Friday, November 27, 2020

How to Create Online Word Games to Share With Your Students

On Wednesday morning I looked out my window and watched the snow start to cover the rock wall in my backyard. Doing that made me think about my kids making snowmen which in turn reminded me of the snowman word game template offered by Flippity

Flippity's Snowman word game is a game in students have to correctly guess the letters of a word in order to prevent their snowmen from melting. The template lets you make your own variation on the game with words and hints of your choosing. Your game can be shared with students via its assigned URL. Students don't need accounts in order to play the games that you create. 

Here's an overview of how to create your own online word games by using Flippity's Snowman template

An Easy Way to Find 360 Videos to Use VR Headsets

Last week Google announced that June 2021 would be the end of the Google Expeditions app. I published a short list of alternatives to Google Expeditions. One of those alternatives was to simply use YouTube's search refinement tool to find 360 videos to view in your Google Cardboard or other virtual reality headsets. If you're not sure how that works, watch my short video on how to find 360 videos on YouTube

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Join Us Next Week - Two Ed Tech Guys Take Questions & Share Cool Stuff

Usually, at this time on Thursday afternoon I join Rushton Hurley for our live webinar series titled Two Ed Tech Guys Take Questions and Share Cool Stuff. But since today's a holiday we're taking the week off from the webinar. We'll be back next week at 4pm ET/ 1pm PT and we'd love to have you join us. It's a fun and free half-hour webinar in which we answer all kinds of questions and share some neat things that we've found on the web. 


Happy Thanksgiving and Happy Listening

It's Thanksgiving Day here in the U.S. I usually celebrate the day with my family in Connecticut watching the road race in my hometown. Unfortunately, that tradition is on hiatus this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the travel restrictions here in New England. One Thanksgiving tradition that isn't going on hiatus is listening to Alice's Restaurant. If you'd like to join me in this tradition, here's Arlo Guthrie performing Alice's Restaurant
 
Happy listening! Happy Thanksgiving!



Fun fact! If you search for the song on Wolfram Alpha you will find a chart of Wikipedia traffic for the search term "Alice's Restaurant." So the question/ cultural history lesson for students is "why do people search for that term around Thanksgiving?"

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

A Good Game for Learning About Nutrition Around the World

The Smithsonian offers a lot of neat apps and games for elementary school students. One of those games is called Pick Your Plate. It's available to play in your web browser or as an iPad or Android app. The premise of Pick Your Plate is that students have to create balanced meals within a budget in eight countries around the world.

To play the game students simply open the Pick Your Plate app or website then choose which country they want to start from. They're shown a budget for each meal in the country's currency. They're also shown a selection of common foods for breakfast, lunch, and dinner in each country. The goal is to build a balanced meal within the budget in each country. Students get instant feedback on the construction of each meal. 




Applications for Education
Pick Your Plate could be a good game for elementary school students to play to learn about different foods around the world while also practicing their budgeting skills. Registration is not required in order to play the game.

A Crash Course in Computer Science

Try as I might, as an old history teacher turned computer science teacher, I can't help sprinkling in a few history lessons now and then. We talked about the Y2K bug (history to my students all born around 2004/5) a couple of weeks ago. And this week I had some of my students watch Crash Course's video on the history and development of Keyboards and Command Lines

Crash Course Keyboard & Command Line Interfaces gives students an overview of the origins of keyboards and keyboard layouts beginning with early typewriters. If you've ever wondered why we use QWERTY keyboards, this video answers that for you. After explaining the development of keyboards the video goes on to explain how early computers functioned with tape and punch cards. Finally, the video explains to viewers how command line interfaces came to be when computers became powerful enough to handle multiple processes and interact user input. 


Crash Course Keyboard & Command Line Interfaces is one video in a series of 41 computer science videos produced by Crash Course. The series more or less follows the history of the development of computer science. In the series you'll find videos covering a wide range of topics including binary, programming languages and their development, the personal computer "revolution," and operating systems. 


Applications for Education
As I mentioned above, I used the video about keyboards and command lines to give my students a little historical perspective on the development of the machines and processes they're using today. My students just started using command lines a couple of weeks ago so sharing this video right before our Thanksgiving break was a good fit. Just to make sure my students actually watched the video, I put it into an EDpuzzle activity. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

An Easy Way to Make Videos on Windows 10 Computers

Sometimes the simplest solution is the one that gets overlooked the most. That's often the case when people ask me for a recommendation for making audio slideshow-style videos. I was reminded of this earlier today when one of my students asked, "can I just use the Windows app?" in response to a short video assignment that I gave my class. I said yes to his request because while there are lots of great online tools like Adobe Spark and WeVideo for making videos, there's also a good one built right into Windows 10. 

Microsoft Photos includes a video creation tool for making short audio slideshow-style videos. You'll find this by just opening the native photos app in Windows 10. Within the editor there are tools for adding animated effects to still images, insert your existing video clips into a video project, and tools for adding audio to your video. There's also a great option to search for Creative Commons licensed images and insert them directly into your video project. The best part of that feature is that attribution information is automatically added onto the images you choose through the built-in search tool. 

