Friday, October 19, 2018

Three Ways to Make Social Media Profiles for Historical and Literary Characters

Earlier this week I received an email from a reader who was looking for a way that her students could create fake Facebook and other social media profiles based on historical and literary characters. The tool that I used to recommend for creating that kind of fake Facebook profile hasn't been reliable in recent years. The other problem with the old Fakebook is that kids now see Facebook as something their parents use. Using the old Fakebook is not as engaging an activity as it once was. My recommendation today is to either create your own template for fake social media profiles or have students make them. There are three tools that make that process relatively easy.

Storyboard That
Storyboard That has many wireframe elements that you can use to design a simulation of a phone or computer screen. Once you've made a screen you can then start adding icons and characters to design a fake social media profile based on a historical or literary character. Storyboard That has a gallery of more than 40,000 unique drawings that you can use in designing frames.

Canva, like Storyboard That, has lots of wireframe elements that can be used to create a simulation of a screen. Then within that simulation you can add pictures and text. You can set custom dimensions for your frames in Canva which is something you cannot do in Storyboard That.

Google Drawings
If your students are already using G Suite for Education, then Google Drawings can be a good option for designing a fake profile. The downside to using Google Drawings is that the selection of pre-made design elements is limited compared to Storyboard That and Canva.

Disclosure: Storyboard That is an advertiser on this blog. 

How to Create Storyboard Templates in Google Slides or PowerPoint

Creating a storyboard is an excellent way for students to plan video projects. Storyboards provide a frame-by-frame outline of the plot of a video. Even if your students are going to use tools like Adobe Spark or Powtoon that have frame-by-frame video editing, it is still helpful to have students plan their videos before jumping into those tools. Making simple, printable storyboard templates is easy to do in Google Slides and in PowerPoint. Watch the following videos to learn how to use those common presentation tools to make storyboard templates.

How to create a storyboard template in PowerPoint.

How to create a storyboard template in Google Slides.

How to Set Start and End Times for Videos in Google Slides

This morning I answered an email from a reader who had a question about ytCropper. The link ytCropper link for her cropped video wasn't working in Google Slides. My solution was to not use ytCropper and instead just use the built-in formatting tools in Google Slides. The video formatting tools in Google Slides includes the option to specify specific start and end times for the videos that you include in your slides. Watch my video to see how to set start and end times for videos in Google Slides.

The Curse of Knowledge

Earlier this week I shared the 101st explanatory video published by Common Craft. More than a decade ago Common Craft pioneered using simple paper cutouts to tell stories and explain difficult concepts in videos. Six years ago Lee LeFever, the founder of Common Craft, published The Art of Explanation. It's a great book containing concepts that can be applied to video production or nearly any story-telling format.

Shortly after the The Art of Explanation was published I recorded a short interview with Lee LeFever. You can watch that interview here or as embedded below. One of my big take-aways from the book was the idea of avoiding "the curse of knowledge." The curse of knowledge is basically knowing so much about a topic that you forget that what you take for granted is not as easily understood by non-experts. Explaining things is something that we do every day in our classrooms and I know that I'm guilty of sometimes suffering from the curse of knowledge.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Why Have Students Make Simple Animations?

Last week I wrote about having middle school students create presentations from a combination of illustrations and videos that they made. In that post I shared Brush Ninja animation tool. That's just one of many tools that students could have used to animated GIFs to include in their slides. The point of the activity wasn't to have students learn how to use Brush Ninja, it was to have students create animations to demonstrate their understanding of a process.

In the example that I shared last week students made animations to illustrate forms of energy. That topic was a fairly natural fit to illustrate with animations. But animations can be used to illustrate nearly every topic that is taught in K-12 schools. I was turned onto this idea many years ago when I read Dan Roam's Back of the Napkin and Unfolding the Napkin books. These books make the point that if you truly understand a concept, you can illustrate it with simple drawings on the back of a napkin or other blank canvas.

You don't need to be artistically inclined at all in order to make effective illustrations. In fact, in Unfolding the Napkin I learned that simple stick figures were often all that is needed to illustrate a concept. And if you do use the concepts of Unfolding the Napkin in your classroom, you will have to remind some students to focus on the concepts first before getting hung up on the aesthetics of their sketches.

Watch the following video in which Dan Roam explains the concepts of Unfolding the Napkin.

Plickers Brings Back Individual Student Reports!

