Thursday, July 2, 2020

Easy Ways to Improve Your Videos

We're halfway through 2020. This week I'm taking some time off from the blog to work on some other projects. The rest of this week I'm going to re-run some of the most popular posts and videos of the year so far. 

Many of us are making more videos than ever before as a way to deliver instruction and or to simply keep our students updated about school. With time and practice you might become adept at using the editing functions in your favorite video software. You can also improve your videos without having to learn a bunch of editing tricks. Here are some simple things that we can do to improve our videos without having to learn a whole bunch of editing techniques.

1. Look at the camera, not the screen. 
It's natural to look at the screen on your phone or laptop while recording. When you do that, you're not looking at the camera and not making eye contact with your virtual audience. Practice looking at the camera.

2. Elevate your camera.
Put your camera at eye level or slightly higher. Doing that accomplishes a few things. First, people aren't looking up your nose. Second, it makes you look a little thinner and can improve your lighting. Third, I've found that elevating the camera makes it easier for me to remember to look at my camera instead of the screen.

3. Adjust Your Lighting
If you can, try to use relatively bright and even lighting around yourself. Doing this can eliminate shadows being cast on your face and can improve the overall visual clarity of your video. A ring light can be helpful in casting an even light but even just adjusting the position of a lamp on your desk can improve your lighting.

4. Pay attention to your background. 
Try to make your background interesting but not distracting. A large bookcase can make a nice background that is interesting but not distracting. An outdoor setting also makes a nice background, outdoor backgrounds can make lighting tricky. Try to record at a time and place that doesn't cast a lot of shadows. If you want to attempt making a green screen video, here's how you can do it with Zoom.

5. Adjust your sound. 
If possible, try to use an external microphone instead of the microphone built into your laptop or mobile phone. even a simple 3.5mm microphone can reduce background and echo sounds. Often the wired earbuds that come with some smartphones include a microphone that can be used for recording. If an external microphone isn't an option for you, just turning off audio playback (muting your speakers) while recording can improve the quality of your audio recording.

How to Create a Timed Quiz in Google Classroom

We're halfway through 2020. This week I'm taking some time off from the blog to work on some other projects. The rest of this week I'm going to re-run some of the most popular posts and videos of the year so far. 

As the spring went on and it became clear that school was going to be entirely online for an extended, indefinite period of time I started to get a lot of questions about how to deliver timed assessments online. In particular, a lot of people wanted to know if it was possible to do that through Google Classroom and Google Forms. In this video I demonstrate how to create and distribute a timed quiz in Google Classroom.




Step-by-step directions:
1. Create a new quiz assignment in Classwork in Google Classroom.
2. Create your quiz in the Google Form that was created by step 1 above.
3. Install the FormLimiter add-on for Google Forms.
4. Enable a date and time limit in the FormLimiter add-on.
5. Use the scheduling tool in Google Classroom to make your quiz live at a specific time.

5 Things You Should Never Do In Virtual Staff Meetings

We're halfway through 2020. This week I'm taking some time off from the blog to work on some other projects. The rest of this week I'm going to re-run some of the most popular posts and videos of the year so far.

This was a post that I wrote for fun and to vent a little after having my umpteenth Zoom meeting of the week. I didn't think it would be as popular as it became.

At this point we've all had our fill of virtual staff meetings. Hopefully, all of yours are going as well as possible. But even the best virtual staff meetings still have "that one person" who doesn't quite understand the norms of a virtual staff meeting. That's what inspired my list of 5 Things You Should Never Do In a Virtual Staff Meeting.

(This is meant to be fun. Please don't take it too seriously).

5 Things You Should Never Do In a Virtual Staff Meeting by richardbyrne

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

How to Turn PowerPoint and Google Slides Into Narrated Videos

We're halfway through 2020. This week I'm taking some time off from the blog to work on some other projects. The rest of this week I'm going to re-run some of the most popular posts and videos of the year so far. 

Video Puppet is a new service that launched in late March. It turns your PowerPoint slides into narrated videos. If you're a Google Slides user you can download your slides as a PowerPoint file to then use in Video Puppet.

You can use Video Puppet for free without registering on the site. The limitation on the free plan is that your slideshow can have a maximum of twenty slides. That should be more than adequate for most classroom applications. Anything longer than that and students will probably tune out anyway. You're probably better off making two videos that have ten slides than one video that has twenty slides.

In the following video I demonstrate how you can use Video Puppet to quickly create a video from your PowerPoint slides.

How to Use Zoom and Adobe Spark to Make Green Screen Videos

We're halfway through 2020. This week I'm taking some time off from the blog to work on some other projects. The rest of this week I'm going to re-run some of the most popular posts and videos of the year so far.

This year more of us used Zoom than ever before. As is the case with many tools, the more that I used Zoom and answered questions about Zoom, the more I developed new ways to use it. One of those ways was to take advantage of the custom backgrounds option to make green screen videos. In the following video I demonstrate how you can use Zoom and Adobe Spark together to create a green screen video.