In the following video I provide a demonstration of how to create a video in Microsoft Photos in Windows 10. 


Applications for Education
Today, I gave some of my students the assignment to make short videos about different types of computer and network security threats and how to prevent them. These are going to be short (30-60 second) videos that serve as public service announcements. My student who chose to use the Microsoft Photos video editor is recording a little voice over that will sync to the images. 

Years ago I had a group of students make audio slideshow-style videos as biographies of past Presidents of the United States. And I've worked with a lot of elementary school teachers over the years who had students make audio slideshow videos about animals, habitats, their families, and many other topics. Overall, these videos tend to be summaries of what students have learned in class and through short research tasks. They're often more exciting assignments for students and more fun to review than a five paragraph essay. 

Good Places to Make and Find Story Starters

For some students the hardest part of a creative writing assignment is developing an idea to write about. Fortunately, there are many good tools and websites that teachers can use to generate writing prompts. Likewise, there are lots of good websites that offer creative writing prompts for students. Here's an updated list of some of my favorite tools for creating story starters and favorite sites for finding story starters.

Flippity Templates X3
Flippity is a great place to find Google Sheets templates to create all kinds of things including random story starters, random name/ word pickers, and Mad Libs-style stories.
Flippity Mad Libs template.



Flippity Randomizer template.



While it was designed to randomly select a student's name from a list, you can use Flippity's random name picker template to create story starters. Instead of listing names you could list story prompts in a Google Sheet and have it display a random story prompt every time the picker is shuffled. Here's a video about how it works.


Make Beliefs Comix
Make Beliefs Comix is a creative writing platform that I have recommended for years. The core of Make Beliefs Comix is a free set of tools that students can use to create their own comics in multiple languages. Here's a video overview of how it works. In addition to the comic strip creation tools, Make Beliefs Comix hosts free ebooks that you can use online or download for free. All of ebooks are designed as fillable PDFs that your students can write in. The ebooks are intended to inspire students to write about a variety of topics around the ideas of kindness, courage, hopes, and dreams. 



500 Prompts on The Most Dangerous Writing App

The Most Dangerous Writing App is a website that provides a blank canvas to write on for a minimum time of your choosing. The catch is that if you stop writing before the time is up, you lose your work. 500 writing prompts are provided for those who need a little inspiration to get started. In the following video I demonstrate how to use The Most Dangerous Writing App.



Writing Sparks

Writing Sparks offers timed writing prompts to share with your elementary school students. Students can respond to the prompts by writing on paper, in a word processing document like MS Word, or by writing on the Writing Sparks website. The Writing Sparks website provides students with templates to complete as they respond to each writing prompt. In the video that is embedded below I provide a demonstration of how to use the free Writing Sparks service.



Scholastic Story Starters
Scholastic Story Starters is a great tool that students will enjoy using to create short, creative fiction stories. Scholastic Story Starters offers four story themes; fantasy, adventure, sci-fi, and scrambler. To create a story on Story Starters a students picks a theme, enter his or her name, chooses his or her grade, and spins the big wheels of prompts. The student can spin the wheels until he or she finds a prompt he or she likes. After the prompt is selected the student can write his or her story using the letter, postcard, notebook, or newspaper format provided by Scholastic Story Starters. When the story is finished it can be printed.

Monday, November 23, 2020

How to Move Google Tour Builder Files Into Google Earth

Last week Google announced that support for Google Expeditions and Google Tour Builder would end in July 2021. I've already published a preliminary list of alternatives to Google Expeditions. If you're looking for alternatives to Google Tour Builder you don't need to look much further than to Google Earth. 

Google Tour Builder includes two options for moving your projects from Tour Builder into the web versions and desktop versions of Google Earth. 

The simplest way to move your projects from Tour Builder into the web version of Google Earth is to just select "Export to Earth" from the menu in the upper-right corner of the screen when you're viewing one of your Tour Builder projects. You'll then be asked to confirm that you want to connect your Tour Builder and Google Earth accounts. After that you'll get an email to notify you that your Tour Builder project is now viewable in Google Earth under "projects." 

The other option for moving your Tour Builder projects into Google Earth is to select the download option in the upper-right menu when viewing a Tour Builder project. You can then download your project as a KML file that you can then manually upload to the web version of Google Earth and or manually import into the desktop version of Google Earth. 

Both methods for moving projects from Tour Builder into both versions of Google Earth are demonstrated in this short video

Ten Google Meet Features for Teachers - Fall 2020 Update

Back in the late winter/ early spring of this year I published an overview of Google Meet features you should know how to use for teaching online classes. Since then Google has updated old features and introduced new ones. To reflect the updates made since the spring I created this new video overview of ten Google Meet features you should know how to use. 

