gamified curriculum, extra gear/pets to earn, as well as several interactive class tools like the volume meter. The school/district package adds those plus admin controls and security features.

Classcraft has a unique penchant for encouraging positive behavior and deterring negative through common sense cause and effect. Their continued goal of using gamification for good has resulted in a recently published online guide for using Classcraft to prevent bullying.

Classcraft has been a fun adventure that has the kids abuzz and showing real progress and teamwork. Give it a shot! Before you know it, you will have the power to encourage continued learning, accountability, collaboration, and ownership through gamification, leaving you to do the one thing you never seem to have enough time for….teach.

About the author:
Rachel Langenhorst is a K-12 Technology Integrationist and Instructional Coach for Rock Valley Community Schools in Rock Valley, Iowa and serves as an adjunct professor in the graduate programs of the University of Sioux Falls and Northwestern College. A 20+ year teaching veteran, she presents throughout the country, focusing on technology integration strategies and best practices. Rachel serves as a contributor for edWeb.net, Mackin Educational Resources, and Education Talk Radio. Find her on Twitter and other social media @rlangenhorst and her blog, Tech from the Trenches.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Teaching Coding With CS First

This is a guest post from Keith Kelley. Keith is the integrated technology instructor at Sebasticook and Somerset Valley Middle School in central Maine.

"The limit to the system is the number of coders we have, our policy is to hire as many coders as we can."  Mark Zuckerberg

Coding is important and MIT’s Scratch platform has been a fabulous boon to the classroom. The learning curve for the teacher and creation of lesson plans had not caught up to those classrooms yet. Enter Google’s attempt to help fill the coding skills gap through their CS-First initiative.

You do not need to be an expert in Scratch or coding to let your students learn on their own. As I have used it in my class I found students enjoyed the self-paced video tutorials with matching Scratch Starter Programs. I have used the Gaming Theme club to allow my students to successfully code and design their own Games.

They will provide you free materials (badges, lessons, etc..) however all can be done through the CS-First digital interface as well. They have set them up to be clubs with volunteers and after school meeting times, but I easily adapted it to use in my school schedule.

There are a variety of other themes which lend themselves to other core subject areas. For instance, I used the Storytelling Theme as an enrichment activity for my high level writers.

The dashboard is excellent to keep track of students badges, which they earn for completion of watching the video tutorials and commenting on them. It also provides easy way to click student account and open their actual scratch game they made for that lesson. I would recommend adding the name of the student in the dash board to be with their account for ease of use.

Typical Themes run for a 10 hour session with 8 badges and Scratch Games to create. I really like the feature of the kids being able to share their games with their classmates and other students to play. My students have used PC or Chromebooks to access their Clubs (each club has a code the students log into once which creates their CS-First accounts which is linked to a Scratch account)

I have used Scratch to teach coding before but CS-First has added an excellent management piece and ability for students to self-pace. I highly recommend it whether you use it in the classroom or for an after school coding club.

About the author:
A Maine educator for 25 years, Keith is currently teaching Integrated Technology for RSU19. Having taught Language Arts, Social Studies and serving as the School Librarian, this is his first experience teaching IT. Students make Skateboards, Robots, Computer Games, Fly Drones and 3D Print Projects in this class. He earned his Bachelors and Masters Degree in Education at UMaine. He has coached soccer, track, and various tech camps. In his free time he enjoys riding around in his classic mustang with his wife and dogs.

Get in touch with Keith at KeithKelley (at) RSU19.net and see more of his work at Learn 3D.

History of Hashtags and How Teachers Can Use Them

Hashtags are everywhere. They are used in advertising and marketing and appear on all social media platforms. Hashtags even appear in school newsletters and church bulletins. But do they actually serve a purpose?

Hashtags were first used on Twitter over a decade ago as a way to help people who weren't so tech savvy search the site for information. Hashtags are used as a way to organize and promote content and ideas. There are no rules about creating hashtags, but they can only contain upper and lower case letters, numbers, and underscores.

You can search for content on Twitter without signing in or creating an account. Some popular hashtags include #edchat, #ntchat, and #stem. Jerry Blumengarten, Cybraryman on Twitter, has curated a huge collection of hashtags that are used by educators. You can search any of these on Twitter to locate content that is associated with it. This is a great way for teachers who are new to Twitter to find new and interesting people to follow.

Educators also use specific hashtags as a way to meet up with other educators to discuss a variety of topics that impact education. For example, #nebedchat takes place each Wednesday evening at 8pm CST. This is the chat that is led by educators in Nebraska and has become quite popular. Check out this huge list of chats that happen on Twitter. Chances are you will find numerous chats that will be of interest to you.