Zoom's desktop client has an option to replace your background with any picture that you want to upload to your Zoom account. Host a Zoom meeting without any participants in it, replace the background, and start talking. When you end the meeting you'll have an MP4 that you can import in Adobe Spark for further editing and or combine with other video clips.

Watch my video embedded below to see how you can create a green screen video with Zoom and Adobe Spark.



The Basics of Creating a Quiz in Google Forms

We're halfway through 2020. This week I'm taking some time off from the blog to work on some other projects. The rest of this week I'm going to re-run some of the most popular posts and videos of the year so far. 

The Basics of Creating a Quiz in Google Forms has been the most watched video on my YouTube channel in 2020 so far. The video is almost two years old, but it only became popular when teachers found themselves quickly transitioning to online instruction. That said, as you plan for the fall, please remember that online instruction is about much more than just giving quizzes to see if kids have been reading or watching your assignments.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

How to Record a Screencast With Flipgrid

We're halfway through 2020. This week I'm taking some time off from the blog to work on some other projects. The rest of this week I'm going to re-run some of the most popular posts and videos of the year so far. 

Flipgrid continues to evolve with new features seemingly appearing every quarter. Screencast recording was one of the new features added to Flipgrid this spring. This feature can pair nicely with the whiteboard feature that Flipgrid added in the fall of 2019. Watch my short video below to see how you can record a screencast with Flipgrid.

10 Fun & Challenging Geography Games for Students of All Ages

We're halfway through 2020. This week I'm taking some time off from the blog to work on some other projects. The rest of this week I'm going to re-run some of the most popular posts and videos of the year so far. 

Making lists like this isn't my favorite thing to do nor is it my favorite thing to post. However, lists like this always prove to be popular so I write them. Here's a list of geography games that I published earlier this year.

Ten Fun and Challenging Geography Games
WikiWhere is a neat map-based trivia game. The goal of the game is to identify cities based on their descriptions. The descriptions come from Wikipedia entries. You can get up to three clues before you have to answer by clicking on the map to identify the city that you think is described by the excerpts. When you click on the map you'll be shown the correct answer and how far away you were from the correct answer.

The browser-based version of Google Earth has a bunch of geography games for students to play including a few versions of Where In the World is Carmen San Diego? If you go into the Voyager mode in Google Earth you will find other games and quizzes to try. The quizzes are neat because when you answer a question correctly you automatically zoom to the Street View imagery of the location. Check it out in my video below.


GameOn World is a multiplayer geography game developed by a high school teacher and his student in Portland, Maine. The game is similar in structure to that of Kahoot. In GameOn World the teacher selects a game category (cities, places, and timeline are three of the nine categories) and starts the game. The students join the game by going to GameOn.World and entering a game pin. In the location and timeline games, students answer the questions by moving a placemark on a map or selecting a date on a timeline. In some of the other games students answer by choosing a number on a sliding scale.


GeoGuessr shows you a Google Street View image and a clue to try to guess where in the world the imagery was captured. Playing GeoGuessr is a fun way to get students to look at all of the visual and text clues they have in order to form a good guess as to where in the world they think the imagery came from. This used to be completely free, but it moved to a freemium model in 2020 which limits how many games you can play for free.

Quizzity is an online geography game that uses a familiar concept. Quizzity presents you with the name of a city and you have to click on the map where you think that city is in the world. 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.


City-Guesser is a challenging map-based game. The game shows you a section of a map centered over a city. The labels are removed from the map so you have to guess the city's name based on other clues like bodies of water and orientation. City-Guesser gives you four answer choices to choose from. If you choose correctly, you move to the next level. If you choose incorrectly, the game is over and you have to start again from the beginning.

Capital Toss is a free geography game from ABCya. The game has a state capitals mode and a country capitals mode. In both modes of the game works the same way. The name of a state or country appears at the bottom of the screen and three rows of capital names scroll across the top. When the correct capital name appears players virtually toss a ball at it. After ten correct answers players can choose a new ball. Three consecutive incorrect answers ends the game.

Spacehopper is a game based on Google Maps Street View imagery. Spacehopper shows you a Street View image and you have to guess where in the world the image was captured. You can click the clue button to have the country identified before making a guess. After three incorrect guesses the correct answer will be revealed to you. You can play Spacehopper on a global level or you can specify that you only want to see images from a particular continent.

How Many European Cities Can You Name? and How Many US Cities Can You Name? are game developed by Ian Fisher who is a software engineer at Google. Both of the games are played the same way. Simply open the game map and start typing the names of cities. When you enter a city it will appear on the map. The object is to name as many cities as you can without stopping. When you're done you'll see a list of the cities that you named and the populations of the five biggest cities and the five smallest cities that you named.

Bonus: Make Your Own Game!
Mission Map Quest is a free tool for creating geography games. The concept is simple, you create a series of clues that your students need to follow to identify places around the world. You can add as few or as many clues to your Map Quest as you like. When you're ready to have students try your Quest just give them the web address of the challenge or have them scan the QR code assigned to your Quest. Watch my video below to see how to make your own Mission Map Quest game.

