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Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Meaningful Reading Engagement with Quote Cards

This is a guest post from Noah Geisel.
“Quote cards were fun way to be more creative with it and manipulate it instead of just writing it down.” — Cruz, 20.
My Digital Media & Learning class is driven by critical thinking and analysis. There’s a lot of reading and reading reflection, and I wanted students to go deeper than the mindless compliance of writing a few words on an LMS discussion board because they were required to.

Turns out, so did they.

The Quote Card Assignment
It was simple: Do the reading and pull three quotes to make into graphics and add to a collaborative Google Slides deck. During class, I showed exemplars from inspirational Twitter posts and modeled how to use Slides, Adobe Spark, and Canva to make their graphics. I posted additional resources in the LMS.

Lastly, I encouraged them to use Commenting and the Presenter Notes on the slides as they saw fit. If they pulled a quote because it seemed deep and important, perhaps share why in the notes. If they used a line because they had no idea what it’s saying and were hoping someone else would shed a light because it seemed important, consider noting that for peers!

Not every student went above and beyond. Some did. What every student did was produce reflections that went beyond what I am used to seeing in traditional discussion threads.

  • Students mostly chose background images that related to their understanding of the quote, hinting that they probably read at least their own quote.
  • No students repeated the same quotes. So they probably read each others’ slides. One student, Joshua, commented, “Looking at someone else’s highlights helped me know whether I was understanding the same stuff as them from the readings or if I was out in left field.”
  • One student, unprompted, went in before class and organized the slides by page number rather than the chronological order of when students added them. A second student, seeing this, suggested in the next class that we instead organize the quotes thematically around the deeper ideas that emerged from discussion (because class discussion was sparked entirely by the students’ quotes).
  • When asked why we did the reading reflections this way, students pointed out that they had collaboratively pulled quotes and page numbers that were now easily accessible for everyone to use in citing sources on an assigned essay. This produced an ah-ha moment as they realized that, as a group, they had just saved themselves future time and effort.

Beyond these observations, I know the quote graphic activity worked because of this message that one student, Brian, sent me: “I like the quote cards activity a lot. So far, I loved the class. It’s more dynamic than any other class I’ve taken…involving different tools. You are immersing us in things we’ve never done before.” 


Noah Geisel is a World Languages, EdTech and Digital Badges consultant, teacher and speaker who is passionate about helping educators and students make awesome happen. He is a learner, sharer, traveler and giver of high fives. Noah was recognized as the 2013 ACTFL National Language Teacher of the Year. He is also Education Director at Stackup.net. He blogs at medium.com/@senorg and is on twitter at @SenorG

Great Ideas for Mystery Skype & Hangouts

This week I am welcoming some guest bloggers. This one is from Sarah Fromhold.

Mystery Skype is a concept that first began around 2011. The premise is that students Skype with another class somewhere in the world, and each class tries to guess the location of the schools by asking yes or no questions. When participating in a Mystery Skype, students are hitting three out of the four Cs--collaborating with classmates, communicating with the other school, and critically thinking when figuring out what to ask next based on the previous answer.

Mystery Skype is an amazing opportunity for all students, but it can be difficult to complete with younger grades (K-3). Due to their age, they don’t have a lot of experience with maps and globes, and may not have the schema of major cities other than the one to which they live closest.

If you teach younger students, and want your students to have a similar experience, you may want to consider connecting to guess a mystery number, shape, or animal!

For 1st - 3rd grade
Mystery Number is an excellent way to practice place value and number sense. Each class would apply their knowledge of even and odd, comparison language, skip counting, and the value of each digit in the number.
  • Before the day of the Skype/Hangout, students in Class A and B each choose a number. Depending on the standard and grade, numbers could range from 0 - 100,000.
  • Students in each class work together to list the properties of their number.
  • When the classes connect via Skype or Google Hangouts, Class A begins by asking yes/no questions about Class B’s number. These questions could include:
    • Is your number odd? 
    • Is the value of the digit in the hundreds place greater than 400? 
    • Would we say your number if we were skip counting by 10s? 
    • Is your number less than 275?
  • Each time a question is answered, the choices are narrowed down and numbers are crossed out based on the previous answer.
  • When Class A has guessed Class B’s answer, they switch roles and it’s Class B’s turn to ask questions and guess!
  • At the end of the game, both classes can share information about where they live, the weather in their area, and have the opportunity to ask questions about the other school.
Preschool and kindergarten students can apply knowledge of the physical characteristics of animals by playing Mystery Animal. To play Mystery Shape, the premise is exactly the same, but the students would ask questions about a two-dimensional or three-dimensional shape.

Ready to get started? Here are some tips!
1. You can find classes who are interested in connecting in many ways. You can tweet to the #MysterySkype hashtag, post in the Connected Classrooms or Mystery Hangout Google Plus communities, or reach out to your instructional technology department/campus liaison.

2. Review good questioning strategies before the Skype/Hangout. You might want to create a question bank for the students to reference.

3. This activity can be quite unstructured. If your students require a bit more structure, you can assign a job to each student. Some jobs include, but are not limited to:

  • Greeter - The student who will greet the other class once you are connected. Sometimes the greeters play “Rock, Paper, Scissors” to decide who will go first!
  • Question Asker(s) - The student(s) who will ask the questions at the computer. You could have one asker per table group, and each question comes from a different table.
  • Question Answerer(s)
  •  Animal/Shape/Number Narrower(s) - If you have a class chart of animals, shapes, or numbers, these students would cross off items according to how the other class answered the question.
  • Reporter(s) - If you have a way of communicating to parents (class website, email, newsletter, etc), the student(s) would take pictures for the teacher to post later in the day.
  • Sign Holder(s) - It is helpful to have some signage to let the other class know you are thinking or ready for the next question. This student could be in charge of standing in front of the computer holding the appropriate sign.
  • Fact Sharer(s) - At the end of the game, the student(s) could share a little about their school, district, or community.