The ten features covered in my new video are:

  • Meeting nicknames
  • Blurring and custom backgrounds
  • Disabling/ enabling student screen sharing
  • Disabling/ enabling chat for students
  • Disabling/ enabling "quick access"
  • Captioning meetings
  • Changing layout
  • Using Jamboard in meetings
  • Recording meetings

Parade 101 - Hands-on STEAM Activities for Learning About Macy's Thanksgiving Parade

Like millions of other Americans the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade will be on the television in my house on Thursday morning. In the past Macy's has published some resources for learning about the history of the parade. This year they've expanded their offerings to includes some ideas for hands-on STEAM lessons related to the parade. 

Parade 101 features four video demonstrations of hands-on activities that students can do at home with their parents or in your classroom. The four activities include inflating balloons through the use of baking soda and vinegar, designing balloons for the parade, making and using sculping dough, and building model floats. All of the videos include lists of needed supplies. 

I like all four of the activities. If I was to recommend one for Thanksgiving day it would be building model floats or designing because they can be done with cardboard, paper, glue, markers, and other common household materials that don't make a mess and don't have to be done in a kitchen. That said, I think the most fun one is the inflating balloons activity. 

In addition to the videos and STEAM projects Parade 101 offers some printable coloring sheets and puzzles. The interactive timeline of the history of the parade is still available to view as well. 

Finally, if you are looking for some history of the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade videos, take a look at the following videos that I've shared in the past. 

History of the Thanksgiving Day Parade.



The History of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade

Sunday, November 22, 2020

The Differences Between American and Canadian Thanksgiving

American Thanksgiving is later this week. My Canadian friends celebrated Thanksgiving last month. Besides the timing of the holiday, there are some other differences between American Thanksgiving and Canadian Thanksgiving. There are also some commonalities between the two holidays. The following videos provide a humorous look at the similarities and differences between American Thanksgiving and Canadian Thanksgiving.




Reminder! You should always preview videos before showing them in your classroom. I know many high school teachers who will not have a problem sharing these, but teachers of younger students may want to proceed with caution.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

The Week in Review - It's Feeling Like Winter

Good morning from Maine where it certainly felt like winter this week. We had snow flurries every morning and some afternoons this week. My bike riding has become an indoor activity. And all the leaves have fallen from the trees except for some stubborn oak leaves. 

This week my school was 100% remote, again. While I feel comfortable teaching online I know that a lot of my colleagues and readers here don't feel the same way. If you have a question for me about teaching online classes, please feel free to email me. 

As I do every week, I've compiled a list of the most popular posts of the week. Take a look and see if there's something interesting and helpful in it for you. 

These were the week's most popular posts:
Professional Development Opportunities 
Through Practical Ed Tech I'm currently offering two on-demand learning opportunities: 
Thank you for your support! 
  • More than 300 of you have participated in a Practical Ed Tech course or webinar this year. Those registrations help keep Free Technology for Teachers and Practical Ed Tech going. I couldn't do it without you!
  • Pixton EDU is a great tool for creating comics and storyboards. 
  • Wakelet is a great tool for making collections of resources, recording video, and more!
  • GAT Labs offers a great, free guide to using Google Workspaces in online classrooms.  
Other Places to Follow Me:
  • The Practical Ed Tech Newsletter comes out every Sunday evening/ Monday morning. It features my favorite tip of the week and the week's most popular posts from Free Technology for Teachers.
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  • I've been Tweeting as @rmbyrne for thirteen years. 
  • The Free Technology for Teachers Facebook page features new and old posts from this blog throughout the week. 
  • And if you're curious about my life outside of education, you can follow me on Instagram or Strava.

Friday, November 20, 2020

How to Make Digital Thanksgiving Thankfulness Turkeys

The switch to online and hybrid classes presents lots of challenges and requires changing the way that we have done some of our "old standby" activities. For example, this morning I received an email from a reader who was looking for some ideas on how do a digital version of the classic Thanksgiving Thankfulness Turkey project in which students add feathers to a drawing of turkey and each feather has something they're thankful for written on it. 

My suggestion for creating a digital version of the Thankful Turkey was to use a combination of Pixabay and Google Drawings. I made this short video to illustrate how that process would work. 

Alternatives to Google Expeditions

Last week's announcement from Google that Google Expeditions will be discontinued in 2021 was disappointing news for many of us. Since then I've answered a handful of questions from people who are looking for alternatives to using the Google Expeditions app. Here's a summary of what I've been saying and suggesting to those looking for an alternative to the Google Expeditions app. 

Don't Rush
The Expeditions app will still function until the end of June, 2021. So if you are currently using it, you don't have to replace it this school year. You have about seven months to search for and test alternatives to the Google Expeditions app. 

Google Arts & Culture
The Google Arts & Culture app includes many of the experiences that are present in Google Expeditions. The one thing that you can't do is guide students on tours. They're on their own to find and navigate through the tours that you want them to see. 

Sites in VR
Sites in VR is a free app that features immersive imagery of notable landmarks around the world. The imagery can be viewed in VR headsets or without them. Unfortunately, there is not any audio accompanying the views in Sites in VR. 

National Geographic
National Geographic's YouTube channel has more than 50 videos that are designed to be watched in virtual reality. In fact, you can find lots of YouTube videos that are intended for viewing in VR by simply refining your search to 360 or 180 VR in YouTube's search filters. See my screenshot below for more information about that. 