Don't let hashtags intimidate you. Including them in your tweets will help you connect with people who are looking for information that you are sharing.

Searching using hashtags on Twitter

Delta Math

Delta Math is a free program that allows teachers to combine modules of lessons for their students to complete. The modules cover a wide range of topics taught in Middle School math, Algebra 1 & 2, Geometry, Pre-Calculus, Calculus,  and Computer Science.

Once teachers set up their account and create their classes, they can provide students with a code to join their class. Students can work through modules at their own pace. The program includes built in graphing and statistical calculators as well as a keyboard that allows the user to write mathematical expressions. There program also shows students the steps to get the correct solution.

Applications for Education 
This would be a great way to encourage students to practice math outside of school. My daughter, who is a 7th grader, loves this program. She says that Delta Math motivates her to practice more often and it makes it more enjoyable.

Favicons: Reclaim Space on Your Google Chrome Bookmark Bar

Our bookmark bars are prime real estate and we need to maximize every millimeter of it. One of the easiest ways to reclaim some of the space on it is to create a favicon for the sites we visit most frequently. For many of us this means our mail, calendar, Google Classroom, and gradebook program. When we bookmark these items, we see a website icon (favicon) followed by short description. The descriptions are unnecessary and take up space on the bookmark bar. We can easily delete the text by right-clicking on the bookmark bar, selecting edit, deleting the text in the name field, and clicking save. All you are left with is the website favicon. Pretty nifty, eh?

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

MyHomework Student Planner

MyHomework is a digital student planner which can be used on virtually any device. There is a paid version of the app that is available for $5 per year, but the free, ad supported version allows students to do quite a bit. Students can track individual assignments, track classes, and receive due date reminders. If teachers are using the teacher version of the app called teachers.io, students will be able to join those classes to view assignments and announcements.

Applications for Education
Most students could benefit from extra help figuring out how to get organized. In addition to classes, students could add extracurricular activities and their work schedule if they have a job. This app is an easy way to help busy students stay on top of their work.

Why You Should Give Google Sites Another Try

Google Sites was not always the most user-friendly product. It was confusing, clunky, and  difficult even for people who were comfortable using technology. While Google updated other products on a regular basis, Sites largely ignored. Then the new version was released and it was not just an update, it was an entirely new product.

The updated version could not be easier to use. You simply click anywhere to add URL's, images, or text. You can also insert items directly from Google Drive, embed websites as iframes, and upload a variety of file types.

Google Sites are a great platform to use for classroom websites because you can create static pages to house resources that will be used throughout the entire year. Teachers can create a page on a classroom website that has links to student assignments and projects which makes it easy for parents to see what is happening in class. There is a brand new update to Google Sites that allows users to nest up to five pages. This makes it even easier to customize the way Sites are organized. 

Students can create their own Google Site to use as a portfolio of their work. Maybe it will showcase their work for just one class or maybe it will be a collection of their best work that they will curate from one year to the next. Google Sites are also a great platform to use for collaboration on group projects.

If it has been a while since you used Google Sites, this would be a great time to give them another try.

How to Match Colors Using ColorPick Eyedropper

ColorPick Eyedropper is a Chrome extension that allows you select a color from a webpage. This extension comes in handy when it is important to create a near perfect match or when you want an exact color.

Once you install this extension, click the dropper and drag the crosshairs around the page. You will see that each time you scroll over a new color, a new combination of letters and numbers appear. These are often referred to as hex color codes. As soon as you find the color you want, click on it to lock in the hex color. Copy the number and use it in use it to create customized colors in Google Docs, Slides, Sheets, and Drawings.

Similar extensions include ColorZilla, Eye Dropper, and ColorHexa Search Tool. You can learn more about hex colors here.

Applications for Education
Understanding how to use hex colors in presentations is a useful skill for anyone who creates presentations. It helps us use different tools to their fullest potential and have more control over how our finished products look.

SpeakPipe Now Works on iPads

SpeakPipe is a neat tool that I have been recommending for years. It is a tool that you can add to your blog to collect voice messages from blog visitors. The messages are automatically recorded and transcribed for you to listen to and or read. Unfortunately, until now it didn't work if your blog visitors were using iPads. That recently changed when SpeakPipe pushed an update for Safari.

SpeakPipe now works in Safari on iPads and iPhones that are using iOS 11.

Applications for Education
When it is installed on a classroom blog SpeakPipe provides a good way for parents to leave voicemail messages. Having your messages in SpeakPipe lets you dictate a response that can then be emailed back to the person who left the message for you.