Last but not least, have fun!!! Your kids will enjoy connecting with someone outside of their community, and won’t even realize they are applying their knowledge and learning!

Sarah Fromhold is a Digital Learning Coach in Frisco, TX. Before moving into this role, she taught kindergarten and 2nd grade. Sarah is a Google Certified Educator Levels 1 & 2 and a Google for Education Certified Trainer. She is a proud member of the #4OCFpln, a Voxer group that started with a book study and has grown into a family. You can find her on Twitter @sew1080 or check out her blog at fromholdsblog.wordpress.com.

Apps Day - A Great Way to Learn About Apps

This week I am welcoming some guest bloggers. This one is from Phil Strunk. 

I am relatively new to the profession -- this is my fourth year of teaching -- and like most teachers around the country, if I had access to computers, it was often in the form of a cart that was reserved almost every day that I wanted them. Then, on the occasion that I would get it on the day I wanted them, something would occur and I would need to give them up to where they were needed. I longed for the day when I could have my own cart of computers for students. I imagined how incredible it could be to have students use the various technology applications to create and innovate.

Think back to your childhood. Do you remember a Christmas, birthday, or another holiday morning where you can remember looking at presents wrapped up? When you see those presents, can you remember thinking “Yes! I got it!” and with great excitement, you ripped through the wrapping paper and joyfully screamed thanks to the gift giver? I had a similar experience last Spring.

It turns out that wishes do indeed come true. Last Spring, my superintendent announced that our division was going to be launching a 1:1 technology initiative. I can remember jumping up, grabbing my phone to call a colleague, and the feelings of elation that occurred when I told my wife when I got home. I was -- and still am -- incredibly excited about being able to design more learning opportunities to prepare my students for their bright futures.

I consider myself a reflective practitioner. The last thing I wanted to do was to simply force technology into a place where it was not necessary. I wanted technology to be used transformatively not haphazardly. Like anything new, I needed to create a foundation of common knowledge to teach my students about the basics of the technology that I would be implementing, so the focus could then be on the learning instead of on the technology.

Over the summer, I worked intentionally to revamp curriculum, this is not unusual for me, I have never quite figured out how to take a summer “off.” I decided before we dove into content, we would first jump into our essential apps to build foundational understanding for my students. I spent several days designing a hyperdoc to allow for self-paced learning of Canva, Screencastify, Flipgrid, and Powtoon and named the project, “Apps Day.” This experience provided an opportunity for students in my classes to learn the foundational technology skills they would need for the remainder of the year.

What is Apps Day?
I implemented Apps Day at the start of the year, and I contacted my school’s Instructional Technology Resource Teacher (ITRT), Patrick Hausammann, to see if he could co-teach it with me. He spent four days in the classroom with me as we worked with students to design brilliant products. Apps Day was an exciting change to the start of the school year, students used the various apps to design products to allow me get to know each student a bit more; having students create videos about topics they were excited and nervous for the upcoming year, and designing graphics about their interests. This activity allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of my students. In addition, Apps Day allowed students to see early in the year that it is okay to try and fail at something, as long as we learn from those losses and grow as learners in a class where risk-taking is safe and celebrated.

Hold Your Own Apps Day
Apps Day was not only good for my class. It benefited the school as a whole. I have had multiple teachers mention how nice it has been that students understand how to use the applications from Apps Day. My students can do more than fill in bubbles on a scantron; they can create and innovate. If you are interested in bringing Apps Day to your school, you can copy the Google Doc found here.

Phil Strunk is a sixth and seventh grade US History I&II teacher at Johnson-Williams Middle School in Berryville, Virginia. He is an active member of the Twitter community (@MrPStrunk) and the founder of the “Wins and Losses Ed Chat” #waledchat that meets Thursdays at 9 pm ET. He is a podcaster of the Wins and Losses podcast available on iTunes and on his website, philstrunk.com. Phil also hosts the Youtube show, Edusations, where he speaks with teachers from all over about successful practices they implement in their learning environments.

Monday, November 12, 2018

News Aggregators: Professional Development for the Busy Teacher

This week I am welcoming some guest bloggers. This one is from Rebecca Meeder.

Professional development helps expose teachers to new trends in their field and aids them in growing in their profession. However, with the tremendous amount of work teachers already have, is regularly attending professional development sessions even feasible? Online news aggregators can help ease the problem of teachers needing growth in their profession, but having only a limited amount of time to spend on professional development.

What is a news aggregator?
Imagine having your newspaper or magazines delivered to you, but only the articles you want to read show up in your mailbox. Online news aggregators work in a similar way. News aggregators, such as Feedly or News360, are free online sites or apps anyone can sign up for. They organize all the content that interests you into one single webpage for you to browse through. Often these sites contain articles on the latest trends and practices in the subject area or field that you are interested in.

For example, an English teacher can sign up with Feedly using her Google account or Facebook login. She can then either tell Feedly what content she is interested in, such as blog posts from 9th grade English teachers, or what websites she wants to follow, such as Free Technology for Teachers. After that, every time the teacher visits Feedly, the site will display the latest content from these sites that she shared with it.