Back in September the folks at Plickers, a popular student-response service, released a bunch of updates to their mobile apps and website. Some of those updates, like easier display of questions have been popular. Some of those updates were panned by teachers. Fortunately, the Plickers team has been responsive to the voices of their users and is making adjustments accordingly. To that end Plickers once again has individual student reports.

To generate individual student reports in Plickers you do have to assign each card to each of the students on your classroom roster. After you have done that you can poll your class at any time by having them hold up their assigned cards then scan the room with the Plickers app open your phone or tablet. All of your students' responses will then be available in your reports.

The Basics of Plickers
Plickers is a free polling service that I started using back in 2014. It is unlike any other polling system because only the teacher needs a phone or tablet to make the system work.

To use Plickers you have to give each of your students a card or piece of paper that has a large, unique QR code on it. Each edge of the QR code has an "A," "B," "C," or "D" printed on it. When you ask your students a question they all hold up their cards with their answer choices (A,B,C, or D) on top. Then you scan the room with your phone or tablet while you have the Plickers app open. Plickers will quickly tally all responses and put them into a report for you.

You can print the QR codes directly from the Plickers website. If you use that option, I recommend printing on card stock. You can also purchase laminated Plickers code cards on Amazon.

Applications for Education
Plickers is a fantastic polling system to use in classrooms that don't have computers or tablets for every student. The advantage of Plickers over just having students raise their hands is that Plickers can be used for anonymous polling. To conduct an anonymous poll have all students hold up their cards at the same time. Because each card has its own unique pattern students don't know how their classmates are answering a question.

Plickers can also be a good option in classrooms in which taking out a tablet or laptop for a quick activity can be a bit of a hassle (I'm thinking of a couple of 2nd and 3rd grade classrooms that I recently visited).

EDU in 90 - Short Overviews of Google's Education Products

I have published more than 250 Google tools tutorial videos over the last few years. But if my dry screencasts aren't your style, try Google's EDU in 90 series of videos. EDU in 90 offers 38 videos designed to introduce viewers to some of the things that students can do with Google's various products like Google Drawings, Google Arts & Culture, and Google Earth. You can watch the entire playlist here or watch a couple of the sample videos that I have embedded below.

EDU in 90: Google Arts & Culture

EDU in 90: Google Drawings in the Classroom

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

JotForm - A Better Way to Create Online Forms

Disclosure: JotForm is an advertiser on

If you have ever looked at a form on a web page and thought, "I'd like my forms to look like that," then JotForm is the service you need to try. JotForm is a service for making fillable online forms. You can use JotForm to create registration forms, course evaluation forms, permission slips, and more. And with JotForm's new integrated PDF editor submissions through your forms can be automatically turned into PDFs that you can print or email.

How to Use JotForm to Create an Online Form
To create a form on JotForm sign-up for a free account then click the "create form" button. You can then choose to create a form in which all questions and response fields are on one page or you choose to make your form in a "card" format in which viewers respond to one question per page. Once you have selected a layout you can choose to use a template, build a form from scratch, or import questions from an existing form even if that form was made with another service. I was able to successfully import questions from a Google Form!

When building a form from scratch in JotForm you drag question types from a menu into your blank form. You can add open response questions, multiple choice questions (single selection and multiple selection), and questions that require a response in the form of a file upload. There is also a star rating question format. Additionally, you can add pictures, charts, block text to forms that you design in JotForm.

After you have added all of your questions it's time to customize the color and font scheme of your form. It's here that JotForm stands out from the crowd. You can apply any colors to your form that you can think of. The text options are almost as plentiful as the color options. And if you really want to customize your form's look, you can open the advanced editor where you'll find options for text alignment, background images, and object spacing. There's even an option for adding custom CSS for those who have those skills.

When you're done adding questions and tweaking the design of your JotForm form you can preview it to see how it will look to visitors. If you like the way it looks, you're ready to publish it. You can share your JotForm forms by emailing or posting your form's URL online. JotForm forms can also be embedded into your existing web pages. Those are options are typical of every online form-builder. What makes JotForm different is that it contains an option to download your form as a fillable PDF!

Responses to your JotForm form are found through your JotForm dashboard. To see responses simply select your form then click "submissions." You can see all submissions in a spreadsheet format or you can view them as individual PDFs that you can download, print, or email. And speaking of PDFs, JotForm has an excellent guide to editing PDFs.

Applications for Education
JotForm could be a great tool for making forms for online permission slips, surveys, course registrations, or short quizzes. From a design editing perspective, JotForm is way ahead of Google Forms.