SpeakPipe offers another tool called SpeakPipe Voice Recorder. SpeakPipe's Voice Recorder is a free tool for quickly creating an MP3 voice recording in your web browser on a laptop, Chromebook, Android device, or iOS device. To create a recording with the SpeakPipe Voice Recorder simply go to the website, click "start recording," and start talking. You can record for up to five minutes on the SpeakPipe Voice Recorder. When you have finished your recording you will be given an embed code that you can use to place it in your blog or website. You will also be given a link to share your recording. Click the link to share your recording and that will take you to a page to download your recording as an MP3 file.

SpeakPipe's Voice Recorder does not require you to register in order to create and download your audio recordings. The lack of a registration requirement makes it a good choice for students who don't have email addresses or for anyone else who simply doesn't want to have to keep track of yet another username and password.

Students could use SpeakPipe's Voice Recorder to record short audio interviews or to record short audio blog entries.

Teachers could use SpeakPipe's Voice Recorder to record instructions for students to listen to in lieu of having a substitute teacher read instructions to their students.

Padlet Now Has Voting and Grading Tools

Padlet has added a couple of new features that bring it even closer to being an all-in-one formative assessment tool. Padlet now lets you vote on the notes added to a wall and grade the notes added to a wall. This is all done through the new "reactions" setting in Padlet.

Voting on Padlet notes can be done through the use of a "thumb" icon, a "like" icon, or a star icon. The "thumb" icon will let your students vote up or vote down each note on a wall. The "like" icon just lets you show that you like a note. The star icon will let you give a star rating of one through five on a note.

It is now possible to add grades to notes on a Padlet wall. You can give a score of one through one hundred on each note on a wall. It's important to note that all students will see the scores. So you'll want to use the grading function only after all notes have been submitted and you have made the wall private.

Watch my short video embedded below to learn how to use the new "reactions" setting in Padlet.

Padlet is one of my favorite tools to use for formative assessment. Come to my webinar on Monday to learn more about how I use it and other formative assessment tools.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Infogram: Tell Your Story With Data

Infogram is a visual content creation tool that makes it easy to design maps and charts. The updated version allows users to create even more items such as reports, infographics, dashboards, and social posts. The goal of Infogram is to increase data literacy. The templates are optimized to be the perfect size for a variety of platforms. The drag and drop feature makes it easy move charts, maps, photos, videos, text, and icons.

Applications for Education
Knowing how to create and interpret charts and graphs is an important skill that students will use for the rest of their lives. Students can use Infogram to create charts, graphs, and infographics to demonstrate their understanding of information. They can also create infographics to tell a visual story using data they have collected.

Solve for Tomorrow and Win for Your School

Disclosure: this is a sponsored blog post. 

Samsung’s Solve for Tomorrow competition is currently underway and there is still time to for you to enter. The contest is designed to get students in grades six through twelve interested in STEAM projects that can have an immediate impact on local and global communities. Some past contest finalists have designed projects that utilize drones to reduce the use of pesticides on crops, created projects to feed hungry students, and developed emergency shelter solutions to help those affected by natural disasters.

One of the benefits of creating a Solve for Tomorrow entry is that it can help your students identify and propose solutions to problems that affect their local communities. But, as you can see from past contest finalists, the problems and solutions that students identify often have global applications. Furthermore, creating Solve for Tomorrow projects can help your students see the importance of integrating skills from science, technology, engineering, arts, and math into meaningful solutions to real world problems.

This contest is unique in its format. Initial entry takes just a few minutes of your time. The key part of the initial entry form is three short responses to the following questions:
  • What is the most difficult problem faced by your school’s community?
  • How can STEAM be applied to address this issue?
  • What is the biggest hurdle your students face in the classroom that hinders their academic achievement?
After the initial entries are submitted (deadline is November 9th), state finalists will be selected to submit an activity plan. All state finalists (255 in all) will receive a Samsung tablet (valued at $499.99). From those state finalists’ plans, state winners will be chosen. State winners will receive $25,000 in Samsung technology for their schools. State winners will be invited to submit a video about their projects. Those videos will be used in selecting ten national finalists who will receive $50,000 in school technology and a trip to the national pitch event where three national winners will be chosen. National winners will receive $150,000 in Samsung technology for their schools.

Get some inspiration for your STEAM project by watching a few of the videos from last year’s Solve for Tomorrow contest finalists.

Remember, initial entries are due by November 9th. Take a few minutes to enter today!