Think of news aggregators as short bursts of mini-professional development opportunities. Teachers can browse the aggregators at leisure during lunch or right before they leave the classroom to head to their after school meeting, and have the latest news and findings about their specific subject area or grade level. It is as if they attended a professional development seminar, but within a few short minutes.

A few sites I would recommend following for K-12 educators using news aggregators are:
These are great sites to start with, especially if you are new at using news aggregators. They post new content regularly and enable you to stay on top of the latest trends and practices in K-12 education.

How I Use a News Aggregator
About three years ago, I wrote a post on my blog on how I use Feedly to help me stay “in the know” regarding Educational Technology. While working at a university in the College of Education, I was only able to spend a limited amount of time in the K-12 classroom since I had to focus on teaching Educational Technology classes and managing the college’s online Grow-Your-Own program. Therefore, to stay up-to-date on trends and practices within the field of Educational Technology, I used Feedly every day to catch up on articles featuring strategies and tools teachers were currently using in the classroom. My interests at the time were blogs and news sites that featured topics on technology used in the classroom, but also news sites that featured articles on higher education trends.

I also shared with a few of my colleagues my strategy of using news aggregators as a form of professional development. A few of them were in fields other than education. Yet, they also started using news aggregators to read articles within their own field. What is great about news aggregators is the ability to narrow down and specify which topics you are interested in, so that meaningful content appears in your news feed.

Currently, I work at the Bellevue School District in a more administrative capacity. Even though, I am in a K-12 environment, I still have little interaction with teachers or students in the classroom. However, I use a news aggregator to provide myself with an overall view of what technology teachers are currently using in the classroom and what innovative practices are growing in popularity regarding their use. Some of the sites I regularly follow are The Principal of Change, and a blog by Catlin Tucker, a Honors English Teacher in Sonoma County.

News Aggregators as a Professional Development Solution for Overworked Teachers
I am hoping that educators in the K-12 field take the time to use news aggregators and continue with their professional development, even if it is not in an official capacity. Teachers now more than ever are expected to do more work than they are capable. Instead of pushing more work, such as several face-to-face professional development sessions, onto teachers, we could streamline their work and utilize technology, such as using news aggregators. News aggregators will not completely replace face-to-face professional development sessions, but I believe utilizing tools such as news aggregators can help with keeping our teachers in the field and growing at the same time.

Dr. Rebecca Meeder has worked at various companies and organizations including the University of Hawaii, Nintendo, Ellucian, the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, and Northwest University. She is currently an Instructional Technology Designer at the Bellevue School District. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @drmeeder.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Creating a Digital Culture

This week I am welcoming some guest bloggers. This one is from Clint Winter and Chuck Bell.

As a School Superintendent and as a District Technology Coordinator we both are often asked “How and why did your district decide to go 1:1?.” Our school district has been 1:1 in some form or fashion for a number of years. Initially funded through a grant through the University of Georgia we were able to give Windows devices to students in the 11th and 12th grade. As the grant ended and expenses began to mount and as Google established a strong presence in K-12 education it became clear that we needed to make a commitment to Google Chromebooks. We were able to fund our Chromebook initiative through money collected from a special local option sales tax. Also, it helps us meet the state of Georgia’s mandate for 100% online state required testing.

When we made the commitment to Chromebooks we also are making a commitment to collaboration and creation. We wanted to connect our students and teachers with both curriculum and new opportunities. Actually, that is a big reason we decided to get Chromebooks! Our Chromebooks booted up faster, we have unlimited storage, and we are able to collaborate in real time all the time. Students are also able to access their documents offline. Keeping with the theme of collaboration and creation We wanted to alleviate fears by letting teachers know that from a District prospective. We knew they will have both success and failures with the new devices in their classroom. We also wanted to remove barriers by offering tools such from Texthelp and GoGuardian. Also, we wanted to make sure that we were using best practices and have worked with AmplifedIT to maximize our Google Admin Console.

For Professional Development our school district embraces the SAMR model. It is important that our students Chromebooks are being used intentionally. We offer personalized paths for our teachers to learn and lead about using technology for more than substitution. Some of our teachers go through Google Certification, others attend Edcamps, we are promoting building our own Personalized Learning Networks.. Our administrators are offering teachers to choose professional learning in the building and also encouraging their teachers to screencast new things that they have learned. We tweet the good things we are doing in our classroom and use the hashtag #Bluewayondisplay to expand our audience and learn from educators across our region, nation, and world. We are continuing to build a culture that supports Every student Every Day and know that this cannot be accomplished without the support of our students, community, teachers, technology staff, and administrators. Building a dynamic culture that encourages risk taking and embracing new styles of learning is truly a team effort.

Chuck Bell is the Superintendent of the Elbert County School District. You can follow Chuck on twitter @Chuck_Bell_

Clint Winter is the Instructional Technology Coordinator for the Elbert County School District. You can follow him on Twitter @ClintWinter. Clint is the author of TheFridayTechTip which is updated every Friday during the school year. You can listen to the Edtechrewind podcast he co-hosts with Dr. Lee Green.

Edji - A Great Tool for Literacy and Critical Thinking

This week I am welcoming some guest bloggers. This one is from Eric Hills.

As a tech coach, I love spending time trying to find tools that are easy to use, can enhance student learning, and are engaging for students. Edji checks all three of those boxes for me. I’ve learned about so many amazing tools and strategies from Richard Byrne and I want to return the favor to him and his readers by sharing a little about this amazing tool. And because Edji was created in my home state of Minnesota, I take a little extra pride in sharing my love for it. I hope after reading this post, you will give Edji a try with your students!

