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Friday, April 30, 2021

Three Simple Ways to Publish Online Writing Without Creating a Blog

On a fairly regular basis I get asked for recommendations for starting blogs. My advice is that using a self-hosted WordPress blog is the way to go if your goal is to create a robust platform to showcase your professional work. But creating a blog like that could be overkill for those who just want to find a quick and easy to way to publish their thoughts online. The following three platforms reside somewhere between Creed Thoughts and full-fledged blogging platforms.

Telegra.ph gives you a simple place to publish your writing and pictures without the need to create an account on the site. To publish you simply go to telegra.ph and start writing. You can include pictures in your writing, but you cannot include videos. Your writing will be given its own URL that you can share with those you want to read your work. The whole process of publishing on Telegraph is quick and easy. Here's how it works.



Draft is a free, collaborative writing platform that provides a distraction-free environment. When you write in Draft you won't see anything but the text in front of you. Draft is stripped of options for messing about with font colors or inserting pictures. Anyone who has an email address can participate in editing a document in Draft. Draft is a nice option for people who don't have access to Google Docs and or those who just want to focus on the text and not worry about playing around with font styling.

Page O Rama is a free service for quickly creating stand alone webpages. Creating a webpage with Page O Rama is very simple. Just visit the Page O Rama homepage, select a web address, title your page, and start typing. Page O Rama offers a good selection of text editing tools including page breaks. If you want to, you can add images to your Page O Rama pages too. If you think your page is something that you're going to want to edit and update occasionally, you can enter your email address to create an administrative log-in.

Geese, Comments, and Games - The Month in Review

Good morning from Maine where the sun is trying to rise through the rain on the last day of April. This month was a busy month at school and on my websites, Free Technology for Teachers and Practical Ed Tech. This month I hosted a couple of webinars, hosted Teaching History With Technology, and announced the 2021 Practical Ed Tech Virtual Summer Camp

As I do at the end of every month, I've compiled a list of the most popular posts of the last thirty days. Take a look and see if there's something interesting that you missed earlier in the month. 

These were the month's most popular posts:
1. How to Create Your Own Online Board Game
2. Alternatives to Google Expeditions & Tour Creator
3. A Fun and Educational Use of Cardboard Boxes
4. View What’s Behind Shortened URLs Without Clicking On Them
5. e-Comments Makes It Easy to Add Canned Comments to Documents and Learning Management Systems
6. Three Areas That Can Help Teachers Improve Hybrid Learning for All Students
7. TeacherMade Adds More Features to Make Your Online Lessons Better
8. Two New Google Workspace Features for Students - Including Saving Google Forms in Progress!
9. 19 Canva Tutorials for Teachers and Students - Certificates, Comics, and More!
10. Tools to Help Students Analyze Their Own Writing

On-demand Professional Development
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 35,000 subscribers watching my short tutorial videos on a wide array of educational technology tools. 
  • I've been Tweeting as @rmbyrne for fourteen 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.
This post originally appeared on FreeTech4Teachers.com. If you see it elsewhere, it has been used without permission. Sites that steal my (Richard Byrne's) work include CloudComputin, TodayHeadline, and 711Web. Feature image captured by Richard Byrne. 

Thursday, April 29, 2021

What is Hotlinking? - Why You Should Avoid It

This morning I had a chat with a colleague who was having a little issue with his website not displaying the images that he was inserting into blog posts. The problem was that he was trying to insert images via URL instead of uploading images to host on his blog. In short, he was hotlinking images. Explaining that process to him reminded me of the following information that I wrote for a course about blogging that I used to teach.  

What is hotlinking?

Why you and your students should avoid hotlinking.
Hotlinking itself isn't bad if you're only linking to images that you own and control online. For example, let's say that you have a Flickr account to which you upload dozens of pictures that you took. You could use the embed code or the link that Flickr provides to post your images in your blog post.

When hotlinking causes trouble is when you link to another person's image hosted in their account or on their servers. Even if the image is in the public domain you probably don't want to hotlink to it. In fact some services will block attempts at hotlinking. They block hotlinking because when you hotlink you're using more of their bandwidth than if you simply downloaded the image to your computer then uploaded it to your blog.

The biggest concern about hotlinking is not knowing exactly who or what you're linking to. It is possible that the image you linked to and the image displayed could be changed without warning. It's also possible that the link a student inserts to hotlink links back to site or host laden with malware that could then rain down havoc on your blog.
Click image for full size.

Best practices for using images in blog posts.
  1. Always try to use images that you own and upload to your blog. 
  2. If you don't own a suitable image then look for images in the public domain. Pixabay and Unsplash are good places to look for images that are either in the public domain. Download the image and upload to your blog. 
  3. If you cannot find a suitable image in the public domain then look for images that have Creative Commons licenses attached to them. The Creative Commons Chrome extension makes that fairly easy to do (here's my video about how it works). Download the image, upload it to your blog, give proper attribution to the owner of the image. 
  4. If items 1, 2, and 3 above didn't provide you with a suitable image then you can attempt to use an image under Fair Use guidelines. Fair Use is a murky water so Fair Use should be your last resort. If 1, 2, and 3 failed to produce a suitable image, repeat steps 1, 2, and 3 until you find a suitable image.




This post originally appeared on FreeTech4Teachers.com. If you see it elsewhere, it has been used without permission. Sites that steal my (Richard Byrne's) work include CloudComputin, TodayHeadline, and 711Web. Annotated screenshots created by Richard Byrne.