A 15 Second Video Contest for Students

The New York Times is hosting a video contest called the 15 Second Vocabulary Video Challenge. The contest is open to middle school and high school students. The contest asks students to produce a fifteen second video about one of the words from The New York Times Learning Network's word-of-the-day list (link opens a PDF). The video should define or teach the meaning of one of the words in fifteen seconds or less. 

Entries into the 15 Second Vocabulary Video Challenge have to be uploaded to YouTube and listed as public or unlisted videos. Teachers and or parents can upload submissions on behalf of their students. Directions for making submissions are available here. Students can work individually or in groups, but can only make one submission in total. The deadline for submissions is December 15th. Complete rules can be found here.

One of the rules of the contest is that any background music or sound effects music must be licensed for re-use and credited. Mixkit, which I reviewed earlier this year, is a good place to find music and sound effects that are labeled for re-use. More good sources of free music and sound effects are listed in the free Practical Ed Tech Handbook

Have your students take a look at the winners of last year's 15 Second Vocabulary Video Challenge to get some inspiration to participate in this year's contest. 



H/T to Larry Ferlazzo.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

How to Use and Adjust Grid View in Google Meet

In my unofficial tech support role at my school I get asked a lot of questions. Now that we're back to 100% online teaching and learning those questions are coming as emails instead of as "hey Richard" questions in the hallway. One of the questions I got this morning was about viewing all students in an online meeting. This is much easier to do in Google Meet now than it was last spring. I made this short video to show how to enable and adjust the grid view in Google Meet so that you can see all participants on one screen. 

How to Find Google Earth Files Without Endless Browsing

This morning I responded to a Tweet from someone who was looking for "plate tectonics virtual experiences for students." My mind immediately went to using Google Earth. A quick search in my archives and I found this lesson plan calling for using Google Earth to teach plate tectonics and I found this Google Map filled with pinmarks containing questions about plate tectonics. I knew that I could find more Google Earth files related to plate tectonics if I just spent a few minutes searching. 

Instead of just opening Google Earth and browsing for tours about or related to plate tectonics I went to Google and searched according to file type. The file types supported in Google Earth and KML and KMZ, but KML is more commonly used. So to conduct the search I entered plate tectonics filetype:kml You can also accomplish the same thing by opening the advanced search menu in Google and selecting KML from the filetype menu. In the video that is embedded below I demonstrate both methods of searching for Google Earth files. 


You can learn more search strategies and how to teach them in my on-demand webinar, Ten Search Strategies Students Need to Know

Map Quiz - Another Game for Geography Awareness Week

Earlier this week I shared a few games and activities for Geography Awareness Week. Here's another one that I recently discovered through Maps Mania. Map Quiz is exactly what its name implies. It's a quiz game in which you're shown a country or territory on a map and have to identify its name. 

The questions on Map Quiz are multiple choice so you have at least a 25% chance of getting it right. Whether you answer the question right or wrong you'll be shown the right answer and be given some basic information about the country or territory. 

When you're shown a question on Map Quiz the map may be oriented in way that is unusual for some people. You can spin the map by using the compass icon in the upper-right corner of the screen. Zooming in and zooming out is also possible in the game. 



Applications for Education
One of the things that I like about Map Quiz is that it does provide students with a little bit of information about about the places that appear in the game. Students not only learn where the countries and territories are, but they also see the flags of the countries and are given links to learn more about those countries and territories. 

Map Quiz is played without creating an account on the site. In fact, there isn't even an option to create an account on the site. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Stanford Offers a Free Workshop About Online Instruction

This coming weekend Stanford Continuing Studies is hosting a free workshop about online instruction. The workshop, Teaching Your Class Online, will be facilitated by three instructors from Stanford Online High School. The workshop is intended for middle school and high school teachers who would like to learn more about strategies for supporting online students, effective communication, and curriculum adaptations for online classrooms. Those are just some of the topics to be covered during the workshop. 

Teaching Your Class Online will be held on Saturday and Sunday (November 21st and 22nd) from 9am PT to 11am PT. The sessions will be held on Zoom. You can learn more and register here. Yes, it does appear that the sessions will be recorded for those who register but cannot attend. 

H/T to Open Culture

 

A New Google Meet Feature That Brings Order to Class Meetings

Does it ever feel like conducing an online class meeting is an exercise akin to herding cats? Between making sure that every kid can hear you and then making sure that they don't talk over each other or you, managing an online class meeting is challenging. Fortunately, Google has just announced a new feature that should address the problem of students talking over each other or you in Google Meet. 

The latest feature added to Google Meet is a "Raise Hand" function. This function will show students a "raise hand" icon in the bottom row menu during Google Meet events. Students can click that to signal that they have something to say. You could also just use it to have students show agreement with a statement like, "raise your hand if you've heard Mr. Byrne tell this dad joke before." As the teacher or host of a Google Meet you have control to "lower hands" after they've been raised. 