What is it?
Edji is a unique, collaborative annotation tool that works on any device. Students and teachers can highlight portions of text and leave either emoji comments or text comments. They can also place a hotspot on a picture and leave a comment. It sounds simple, but there are endless ways it can be used.

One key feature of Edji is called “Heat Vision.” Teachers can toggle Heat Vision on or off. When you turn Heat Vision on, all highlights and comments will appear for all students to see. Text that has been highlighted by students will appear in colors ranging from yellow to dark red depending on how many students highlighted that area. Most teachers will likely leave the Heat Vision feature off until students have had time to highlight and comment. Once they are done, you can turn on Heat Vision to show common highlights and comments.



Why use it?
Edji can be used in many ways and it is incredibly easy to get started. If you have an article, diagram, chart, image, or text of any kind, you can have an interactive lesson ready in minutes. And by giving students a place to make their own highlights and comments, you are allowing every voice in the classroom to be heard. Using Edji will enhance the face-to-face discussions that your students have in class.

Here are just a few ways you could use Edji in your class:

  • Identify the main idea and supporting details in an article using highlights. Click on Heat Vision so students see whether they highlighted the correct portion of the text.
  • Examine a historical artifact or political cartoon image and have students make comments on their observations.
  • Read a primary source document in social studies and have students highlight key vocabulary that they don’t know. Have students share the task of finding synonyms to help decipher the text.
  • Create an emoji chart with your students that represents what you are looking for in the text. For example, cause and effect. Students could use a raindrop to represent cause and an umbrella to represent effect. Having students identify the best emojis to use activates their critical thinking skills in an engaging way.

How do I get started?
Creating a reading for students to complete is very easy. You can copy and paste text from other sources such as Newsela, CommitLit, The Tween Tribune, Project Gutenberg, or any other preferred source of texts. You can also upload PDFs or images. To set up your first reading, check out the video below.


Once you have created a reading, students access the reading by entering a code at edji.it. They can sign in as a guest or create an account (Google sign-in available). You can also create reading groups, which lets you duplicate a reading and use a unique code for each small reading group. This is especially helpful if you use the same text for 30 (or 150) students as it might be difficult to navigate the comments and highlights.

Disclosure: I have received stickers and magnets from Edji. I also received two Edji Hero licenses for teachers at my school to pilot its use.

Biography: Eric Hills is a Digital Learning Coach from Shakopee Public Schools in Minnesota. You can find his blog posts and those of his amazing colleagues at techtools.shakopee.k12.mn.us and you can connect with him on Twitter @MrEricHills.

My Party PBL - Technology and Project Based Learning

This week I am welcoming some guest bloggers. This one is from Debbie Carona.

The PBL, My Party Election, originally written by Mike Kaechele, became a part of the U.S. History curriculum for 8th graders at St. John’s Episcopal School Dallas during the Presidential Election of 2016. Students worked in groups with politically like-minded teammates to create new and unique political third parties by developing a platform, creating a logo, writing a slogan and building a website. At the time, St. John’s was the only middle school to join this nationwide competition where the party of the winning presidential candidate submitted its website which is judged by other students across the United States. Over the past two years, as most good PBLs tend to do,” My Party Election” morphed into simply “My Party” with a stronger focus on the actual third parties formed in the process rather than the election of an individual from one of the third parties as president.

The current My Party PBL is now a fundraising event where each party conducts extensive research on various aspects of the role of third parties in American politics as well as four assigned current issues that are to be built into the planks of the platform. The required issues include healthcare, immigration, gun control, and energy. Each party member plays an important role in creating the party and planning the event. Students take on the roles of Director of Fundraising, Media Coordinator, Branding Coordinator, Webmaster and Steering Committee Chairperson.

Using Word documents shared on One Drive, students work simultaneously on the creation of their platforms. The Fundraising Director spends time editing and researching the planks of the platform while the Branding Coordinator works on designing the logo to match the party’s ideology. Many of the logos are developed digitally on iPads using apps such as Canva or Notability. Each logo is revised and reimaged until it is satisfactory enough to be sent on to the Webmaster who uploads it on the Home Page of the website. The Branding Coordinator has the option to create a trifold brochure using PowerPoint to hand out to potential donors at the final presentation. To read about the logo process of one student Branding Coordinator, click here.

While the Branding Coordinator is working through iterations for the logo, the Media Coordinator creates the storyboard and develops ideas for shooting the political party commercial. Students take advantage of the school’s green screen using the app Do Ink. Final edits and tweaks are made using iMovie. Click here to see one of the most successful commercials this year that was created using the iStopMotion app with colorful caramal-flavored M&Ms. Each group submits the completed advertisement to Webmasters for display on the party’s website.

Webmasters use Wix.com to develop the party websites. Each website is required to have color and font choices that fit the branding of the party. Student webmasters work diligently to develop a template for showcasing the work of the other students. Each site contains pictures and bios of party members, the platform, commercial, logo, moto and bibliography for each party.

For the final presentation, each party creates a PowerPoint that explains the platform and showcases the work of the party. A panel of entrepreneurs, educators and parents are invited to view the presentation as “donors”. Each donor is given a hypothetical $10,000 and can split their contributions between the three parties in any amounts they choose. At the final Fundraising Event, students handout their brochures and give-away items. Students create items such as magnetic party badges and coasters using their logos and party names using the GlowForge, a laser engraver.

The My Party PBL allows students to work with peers in an open collaborative environment. They have the opportunity to practice strategies learned in lessons on civil discourse as they discuss current event issues. They have an opportunity to use their personal strengths and talents to create their political parties and develop the poise and self-assurance to present to an authentic audience.