Practical Ed Tech Virtual Summer Camp FAQs

Last week I announced the dates for the Practical Ed Tech Virtual Summer Camp. A bunch of people have already registered. Many more people have sent me questions about registration and about the format of this virtual professional development event. In no particular order, here are the answers to the FAQs.

Is there a group discount?
Yes, there is a group discount available. You can save $50/person if you have five or more people registering from your school district. Email me for a discount code to apply to online group registrations or to initiate a PO registration.

Can I register with a purchase order or check?
Yes, you can certainly register with a purchase order. Send me an email or have your business office send me an email to initiate that process. Because of the additional paperwork and delay in receiving funds, the early registration discount doesn't apply to purchase order registrations.

Can I get CEUs/ contact hours?
You will receive a certificate from me indicating that you participated in ten hours of professional development time. Whether or not your school, state, or province will accept it for license/ certificate renewal is a determination that you will have to make. The rules about CEUs vary widely from state-to-state and I can't possibly keep track of them all.

What platform are you using for the webinars?
All of the webinars will be conducted through the GoToWebinar platform. I've tried many other webinar services, but I keep coming back to GoToWebinar because of it's reliability. I've used it for almost a decade for hundreds of webinars. You can access GoToWebinar on any computer or tablet.

Will the sessions be recorded?
Yes, all of the live webinars will be recorded. If you have to miss a session, you'll be able to watch the recording. That said, I find that people get the most out of webinars when they can attend live broadcasts and ask questions in real-time. Therefore, I encourage you to pick the Practical Ed Tech Virtual Summer Camp session that works best with your schedule.

7 Interesting Features You Can Add to Google Sites

Last week Google sent out a notice reminding domain administrators that the end of the classic version of Google Sites is near. That prompted me to publish directions for transition from the classic version of Google Sites to the current version. I also shared a set of tutorials for building your first website with the current version of Google Sites. 

Once you've made the switch to the current version of Google Sites, you might want to go beyond the basics to add some interesting features to your site to make it a one-stop shop for all of your students' and parents' needs. Here are some things you can do to enhance your Google Site with additional features. 

Embed Posters Into Google Sites

Canva is my favorite tool for making all kinds of graphics including infographics and interactive posters. In the video below I demonstrate how to embed Canva posters into the pages of your Google Sites.



Add a News Section to Google Sites
If you want to make sure that visitors to your site see the latest updates and news first, use the method demonstrated in this video to include a "latest news" section in your website. 



Add Physics, Chemistry, and Math Simulations to Google Sites
PhET offers fantastic simulations for teaching math and science concepts. Those simulations can be embedded into your Google Site as is demonstrated in the following video. 



Add Padlet Walls to Google Sites
Padlet is one of the most versatile ed tech tools that I use. You can use Padlet to create backchannels, collaborative KWL charts, video and image galleries, and even create interactive maps. All Padlet walls can be embedded into Google Sites pages. 



Add an Art Gallery to Google Sites
Wakelet, like Padlet, is a versatile tool for making collections of links, images, videos, and more. You can use Wakelet in conjunction with Google Sites to create an online art gallery. 



Add an Image Carousel to Google Sites
Do you have a bunch of pictures from a school event that you'd like to share with people visiting your website made with Google Sites? If so, adding an image carousel to your Google Site is a simple and good-looking way to do that. 



Add Flipgrid Topics Into Google Sites
If you have a Flipgrid that you want to share with a wider audience without having to send out individual invitations, embedding that Flipgrid into your Google Site is a solution. In the video below I demonstrate how you can include Flipgrid topics in the pages of your Google Sites website. 



This post originally appeared on FreeTech4Teachers.com. If you see it elsewhere, it has been used without permission. Sites that steal my (Richard Byrne's) work include CloudComputin, TodayHeadline, and 711Web. Featured graphic created by Richard Byrne.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

New Map-based History Lessons from DocsTeach

DocsTeach is one of my go-to resources for history teachers. I like it so much that I feature it in my Teaching History With Technology course. DocsTeach provides thousands of primary sources that teachers can use to build online and in-person history lessons for middle school and high school students. Additionally, DocsTeach hosts hundreds of pre-made activities based on primary sources. This week DocsTeach added more activities that you can use and re-use. 

The latest activities added to DocsTeach are based on maps. I've always been intrigued by historical maps so I was quickly drawn into lookin at these new DocsTeach lessons. The new map-based lessons are:

There are also new maps in the DocsTeach collection that have not yet had lessons built around them. You can view and download those maps to create your own activities. The new maps are CIA maps of the world and the 2010 U.S. Census maps. 



This post originally appeared on FreeTech4Teachers.com. If you see it elsewhere, it has been used without permission. Sites that steal my (Richard Byrne's) work include CloudComputin, TodayHeadline, and 711Web.

Sherlock Bones - A Virtual Owl Pellet Dissection Activity

One of the great things about living where I do is that a walk in the woods is always just a few steps away. One of my favorite things about walking in the woods is finding all kinds of neat, natural things including dropped moose and deer antlers. While those are rare finds, I do regularly come across owl pellets on my walks. 

An old SciShow Kids video (embedded below) explains what an owl pellet is and what can be learned by dissecting an owl pellet.



Unfortunately, most students don't get the experience of walking in the woods and finding owl pellets. You can order owl pellets from a science lab supply company or you could have your students virtually dissect an owl pellet. Kid Wings is a website all about birds. The site includes a virtual owl pellet dissection activity called Sherlock Bones. In the virtual owl pellet dissection students pick apart an owl pellet, examine the bones inside it, then match those bones to the skeleton outline they've been provided. 