The new hand raising feature in Google Meet is available to some G Suite for Education users beginning today. Other users will see the feature appear in the next couple of weeks. This feature will be on by default for all users. You can read more about how it works right here on the Google Meet help forum.

Seven Tools for Creating Word Clouds

This morning I received an email from a reader who was looking for an alternative to ABCya's word cloud generator. ABCya's word cloud generator was a good one. Unfortunately, it is no longer available. Here are some other word cloud tools to try. 

Uses for Word Clouds:
Word cloud generators can be useful in providing students with a nice way to visualize the most frequently used words in passages of text they are reading and or writing. In the context of analyzing their own writing word clouds can help students identify words or phrases that they might be using a little too often.

I also like using word clouds to get a glimpse of the mood of my class. As I wrote about a month ago, having students reply to a poll with a word or two describing how they feel about a topic is a good way to gauge the mood in an online classroom. 

Seven Free Word Cloud Generators
MonkeyLearn is a free tool for creating word clouds from text that you supply. As you can see in my video that is embedded below, MonkeyLearn lets you customize the display of your word clouds before you download them as PNG files. MonkeyLearn does more than just make word clouds. You can use it to extract keyword from a document. You can also use it to analyze the sentiment of a document.
 

On WordClouds.com you can create word clouds in a variety of shapes and sizes with a wide array of color schemes. I've even used it to make a word cloud about cats in the shape of a cat. In my video embedded below I demonstrate the features of WordClouds.com.


Word Cloud Generator is a free Google Docs add-on for creating word clouds based on your Google Documents. In the video embedded below I demonstrate how to quickly create a word cloud in Google Documents.


WordWanderer attempts to be different from other word cloud creation tools by letting you drag and drop words to rearrange the look of your word clouds. Additionally, WordWanderer includes a search tool that you can use to find a word. The context of your chosen word is shown below the word cloud itself.

Paste your text into Analyze My Writing and it will generate a ton of information about your writing. Analyze My Writing will give you a break-down of the readability of your writing on five indices. The analysis will include listings of the most common words and most common word pairs in your writing. A listing of how frequently you use punctuation and punctuation types is included in the analysis provided by Analyze My Writing. Finally, a word cloud is included at the end of the analysis of your writing. The word cloud and the graphs can be saved as images.

Word It Out creates word clouds out of any text that you paste into the word cloud generator. Once the word cloud is created you can customize the size and color scheme of the cloud. You can also customize the font used in your word cloud. The feature of Word It Out that I like the best is that you can choose to have Word It Out ignore any word or words you choose. Ignoring words keeps them out of the word cloud.

Tagxedo makes it very easy to customize the design of your word clouds. You can select from a variety of shapes in which to display words or you can design your shape for your word cloud. You can enter text into the word cloud generator manually or simply enter a URL from which Tagxedo will generate a word cloud. As with other word cloud generators you also have options for excluding words from your word clouds.

Knowt - Quickly Turn Documents Into Practice Activities to Share With Your Students

Knowt is a free service for turning documents into flashcards, quizzes, and other review activities. I featured Knowt in a blog post last year and again earlier this year. Back then it had to be used by students on an individual basis. Since then Knowt has developed a teacher platform that you can use to develop activities to directly share with your students. 

I made a short video overview of how Knowt's teacher platform works. Here are some highlights of the Knowt platform to note before watching my video. 

  • You can create online classrooms for your students to join. It is possible to import Google Classroom rosters. 
  • Knowt will generate flashcards based on the documents that you create or import (I just copied and pasted a Google Doc into Knowt). 
  • Knowt will generate quizzes based on your documents. 
    • Quiz question formats include multiple choice, fill-in-the-blank, matching, true/false, and sequencing. 
  • Quizzes can be graded or ungraded activities. 
Here's my short video overview of Knowt's free teacher platform. 

Ask Me Anything Tomorrow - Two Ed Tech Guys Take Questions and Share Cool Stuff

Tomorrow afternoon at 4pm ET/ 1pm PT Rushton Hurley from Next Vista for Learning and I will be hosting the 27th installment of Two Ed Tech Guys Take Questions and Share Cool Stuff! We already have a nice list of questions submitted for this week, but we're always happy to have more submitted during the live broadcast. If you'd like to join us for the live broadcast, register for free right here

What kinds of questions do we answer? Almost anything! We've been asked about making videos, Google Classroom management, instructional strategies for virtual classrooms, podcasting, and even what are middle names are. Join us tomorrow and ask us anything!

Here's the recording of the last week's episode. All of the previous recordings can be found here

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Ten Ideas for Using Google Earth in Your Classroom

In this week's Practical Ed Tech Tip of the Week newsletter I mentioned that in my free handbook I have a list of ideas for using Google Earth in your classroom. If you're not subscribed to the newsletter or you are and you didn't have a chance to scroll through the handbook, here's an excerpt from the Practical Ed Tech Handbook. 