A New LOC Online Collection - Theodore Roosevelt's Papers

I have always found Theodore Roosevelt to be one of the most fascinating characters in U.S. History. That is why I was excited this morning when I saw an email from the Library of Congress announcing the online publication of Theodore Roosevelt's papers.

The LOC's collection of Theodore Roosevelt's papers is divided into sixteen sections. Included in those sections are his personal diaries, executive orders, speeches, and business papers. One section that I find particularly interesting is the collection of the scrapbooks that he kept. Like most online Library of Congress artifacts, you can download copies of Roosevelt's papers.

Applications for Education
This is a tremendous collection of primary sources about the 26th President of the United States. The documents within the collection could be used in a service like DocsTeach as part of analysis, comparison, or sequencing activities.

New Accessibility Options in Flipgrid and Other Microsoft Products

This week Microsoft unveiled a slew of new accessibility options for the services that teachers and students use most. One of those features is the inclusion of Immersive Reader in Flipgrid.

Immersive Reader is a free service that students can use to have text read aloud to them. Immersive Reader not only reads aloud it will also highlight parts of speech and individual syllables within every word on a page. What this means in the context of Flipgrid is that students who need assistance accessing directions or discussion prompts can now use Immersive Reader to hear those directions and prompts read aloud.

Office Lens is another Microsoft product that now includes Immersive Reader. This free app (available for Android and iOS) will now let you take a picture of text and have that text read aloud through the use of Immersive Reader.

More implementations of Immersive Reader as scheduled for later this fall. Those implementations include real-time translation and the math pane in OneNote. Read more about those features in Microsoft's announcement of the expansion of Immersive Reader implementation.

Common Craft Releases Its 101st Explainer Video

This week Common Craft published their 101st explainer video. The latest video is about understanding terms of service agreements on websites and apps.

Like nearly all Common Craft videos Terms of Service Agreements begins with an analog example before transitioning to the digital application of that example. In this case the analog example is signing a form at a water park then seeing your picture used in an advertisement a couple of weeks later. That example is symbolic of what can happen if you don't read the terms of service on a website or app. For a real-life example of this, read about how Delta attempts to claim ownership of your photos if you use one of their hashtags.

You can watch Common Craft videos on their website. Displaying them for classroom use does require a subscription or license. Many of the videos include a downloadable lesson plan.

Disclosure: I have a long-standing in-kind relationship with Common Craft. 

Wakelet Makes it Easier to Organize Bookmarks

Wakelet is quickly becoming a popular choice amongst teachers who want to create collections of notes that can include text, videos, links, and pictures. Students can use it for the same purpose and share their collections with their teachers.

This week Wakelet added a new feature to their Chrome extension. The Wakelet Chrome extension now let's you drag any open tab into a collection in Wakelet. You can even build a collection of open tabs. Watch this twelve second video to see how Wakelet's Chrome extension works.

Applications for Education
One of the ways that teachers can use Wakelet is to create collections of sites and videos about the topics they're teaching. Then within that collection make sections that correspond to sub-topics. That way students could go to a collection then quickly jump to a section of resources that corresponds to the topics that they need to review before an exam.

How to Design a Custom Certificate in Google Slides

On Monday I shared tutorials for two ways to send personalized certificates via Google Forms and Google Sheets. What I didn't include in those tutorials was how to create a custom certificate without using the default certificate template found in Google Slides. In the following video I demonstrate how you can design your own customized certificates in Google Slides.

In the video I used Pixabay to find borders to use in my certificate. That's not the only source that you can use. Any site that offers public domain imagery could be used in the same way to design your own certificates.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Case Maker - Civics Lessons Built on Primary Sources

Case Maker is a free service designed for middle school social studies teachers and their students. Case Maker uses primary sources from the Library of Congress as the basis of activities in which students have to build a case in response to real civics scenarios. For example, the first cast that I tried was about anger toward immigrants. In that scenario students had to use evidence in the form of primary sources to support the claim that many of those who are angry toward immigrants come from families that were once immigrants themselves.

Case Maker has twenty pre-made scenarios that you can assign to your students. You can also use Case Maker to build your own challenge scenarios for students. To give a challenge scenario to your students you have to create a free account on the service. Once you have created an account you can give your students a code to enter to complete a challenge scenario. The code that students enter matches up to your account where you can then see the work that your students do. Students create a case by reading then writing about the evidence available to them in primary sources from the Library of Congress. Watch this video to learn more.

How Teachers Can Use Case Maker from Bean Creative on Vimeo.