This post originally appeared on FreeTech4Teachers.com. If you see it elsewhere, it has been used without permission. Sites that steal my (Richard Byrne's) work include CloudComputin, TodayHeadline, and 711Web.

Three Tips to Get More Out of Webinars

Back in 2007 or 2008 I watched a professional development webinar for the first time. I can't remember exactly what the webinar was about (it was something about Second Life), but I do remember thinking that I didn't get "it." After that I watched bunch of free webinars about all kinds of things because that's what I thought I should do to be a modern teacher staying current in his practice. Finally, in late 2011 I paid to join a webinar and something weird happened, I got a lot more out of the experience. Since then almost every webinar I've attended, both free and paid, has been a good learning experience. Here's what I figured out about learning from webinars.

1. Participate in live webinars, don't just watch them.
Every webinar platform has some kind of chat or Q&A feature. Use it! Use it to ask the presenter questions. An experienced webinar presenter will be able to handle questions in real-time. Don't be afraid to ask clarifying questions. Even when I'm attending webinars about things with which I'm already familiar, I make an effort to think of questions to ask. This forces me to tune-in and listen with more focus than if I was just listening in the hopes that something said by the presenter will jump out at me.

2. Close Facebook and take notes.
If I cannot attend the live version of a webinar, I still find great value in recorded webinars. When I watch recorded webinar I focus on it the same way I would during a live session. That means closing Facebook and taking notes in my notebook. In that notebook I write the questions that I want to send to the presenter via email.

3. Act on webinar ideas quickly.
When I participate in a webinar my participation isn’t over until I actually act on what I was just taught. Just like in a traditional classroom setting, it’s important to try for yourself what was just demonstrated for you. Do this as quickly as you can.

If you're ready to try these tips, register for a session of the Practical Ed Tech Virtual Summer Camp

How to See What's Hidden Behind a TinyURL

Last week I wrote a blog post about how to see what's hidden behind a Bitly shortened URL without actually clicking on the link. The trick is to add "+" to the end of the Bitly URL to see what's behind it without clicking on it. A few people emailed me to ask if the that worked with other URL shortening services. The answer is it works with TinyURLs

I've tried the "+" trick with a bunch of other URL shortening tools and TinyURL is the only one besides Bitly that I've found it to work with. 

What's the trick?
The trick is to add a "+" to the end of any TinyURL address in order to land on a safe TinyURL page that reveals what the original link was that got shortened. You can then decide if you want to click through to the destination or not.

If you want to try this with a TinyURL, tinyurl.com/emkns9a8 will lead you to the page for the Practical Ed Tech Virtual Summer Camp, but adding a “+” at the end of that TinyURL will take you to the page where you can see the original link without clicking on it.

Here's a video overview of how to see what's behind a TinyURL without actually clicking on the link.


Applications for Education
As I wrote last week, building good digital citizenship and cyber safety skills is something that all of us should be helping our students do. Showing them little tips like this one to avoid clicking on suspicious links is one of the ways that we can help our students build their digital citizenship and cyber safety skills.


This post originally appeared on FreeTech4Teachers.com. If you see it elsewhere, it has been used without permission. Sites that regularly steal my (Richard Byrne's) work include CloudComputin, TodayHeadline, and 711Web.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Zoom Now Offers a Cool Immersive View

Are you tired of looking at the same old view in your Zoom meetings? You're not alone! It appears that even the people who work at Zoom are tired of the same old views. To remedy that problem, on Monday Zoom introduced a new immersive view option for Mac and Windows users

Zoom's immersive view will show your meeting participants on same screen in background of your choosing. Zoom has a bunch of pre-made immersive view backgrounds that you can pick from including an art gallery view, a fireside chat view, board rooms, and even an outdoor setting. You can also upload your own image to use as part of an immersive view. 

When you enable immersive view for a Zoom meeting all participants will be placed into position in the immersive view scene. The default setting is for Zoom to automatically place participants in the scene, but you can choose to manually place people in the scene. 

Three Steps to Enable Zoom's Immersive View

First, you need to be aware that immersive view is available by default to those who are using personal or pro (single license) accounts and have updated to the latest version of Zoom for Windows or Mac. If you are using a school license or other group license for Zoom, your account administrator (usually your IT department) will need to enable immersive view for your account. 

Second, make sure you are using the latest version of Zoom for Mac or Windows. You can do this by launching Zoom on your desktop, signing into your account, then selecting "check for updates" in the drop-down menu under your account profile picture. 

Third, launch a Zoom meeting. With the meeting running click on the "view" button in the upper-right corner of your Zoom window. The view button should now have three options. Those options are "speaker," "gallery," and "immersive" view. Click on the immersive view option and you'll be asked to pick a background for your immersive view. 

Three Common Questions

Zoom has an extensive set of immersive view directions and FAQs on their website. The ones that I think teachers and students will ask about are whether or not immersive view works on Chromebooks, if virtual backgrounds are required, and how many people can be in an immersive view. 

1. It doesn't work on a Chromebook or iPad. 

2. If your computer doesn't currently support virtual backgrounds/ green screen in Zoom, the immersive view option won't work for you either. 

3. You can have up to 25 people in an immersive view. 

Applications for Education
Using immersive view in Zoom meetings probably isn't going to make a significant change to the way that you teach in Zoom. That said, at this point in the school year, I think we could all emotionally benefit from adding a little fun and novelty into our next Zoom meetings.

On the topic of virtual meetings, this summer I'm hosting the Practical Ed Tech Virtual Summer Camp. It will be conducted via GoToWebinar instead in Zoom.