What Google Classroom Looks Like to Students

We're halfway through 2020. This week I'm taking some time off from the blog to work on some other projects. The rest of this week I'm going to re-run some of the most popular posts and videos of the year so far. 

Whether we're talking about technology or content area, understanding a student's perspective goes a long way toward helping us improve the student's learning experience. To that end, a lot people seemed to appreciate the video that I published in March to show teachers what a student sees when viewing assignments in Google Classroom. Here's that video again.

Monday, June 29, 2020

5 Google Classroom Features You Might Have Overlooked or Forgotten

We're halfway through 2020. This week I'm taking some time off from the blog to work on some other projects. The rest of this week I'm going to re-run some of the most popular posts and videos of the year so far. 

When my school and thousands of others closed in early March, I found myself answering more questions about Google Classroom than ever before. While I already had a bunch of tutorials on my YouTube channel, I still went ahead and made a little slideshow of handy Google Classroom features for teachers. The slideshow wasn't intended to be an all-inclusive tutorial about Google Classroom (see my YouTube channel for that) but rather a set of reminders about functions within Google Classroom.

Featured in the slideshow:
  • Posting announcements to multiple classrooms at the same time. 
  • Scheduling announcements to appear at a later date.
  • Creating topics to organize assignments.
  • Scheduling assignments.
  • Using Google Classroom to send bulk email to students and parents.

5 Helpful Google Classroom Tips for Teachers by richardbyrne

Cincinnati Zoo Offers Daily Virtual Zoo Visits

We're halfway through 2020. This week I'm taking some time off from the blog to work on some other projects. The rest of this week I'm going to re-run some of the most popular posts and videos of the year so far. 

Back in March I my sister, who lives near Cincinnati, shared a Facebook post with me about the Cincinnati Zoo's daily virtual zoo visits. I thought it was a neat thing that my kids would like too. I wrote a short blog post about it to share with those of you who have kids at home. I didn't expect it to be a popular post. It has turned out to be the single most popular post I've written all year. Here it is for those who missed it the first time around.

Yes, the zoo is still holding these virtual visits. I get Facebook notifications about them everyday. 

The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden is closed to the public right now and thousands (millions?) of kids are home from school right now too. That's why the zoo has announced that they're hosting daily "Home Safaris" beginning today at 3pm ET. These Home Safaris will be broadcast live on Facebook. Each Home Safari will feature a different animal and a related at-home activity. Be sure to follow the zoo's Facebook page to be notified when the Home Safaris begin.

How to Work With PDFs in Google Classroom

We're halfway through 2020. This week I'm taking some time off from the blog to work on some other projects. The rest of this week I'm going to re-run some of the most popular posts and videos of the year so far.

In March I fielded a ton of questions from people who suddenly found themselves using Google Classroom and all other aspects of G Suite for Education a lot more than they ever had before. One of the most common questions I received revolved around the idea of using PDFs in Google Classroom. I recorded this short video demonstration of how to use PDFs in Google Classroom and it became one of my most-watched videos of 2020 so far.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

An Easy Way to Overlay Historical Maps to Google Earth

Last fall I published a video about how to find historical maps and overlay them on Google Earth. That method works for any historical map that you have the rights to re-use whether because it's in the public domain or because of Creative Commons licensing. There is another method that you can use. That method is built into the Rumsey Historical Maps layer in Google Earth.

In Google Earth Pro (the free desktop version of Google Earth) you will find the Rumsey Historical Maps collection listed in the gallery of layers on the left hand side of your screen. When you turn on that layer you'll see map icons appear all over the map. Zoom-in and click on those icons to view the historical maps and see them layered over current Google Earth imagery. Watch my short video below to see how this process works.


Applications for Education
Layering historical maps over current imagery is one of my favorite uses of Google Earth. Doing this gives students a better view and understanding of how the geography of a city or a geographic area has changed over time.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

50 National Geographic 360 Videos

Watching 360 degree videos is probably my favorite thing to do with my Google Cardboard viewer. A lot of people don't realize that a Cardboard viewer can be used for more than just Google Expeditions. For example, National Geographic's YouTube channel contains fifty 360 videos featuring things like Mount Everest, glaciers in Iceland, elephants, sea turtles, lions, sharks, and polar expeditions.

You don't need to have a Google Cardboard viewer or any virtual reality headset. You can can just view them in your web browser then click and drag to experience the full 360 degree imagery. Of course, it's more fun to do it in a VR viewer.


YouTube's search tools include a filter to help you identify 360 degree videos. Give it a try to find other great 360 degree videos like those from National Geographic.



Applications for Education
One of the things that I appreciate about 360 videos is how they give students a bit more control over what they see and give students a better overall picture of what a place looks like. My hope is that students who view 360 videos like those from National Geographic are inspired to ask more questions and to perhaps travel to interesting places in the future.

The Week in Review - The Most Popular Posts

Good morning from Maine where the sun is shining and burning off the last of the overnight fog. It's going to be a great day for fun things like riding bikes with my kids and not-so-fun things like mowing the lawn. I hope that you also have a fun and relaxing weekend.