Case Maker reminds me a lot of Docs Teach in which you can also create challenges for your students to complete by utilizing primary sources.

H/T to Glenn Wiebe for his review of Case Maker a couple of weeks ago. 

A Science, Math, and History Lesson in One Short Video

Reactions is a YouTube channel produced by the American Chemical Society and PBS Digital Studios. The videos in the channel focus on explaining how chemistry concepts as they relate to things we see every day or to interesting "what if" scenarios. Recently, Reactions published a video to explain how much tea it would take to turn Boston Harbor into tea.

In How Much Tea Would It Take to Turn Boston Harbor Into Tea? viewers learn how much tea was dumped into Boston Harbor during the Boston Tea Party, how tea diffuses in water, and the math behind calculating how many tea bags it would take to turn Boston Harbor into a giant cup of tea.

Applications for Education
Ask your students to attempt to calculate how many tea bags they would need to turn Boston Harbor into tea before showing them this video.

When I was teaching U.S. History I had more than a couple of students ask if the water tasted like tea after the Boston Tea Party. My answer was always a quick "no." Now I have the math to support that answer. 

A New Vertical Ruler and New Margin Settings in Google Docs

Google has added two new formatting features to Google Docs. First, there is now a vertical ruler that you can use to evenly space the rows in tables in your Google Documents. Second, you can now adjust the size of the margins in your headers and footers. 

Both of these changes will be helpful to those who use a lot of tables and charts in their documents. I wish that the vertical ruler feature had been available last week when I was trying to format a table to align to a sheet of name tag stickers I was trying to print. 

Like most updates to Google Docs and other G Suite products, this update will be gradually rolling-out over the course of the next couple of weeks. If you don't see the new features today, you will see them before too long. 

Halloween Articles for ELA Lessons

ReadWorks is a popular service that offers a huge library of standards-aligned ELA lesson plans for K-12. You can search the ReadWorks library according to grade level and topic. Throughout the year ReadWorks publishes curated collections to align with holidays and other major events.

This week ReadWorks published a collection of forty-two articles and lesson plans that have a Halloween theme. When I looked through the collection it  appeared that all of the articles were for a  K-8 audience with a few 9-12 articles mixed in. The articles covered topics like the history of Halloween, pumpkin farms, and the history of ghost stories.

More Halloween resources can be found in these articles:

Monday, October 15, 2018

How to Import Files Into Google Earth

In my previous post I shared the steps that I took to find a Google Earth file that contains more than 550 ancient locations in ancient Greece. At the end of the video in that post I demonstrated how I was able to display those locations in Google Earth. That method can be used for any KML or KMZ that you find online or that is shared with you. In the video that is embedded below I demonstrate how to import files into the desktop and browser versions of Google Earth.

How I Found a Google Earth File of 550+ Ancient Greek Places

Last night on Twitter Wes Fryer asked me if I knew of any Google Earth files that displayed ancient Greek locations. I didn't have anything within my own bookmarks so I did a quick Google search that I filtered according to file type. I first filtered by file type .KMZ but that didn't get me anywhere. My second search I filtered by file type .KML. That search landed me on what I thought was a promising file. However, as you can see in my video below, the file was simply a frame of a website that talked about Google Earth files about ancient Greece. While that framed website didn't display placemarks it did contain a link to discussion forum in which some people had created a KML file containing more than 550 Ancient Greek places. Watch my video to see how this process played out.

For the Love of Lit - Four Free Webinars for ELA Teachers

This week PBS Education is hosting the first webinar in a four part virtual professional development series called For the Love of Lit. This series features free webinars designed to help ELA teachers engage their students in learning about literature.

The four webinars in the series are as follows:
  • Inspiring Young Authors, with NaNoWriMo founder Chris Baty
  • Including All Readers, with student activist Marley Dias
  • Encouraging Bright Thinkers
  • Cultivating Young Book Lovers
You can register for one or all four registers right here. PD certificates are available for attending each session. 

Why You Need a Flu Shot Every Year - A TED-Ed Science Lesson

This morning Lifehacker ran an article encouraging people to get a flu shot (the title of the article is not school-appropriate so I won't link to it). The point of the article was to remind people that getting the flu shot isn't just about them, it's also about helping to keep your community healthy. Reading that article reminded me a TED-Ed lesson titled Why Do You Have to Get a Flu Shot Every Year?

Why Do You Need To Get A Flu Shot Every Year? does a god job of succinctly explaining how influenza changes and why a new vaccine is developed every year.