This post originally appeared on FreeTech4Teachers.com. If you see it elsewhere, it has been used without permission. Sites that steal my (Richard Byrne's) work include CloudComputin, TodayHeadline, and 711Web.

Birdcams for Spring Observations

We have robins and finches nesting in the hanging plants on our porch and in the eave of our garage. This morning when I let our dogs out at 4:45 all of the birds were still in their nests with their little heads poking up to see what all of the commotion was about. Yes, the birds make a mess by the time summer arrives but we enjoy seeing the birds rear their young. 

If you'd like to observe nesting birds and or have your students do the same, you can do so through the webcam streams hosted on Explore.org. At this time of the year you'll find livestreams of ospreys, eagles, owls, and more hosted on Explore.org and its corresponding YouTube channel



Applications for Education
Birds aren't the only animals featured in the Explore webcams, they just stand out right now because the rest of the year the nests will be empty. Your students can certainly explore all of the other webcams on Explore that feature polar bears, tigers, goats, and many other mammals. All of the webcam feeds have a little pop-up menus that contain more information about the animals featured in the feeds. All videos can be streamed via YouTube or the Explore website. I kind of like just having the owl webcam on as soothing background noise, students might like that too.

This post originally appeared on FreeTech4Teachers.com. If you see it elsewhere, it has been used without permission. Sites that steal my (Richard Byrne's) work include CloudComputin, TodayHeadline, and 711Web. Featured image captured by Richard Byrne.

How to Add Voice Recordings to Google Forms

Earlier this year I shared a series of videos about how to add voice comments to Google Documents, Google Slides, and Google Classroom. All of those videos featured the use of a free Chrome extension called Mote. Over the weekend Mote added support for use in Google Forms. 

With the Mote Chrome extension installed you can now record voice notes directly in Google Forms. Those notes can be played back in Google Forms even if students don't have the Mote extension installed. Of course, if they do have the extension installed students can record audio responses to questions in Google Forms. 

In this new video I demonstrate how to add voice recordings to Google Forms. The video shows teacher and student perspectives of using Mote to add voice recordings to Google Forms. 



Applications for Education
My first thought when I saw that Mote would work with Google Forms was to use it in world languages courses. Teachers can now record prompts for students to listen to and speak replies to directly in Google Forms.

As I demonstrated in the video above, adding voice notes to Google Forms could be a good way to provide audio support for students who need it when taking an assessment in Google Forms.


This post originally appeared on FreeTech4Teachers.com. If you see it elsewhere, it has been used without permission. Sites that steal my (Richard Byrne's) work include CloudComputin, TodayHeadline, and 711Web.

Monday, April 26, 2021

Spaces Digital Portfolios Emphasize Feedback and Growth

Disclosure: Spaces is an advertiser on this blog. 

A couple of months ago I published a detailed overview of a digital portfolio platform called Spaces. In that blog post I emphasized the capability of Spaces to be used for Asynchronous breakout sessions. Those asynchronous breakout sessions are great for students to give each other feedback. Today, I’d like to highlight another aspect of Spaces. That is the ability for teachers to give individualized constructive feedback to their students through Spaces.

Purposes for Portfolios
From documents to presentations to videos, you can have your students add just about anything to their digital portfolios made in Spaces. I’ve even had students add samples of code they’ve written into their digital portfolios. The type of material or artifact that students add to their portfolios isn’t nearly as important as the process of building their portfolios. Though it used a relatively small sample size, this study by Clare Kilbane and Natalie Milman found that using digital portfolios had a positive impact on students and teachers. In particular, it had an impact on relationships and how students learned academic content.

Over the years I’ve had students create digital portfolios that contained artifacts from just a few weeks of the school year. I’ve also had students build portfolios that covered a semester and some that spanned the whole year. In all cases, the point of the portfolio was to have students create something that they could look back on to see growth. Likewise, their parents could see growth.

It should be noted that there are some other purposes for digital portfolios. Those include showcasing examples of work for potential employers or to represent mastery of specific skills. While those are great uses of portfolios, this article is focused on using portfolios for documenting reflection and growth.

Implementation of Individual Digital Portfolios
Spaces provides a safe, private space for your students to create their own digital portfolios. Within their private portfolios students can upload documents, write text notes, upload videos, upload audio recordings, upload presentations, and share links to just about anything that they have created online.

Students should be given some direction as to what they should add to their portfolios and when. For example, the students in my Intro to Programming class need to add snippets of their code at the end of every week. In other classes, I’ve been a little less specific in giving directions. For example, when I taught U.S. History I simply told my students that they needed to add an artifact (other than quiz/ scores) every two weeks that they thought demonstrated their understanding of key concepts and or events.

Probably the most important part of implementing the use of digital portfolios is providing students with feedback on the items they add into their portfolios. Spaces provides teachers with three ways to deliver feedback to their students. Feedback can be provided via video comments, audio comments, and written comments.

Offering feedback to students through video, audio, and text increases the opportunities to reach students where they are. A struggling student writer might be better off getting feedback in video than in a text comment. A student who has difficulty accessing audio may be better off getting feedback in written form. Spaces provides those opportunities for all students.

The ability to add comments to work shared in Spaces isn’t limited to teachers. Students can also add comments to their own work to gather information from you. A study by Kate Wall, Steve Higgins, Jen Miller, and Nick Packard found that the process of providing feedback through digital portfolios was helpful in aiding students’ ability to understand learning objectives and who are responsible for participating in their own learning. The video, audio, and written feedback mechanisms available in Spaces can help you help your students better understand learning objectives and become responsible participants in the learning process.