1. Take a tour of new and interesting places.
This is the most basic activity that you can do in Google Earth. The web and mobile versions of Google Earth have pre-made tours called "Voyages" that your students can view. Stops on the voyages include notes about the notable landmarks in the tour. The desktop version of Google Earth also has pre-made tours. You can also find tours made by others and use them in Google Earth.

2. Play Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?
March of 2019 Google added a version of the classic computer game, Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? to Google Earth. The game can be played in the web version of Google Earth as well as the iOS and Android versions. Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? isn’t the only game or quiz you’ll find in Google Earth. You can find them all by opening the Voyages tab in Google Earth.

3. Take and or Create Literature Tours
Google Lit Trips is dedicated to helping teachers use Google Earth tours in literature lessons. In a literature trip students explore the places that are significant in a story and or the places that are significant in an author’s life. The desktop version of Google Earth has built-in tools for creating tours of landmarks around the world. The web version of Google Earth doesn't have the same tour recording tools.

4. Global scavenger hunts.
Create a scavenger hunt for students to complete by using clues and finding the answers "hidden" throughout the globe. This can be a fun way for students to test their knowledge of physical and human geography.

5. View a Timelapse of Coastline Changes.
Thanks to historical imagery available through the Google Earth Engine you can view historical satellite imagery in Google Earth.This allows viewers to see how things like coastlines have changed over time. You can piggyback on that visual to prompt students to investigate what makes a coastline change.

6. Map and Compare Datasets.
Mapping datasets can be a good way for students to create visualizations of species diversity and distribution or to see economic data as it relates to geography. It is possible to take a dataset that is in a CSV or Google Sheet and have that data appear in Google Earth. To do this you will first make a map in Google’s My Maps tool and then export a KML from My Maps to import into Google Earth.

7. Layer Images Over Maps.
The desktop version of Google Earth lets you layer images over a view of the world. Adjust your zoom level to cover more or less of the map with your image. Adjust the image's opacity to let the map faintly show through the image. This is a great way to show students a comparison of a historical map with a contemporary map. Try using this method to show how coastlines and waterways have changed over time.

8. Measure Distances for Math Lessons.
Google Earth includes tools for measuring distances in a variety of units. Students can use the measuring tool to complete activities designed to help them understand distance, scale, and units of measurement. Tom Barrett’s Maths Maps page is a good place to find lessons that incorporate measurement.

9. Explore the Moon or Mars.
The desktop version of Google Earth includes a moon view and a Mars view. Select the moon view or the Mars view then click on some of the placemarks in the NASA layer. Your students could even create a narrated tour of the moon or Mars.

10. Use Google Earth as an Alternative to PowerPoint.
The next time you're thinking about having students give a presentation on a place that they've studied in your geography lesson, have them create a Google Earth tour instead. They can use their custom placemarks shown in full size as an alternative to using slides.

Two Games That Illustrate the Dangers of Distracted Driving

Last week someone emailed me looking for some alternatives to an old New York Times feature called Gauging Your Distraction. It was a Flash-based game that illustrated the danger of texting while driving. I didn't have any alternatives in my archives so I did a quick Google search and came up with a couple of alternatives to Gauging Your Distraction. These games are designed to help students see how easy it is to miss something important just by glancing at a phone screen for a second while driving. 

Driven to Distraction is a game in which players have to try to read and answer text messages that pop onto the screen while a view of the road scrolls along. While answering the messages players also have to look out for road signs and stop whenever a stop sign appears. The game is pretty basic, but effective. It should be noted that the game is hosted by Kwik Fit which is a UK-based tire store so the hosting of this game is probably more of an SEO play than anything else.

Cards of Distractability is a game that challenges players to respond to text messages from a friend while also taking note of the road signs while traveling down the road. At the end of the game players try to identify which signs did or didn't go past them. This game is hosted by a law firm that is probably hosting the game as an SEO tactic (it worked). 

And on a related note, here's a video about testing your ability to make observations about changes around you. 

Monday, November 16, 2020

Five Activities for Geography Awareness Week

This week is Geography Awareness Week. This week is one of the many things that I look forward to every November. (Thanksgiving, football, and the end of the first quarter are some of the other things I look forward to). Even though I now teach computer science instead of social studies, I still enjoy good geography games, videos, and lessons. Here are some of my favorite resources and activities for Geography Awareness Week

Play Games!
Quizzity is an online geography game that uses a concept found in lots of map-based games. That concept is to show you the name of a place and then have you guess its location by clicking on a map. Quizzity quizzes you on cities all over the world. To increase the accuracy of your guesses you should zoom-in on a region before clicking the map. Each round of Quizzity presents you with six city names. Points are awarded for accuracy and speed.

Seterra offers hundreds of geography games in 39 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.


Go Geocaching!
Geocaching is a great activity to get kids outside for hands-on learning experiences. Last summer I outlined a handful of ideas for using geocaching to teach lessons on geospatial awareness, Earth science, and digital citizenship. Read more about those ideas here. If you can get parents to install the Geocaching app on their phones, geocaching could make for a great "at-home" geography lesson for parents to do with their kids.