How to Send Personalized Certificates via Google Forms or Google Sheets

From perfect attendance to volunteerism to honor roll there are lots of occasions during the school year for schools to issue certificates to students. It used to be that to personalize certificates for students you would have to manually enter their names on the certificates that you were going to print for them. Today, there are easier ways to create personalized certificates for students. Here are two ways to generate personalized certificates for your students.

Use autoCrat to create personalized certificates in bulk. 
This is the method to use if you already have a list of the students who should receive a certificate for something like honor roll or perfect attendance. To use this method you will need to have or create a Google Sheet that lists the students' names. Once you have that list you can run the Google Sheets add-on called autoCrat to automatically personalize the certificate for each student on the list. The certificate template must be made in Google Slides. Watch my video to learn how to use autoCrat and Google Slides to create personalized certificates in bulk.

Use Certify'em to Issue Personalized Certificates on an as-needed basis. 
This is the method to use if you don't have a pre-existing list of students that need a certificate or you want to be able to issue certificates on-demand. Certify'em is a Google Forms add-on that will let you automatically issue a certificate to students when the pass a quiz in Google Forms with a minimum score of your choosing. I use Certify'em to issue certificates to people who complete my professional development webinars and courses. Watch my video to learn how to use Certify'em to issue personalized certificates.

New Ways to Personalize Certificates in the Certify'em Google Forms Add-on

Certify'em is a Google Forms Add-on that I have been using all year to issue certificates when people complete one of my professional development webinars or courses. Certify'em makes it easy to have certificates automatically emailed to people when they successfully complete a Google Form. Besides using it for professional development certificates Certify'em can be used to issue certificates to students when they pass a quiz in Google Forms. This morning I learned the Certify'em has two new features.

Certify'em now lets you have a follow-up email automatically sent to people who complete your quiz in Google Form but do not pass the quiz. You can customize your automated follow-up email to encourage students to try again. Or you might use the follow-up email to share some additional review materials with your students.

The other new feature in Certify'em lets you use the same merge tags in emails to quiz takers as you use in the certificates that you create. Merge tags are what allow you to personalize certificates and emails. A list of the merge tags that you can use in Certify'em is available here.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Join 16,000+ Who Get Their Ed Tech Tips This Way

Every Sunday evening I send out the Practical Ed Tech Tip of the Week. I started doing that four years ago as a way to provide people who want to get their ed tech tips in weekly format instead of a daily format. In the weekly mailing I include my tip of the week (usually with a video tutorial or two) and a list of the previous week's most popular posts on Free Technology for Teachers.

As of this week more than 16,000 people have subscribed to my Practical Ed Tech Tip of the Week. You can subscribe here or through the form embedded below.

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Animations, Screencasts, and Podcasts - The Week in Review

Good morning from Maine where I'm home for a while after nearly four weeks of speaking at conferences and consulting with schools. When I started my little tour there were leaves on all of the trees in my yard. This morning I woke up to discover that one of those trees is completely bare. In other words, autumn is in full swing here in Maine. This is my favorite time of year to be outside. As soon as my daughter wakes from her nap, we're going to play outside. I hope that wherever you are this weekend that you get outside to play too.

These were the week's most popular posts on
1. Using Brush Ninja and Screencastify to Make Science Presentations
2. Two Detailed Presentations About Copyright for Educators
3. How to Use Automatic Captioning in Google Slides
4. How to Create Personalized Certificates in Bulk Through Google Sheets
5. Eight Options for Creating Screencasts on Chromebooks
6. Google Classroom Now Has a Random Name Selector
7. Synth - Quickly Record Short, Interactive Podcasts

Now Booking 2019 School Visits
If you would like to have me work with your school this year, please send me an email at richardbyrne (at) or click here for more information.

Book Me for Your Conference
I’ve given keynotes at conferences from Australia to Alaska for groups of all sizes from 50 to 2,000+. My keynotes focus on providing teachers and school administrators with practical ways to use technology to create better learning experiences for all students. I like to shine the light on others and so I often share examples of great work done by others as well as my own. Send an email to richardbyrne (at) book me today.

Please visit the official advertisers that help keep this blog going.
Practical Ed Tech is the brand through which I offer PD webinars.
TypingClub offers more than 600 typing lessons for kids. 
Storyboard That is my go-to tool for creating storyboards.
Book Creator is a great tool for creating multimedia books.
Kami is a great tool for annotating and collaborating on PDFs. 
University of Maryland Baltimore County offers a great program on instructional design.
Seterra offers a huge selection of geography games for students. 