Parent Involvement
Spaces digital portfolios can be kept private between the student and teacher. Parents can also be invited to view their child’s portfolio. In fact, I’d encourage you to invite parents to view their child’s portfolio as it provides a great opportunity for them to see their child’s progress throughout the year rather than just at parent-teacher conference night. Inviting parents to view their child’s portfolio also provides them with the opportunity to talk to their child about what they’re learning in school.

Getting Started With Spaces Digital Portfolios
I published a detailed overview of the features in Spaces here. A couple of tutorial videos can also be found here and here. In short, the quickest way to get started is to sign-up at https://app.spacesedu.com/signup then create an account using either your Google account or email address. After doing those simple steps you can create a class roster and invite your students to join. Once they’ve joined, from your teacher dashboard you can quickly generate individual spaces for them to use. Again, this video walks you through the process of creating spaces for your students and this video shows the students’ perspective.

Bottom-line
A digital portfolio can be what you and your students want it to be. Spaces gives you and your students all the tools they need to make a portfolio and gives you the tools you need to give your students meaningful feedback.




This post originally appeared on FreeTech4Teachers.com. If you see it elsewhere, it has been used without permission. Sites that steal my (Richard Byrne's) work include CloudComputin, TodayHeadline, and 711Web.

Ten Google Workspaces Features for Teachers You Might Be Overlooking

Google Workspaces (formerly known as G Suite, Google Apps, and just plain Google Drive) has a lot of great features for teachers and students. Some of them are obvious while others might be considered "hidden" features. Those hidden features are often little things that make using Google Workspaces a little easier than faster. In this video I highlight ten of my favorite Google Workspaces features that are often overlooked.



Featured in the video:
  • Google Docs: new document shortcut.
  • Google Slides: specify video start and stop time.
  • Google Forms: set default point value.
  • Google Sheets: apply a theme.
  • Google Meet: blur your background.
  • Google Classroom: copy an entire class.
  • Google Jamboard: duplicating objects.
  • Google Drawings: hyperlink elements of a published drawing.
  • Gmail: schedule sending of messages.
  • Google Keep: set reminders based on time and place.
This post originally appeared on FreeTech4Teachers.com. If you see it elsewhere, it has been used without permission. Sites that steal my (Richard Byrne's) work include CloudComputin, TodayHeadline, and 711Web.

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Writing, Rain, and Logic - The Week in Review

Good morning from Maine where my school vacation week is winding down with a return to some typical spring weather. Earlier this week I used a vacation day to go for a long bike ride to the Height of the Land overlooking Mooselookmeguntic Lake. It was fun for the first 60 miles, the last 24 miles were not fun. If you're interested, you can read the whole story on Instagram. Fortunately, today is going to be warm and sunny. I'm heading out for another long bike ride. I hope that you also have something fun on your schedule for the day. 

This week I announced that I'll be hosting the Practical Ed Tech Virtual Summer Camp again this year. There will be a session in June, one in July, and a session in August. Last year nearly 200 people joined me for one of the sessions. I hope that you'll join me for one of the sessions this year. 

These were the week's most popular posts:
1. Tools to Help Students Analyze Their Own Writing
2. Build Your First Google Site With the Help of These Tutorials
3. Five Tools for Staying On Task
4. Thousands of National Parks Pictures and Videos to Use in Google Earth
5. A Handful of Resources for Learning About the Start of the American Revolution
6. 48 Videos and a Poster About Critical Thinking and Logical Fallacies
7. How to View Timelapse Imagery in Google Earth

On-demand Professional Development
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 35,000 subscribers watching my short tutorial videos on a wide array of educational technology tools. 
  • I've been Tweeting as @rmbyrne for fourteen 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.
This post originally appeared on FreeTech4Teachers.com. If you see it elsewhere, it has been used without permission. Sites that steal my (Richard Byrne's) work include CloudComputin, TodayHeadline, and 711Web.

Friday, April 23, 2021

Blackbird Fills a Gap in Programming Instruction

Blackbird is a new platform for teaching programming to middle school and high school students. Blackbird is positioning itself as a platform that fills the gap between using a blocks-based service like Scratch and writing code in an IDE. Blackbird doesn't use blocks or even offer any blocks. Instead, Blackbird provides a series of interactive lessons in which students write JavaScript. 

Blackbird lessons are arranged in progressive units. From the first lesson students are building a game they can customize to their heart's content. When they've finished all of the lessons students can move onto a "workshop" where they can work on independent projects that you can observe from your teacher dashboard in Blackbird. 

There were a few features that stood out to me during my first run-through of Blackbird. First, students can get choose how much guidance they get on each lesson. Second, students' progress is locked in place as they go. Third, from your teacher dashboard you can see how much time your students spend on each activity. 

Students can use just the basic instructions for each lesson or click on the definitions and "deep dives" embedded within the instructions. Those definitions and deep dives give students an explanation of what they're writing and puts the explanation into an applicable context. 

Blackbird units are composed of progressive lesson sequences. When a student completes a lesson with 100% accuracy the code they wrote for that lesson is locked. It's locked because the next lesson will build upon their correctly written code. Locking the previously written code in place prevents students from accidentally changing their existing code and thereby impacting what they're currently working on. 

Blackbird - How It Works from Blackbird on Vimeo.

Applications for Education
While it's helpful to have some prior coding experience, Blackbird can be used by teachers who don't have any prior coding experience. Blackbird provides detailed tutorials and lesson guides for teachers who don't have coding experience. Furthermore, teachers can do the exact same lessons and activities as their students to learn alongside them.
  

This post originally appeared on FreeTech4Teachers.com. If you see it elsewhere, it has been used without permission. Sites that regularly steal my (Richard Byrne's) work include CloudComputin, TodayHeadline, and 711Web. 