This week I spent quite a bit of time planning a new project and working on a series of videos that I'll be releasing later this summer. I also took some time to look at feedback from the June session of the Practical Ed Tech Virtual Summer Camp and made a couple of tweaks for the upcoming July sessions (register here). Of course, I also published some new blog posts. The most popular ones are listed below.

These the most popular posts of the week:
1. Five Overlooked Features of Google Forms Quizzes
2. Updated - How to Create Virtual Class Pictures With Pixton EDU
3. Jamboard + Screencastify = Whiteboard Video
4. NASA Selfies - Put Yourself in Space and Learn a Bit About It
5. Five Screencastify Settings You Should Know How to Use
6. Video: The Solar System to Scale
7. How to Use Pictures in Google Forms

Two PD Opportunities in July
The Practical Ed Tech Virtual Summer Camp will be held two more times this summer. Register here for the July session of your choice.

In July I'll be hosting Teaching History With Technology. This is a five part course designed to help you develop new ways to create engaging history lessons and projects. Register now and use the discount code THWT2020.

This summer I'm working with a handful of schools and organizations to develop online professional development for teachers. If you'd like to work with me, please send me a note at richardbyrne (at) freetech4teachers.com to learn more about how we can work together.

Thank You for Your Support!
Other Places to Follow My Work
Besides FreeTech4Teachers.com and the daily email digest, there are other ways to keep up with what I'm publishing. 
  • Practical Ed Tech Newsletter - This comes out once per week (Sunday night/ Monday morning) and it includes my tip of the week and a summary of the week's most popular posts from FreeTech4Teachers.com.
  • My YouTube Channel - 25,000 people subscribe to my YouTube channel for my regular series of tutorial videos including more than 350 Google tools tutorials.  
  • Facebook - The FreeTech4Teachers.com Facebook page has more than 450,000 followers. 
  • Twitter - I've been Tweeting away for the last thirteen years at twitter.com/rmbyrne
  • Instagram - this is mostly pictures of my kids, my dogs, my bikes, my skis, and fly fishing.

Friday, June 26, 2020

7 New Google Meet Features for Teachers

In a move that clearly is an attempt to match the functionality of Zoom and Microsoft Teams, Google has announced some new features that will soon be coming to Google Meet for G Suite for Education users. All of the new features that were announced address the many concerns about Google Meet that teachers have expressed in the last few months. Some of these features are available now and some will be coming over the next couple of months.

New Moderator Controls
  • Remotely mute all participants.
  • A hand-raising function will be coming soon. This lets students raise their hands in Google Meet to indicate that they want to speak in the meeting. 
  • Teachers will be able to end meetings for all and prevent students from rejoining after the meeting has been ended by the teacher. 
  • Guests can only "knock" or request to join after being ejected from meeting. 
  • The default setting for Google Meet will not allow anonymous guests.
Integrated Whiteboard!

  • This might be the most-requested feature for Google Meet. I've shared a couple of options (here and here) for a DIY whiteboard integration, but this should be a lot easier to use. 

Change Your Background

  • Much like in Zoom, you'll soon be able to use a custom background in Google Meet. 

Features for G Suite for Education Enterprise
G Suite for Education for Enterprise is the paid version of G Suite for Education. There are some new features coming to that version too. Those features include an option to record attendance and an option for break-out rooms in Google Meet. 

How to Use Loom to Make a Whiteboard Video

This week I published a couple of videos about making whiteboard-style instructional videos with Screencastify (you can see those videos on my YouTube channel). Of course, Screencastify isn't the only browser-based screencasting tool available to teachers. Loom is also an excellent and popular choice for making screencast videos right from your web browser.

In the following video I demonstrate how I paired Loom and Google's Jamboard to make a whiteboard-style instructional video. One of the tips that I shared in the video is to use the sharing option in Jamboard to give your students a copy of the drawings or sketches that you use in your instructional video.

Make a Whiteboard Video With Google Slides and Screencastify

Earlier this week I published a video demonstration of how to create a whiteboard-style instructional video with Google's Jamboard and Screencastify. At the end of that video I mentioned that you can do a similar thing with Google Slides and Screencastify. That's exactly what I demonstrate in the following new video.

One of the "tricks" that I share in the video is to enter presentation mode before you start recording your video. Doing that eliminates some of the fumbling of transitioning between editing mode and presentation mode in your video. Take a look at my demonstration video that is embedded below to see the whole process of making a whiteboard video with Google Slides and Screencastify.


Thursday, June 25, 2020

July PD Opportunities With Me

Last week I hosted the first Practical Ed Tech Virtual Summer Camp. I realize that the middle of June isn't the ideal time for everyone to join online professional development. That's why I'm offering the Practical Ed Tech Virtual Summer Camp two more times in July. The first July session runs July 6th-10th and the second session runs July 20th-24th. Only seven spots are left for the July 6th-10th session.

The Practical Ed Tech Virtual Summer Camp consists of ten live webinars spread across five days. There is a webinar at 10am ET and 1pm ET each day of the week. Recordings of the sessions will be available to those who register but cannot attend every live meeting. Topics covered in the webinars includes making virtual tours, creating instructional videos, fun formative assessment, classroom podcasting 101, and building your own apps (that one was a lot of fun last week). The complete list of topics can be seen here. FAQs are answered here.