Friday, October 12, 2018

One Click Provides More Room to Work in Google Docs

I just spent the last three weeks working with students and teachers who had Chromebooks as their primary computers throughout the school day. One of the things that I showed some of the students during that time was how to expand the size of the Google Docs editor so that they had more screen space dedicated to their documents and less dedicated to the editing menus.

If you use Google Documents and want a little more room to view your pages, you can make that space appear with just one click. In the upper, right corner of your screen you will now see an option for "compact mode" in each of your Google Documents. Click the compact mode arrows to collapse the formatting menu and receive about an inch of more space to work in your documents. Below you will see some screenshots showing you where to find the compact mode arrows.

Before using the collapse menu.

After using the collapse menu.

Answers to FAQs About Automatic Captioning of Google Slides

Last night I published a video demonstration of the new automatic captioning feature in Google Slides. Today, I've received eight emails from readers asking questions about automatic captioning. The theme of the questions are the same so I'm guessing that there are other readers with similar questions. Here's what you need to know about automatic captioning of Google Slides right now.

1. It's not available for all users, yet. As I mentioned earlier this week, the feature will be rolled out over the course of the next couple of weeks.

2. It is only available in English.

3. You must use Google Chrome on a Chromebook, Windows, or Mac computer.

4. The captions do not save.

5. It does not translate.

Kindness Bookmarks and Kindness Bingo

This week I had the opportunity to observe a great teacher-librarian in action at Sigsbee Charter School in Key West, Florida. One of the activities that she did with kids was making "kindness bookmarks." The kids made bookmarks like the one in the picture for this post. All of the bookmarks weren't the same, but they all had the theme of surprising people with kindness when they opened a book in the library.

Seeing the kindness bookmarks activity prompted me look for other kindness-themed activities. That search brought me to PBS Learning Media's Kind Acts Bingo activities. Kind Acts Bingo isn't a typical bingo game of chance. Kind Acts Bingo has a board of acts of kindness for students to do then check-off through the course of a day, week, or month. There are two Kind Acts Bingo boards available here.

Applications for Education
These kindness activities were created for elementary school students, but you can certainly use the same concepts with students in middle school and high school. If the bingo boards don't quite fit with your school or classroom setting, use the boards as a template to create your own version of Kind Acts Bingo.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

How to Use Automatic Captioning in Google Slides

Earlier this week Google announced a new automatic captioning feature for Google Slides. That feature is slowing rolling-out to users over the next couple of weeks. The new feature appeared in my account yesterday morning. If you haven't seen automatic captions in Google Slides, watch my short demonstration embedded below.

60 Second Adventures in Religion - Animated Explanations

Some days I scroll through Feedly or Facebook and come across things that immediately make me think of a current or former colleague. That is exactly what happened when I saw the Open University's 60 Second Adventures in Religion videos. I'm quite sure that my former colleague Bree will be interested in using these videos as short introductions to theories and philosophies about religion. These videos aren't about specific religions rather they're about how theorists have explained religion.

Applications for Education
In addition to being used as short introductions to theories about religion, these videos provide a model for simple animated explanations. Your students could use video creation tools like PowToon or Animaker to create their own explanations.

A Halloween Writing Activity for Elementary and Middle School Students

Earlier this week I shared a bunch of Halloween-themed math and science resources. If you're looking for a writing activity that has a Halloween theme, consider having students create Halloween cards. Storyboard That offers great tools for creating Halloween comics that your students can then quickly turn into printable Halloween cards. Watch my video below to learn how to use Storyboard That to create Halloween cards.

Disclosure: Storyboard That is an advertiser on

How to Create Personalized Certificates in Bulk Through Google Sheets

Creating a certificate for one or a few students is a fairly straight forward process. You can use Google Slides, Canva, or any number of Word templates for that. However, that can get time-consuming when you need to create certificates for a long list of students like the school secretary that I helped earlier this week had to do. That's when you know it's time to try using the Google Sheets add-on called autoCrat to create personalized certificates for a long list of students.

In the following video I demonstrate how to use Google Sheets in conjunction with Google Slides to create personalized certificates in bulk.

In the video I used the example of creating personalized certificates that displayed only the students' first names. To create certificates that have students' first and last names you will simply need to put first and last names into a column in your spreadsheet then use conditional tags in your slide to match. For example, in the certificate I'd put the conditional tag <<name>> and in the spreadsheet I'd put a column titled "name" and then in that column I'd list students' first and last names.