DIY Wind Turbines and How They Work

Earlier this week TED-Ed published a new lesson titled How Do Wind Turbines Work? The video covers the basics of how the turbines harness the power of wind to generate electricity. The basic math of wind turbine design is also explained to viewers of the video. Overall, it's a fine lesson but not the most detailed of lessons. If you want students to learn more about how wind turbines work, consider having them build their own small wind turbines. 

Microsoft's Hacking STEM website offers a detailed project guide for building model windmills and wind turbines. Not only will students build the windmills, they'll also capture data generated by their windmills. The data is captured in real-time through the use of Arduino and the Data Streamer add-in for Excel. Students then analyze the data to evaluate the effectiveness of their windmill and wind turbine designs. 

Microsoft's Hacking STEM windmill activity is great if you have the time and resources required to do it. If you don't and you'd like a little less in-depth windmill project, take a look at Instructables. There you will find dozens of windmill and wind turbine projects ranging from relatively simple cardboard creations to full-fledged turbines capable of powering appliances. 

Finally, if you haven't seen the TED video of William Kamkwamba sharing his story of building a windmill, you need to watch it. It's the basis of the book The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind





This post originally appeared on FreeTech4Teachers.com. If you see it elsewhere, it has been used without permission. Sites that regularly steal my (Richard Byrne's) work include CloudComputin, TodayHeadline, and 711Web. Featured image taken by Richard Byrne while driving between Amarillo and Abilene, Texas in June, 2016.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Join Me for the 2021 Practical Ed Tech Virtual Summer Camp

For many years teachers from all over the world came to Maine join me for the Practical Ed Tech Summer Camp. While I was hoping to return to an in-person format, this summer I’m going to host the Practical Ed Tech Summer Camp as a virtual event.

Just like last year's Practical Ed Tech Virtual Summer Camp this year there will be three sessions available. Each session will consist of ten live webinars hosted over the course of five days. You can register for the June, July, or August session.

Live and on-demand!
I realize that the schedule is not perfect for everyone. That's why every live session is also recorded. Everyone who registers has access to the recordings for a year!

You Should Attend!
Anyone who has an interest in learning new ideas for using technology in education is welcome to join and learn. In the past I’ve had teachers of all subjects and grade levels participate. Some have returned for multiple years. Teacher-librarians, instructional coaches, principals, and professors have all participated in past editions of the Practical Ed Tech Summer Camp.

You don’t need to be a “techy” person to participate and learn. All you need is a willingness to learn and a connection to the Internet.

Discounts and More!

You can learn more about the Practical Ed Tech Virtual Summer Camp right here.

Register through the ticketing page by May 1st and use the discount code "April21" to get an extra $25 off the early registration price.

Group discounts are available to schools/ districts registering five or more people at the same time. Email me at richard (at) byrne.media for more information.



What's Hidden Behind a Bitly Link?

Bitly is a handy URL shortener that I've used for many years. As a registered user I can create custom, shortened URLs that people can actually spell. I use these whenever I need to share a link to a Canva or Google Slides presentation because the default URLs provided by those services are always long and incoherent. 

Unfortunately, not all Bitly users are using them for good reasons. Some people use them to hide nefarious links. Fortunately, there is an easy way to quickly determine what's behind a Bitly URL without actually clicking on the link. The trick is to simply add a "+" to the end of any Bitly URL. When you add the "+" the URL will redirect to Bitly instead of to whatever the original URL was. That will then show you the Bitly page on which the shortened URL is hosted and will show you what the original link was. 

You can try this trick with a URL that I recently shortened. Bit.ly/THWTAPRIL will lead you directly to a copy of the slides that I used in my recent Intro to Teaching History With Technology webinar. Bit.ly/THWTAPRIL+ will lead you to the Bitly page where you can see my original presentation URL and see when I created the shortened URL. 

Watch this short video to see how you can use the "+" trick to find out what's hidden behind a Bitly link. 



Applications for Education
Building good digital citizenship and cyber safety skills is something that all of us should be helping our students do. Showing them little tips like this one to avoid clicking on suspicious links is one of the ways that we can help our students build their digital citizenship and cyber safety skills.


This post originally appeared on FreeTech4Teachers.com. If you see it elsewhere, it has been used without permission. Sites that regularly steal my (Richard Byrne's) work include CloudComputin, TodayHeadline, and 711Web.

How to Change Camera and Microphone Access Settings in Chrome

On a fairly regular basis I get questions from readers that go something like this, "I'm trying to use Flipgrid but my camera won't work. What can I do?" A variation on that question asks for help with a microphone. 

When you're trying to use a website like Flipgrid, Vocaroo, GoSynth, or any other site that you want to use to record audio or video you need to grant access to your computer's mic and camera. In Chrome you can do that in the privacy and security settings. You can access those settings by simply typing chrome://settings/privacy into your address bar. Then select "site settings" followed by "view permissions and data stored." Then search for the site that you want to adjust your settings for. Those steps are outlined in this short video



An alternate way to access these settings is to click on the "lock" icon in your browser's address bar while visiting the website on which you want to adjust camera and microphone settings. That option works the majority of the time, but not always.


This post originally appeared on FreeTech4Teachers.com. If you see it elsewhere, it has been used without permission. Sites that regularly steal my (Richard Byrne's) work include CloudComputin, TodayHeadline, and 711Web.