Teaching History With Technology is the other live, online course that I'm hosting in July. This course will run July 13th-17th. Teaching History With Technology is a series of five live webinars. Each interactive webinar features practical ideas for using technology to create new, engaging lessons or to update some of your existing “go-to” history lessons. Detailed handouts are provided with every webinar. And if you miss a meeting or you just want to see something again, a recording of the webinars will be available to you too. Register here.

People sometimes ask why I advertise these courses here, the short answer is that registrations from these courses help to keep the lights on for Free Technology for Teachers. 

TechSmith Capture Replaces Jing

TechSmith's Jing was the first tool that I used to make screencast videos more than a decade ago. It was amazing to be able to quickly record a short video to explain things to colleagues and students. Since then other and better tools have come along including tools like Snagit made by TechSmith. Last spring Techsmith announced that they were winding down the Jing project because, in part, it used Flash as the file output. The end of Jing has now arrived and TechSmith is replacing it with a free product called TechSmith Capture.

You can download TechSmith Capture for free to use on Windows and Mac computers. Like its predecessor TechSmith Capture can be used to create screencast videos and capture screen images. An update over Jing is found in the fact that you can now record with your webcam while recording your screencast video. Finished videos are rendered as MP4 files that you can use in all of the typical places that you would share a video including YouTube.

I tried to install TechSmith Capture on my Windows computer this morning. Unfortunately, the installation kept timing out when I was prompted to sign into my TechSmith/ Screencast.com account. I was, however, successful in getting TechSmith Capture to run on my Mac.

Applications for Education
Like any screencast recording tool, TechSmith Capture can provide you with a convenient way to create short instructional videos for your students. Screencasting tools can also be helpful to students to explain in video format any problems they're having and need your assistance in solving.

TED-Ed Has Released Episode 9 of Think Like a Coder

Think Like a Coder is a TED-Ed series of videos that my freshmen loved this this past year. The latest installment in the series was released yesterday. Episode 9 is titled The Factory.

Episode 9 continues to follow the main characters Ethic and Hedge having to solve a puzzle using the logic that a coder would use.

It's best to watch the series in order, but you can jump into any of the videos you'll still get a little lesson out of it.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Google Adds Spanish Grammar Suggestions to Google Docs - But Not for Schools

Grammar suggestions has been one of the best improvements to Google Docs in the last year. So far those suggestions have only been available in English. Yesterday, Google announced that Spanish grammar suggestions are going to be rolling out to Google Docs users over the next couple of weeks. Unfortunately, this feature will not be available to G Suite for Education users of Google Docs.

When English grammar suggestions for Google Docs was first announced, G Suite for Education users were excluded. That changed after a few months. Hopefully, the pattern will be the same with Spanish grammar suggestions.

Tips & Tricks for Using Zoom and Google Meet - Free Webinar Tomorrow

Tomorrow at 5pm ET/ 2pm PT Rushton Hurley from Next Vista for Learning is hosting the next installment of his Activities Across Grade Levels series. Tomorrow's free webinar is all tips for improving your use of Zoom and Google Meet with students. You can register for the webinar here. Recordings of all previous installments in the series can be seen here.

You can get a sense of what the Activities Across Grade Levels webinars are like by watching last week's episode. Last week's episode was about simple video editing. The recording of that episode is embedded below.

Jamboard + Screencastify = Whiteboard Video

Yesterday morning someone on Twitter asked me for a recommendation for making a whiteboard video in a web browser without using Seesaw. (By the way, here's how to do it Seesaw). My suggestion was to try using Screencastify to record over the free drawing space provided by Google's online version of Jamboard. The online version of Jamboard is free unlike the physical product of the same name that Google sells. Here's a video of how that process works.


One of the benefits of using Jamboard for this kind of video is that when you are done you can share the Jamboard images with your students. You could even share the Jamboard via Google Classroom so that students have a copy of the process that you demonstrated while making your video.

How to Use Pictures in Google Forms

After last week's post on five overlooked features of Google Forms quizzes I received a few questions about using pictures in quizzes. Specifically, folks were having trouble with pictures not matching to questions when they enabled the shuffle question order option. The solution to that problem is to insert the image into the question itself rather than inserting the image as a stand-alone item above the question.

In the following video I demonstrate how to insert pictures into questions in Google Forms and how to insert pictures into answer choices in Google Forms.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Video: The Solar System to Scale

I guess I've been a bit of a space kick lately as over the weekend I shared an augmented reality app about spacecraft and yesterday I featured the NASA selfies app. This morning I found an interesting video about creating a true-to-scale model of the solar system. The video is titled To Scale: The Solar System.