Find the Towns of the Same Name
This is a modification of an activity that I did as a sixth-grader in Mrs. Carlson's class in Manchester, Connecticut. She had us use atlases to see how many other Manchesters there are in the world and where they are. Then we had to write a short blurb about each Manchester. The modern version of this activity is to have students choose a common town name like Manchester and use Google Maps to find out how many towns in the world have that name. Then on their Google Maps or Scribble Maps students can add placemarks in which they write about interesting things about those towns. Students can add videos and images to their placemarks too.

Make a Group Map of Stories
This is an idea that I got many years ago from my friend Jim Wells. Jim had his students write short stories of happy memories and then place those stories on a printed map. Today, you can have students do this on Google Maps or Scribble Maps. This activity can help students see the significance of place in the formation of memories. You can even have your whole class contribute to one map by having them enter their stories in a Google Form then using the corresponding spreadsheet to create a Google Maps of stories. My video on how to do that is embedded below. 

Find Out What Geographers Do
There's a lot more than just "make maps" to say in response to the question, "what are you going to do with a degree in geography?" The American Association of Geographers has a nice list of career paths in geography. Here's a "day in the life of a geographer" video from that same page. 

A Couple of Lessons on the Origins of Thanksgiving Foods

A couple of weeks ago I published a blog post in which I shared an ESRI Story Map of where traditional Thanksgiving foods are grown today in the United States. That story map covers where food comes from today, but it doesn't cover this historical origins of traditional Thanksgiving foods. That's an interesting topic of its own. It's Okay to Be Smart and TED-Ed offer video lessons that address the origins of traditional Thanksgiving foods. 

Through It's Okay to Be Smart's The Surprising Origins of Thanksgiving Foods 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. 



Corn like that in the picture at the top of this blog post is often seen as a symbol of Thanksgiving. Today, corn and many products made with it are a staple of the diets of many of us. How did corn become a staple of our diets? What has enabled it to become one of the most cultivated crops in the world? And what are the consequences of cultivating so much corn? Those questions and many others are addressed in the TED-Ed lesson titled How Corn Conquered the World.

Applications for Education
In my post about ESRI's Story Map of Thanksgiving foods I shared directions for making your own story maps. Students could follow those directions to create story maps of their own about the origins of traditional Thanksgiving foods. The process of researching then compiling their story maps could address a number of topics including plant germination and genetics, westward expansion of the United States, and how traditions develop. 

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Two "Cool" Ed Tech Guys Take Questions & Share Cool Stuff - Episode 26!

Every week Rushton Hurley and I host Two Ed Tech Guys Take Questions and Share Cool Stuff. During the most recent episode someone suggested that it should be "Two Cool Ed Tech Guys." We appreciate the compliment, but we're not that cool :) 

The recording of episode 26 is now available to view here or as embedded below. The resources that we shared during the broadcast can be found here on the Next Vista for Learning webinars page. We'd love to have you join us for the next episode which is this coming Thursday at 4pm ET/ 1pm PT. Register here


One of my "cool shares" in episode 26 was this video of Tommy Shaw (lead singer for the band Styx) and the Cleveland Area Contemporary Youth Orchestra. It's an unlikely pairing, but a cool one. 

Two Quick Ways to Check if a Website is Down or If It's Just You

My sophomore students have just started learning how to use the ping command to analyze various aspects of network connectivity. Reviewing that lesson with one of my students last week gave me the idea to create a short video that demonstrates using a ping command. But then I thought that if I titled it that way no one who could learn from it would watch it because it sounds "too techy." So instead I created this video that shows two ways to check if a website is down of if it's just you. The first method uses a website called Down for Everyone or Just Me. The second method shows you how to ping a website from the command prompt in Windows 10. The ping method will make you look super techy in front of your non-techy friends.
 

Saturday, November 14, 2020

The Week in Review - Roll With the Changes

Good morning from Maine where it has been a week all about rolling with the changes (insert REO Speedwagon earworm here). On the weather front we went from unseasonably warm temperatures early in the week to cold rainy to end the week. In school we went from hybrid classes to full online classes in the span of one staff meeting (on Zoom, of course). This is the second time we've gone to 100% online classes this year. Since August we've had weeks of fully in-person classes, weeks of hybrid classes, and weeks of completely online classes. In short, this fall has been all about rolling with the changes and doing the best we can for our students. 

I'm looking forward to spending some time offline this weekend. I hope that you have a chance to do the same after you take a look at this week's most popular posts. 

These were the week's most popular posts:

Through Practical Ed Tech I'm currently offering an on-demand course called A Crash Course in Making & Teaching With Video

Thank you for your support! 
  • More than 300 of you have participated in a Practical Ed Tech course or webinar this year. Those registrations help keep Free Technology for Teachers and Practical Ed Tech going. I couldn't do it without you!
  • Pixton EDU is a great tool for creating comics and storyboards. 
  • Wakelet is a great tool for making collections of resources, recording video, and more!
  • GAT Labs offers a great, free guide to using Google Workspaces in online classrooms.  
Other Places to Follow Me:
  • The Practical Ed Tech Newsletter comes out every Sunday evening/ Monday morning. It features my favorite tip of the week and the week's most popular posts from Free Technology for Teachers.
  • My YouTube channel has more than 30,000 subscribers watching my short tutorial videos on a wide array of edtech tools. 
  • I've been Tweeting as @rmbyrne for thirteen years. 
  • The Free Technology for Teachers Facebook page features new and old posts from this blog throughout the week. 
  • And if you're curious about my life outside of education, you can follow me on Instagram or Strava.