How to Identify Which Version of Google Sites You're Using

A couple of days ago I wrote about the impending deprecation of the classic version of Google Sites and how to transition to the new version. A reader sent me a good follow-up question. That was, "is there an easy way to tell which version of Google Sites I'm using?" Yes, there is an easy way to quickly identify which version of Google Sites you're using. 

To identify which version of Google Sites you're using simply enter sites.google.com into your browser's address bar then look in the bottom-left corner of the screen. If the bottom-left corner of the screen has a "back to Classic Sites" button then you're using the current version of Google Sites. Here's a little video demonstration of those steps. 



This post originally appeared on FreeTech4Teachers.com. If you see it elsewhere, it has been used without permission. Sites that regularly steal my (Richard Byrne's) work include CloudComputin, TodayHeadline, and 711Web.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

The Old Version of Google Sites is Finally Shutting Down - Here's How to Use the Current Version

For nearly five years now Google has been saying that the old, "classic" version of Google Sites would be closing "soon." It appears that they really mean it this time. In an email to Google Workspaces domain administrators and in this blog post, Google has announced that on May 15th the ability to create new websites using the old version of Google Sites will be removed. Then on December 1st editing of sites made with the classic version of Google Sites will be disabled. And on January 1, 2022 all sites made with the classic version of Google Sites will be offline. 

Transition from Classic Google Sites to Current Google Sites

People who are still using the classic version of Google Sites can transition to the current version of Google Sites by following the directions in this video. It should be noted that not all features found in the classic version of Google Sites are available in the current version of Google Sites. 

Create a Website with Google Sites

The current version of Google Sites is easier to use and more aesthetically pleasing than the classic version. And there are some helpful features in the current version that were not available in the classic version. Those features include automatic resizing for mobile devices, drag-and-drop positioning of page elements, and page-level display settings. Watch this video to learn how to make your first website with Google Sites. 


Three Quick Ideas for Using Google Sites in Your Classroom

Tools to Help Students Analyze Their Own Writing

Like many of my students, I'm often guilty of writing in a rush. Doing that leads to three bad habits that appear in my writing. The first is omitting words that should be in a sentence. The second is repeating words in a sentence when I try to revise a sentence midstream. And the third bad habit is using the same phrases and sentence structures too frequently. To change my habits I'm trying to slow down. I've also enlisted the help of a neat Chrome extension called Wordtune. 

Extension I'm Currently Using - Wordtune

I featured Wordtune in a video and blog post a couple of months ago. The short summary of it is that when you have Wordtune installed you can simply highlight a sentence in Google Docs, Gmail, or Outlook and it will suggest changes to your sentences. The suggestions will include corrections to grammar and spelling. Wordtune's suggestions also include changes to your phrasing and word choices. Here's my short video overview of Wordtune


Other Tools to Try

Analyze My Writing provides a break-down of the readability of your writing on five indices. The analysis includes 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.

Hemingway App provides students with lots of helpful information about their text. To use the service students just paste some text into the Hemingway editor and it will provide you with a bunch of information about that text. Hemingway highlights the parts of your writing that use passive voice, adverbs, and overly complex sentences. All of those factors are accounted for in generating a general readability score for your passage. Here’s a little video overview of Hemingway App.

Slick Write is a service that students can use to help them analyze their own writing and or that of other writers. Slick Write identifies typical things like word counts, readability, and an estimated reading time for a document. Slick Write will also analyze use of adverbs and prepositional phrases throughout a document. Users can pick and choose what they want Slick Write to identify in a passage.

Five Tools for Staying On Task

It's school vacation week here in Maine. I have a long list of things that I want to accomplish on this blog and on Practical Ed Tech. To get that list done and still have time for fun things like riding bikes with my kids, I have to be focused when I'm online and resist the temptation to open Twitter or Facebook for "just a minute." To do that I'm using a combination of the Stay Focusd Chrome extension and a Pomodoro timer. 

Productivity Tools I'm Currently Using

StayFocusd is a Chrome extension that I've used for years whenever I feel like I'm falling into the bad habit of chasing rabbit holes on the internet. StayFocusd lets me specify the sites that I want to block from myself or limit my time spent viewing them. After specifying the sites and the amount of time I'll allow myself on them, a countdown timer appears whenever I view those sites. The timer resets every 24 hours. 

Pomofocus is a task timer that is based on the Pomodoro method of getting things done. On Pomofocus I create a list of tasks then start the timer. Each task is allotted 25 minutes (you can adjust that). After 25 minutes there is a five minute break timer that automatically appears. After the break the next task timer appears. 


Other Productivity Tools

Dayboard is a free Chrome extension that opens your daily to-do list every time you open a new tab in Chrome. When you open a new tab for the first time Dayboard will appear and ask you to enter your to-do list for the day. After creating your to-do list for the rest of the day whenever you open a new tab you will see your list. You can place a checkmark next to items as you complete them.

FlashTabs is a free Chrome extension that will display flashcards whenever you open a new Chrome tab. The thing that I like about FlashTabs is that it is easy to create your own flashcards to have displayed in your new tabs.

Google Keep can be an excellent to-do list and reminder tool. You can color code notes, make lists, and share notes. Google Keep reminders can be set to pop-up on your desktop or mobile device. My video embedded below illustrate the features of Google Keep reminders.

Monday, April 19, 2021

48 Videos and a Poster About Critical Thinking and Logical Fallacies

Last week TED-Ed released a new video lesson titled This Tool Will Help You Improve Your Critical Thinking. As I wrote last week, I almost immediately used the lesson in one of my computer science classes. Writing that blog post and using that lesson inspired me to take a look back through my archives for other lessons and resources for teaching and learning about critical thinking. Here's my updated list of resources about critical thinking and logical fallacies. 