To Scale: The Solar System begins by explaining why most pictures (like the one in the featured image in this post) and models of the solar system are not accurate. From there the video transitions into documenting how a small group of people made a scale model of the solar system in Black Rock Desert in Nevada. After building the model they then drove around the orbits of each planet with a light to show just how far apart the planets are, how big their orbits are, and how long each orbit actually is. When video gets to placing the model of Neptune you really get an appreciation for the size and scale of solar system. Once the model is built the builders offer an explanation of how they know their model is correct (click here to jump to that segment). Finally, the video concludes with some clips of astronauts talking about what Earth looks like from space.


Applications for Education
One of the YouTube comments below this video reads, "I had to watch this for school and I actually found something that my teacher told me to watch interesting." I think that statement will be true for many other students as the video is fantastic.

There's potential for using this video in mathematics classes to talk about scale and calculating the relative size of objects as well as calculating relative distance between objects.

Expedition Everest - 360 Video from National Geographic

National Geographic has one of my favorite YouTube channels. I've been fascinated with Mount Everest for as long as I can remember That's why I was excited yesterday when Nat Geo published a new 360 video about a scientific expedition to Mount Everest.

Expedition Everest: The Mission is a five minute overview and introduction to a scientific expedition to Mount Everest. The purpose of the expedition is to study the effects of climate change on glaciers on the world's tallest mountains.

When you watch Expedition Everest: The Mission in your computer's web browser, you can click and drag to move the viewing angle while listening to the narration. If you have a VR viewer, watch the video in that and you can move your head to explore the immersive imagery while listening to the narration.



National Geographic has some companion photographs of the expedition available on their website, but they're only available to paid National Geographic subscribers. If you don't have a subscription, check with your school's librarian to see if your school has a subscription for student access.

On a related note, Google Expeditions includes a terrific tour of Mount Everest base camp. If you're not familiar with how to use Google Expeditions, take a look at this video.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Updated - How to Create Virtual Class Pictures With Pixton EDU

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about using Pixton EDU to create a virtual class photograph for the end of the school year. When I originally set out to write that post, I had planned to include a video tutorial. The first video that I made wasn't great so last week I recorded a new version which you can now see right here on my YouTube channel or as embedded below.


The first half of the video above focuses on how to create a virtual class photo if you already have a Pixton EDU classroom created. The second half of the video shows you how you can create a Pixton EDU classroom and how your students can create their own avatars in your Pixton EDU classroom. For screenshots of the process, see this post from a couple of weeks ago.

Pixton EDU can be used for a lot more than just making avatars and virtual class photos. Here are five uses of Pixton EDU to consider.

Disclosure: Pixton EDU is an advertiser on this blog. 

NASA Selfies - Put Yourself in Space and Learn a Bit About It

NASA Selfies is a fun and free app for "taking a selfie in space." What it really does is just put your face into the helmet of a space suit that is floating in space. You can pick the background for your space selfie. Backgrounds are provided from NASA's huge library of images. When you pick a background, you can tap on it to learn more about what is shown in the picture. For example, I chose the background of Pinwheel Galaxy then tapped on it to read about that infrared image captured by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope.

Using NASA Selfies doesn't require you to sign-up or sign-into any kind of account. The selfies that you make with the app are saved directly on your phone or tablet's camera roll. After your image is saved you can share it however you normally share images from your phone or tablet.

Get NASA Selfies for iOS here and get the Android version here

Applications for Education
NASA Selfies could be a fun app to let students use to inspire a little curiosity about space. It could also be good for capturing some fun pictures to use in a presentation of simple video like those created with Adobe Spark video.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Story Spheres - Create Audio Tours of Immersive Imagery

Story Spheres is a free tool for adding audio to 360 degree images that you own or have the rights to re-use (Creative Commons licensed or public domain). With Story Spheres you can add audio narration and ambient audio to your 360 images. Once you have a 360 image that you want to use, using Story Spheres is fairly easy to use. Before you try to make your own, take a look at this one about Uluru to get a better sense of what's possible with it.

To create a Story Sphere you will need to create an account on the site. Once you've created an account you can upload any 360 image that you own. After uploading your image you can then upload audio files to use in your Story Sphere. (Audio must be recorded outside of Story Spheres, a tool like Online Voice Recorder would work well for this activity). When your audio is uploaded you then position the audio play button in your 360 image. You can choose to have the audio automatically play or play only when clicked by the viewer of your Story Sphere.

Completed Story Spheres can be shared in all of the usual manners that you might expect including a direct link and embed codes. My Story Sphere about a historic home in my neighborhood is embedded below.


Applications for Education
One of my favorite uses of Story Spheres is creating short local history projects. Students can explore their communities and capture imagery that they then narrate to tell the story behind what they have photographed.

I used the Google Street View app to capture the 360 imagery for my Story Sphere, but there are many other free apps that will let you capture 360 imagery without needing to purchase a 360 camera.

Spacecraft AR - Explore NASA Spacecraft With Augmented Reality

Spacecraft AR is a free iPad and Android app offered by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The app enables students to learn about various NASA spacecraft including the Curiosity rover, Voyager, Mars Exploration Rover, and a handful of other spacecraft. Spacecraft AR includes information about each spacecraft's development and use.