LeAnne Wyatt is the 8th grade US History and the 8th grade Speech teacher at St. John’s Episcopal School in Dallas, Texas. She also serves as the Grade Level Leader and as the Service Learning Coordinator. For several years she has collaborated with Debbie Carona on numerous project based learning units. Ms. Carona is the Technology Integration Specialist and PBL Coach at St. John’s. To learn about more PBL, go to Ms. Carona’s blog or check out her Twitter feed @DebbieCarona.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Music, Feedback, and Flowcharts - The Week in Review

Good evening from Nebraska where I'm visiting my good friends Kris and Beth Still. Some of you may remember that Beth was the person who organized the NECC Newbie Project back in 2009 to get me to the NECC (now called ISTE) conference. We were relative strangers before then but good friends since then. Wherever you are this weekend, I hope that you're having fun too.



These were the week's most popular posts:
1. Build a Body - An Interactive Biology Lesson
2. Five Places to Find Free Music and Sounds for Multimedia Projects
3. Is Your Feedback Really Effective? - This Google Docs Add-on Will Tell You
4. Parts of Speech Quest
5. A Good Tool for Writing Reflections on Stories
6. Visme - Great Tools for Making Flowcharts and Mind Maps
7. MyBib is Back

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) freetech4teachers.com 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, November 9, 2018

Is Your Feedback Really Effective? - This Google Docs Add-on Will Tell You

Anyone who has ever spent a Sunday afternoon grading essay after essay has at some point wondered, “did anyone listen when I explained homophones?” This usually happened to me around the 27th essay of the day. It’s at about that point that it’s a fair question to ask, “is my feedback effective?” That’s the question that the folks at JoeZoo are trying to help teachers answer.

JoeZoo is a free Google Docs Add-on that teachers can use to add voice and text comments to a students’ paper. But that alone is not what makes it great. What makes JoeZoo stand out from the crowd is the built-in student engagement tracking capability. JoeZoo will let you see which text comments your students read, which voice comments they listened to, and how long they engaged with those comments! Check out the animated GIF below to see how you can track your students’ engagement with the comments that you add to their Google Docs.


As you probably gleaned from the previous paragraph, you can use JoeZoo to add voice comments to your students’ Google Docs. You can mix voice comments with text comments through a document. And to help you save time, JoeZoo has a comment bank that comes pre-loaded with 93 of the most commonly used comments created by teachers. You can edit those pre-loaded comments or use them as written. If you need something other than one of the 93 pre-loaded comments, you can create your own canned comments to add to your students’ documents.

When it is time for students to look at the feedback you have given to them, JoeZoo has a couple of helpful features not found in other free commenting systems. First, all comments are color coded according to comment type. That can make it easier for students to quickly identify all comments related to a particular skill. Second, there is an accessibility feature not found in other commenting systems. That feature is text-to-speech. Not only can students listen to voice comments that you have added to their documents, they can have any of your written comments read aloud too.

So rather than wondering if your students are engaging with the feedback you give them in Google Docs, use JoeZoo and know for sure if they are engaging with your feedback. I can’t promise that using JoeZoo will make grading one hundred essays more fun, but using it will make your feedback process more efficient. Try it today, it’s free!

Disclosure: JoeZoo is an advertiser on this blog. 

Add Adobe Spark Creations Into Book Creator eBooks

Adobe Spark and Book Creator are two of my favorite multimedia production tools. And now you can combine the two! Earlier this week Book Creator announced that you can now embed videos made with Adobe Spark into the pages of Book Creator ebooks. But it's not just Adobe Spark videos that you can embed into your Book Creator pages. You can include graphics and even webpages made with Adobe Spark into the pages of Book Creator ebooks.

In the following video I provide a complete overview of how to create an ebook on Book Creator.



And watch the following video for an overview of how to create things on Adobe Spark.



Applications for Education
For years I have been saying that Book Creator is a good tool for students to use to create digital showcases of their best writing, drawings, pictures, and videos. And since its launch a few years ago I have loved using Adobe Spark to make videos. The integration of the two services provides a great opportunity for students to create videos then include them as part of a larger work that they publish through Book Creator.

The Origins of Ingredients in Thanksgiving Meals

Last week I shared three Thanksgiving-themed projects that you can do this month. Of course, I have many more Thanksgiving resources bookmarked to share with you. One of those is an interesting video from It's Okay to be Smart titled The Surprising Origins of Thanksgiving Foods. Through the video students can learn how the most common, traditional Thanksgiving foods originated and evolved to what they are today. This lesson includes an explanation of how archaeologists and scientists determined that turkeys were one of the first animals to be domesticated in North America. We also learn why the turkeys we find in the grocery store today are so much bigger than those of just a few generations ago.




Try using EDpuzzle to add questions into the timeline of this video. Or use EDpuzzle to simply add some additional notes for your students to read before, during, or after watching the video. My videos embedded below will show you how to use EDpuzzle.




A Handful of Resources for Learning About Veterans Day

This Sunday is Veterans Day (many places will observe it on Monday). The following resources can help students understand the origins and meaning of Veterans Day including how it is different from Memorial Day.

Bet You Didn't Know: Veterans Day. The video explains the origins of the holiday and why its date of celebration has twice shifted in the United States. The end of the video includes an explanation of the differences between Memorial Day and Veterans Day. PBS News Hour has a basic lesson plan about Veterans Day. That lesson plan includes showing them Bet You Didn't Know: Veterans Day


NBC News offers the following short audio slideshow about the history and meaning of Veterans Day.