The Guide to Common Fallacies is a series of videos produced by the PBS Ideas channel. Each video covers a different common fallacy. Included in the series are lessons about Strawman, Ad Hominem, Black and White, Authority fallacies.


Your Logical Fallacy Is is a website that provides short explanations and examples of twenty-four common logical fallacies. Visitors to the site can click through the gallery to read the examples. Your Logical Fallacy Is also provides free PDF poster files that you can download and print.

Wireless Philosophy offers 35 videos that explain various logical fallacies and how they are employed by authors and public speakers.


5 Tips to Improve Your Critical Thinking is a TED-Ed lesson. The introduction to the lesson is a bit long for my liking but once you get past that the tips are solid. The lesson presents critical thinking as a process of five steps. The last step is the one that students will probably struggle to implement, "explore other points of view."



Why People Fall for Misinformation is another TED-Ed lesson about critical thinking. The video does a good job of helping viewers understand the role of simplistic, narratives in spreading misinformation. The video also provides a good explanation of the differences between misinformation and disinformation.


Ever wonder why rational people sometimes make irrational decisions? If so, watch The Psychology of Irrational Decisions. The video explains the role of loss aversion in the formation of decisions that people wouldn't normally make. The video also provides a good explanation of the conjunction fallacy, sometimes referred to as the "gambler's fallacy." 



This Tool Will Help You Improve Your Critical Thinking is a TED-Ed lesson that provides viewers with an introduction to the Socratic method. The video has two main purposes. The first is to explain what the Socratic method is. The second is to explain a bit of Socrates' place in history.



This post originally appeared on FreeTech4Teachers.com. If you see it elsewhere, it has been used without permission. Sites that steal my (Richard Byrne's) work include CloudComputin, Today Headline, and 711Web.

Braingenie is Shutting Down - Transition to CK-12

Braingenie is a service that the CK-12 Foundation has offered for free for many years. It provided online practice activities addressing concepts in math and science for elementary school, middle school, and high school students. Unfortunately, CK-12 is ending the Braingenie service. However, there is some good news. Many of the practice activities and services offered by Braingenie are now being rolled into CK-12's core offerings. 

The Braingenie practice activities are now part of the adaptive practice activities offered for free through CK-12. Teachers can create classroom accounts on CK-12 to give their students access to the adaptive practice activities for math and science. Teachers can then use CK-12's reporting tool to see what their students have done and the areas in which their students might need some more help.

Teachers can share CK-12 activities with their students through Google Classroom, Schoology, Clever, Kiddom, Classlink, and Canvas. Teachers can also create online classrooms directly within CK-12 without using one of the aforementioned learning management systems. 

More information about the transition from Braingenie to CK-12 can found here.  

CK-12 Concept Maps

One of CK-12's underrated features is their interactive concept maps. CK-12 concepts maps are webs of related math and science terms. Clicking on the "details" tab below a term in the web will lead students to definitions and explanations, to interactive concept simulations, and to interactive review exercises. To find a concept map on CK-12 simply go to the CK-12 Concept Map page and enter a science or mathematics topic into the search box. You will then see a color-coded web of terms. Terms appearing in green will lead students to science resources. Terms appearing in blue will lead students to mathematics resources.

CK-12 Concept Maps could be a good resource for teachers who are looking for ideas when developing lessons that incorporate mathematics and science around one topic. For example, the inertia concept map provided me with resources that could be used to teach Newton's first law as well as resources that could be used to teach the calculation of acceleration.

This post originally appeared on FreeTech4Teachers.com. If you see it elsewhere, it has been used without permission. Sites that steal my (Richard Byrne's) work include CloudComputin and 711Web.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

A Handful of Resources for Learning About the Start of the American Revolution

Tomorrow is Patriots' Day here in Maine, in Massachusetts, and in a handful of other states. It's a day to mark the anniversary of the Battles of Lexington and Concord, the first battles of the American Revolutionary War. As a good New Englander with an appreciation of history, every year at this time I like to share a handful of resources for teaching and learning about the American Revolution. 

Images of the Revolutionary War is a compilation of images about the Revolutionary War. The images in the collection chronicle the stirrings of rebellion in the pre-revolution years, the war from both American and British perspectives, and events following the Revolutionary War.

Minute Man National Historical Park offers detailed lesson plans that can be in conjunction with a visit to the park and lesson plans that can be used independent of a visit to the park. Take a look at the Legacy of Conflict lesson plan designed for 5th grade students (link opens a PDF) to get a sense of the type of detailed resources that the park offers.

Creating Google Earth tours of Revolutionary War battle sites is an activity that I did for many years with my U.S. History students. Students would create multimedia placemarks for each battle in sequence. The placemarks contained information about the outcome and significance of each battle. Here's a video on how to make a tour with with the browser-based version of Google Earth.



Video Lessons
Keith Hughes has a popular video in which he explains the American Revolution for middle school and high school students.



Crash Course has an extensive series on U.S. History. Included in that series is Taxes & Smuggling - Prelude to Revolution.



Mr. Betts has a YouTube channel on which he posts cartoons and song parodies to teach U.S. History lessons. Here's one he did about the Battles of Lexington and Concord.



For Red Sox Fans!
This is usually the day that the Boston Marathon is held and Red Sox play a morning game. Neither is happening this year. For my fellow Red Sox fans here's a famous clip from the 2007 Patriots' Day game.

This post originally appeared on FreeTech4Teachers.com. If you see it elsewhere, it has been used without permission. Sites that steal my (Richard Byrne's) work include CloudComputin and 711Web.