With Spacecraft AR installed and open on their iPads or phones, students can select a spacecraft or mission then point their iPads or phones at a flat floor or wall see the spacecraft appear. Once the spacecraft appears on screen students can move to see other angles of the spacecraft and move the spacecraft. Students can also pinch and zoom to change the size of spacecraft they're looking at.

Spacecraft AR reminds me of NASA's previous AR app, Spacecraft 3D. The key difference between the two is that Spacecraft 3D required students to scan a printed target in order to make spacecraft appear on screen. Spacecraft AR does not have that requirement, but it does require that you have a fairly recent iPad or Android device that has either Apple's ARKit or Google Play Services for AR (formerly known as ARCore).

Get the iPad app here and the Android version here.

Applications for Education
Spacecraft AR and Spacecraft 3D are fun apps for students to use to learn about the robotic spacecraft that NASA uses or has used to explore our solar system. I think that the app could be used by students of any age, but it probably best for kids of upper elementary school and middle school age.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Five Overlooked Features of Google Forms Quizzes

Google Forms has been my go-to tool for making quizzes and surveys for at least a decade. Over the years Google has added lots of handy little features that have made my job easier when it's time to make a quiz. Unfortunately, not all of those features are obvious when you start using Google Forms. Here are five little features of Google Forms that are often overlooked.



1. Changing default point values.
2. Using the confirmation message as a prompt for students.
3. Automatic shuffling of question order.
4. Automatic shuffling of answer choices.
5. Enforcing a minimum response length on short answer questions.

The Week in Review - The Most Popular Posts

Good morning from Maine where it is already hot and the sun has only been up for an hour. My daughters have been enjoying their water table and wading pool all week. I see a lot more of that happening today. I hope that you also get outside for some fun this weekend.

This week I hosted the first session of the Practical Ed Tech Virtual Summer Camp. A huge thank you to all of the great teachers who joined me for five days of online learning. Many great questions were asked and ideas were shared. I'll be hosting the same event again in July. You can register for the July sessions here.

These were the most popular posts of the week:
1. How to Convert a PDF Into a Google Document
2. Five Screencastify Settings You Should Know How to Use
3. Webinar Recording & Slides - A Framework for Using Educational Technology
4. How to Create Your First Google Sites & 5 Ways to Customize It
5. Seven Ideas for Flipgrid Activities
6. A Great Set of Microsoft Teams Tutorials
7. How to Create Complete Sentence Requirements in Google Forms

Online Summer PD Opportunities
The Practical Ed Tech Virtual Summer Camp will be held two more times this summer. Register here for the July session of your choice.

In July I'll be hosting Teaching History With Technology. This is a five part course designed to help you develop new ways to create engaging history lessons and projects. Register now and use the discount code THWT2020.

This summer I'm working with a handful of schools and organizations to develop online professional development for teachers. If you'd like to work with me, please send me a note at richardbyrne (at) freetech4teachers.com to learn more about how we can work together.

Thank You for Your Support!
Other Places to Follow My Work
Besides FreeTech4Teachers.com and the daily email digest, there are other ways to keep up with what I'm publishing. 
  • Practical Ed Tech Newsletter - This comes out once per week (Sunday night/ Monday morning) and it includes my tip of the week and a summary of the week's most popular posts from FreeTech4Teachers.com.
  • My YouTube Channel - 25,000 people subscribe to my YouTube channel for my regular series of tutorial videos including more than 350 Google tools tutorials.  
  • Facebook - The FreeTech4Teachers.com Facebook page has more than 450,000 followers. 
  • Twitter - I've been Tweeting away for the last thirteen years at twitter.com/rmbyrne
  • Instagram - this is mostly pictures of my kids, my dogs, my bikes, my skis, and fly fishing.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Explore the Royal Academy of Arts in Google's Arts & Culture Apps

Google's Arts & Culture site and corresponding apps make it possible for students of all ages to virtually explore thousands of fascinating landmarks and works of art. This morning Google announced a new collection with the Arts & Culture site. That collection features the Royal Academy of Arts.

The highlight of the Royal Academy of Arts collection within Google Arts & Culture is a collection of 31 online exhibits. The exhibits tell the stories of the artists and art showcased in the Royal Academy of Arts collections. You can also take a virtual tour through the Academy and some of the galleries. Visitors can navigate through the tour much like navigating in Google Street View imagery.


Applications for Education
Google Arts & Culture is, obviously, a great resource for art teachers who want to give their students opportunities to explore great works of art from around the world. It's also a good resource for social studies teachers who are looking to have their students make connections between events they learn about in their classes and how those events have been depicted through various forms of art over the years.

Short Lessons About the Longest Day of the Year

It is going to be over 90F here in Maine today. That temperature will make it feel like summer a few days before the summer solstice. Many refer to the summer solstice as the "longest day of the year" when they really mean "longest period of daylight in a day." But that's beside the point of this post which is to share a few resources that can help kids understand what the summer solstice is.

SciShow Kids offers a nice video that can help K-3 students understand why the length of daylight changes throughout the year.