Thursday, November 8, 2018

Build a Body - An Interactive Biology Lesson

Spend a few minutes using Build a Body and it is easy to understand why it was recognized by the National Science Foundation. In Sponge Lab Biology's Build a Body students construct a human body system-by-system. To build a body students drag and drop into place the organs and bones of a human body. Each organ and bone is accompanied by a description of the purpose of that bone or organ. The systems that students can build in the Build a Body activity are the skeletal, digestive, respiratory, nervous, excretory, and circulatory systems.

Build a Body has a case study menu in which students can read about diseases, disorders, and and other concerns that affect the human body. In each case study students are given a short description of the concern followed by a question that they should be able to answer after completing the Build a Body activity.

Applications for Education
Build a Body was designed with high school students in mind. Build a Body could be an excellent resource to pair with Biodigital Human or Healthline's Body Maps. Have students use the Body Maps and Biodigital Human to study the construction of the human body then use Build a Body to test their knowledge.

This Is What an Astronaut's Camera Sees

What an Astronaut's Camera Sees is an impressive narrated video of images of Earth as captured from space. The video is narrated by Dr. Justin Wilkinson from NASA. The video includes images of deserts in Africa, Sicily, the Kamchatka Peninsula, China, the Zagros Mountains, Australia, the Great Salt Lake, and the Andes Mountains. The video is embedded below.


You can read the transcript of the narration below the video on YouTube. This video is part of YouTube user SpaceRip's channel. Explore SpaceRip's channel to find more excellent space videos.

Applications for Education
Here's an idea for a small geography project based on this video. Show the video to students then have them try to locate the same places in Google Earth. Then have students research the unique geographic features of each of the places featured in What an Astronaut's Camera Sees.

A Good Tool for Writing Reflections on Stories

Scholastic's Character Scrapbook offers a good template that elementary school students can use to write about and reflect on the characters in their favorite stories. The template is quite simple to use. Students enter the name of a story and the name of their favorite character on the first page. On the next pages students list ten attributes of the character. The Character Scrapbook also allows students to create pictures of their favorite characters.

As you can see in the image above, Scholastic's Character Scrapbook doesn't limit students to human characters. Students can write about and create images of animal characters too.

Applications for Education
Scholastic's Character Scrapbook could be a great tool for getting students to think about their favorite stories. The Character Scrapbook has an easy print option so that you can print and display all of your students' works in your classroom.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

How GPS Works

From finding a place to eat in a new city to navigating a detour to geocaching, GPS is an amazing technology. But just how does GPS work? NASA's eClips channel on YouTube has a good student-friendly explanation of how GPS works.


Applications for Education
Geocaching is a fun activity for students to do to learn about latitude and longitude, to discover geological features, learn or relearn basic math concepts, and to practice good digital citizenship. Seven years ago Jen Lefebvre, née Deyenberg wrote a great overview of geocaching in an education context. You can read that blog post here. When Jen wrote that post you had to use handheld GPS units to go on geocaching activities. Today, you can simply use the Geocaching Android app or iOS apps.

Knoema - Huge Collections of Data Maps and Charts

Knoema is a service that offers a huge collection of data sets and maps for public use. Knoema offers data maps and charts for almost every country in the world. There are dozens of data categories to pick from. Some of the data categories that you will find include GPD Per Capita, Government Debt, Migration, Housing, Energy Consumption, and Agricultural Production.

To find a data map or chart on Knoema to use with your students first select a data set then choose a country from the drop-down menu tied to each data set. Each data set, map, and chart can be exported downloaded and or embedded into a blog post or webpage.


Applications for Education
The obvious fit for Knoema is in a social studies setting in which students are comparing economic indicators. Knoema's library of data sets and visualizations is vast enough to include data sets and visualizations to include environmental science data.

Visme - Great Tools for Making Flowcharts and Mind Maps

Visme is a graphic design tool that I've been using off and on for the last five years. Back when I started using Visme it was known as EWC Presenter and it was a good tool for designing slides and infographics. Recently, Visme added new flowchart design templates and tools. The flowcharts that you make on Visme can be downloaded as PDFs, shared via email and social media, or embedded into blog posts. If you use any of the online sharing options, you can include interactive elements in your flowcharts. Watch the following video to learn how to quickly create flowcharts and mind maps on Visme.


Applications for Education
I have had students make flowcharts in civics classes to show how laws are created. I've also had students make mind maps to show connections between interest groups.

Parts of Speech Quest

ABCya offers hundreds of fun and educational games for elementary school kids. Parts of Speech Quest is one of the games that was recently featured on ABCya's homepage. Parts of Speech Quest is a series of nine games that, depending upon your age, will remind you of Legend of Zelda or Minecraft.

Each of the nine games in Parts of Speech Quest requires students to navigate through a fictional world. Throughout the game students will be confronted by gatekeepers, locked doors, and other obstacles. To get past these obstacles students have to answer questions about the parts of speech.

The nine games in Parts of Speech Quest are:

  • Nouns
  • Verbs
  • Adverbs
  • Adjectives
  • Pronouns
  • Prepositions
  • Conjunctions
  • Interjections
  • Final review
Applications for Education
Parts of Speech Quest games can be played on laptops, Chromebooks, and iPads. The games don't require students to register in order to play the games. These games could be good to add to "free time" or "practice" page on a classroom website or as materials in your Google Classroom.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Five Places to Find Free Music and Sounds for Multimedia Projects

From adding music to a slideshow to adding sound effects to videos to bumper music for podcasts, there are plenty of classroom projects that require free audio files. If you find yourself or your students in need of some free music or sound effects, take a look at these sites that offer thousands of free and legal audio downloads.