Hyperdocs: Create Interactive Google Docs

HyperDocs are an interactive Google Doc and provide teachers with a way of presenting information to students in a fun and engaging way. They replace the standard, passive worksheet model of instruction and increase student agency. HyperDocs are much more than Google Docs that contain hyperlinks. They are carefully crafted activities that includes all of the components of the lesson in one central location.

Click here to view an example of a HyperDoc. This particular lesson takes students on a journey around the United States. This lesson contains a variety of multimedia resources that students can view in an order they wish, select the places they find interesting, and work at their own pace. This activity concludes with students using the information they have collected to create a product. In this example, students are asked to create a slide presentation and a video. HyperDocs allow teachers to design visually engaging activities that promote curiosity, creativity, collaboration, and reflection.

HyperDocs can be used with students across grade levels and subjects. There are numerous HyperDocs in the Teachers Give Teachers library that will help you get started. Once you are comfortable creating your own HyperDocs, you are encouraged to share them to help continue building the resource library.

Applications for Education 
HyperDocs help increase student agency by providing choices and options to allow them to demonstrate what they have learned and how they can apply this new knowledge.  

The three educators behind this idea are Lisa Highfill, Sarah Landis, and Kelly Hilton

Collaborative Computing vs One to One

This is a guest post from Tracy Dabbs, Coordinator of Technology and Innovation for the Burlington-Edison School District.

I have been supporting Ed-Tech in classrooms for nearly 15 years and during this time we have all experienced some big changes in tools and ideas. There is always some new learning design that promises to transform education and be THE solution to reach all students. One trend that seems to keep surfacing is the idea of one to one computing. What do we see in these learning spaces? We see individual students with faces in screens for extended periods of time. Okay, I love educational technology and this is literally my life’s work, but I cannot explain how disappointing it is for me to see these type of experiences going on in our classrooms.

Engaging learning is not about faces in screens. I know we talk about making sure that everyone has access, but that doesn’t need to mean constant access or one to one access. If it is not that...then what is it?

It is all about focusing on the learning we want students to experience. We must think about what we want our students to engage in with us. There are some wonderful supports out there, ISTE has their new student standards and others like NPDL have explored the Six C’s to focus on necessary 21st Century skills. These standards and progressions ask us to think about developing skills beyond the devices. Skills that will continue to move us forward no matter how the devices change in the future. We should be constantly finding ways for students to collaborate in our classrooms; instead of working in isolation behind their own screen. Collaboration is more than adding comments or feedback electronically to a peer. Students need to be working in groups to discuss, engage, question, and work to select devices when needed...together. If you challenge your students to work on devices together, think of the higher levels of communication, collaboration, character, creativity, critical thinking, and citizenship that your students will experience.

Imagine each task you ask your students to engage in: post to Google Classroom, watch a YouTube video, engage in work on a website...what if you asked them to work with another student? How could that transform what they do and how they learn? I know...having students share devices all the time is not ideal either, but can we find a better balance? Can we honestly think about our one-to-one activities and ask ourselves if that is really the learning we want? I have worked with many districts that focus all of their technology dollars on one-to-one and not one cent on supporting and training their teachers...think about that balance.

Please check out some supports that I have put in place for our teachers and some grounding documents that we use in our district to guide our decisions. We need to constantly ask ourselves: What learning experiences do we really want for our students and ourselves?

Author's bio:
Tracy Dabbs, Coordinator of Technology and Innovation for the Burlington-Edison School District: I hold a degree in Elementary Ed K-8, a SPED degree for K-12, a Masters in Educational Technology, and a Principal Certification. After a wonderful ten years teaching 1st and 2nd grade, I moved into a full time technology coach position. Now I am the district coordinator of Technology and Innovation were I develop staff development and support, lead the selection and roll-out of devices and infrastructure upgrades district-wide.

Twitter: @TracyDabbs
Website: http://www.be.wednet.edu/district-office/technology

Updates to Google Calendar

Google Calendar released some updates last week. If you have not already noticed these changes, you will see them very soon.

The new version of the calendar is more visually appealing and some features are easier to use. You can add new events to your calendar with a single on any open space. A double click on any open space allows you to add even more details about an event. Right click an existing to change the color, join the meeting, or delete it.

Another new option in Calendar is the ability to view event invitation status. The status will look different depending on how you have responded. A single color indicates you are attending the event. diagonal lines indicate you might be attending, an outline means you have not replied, and an outline that has the box crossed out indicates you have declined the invitation.

The settings page has been updated as well. This page used to be difficult to navigate because there were so many options and they were in one long list. Now they options are chunked into groups and there is a navigation tool on the page that allows you to jump from one section to another very quickly.

Read more about the updates on the Google Blog.

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