Reasons for the Seasons is a TED-Ed lesson appropriate for upper elementary and middle school students. The lesson explains the relationship between the shape of the Earth's orbit around the Sun, the Earth's tilt on its axis, and how those affect the amount of sunlight on different areas of the Earth.


And for a little perspective on winter vs. summer solstice here's a great side-by-side time-lapse of the winter and summer solstices in Manchester, England.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

A Great Set of Microsoft Teams Tutorials

I published a bunch of videos about using Google Meet and Zoom this spring. That's because those are the tools that I use the most and I was asked about the most. This afternoon I answered an email from a reader who was looking for help with Microsoft Teams. My recommendation was to check out the videos on Mike Tholfsen's YouTube channel.

Mike is a product manager at Microsoft EDU so he probably knows the products better than just about anyone else who is producing tutorials about Microsoft EDU products including Teams, OneNote, and Immersive Reader.

Here's Mike's tutorial on using Kahoot in Microsoft Teams.



Here's his tutorial on keyboard shortcuts in Microsoft Teams.

5 Things Students Can Do in Google Earth Without Google Accounts

Google Earth has many handy little features that your students can use even if they don't have Google accounts. Without a Google account your students can customize the appearance of Google Earth, measure distances and areas, change the units of measurement, and share locations and Street Views with you. Of course, they can also use the more obvious features of Voyager and "I'm feeling lucky" in the web version of Google Earth without having Google accounts.

In the following video I demonstrate five features of Google Earth that your students can use even if they don't have Google accounts.

1. Navigate in Street View
2. Share locations and views.
3. Measure distance and area.
4. Change units of measurement.
5. Change/ customize base map.




Learn more about using Google Earth in this Practical Ed Tech on-demand webinar or in the July session of Teaching History With Technology

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

ICYMI - Two Ed Tech Guys Take Questions & Share Cool Stuff

Every Friday this spring I joined Rushton Hurley for a series of webinars simply titled Two Ed Tech Guys Take Questions and Share Cool Stuff. That series is going on hiatus until August, but you can watch all of the recordings from this spring right here on Next Vista for Learning.


The series that I did with Rushton is going on hiatus until August, but Rushton will be continuing his series of Activities Across Grade Levels with Susan Stewart. Their next free webinar is this Thursday at 5pm ET/ 2pm PT. The webinar will be about simple video editing tools. You can register here. All of the previous installments in the series can be watched here.

Sodaphonic - A Quick and Easy Way to Create MP3s

Sodaphonic is a free online audio recording and editing tool. It's easy to use and can be used without creating an account on the site.

To create a recording on Sodaphonic simply head to the site and click on "start new project." As soon as you do that you'll be in the Sodaphonic audio editor where you can click the record button to start recording yourself talking, singing, or banging a drum. When you're done recording you can then use the editing tools to cut and trim sections of your recording. The editing tools also include a couple of effects for fading and otherwise adjusting the volume of your audio track.

Completed Sodaphonic recordings can be saved directly on your computer as MP3 files or saved to a Dropbox account.

Applications for Education
Sodaphonic is a tool that I'll add to my list of registration-free audio recording tools. Students and teachers could use Sodaphonic to create short recordings to include in slideshows or to publish as short podcasts.

Monday, June 15, 2020

From the Archive - A Webinar on Copyright for Teachers


Twice today I hosted webinars in which the topic of copyright in the classroom came up. Since the webinars weren't specifically about copyright, I referred people to the recording of a webinar that Dr. Beth Holland and I hosted a couple of years ago in which we addressed a whole bunch of nuanced questions pertaining to copyright in the classroom. While the webinar is now a few years old, everything that we talked about is still relevant today.

The recording of Copyright for Teachers - A Webinar With Beth Holland and Richard Byrne can be watched here or as embedded below.


The slides used in the webinar can be seen here or as embedded below.

Five Tools for Creating Storyboards to Plan Videos and Presentations

Creating a storyboard is an excellent way to outline and plan videos, presentations, and written stories. In the old days this was done with paper and pencil. Today, storyboards can be created with a variety of digital tools. Here are five ways to create storyboards with digital tools.

Canva, which recently launched a new desktop app, offers a lot of templates for creating storyboards. Students can use Canva's library of clip art and pictures to illustrate the main points of their stories in the storyboard templates. Completed storyboards can be downloaded as PDFs and as image files.

Milanote is a tool that I described a couple of weeks ago as being part bookmarking tool and part storyboarding tool offers easy-to-use templates for making multimedia storyboards. Here's a short video of how it works.



One of the many "hidden" features of Google Slides is the option to change the layout of your slide print pages. You can use that option to create a simple, printable storyboard. Watch the video below to see how to do that.



Just like Google Slides, PowerPoint has lots of hidden features that people often overlook including the ability to design a simple printable storyboard. Watch the following video to see how to do that.


Pixton EDU can be used for a lot of purposes in your classroom. One of those is creating storyboards. Pixton EDU offers lots of pre-made templates and art work that you can use as-is or customize to create your storyboard. I like the idea of using Pixton EDU to design a storyboard to pitch a product or make a proposal.

Disclosure: Pixton EDU is an advertiser on this blog.