Dig CC Mixter is a good place to find music for use in classroom projects like videos and podcasts. The music that you will find on Dig CC Mixter is Creative Commons licensed. And, as I demonstrate in the following video, Dig CC Mixter makes it very easy to give proper attribution to the artists whose music you use.



Musopen's collection of free recordings contains performances of the works of hundreds of composers. The collection can be searched by composer, by performer, by instrument, or by form. You can stream the music from Musopen for free. You can also download five recordings per day for free from Musopen.

The Free Music Archive provides free, high-quality, music in a wide range of genres. The content on Free Music Archive is used under various creative commons licenses. The New York State Music Fund provided initial funding for FMA. FMA seeks to maintain a high-quality resource through the use of selected curators who approve or deny all submissions to the collection. Anyone can download music from FMA for use in podcasts, videos, and other digital presentation formats. The music collections can be searched by genre or by curator.

The National Jukebox is an archive of more than 10,000 recordings made by the Victor Talking Machine Company between 1901 and 1925. These are recordings that were made using an acoustical recording process that captured sounds on wax cylinders. The recordings in the archive can be searched and listened to on your computer. You can search the archives by recording date, recording type, language, and target audience. The National Jukebox has also arranged playlists that you can listen to in a continuous stream. You can also embed the recordings player into your blog or website.

Sound Bible is a resource for finding and downloading free sound clips, sound effects, and sound bites. Nearly all of the sounds on Sound Bible are either public domain or labeled with a Creative Commons license. On Sound Bible you will find sounds for use in blog posts, podcasts, videos, slideshows, or other multimedia creations.

A New and Easy ClassDojo Login for Students

Earlier this fall ClassDojo added new features to their digital portfolio tools for students and teachers. The highlight of those was the option for students to select the items that they want included in their portfolios. ClassDojo calls these student-led portfolios. Today, ClassDojo added a new way for students to sign into their portfolios.

Beginning today every student on your ClassDojo roster has his or her own unique QR code. You can print these QR codes and give them to your students to scan to sign into their individual accounts. Of course, this all assumes that a student doesn't then lose the printed code and or doesn't scan his/her classmate's code.

WWF Together - Revisiting a Favorite App

The World Wildlife Fund's Together app has been one of my favorite iPad apps since the first day that I saw it more than five years ago. The app is beautifully designed to show the stories of endangered or threatened animals around the world. This morning it popped-up on my iPad as a featured app suggestion. So I opened it up to see if there was anything new since the last time I looked at it. I was pleased to discover a couple of new items in the app.

WWF Together now features the stories of sixteen threatened or endangered animals around the world. The stories include facts about the animals' ranges, threats to their habitats, and latest news about efforts to help preserve these animals and their habitats. Within each story there is an opportunity for students to take a selfie with an animal. This is done through the use of augmented reality that lets users place an origami rendering of an animal into any setting including a selfie. And for those who want a hands-on activity, WWF Together includes directions for making origami animals.

The following video is a little dated (it doesn't include every feature of the app) but it is still a nice overview of what WWF Together is all about.


Applications for Education
WWF Together is a beautiful app for students to use to learn about endangered species and their habitats at their own pace. One of the aspects of the app that I have always liked is that the app tries to put statistics about the animals and habitats into a relatable context. For example, the range of an animal is displayed as a distance from wherever the user's iPad is but a map is also used to show an animal's range in relation to where the viewer is.

MyBib is Back

The last time that I wrote about MyBib it was to report that I didn't have any information about when it would be back online, if ever. That was exactly one month ago. This morning I received an email from a reader named Eliza who excitedly told me that MyBib is back! As soon as I read her email I went to check it out and, sure enough, MyBib seems to back and functioning as before.

If you're wondering what all this is about, MyBib is a free online bibliography creation tool. Unlike some other bibliography creation services MyBib doesn't charge a fee for their advanced features like exporting your bibliography to Google Drive or using a citation style other than MLA or APA. MyBib can create citations and bibliographies in a wide range of styles including the popular MLA, APA, Chicago, IEEE, and Harvard styles. Watch my video to see how your students can use MyBib to create bibliographies.


Hopefully, MyBib stays around this time. It's frustrating for you and it's frustrating for me to see a promising service quickly shut-down as MyBib did the first time.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

4 Ways to Play Seterra's Online Geography Games

Geography Awareness Week is a coming up later this month. If you find yourself looking for some geography games for your students to play, take a look at what Seterra has to offer. Seterra offers hundreds of geography games in 34 languages. You can play the games online in your web browser or download the apps to play on a phone or tablet. In the following video I demonstrate four ways that you can play the online version of Seterra's geography games.

Disclosure: Seterra is an advertiser on this blog.

Writing Checkers, Images, and Rain - The Week in Review

Good morning from soggy Maine where the deluge of rain has canceled my plans for playing outside this morning. So I'll settle for riding my bike on an indoor trainer. It's not the most fun way to exercise, but it is effective. Wherever you are this weekend I hope that you get time to do something fun.

This week I wrapped-up two online professional development courses on Practical Ed Tech. Next week I'm hosting two new online PD opportunities. Those are Video Projects for Every Classroom and Google Forms & Sheets for Beginners.