Watch this video to learn how to automatically send certificates to students when they pass a quiz in Google Forms.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Using Brush Ninja and Screencastify to Make Science Presentations

This week I had the opportunity to work in an eighth grade science class. I was there to help their teacher help them learn new ways to make presentations. The topic of their presentations was "forms of energy." That topic lends itself to having students making illustrative animations. In this case I taught the students how to use Brush Ninja to make animated GIFs that they then inserted into Google Slides. Click here for video directions on how to use Brush Ninja.

After making their animations of forms of energy the students inserted them into Google Slides. Those animated GIFs were positioned to take up about half of a slide. Once the animations were in the slides we moved onto using Screencastify on their Chromebooks.

The students used Screencastify to record short, 15 to 30 seconds, videos in which they gave explanations of the concept that their animations illustrated. Screencastify automatically saved their videos into their Google Drives. Then they were able to insert their videos into their Google Slides right next to their animations. My sample slide is embedded below (the students did a better job, but I didn't get permission to share their work on this blog).

If you'd like to have me work with teachers at your school, please get in touch with me here.

Recap is Shutting Down

Swivl has announced that they are shutting down their Recap service and replacing it with a new podcasting service called Synth. Once a competitor to Flipgrid, Recap just didn't experience the popularity that Flipgrid does.

Recap will be shut down in January of 2019. That gives you about ten weeks to find an alternative. You could start using Flipgrid. You could also try using the video features that are now included in Padlet.

 Here's an overview of how to use Flipgrid.

Here's an overview of how you can use Padlet.

Synth - Quickly Record Short, Interactive Podcasts

Synth is a new service from Swivl. Synth is a free service that you can use to record short podcast episodes that are up to 256 seconds long. When you record your episode you post it publicly for others to listen to and record spoken responses. In that way it is somewhat like VoiceThread without pictures. But Synth will automatically transcribe your spoken words and display the transcript when your recording is played.

Synth has a public gallery of recordings that people have made. You can also have your own small channel of your recordings. All recordings can be embedded into blog posts and web pages. Listen to my first recording as embedded below or click here to listen and reply to it.

You can learn more about Synth by listening to this introduction to the service.

Applications for Education
Synth was designed for use in education. In fact, the developers have a list of seven ways to use Synth education. That list includes making audio exit tickets, language practice and feedback, and presenting evidence of thinking. Check out the public gallery of Synths to listen to other teachers share their thoughts about how Synth could be used in their classrooms.

You can use Synth on your iPad, iPhone, or in the web browser on your computer.

More Halloween Science and Math Lessons

Last week I shared a handful of Halloween-themed math and science activities. PBS Learning Media also has a collection of Halloween-themed science and mathematics lessons. PBS Learning Media's Halloween collection includes lessons that can be used in elementary school, middle school, and high school classrooms.

One of the elementary school Halloween-themed lessons is all about the historical traditions that contributed to the creation of Halloween. The materials for this lesson include a short video, video discussion questions, and a vocabulary sheet.

The middle school and high school resources in PBS Learning Media's Halloween collection are videos without any other supporting materials. In the collection you'll find videos about why things sound scary, flesh-eating beetles, and supernatural elements in Macbeth.

All of the items in PBS Learning Media's Halloween collection can be shared to Google Classroom where you can add questions for students answer after watching the videos. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Eight Options for Creating Screencasts on Chromebooks

Recording screencasts is one relatively easy way to get started making videos in your classroom. Today, I helped some middle school students make screencasts in which they explained the animations they made to represent forms of energy. Those students used Screencastify on their Chromebooks to make their videos. But Screencastify isn't the only screencasting tool that will work on a Chromebook. Here are eight tools that can be used to create screencasts on Chromebooks.

Screencastify was one of the first screencasting tools made for Chromebooks. It's a solid product and is easy to use. You can record your screen, your screen and your webcam, just your screen, or just your webcam. The free version puts a watermark on the recording and doesn't support direct download to MP4. On the upside, there is an option to upload directly to YouTube, to save directly to Google Drive, and to share directly to Google Classroom.

For many years Screencast-o-matic has been my favorite tool for creating screencast videos on Windows and Mac computers. Now it is available to use on Chromebooks too. To use Screencast-o-Matic on a Chromebook just go to this page and click "launch recorder." You can record your screen or your screen and your webcam simultaneously. You can narrate your videos by using your Chromebook's built-in microphone or by using an external mic like a Blue Snowball. The free version of Screencast-o-matic will let you record for up to 15 minutes, record as many videos as you like, and save to your Google Drive or local drive.