How to Improve Audio Playback in Zoom

On Thursday morning one of my colleagues asked me how to improve the quality of the sound when he plays videos in Zoom meetings. Zoom actually has a simple way to do that built right into the screen sharing menu. 

To improve the quality of the audio when playing a video in a Zoom meeting you need to enable the option to share computer sound. By doing that you'll be broadcasting the audio as it comes out of the video instead of broadcasting the audio that is picked up by your external microphone. Making that switch can eliminate some of the echo and distortion that can occur when sharing a video in Zoom. In this short video I give a demonstration of how to change the audio setting when screen sharing in Zoom. 

Friday, November 13, 2020

An Easy Way to Have PDFs Read Aloud

Yesterday, during Two Ed Tech Guys Take Questions and Share Cool Stuff I answered a question about how to have PDFs read aloud. Specifically, the person asking the question wanted an option for having PDFs that are stored in Google Drive read aloud. Additionally, Read & Write for Chrome wasn't doing the trick. So my suggestion was to give Microsoft Edge a try. 

Microsoft Edge has built-in read-aloud function. You don't have to install any third-party extensions or software in order to have a PDF read aloud in Microsoft Edge. I made this short video to show how you can use the read-aloud function in Microsoft Edge to have PDFs read-aloud. It should be noted that while this video is specifically about PDFs, the read-aloud tool in Edge works the same way for webpages. 

Create Animated GIFs in PowerPoint

Years ago Common Craft made a fun little guide to understanding the World Cup. The guide featured a bunch of animated GIFs. It was a great example of using silent animations to explain a topic. In the years since then I've encouraged teachers to think about having students make animated GIFs to illustrate and explain concepts. For example, a few years ago I worked with a middle school science teacher who used Brush Ninja to have students make animated GIFs to explain forms of energy. 

Brush Ninja is a tool that was created specifically to make it easy for anyone to draw and create animated GIFs. There are lots of other tools that you and your students can use to create animated GIFs. One of those tools is PowerPoint. 

Mike Tholfsen recently published a new video overview of how to create animated GIFs in PowerPoint. If you're interested in learning how to do that, I encourage to watch his explanation on his YouTube channel or as embedded below. 

Thursday, November 12, 2020

A New Collection of 17,000+ Historical Maps and Images

Flickr's The Commons is a great place to find all kinds of interesting historical photographs from museums and libraries all over the world. Recently, The British Library added a new collection of maps to Flickr's The Commons. The new collection is called the King's Topographical Collection and it contains more than 17,000 historical maps and images related to maps. 

The King's Topographical Collection is comprised of maps and drawings produced between 1500 and 1824. You can browse through, view, and download all of the maps and drawings in the collection. Unfortunately, the ability to search within the collection on Flickr is limited to just using "control+F" to search for words on the displayed page. When you do find something you like, click the download button on the image to save it in resolution of your choice. 

 
Applications for Education
The lack of a good search function is a limiting factor in using this collection in a meaningful way. That said, if you have the time to browse through it there could be some good materials to overlay onto Google Earth to make comparisons of historical maps and current maps. Of course, you could also just have students browse the collection to see if there is something that sparks their curiosity and then use that to jump into a little research activity.

Here's an overview of how to overlay historical imagery onto current Google Earth imagery. 



H/T to Open Culture.

Lucidspark - A New Collaborative Online Whiteboard Option

Lucidspark is a new collaborative whiteboard tool from the makers of the popular Lucidchart service. Lucidspark has all of the features that we've come to expect in an online whiteboard tool. It contains tools for placing pre-made shapes, drawing with a pen tool, and adding text to the screen. There is a wide array of color options for all of the elements that you add to your whiteboard in Lucidspark. 

There are two elements of Lucidspark that differentiate it from some of its competitors. First, Lucidspark offers a large gallery of templates that you can apply to your whiteboard. That gallery includes templates for things like concept maps, flowcharts, empathy maps, and story maps. The sharing menu is the other area in which Lucidspark separates itself from some of its competitors. The sharing options in Lucidspark will remind many people of the options found in Google Docs. You can share your Lucidspark pages as "view only," "comment only," and "edit." You can send collaboration invitations via email or by simply posting a link in your LMS. 

Here's a video overview of Lucidspark. 



Applications for Education
Lucidspark, like many other online whiteboard tools, could be a useful tool for teachers conducting live online or hybrid classes. Much like using Jamboard instead of Zoom's whiteboard tool, using Lucidspark when you need to sketch a concept map or illustrate a point enables you to share that sketch later and use it in other places independently of Zoom (or Google Meet or Microsoft Teams).