These were the week's most popular posts:
1. Supercharge Student Self-Editing Skills with this Writing Checker for Google Docs
2. 13 Alternatives to Google Image Search - Chart
3. 11 Halloween Lesson Resources
4. 5 Good Places to Find Public Domain Video Clips
5. 10 Good Resources for Math Teachers and Students
6. How to Insert Equations and Special Characters Into Google Documents
7. 700 More Writing Prompts from Make Beliefs Comix

Online PD Starting on Monday
In November I'm hosting three online professional development opportunities. Those are Video Projects for Every Classroom, Google Forms & Sheets for Beginners, and Teaching History With Technology. Click here to learn more about all three opportunities.

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) freetech4teachers.com 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, November 2, 2018

How to Use QR Codes to Share Animated Videos

Earlier this week I answered an email from a reader who had heard someone talk about using QR codes so that people could watch animations made by students. Not having heard that person speak or seen the actual presentation my guess was that the process went like this; students wrote stories, students then made videos about the stories, and finally students made QR codes to link to their videos. That's the process that I outline in the following video.


Two Online Primary Source Document Activities for High School Students

Earlier this week the Library of Congress launched a new crowdsourcing project called Crowd. The project seeks volunteers to transcribe primary source documents that are available online through the Library of Congress. Crowd is similar to the Smithsonian's Digital Volunteers program. Both programs provide an opportunity for high school students and some middle school students to learn while contributing to a national project. In the following video I provide an overview of both programs.

Last Call for Guest Bloggers

Earlier this week I put out my annual call for guest bloggers. Tonight at midnight (Eastern time) is the deadline to apply to guest post on Free Technology for Teachers. If you would like to be a guest blogger this November please read on and then complete the form below.

I'm looking for guest bloggers who can share stories of current experiences using technology in their schools. Guest bloggers should be current classroom teachers, teacher-librarians, technology integration coaches, or school-level administrators. I would like to share stories of trying new things (apps, websites, strategies) and what you and your students learned from the experience. If you can tell the story in 500 words or less or with a video, that's a bonus. While I cannot pay you for your post, I will include links to your blog or website and include a short bio about you. Past guest bloggers have reported still getting traffic to their blogs more than a year after their posts appeared.

Please note that the last time I put out a call for guest bloggers, more than 100 people responded in 48 hours. I wish that I could publish all of the posts, but I simply cannot do that. I'll select 20 to 25 posts at the most. I will send notifications to accepted guest bloggers by November 4th.


Thursday, November 1, 2018

LOC Crowd - Crowdsourcing the Transcription of Primary Sources

The Library of Congress has launched a new crowdsourcing initiative to transcribe primary source documents. The new initiative simply called Crowd has contains collections of documents that the Library of Congress wants the public to help transcribe.

Anyone can participate in the LOC's Crowd project. To get started simply go to the site and click on one of the five collections of documents. The current collections are Branch Rickey: Changing the Game, Civil War Soldiers: Disabled But Not Disheartened, Clara Barton: Angel of the Battlefield, Letters to Lincoln, and Mary Church Terrell: Advocate for African Americans and Women. Once you've chosen a collection you can choose an individual document within the collection. Your chosen document will appear on the left side of the screen and a field for writing your transcription appears on the right side of the screen. After you have completed your transcription it is submitted for peer review.

Applications for Education
The LOC's Crowd project could be a good opportunity for high school students and some middle school students to learn while contributing to a national project. All of the collections in Crowd do have timelines and some other resources that help to provide context for the documents that are in need of transcription.

The Smithsonian has a similar crowdsourcing project called Smithsonian Digital Volunteers.

What are Spices and Herbs? - And What is Pumpkin Spice?

We are in full-blown pumpkin spice season here in New England. Everywhere you look stores are selling pumpkin spice coffee, donuts, cakes, candles, and anything else that spice can be crammed into. This, of course, begs the question "what is pumpkin spice?" That's the question that is addressed in the latest episode of SciShow Kids. But before answering that question the video explains what spices and herbs are and how they are combined to create flavors. Click here to watch the video or watch it as embedded below.

Three Thanksgiving-Themed Activities To Do This Month

Now that it is November it's time to start sharing some resources and ideas for Thanksgiving-themed lessons (apologies to readers outside of the U.S. who don't celebrate Thanksgiving when Americans do, if at all). Here are a few activities that you could start now and have your students continue working on throughout the month.

1. Contribute to The Great Thanksgiving Listen 2018.
For the fourth year in a row StoryCorps is hosting The Great Thanksgiving Listen. This is an initiative designed to get people to talk with family members and record stories about Thanksgiving. There are new in-depth lesson materials available for 2018. These include handouts on how to record, tips for making conducting interviews, and permission slips to send home with students.

2. Create a Thanksgiving traditions Flipgrid. 
Flipgrid makes it easy to have students record and share quick video responses to a teacher's prompts. Create a Flipgrid and ask your students to share their favorite Thanksgiving traditions. Use Flipgrid's new Flipgrid Pals tool to find other classrooms to connect with to share stories of Thanksgiving traditions.

3. A Thanksgiving traditions Wakelet or Padlet.
Both Wakelet and Padlet will let you create a digital sticky note board to which students can add notes about their favorite Thanksgiving traditions. Their notes can include pictures, text, and videos.

It's Time to Change the Clocks

I'm one of those rare people who actually likes turning the clocks back in the fall. Sure, it means that it gets dark earlier, but I'm an early riser and like seeing the sun in the morning. This weekend we're changing our clocks and if you are too, your students might have some questions about why we change the clocks in the fall and spring.

The following videos offer concise explanations of Daylight Saving Time.





Although it's not about daylight saving time, this TED-Ed lesson about the standardization of timezones is worth watching.