Padlet is known as a digital corkboard to which students add notes, links, pictures, and videos. But ff you install Padlet's Chrome extension you can launch a screen recording tool directly from a Padlet note. You can record your screen and voice for up to five minutes. Your recording will be automatically added to your note when stop your recording.

Loom is a free screencasting tool that works on Chromebooks, Macs, and Windows computers. Loom is a Chrome extension. With Loom installed you can record your desktop, an individual tab, and or your webcam. That means that you could use Loom to just record a webcam video on a Chromebook. Of course, this also means that you can use Loom to record your webcam while also recording your desktop. Loom recordings can be up to ten minutes long. A completed recording can be shared via social media and email. You can also download your recordings as MP4 files to upload to YouTube or any other video hosting service. Loom also has a neat integration with Gmail that makes it easy to send screencasts to anyone who emails you for tech help. Click here to see how that integration works. 

Vidyard GoVideo is a free Chrome extension that makes it quick and easy to create and share screencast videos. With the extension installed you can record your entire screen or just one window tab. Vidyard GoVideo will let you record yourself with your webcam too. The best part of Vidyard GoVideo is that you can track who watches your video. To record on Vidyard GoVideo you simply have to click the extension icon then choose what you want to record. When you're done recording your video is automatically stored on Vidyard GoVideo. From Vidyard GoVideo you can share your video via email and social media. If you choose to share via email, you will be able to track who watched your video.

Nimbus Screenshot was my favorite tool on this list until Screencast-o-matic launched their Chromebook tool. I like Nimbus because of its ease of installation and it is the only tool on this list that provided a customizable countdown timer. I like the countdown timer because it gives me a few seconds to prepare to start talking over my screencast. The other tools just started recording the second that I hit the record button. Nimbus Screenshot was also the easiest to install and configure on my Chromebook. Screencasts recorded with Nimbus Screenshot can be saved to your local drive or to an online Nimbus account. I usually choose to save to my local drive then upload to my YouTube channel. You can also save to your local drive then send it to Google Drive or another online storage service.

CaptureCast lets you record your webcam while recording your screen which you cannot do with the Nimbus tool. You can choose to record your screen, your screen and your webcam, or just your screen or just your webcam. CaptureCast gives you three options for recording definition. So if you're on a slower network you can choose a lower resolution recording to save processing time. CaptureCast lets you save a recording locally or send it to YouTube or to Vimeo.

Soapbox is a free tool from Wistia that makes it easy to create great screencast videos on a Chromebook or any computer that is using the Chrome web browser. With Soapbox installed in the Chrome web browser you can quickly record your screen and your webcam at the same time. The most distinguishing feature of Soapbox is that you can have your video transition from your screen to your webcam to a combination of the two. Soapbox includes some simple editing tools for zooming in on an area of your screen and calling attention to specific parts of your screen.

Google Classroom Now Has a Random Name Selector

Google Classroom has a new random name selector tool available in the Google Classroom Android app. As announced by Google earlier today the random name selector will randomly pick names from your roster and let you keep track of which students have or have not been called upon.

To use the random name selector in the Google Classroom Android app simply open the app, select your class, tap "people" at the bottom of the screen, and then tap the random name selector at the top of the next screen. The random name picker will let you mark a student as absent if he/she isn't in class. You can also select "call later" if you want to move on to another student then come back to the first student. Finally, after you have called on a student tap the "next" button to mark that student as having been called upon.

Here are some random name selectors for those who don't use Google Classroom on an Android phone or tablet. 

Random Name Picker is a free tool from Russel Tarr at The Random Name Picker lets you input names and spin a virtual wheel to have a name randomly selected from the list. After a name is selected you can remove it from the wheel so that it is not selected again. Random Name Picker is free to use and does not require a registration on You can save your lists by assigning passwords to them. You can re-use your saved lists. The Random Name Picker wheel can be embedded into your blog or website. The Random Name Picker was written in HTML5 so that it will run in the browser of your iPad. offers sixteen Google Sheets templates. One of those templates is a random name selector. Simply make a copy of this template, insert your class roster, and then publish your spreadsheet to use Flippity's random name selector.

The Random Name Selector from Primary Technology is a simple tool for picking names from a list you've created. To use the selector just type in or copy a list of names then hit "go." Once a name is selected you have the option of launching a two minute or seven minute countdown timer. You also have the option to remove a name from the list after it has been selected. Watch the video below to learn a little more and see the Random Name Selector in use.