Wednesday, July 28, 2021

An Itchy Science Lesson

Summer here in northern New England brings us long and sunny days that make us forget about the short and frigid days of winter. Those sunny days come with a catch. The catch is blooming poison ivy and biting insects that make us itch. But what really makes us itch? Is there any way to avoid itching? And how can you make those itchy feelings go away? Those questions and more are answered in the video Why Do We Itch? produced by It's Okay To Be Smart.

Applications for Education
We've all heard of various home remedies for itchy skin and your students probably have too. Before watching this video have students share some of those home remedies. Then have them watch the video and see if the science matches what their home remedies are supposed to do.

How to Give Partial Credit in Google Forms

Google Forms provides an easy way for teachers to create self-grading quizzes. The current version of Google Forms lets you create self-grading quizzes that contain multiple choice, true/false, short answer, and even multiple selection questions. The one problem that some teachers run into when using self-grading Google Forms is how to give partial credit to students for answers that aren't 100% correct but also aren't 100% incorrect. 

A reader recently asked me how to award partial credit for answers to questions in Google Forms so I made this short video explanation. In the video you'll see how to award partial credit for answers to short answer questions and multiple selection questions. 

To learn more about how to create quizzes in Google Forms and how to add quiz scores to Google Classroom, please see this selection of videos that I published earlier this month. 

How to Refine DuckDuckGo Search Results

DuckDuckGo is becoming a popular alternative to conducting searches on The reason for that popularity is a reflection of DuckDuckGo's claim to not track search habits of individual users. While it is a good search engine, it still has a way to go to compete head-to-head with Google's advanced search options. That said, there are some advanced search refinement tools available in DuckDuckGo. 

In this short video I provide a demonstration of how to refine search results on DuckDuckGo. The video includes a demonstration of how to use a couple of "hidden" options that aren't obvious to most students. Those options are refining search results according to top-level domain and refining search results according to file type. 

Why You Should Refine Search Results by Language, Region, and Date

Google’s Advanced Search menu offers more than just tools for refining your search terms. In the Advanced Search menu you’ll find tools for refining search results according to language, region of publication, recency of updates, site or domain, filetype, usage rights, where search terms appear, and exclusion of explicit results. Some of those filters and why you’d use them are easy to ascertain from their names. The reason for using some of the other filters isn’t so obvious.

Narrowing search results by language of publication is helpful for the obvious reason of finding information in the language of your choice. It’s also helpful to narrow search results by language when researching a topic that originated in a language other than your own native tongue. Likewise, if the topic is widely written about by scholars who write in a language other than your own, narrowing a search to that language may lead you to more resources than if you limited yourself to content published in your preferred language. For example, if I'm researching a topic in Japanese history, after reading as much as I can in English I may narrow my search to content published in Japanese. But how do I do that if I can’t read or speak Japanese? Fortunately, modern web browsers including Google Chrome and Microsoft Edge have translation tools built into them. Of course, those translation tools aren’t without flaws but nonetheless they do open up a comparatively new world of research options.

Refining search results according to the region of publication is useful for many of the same reasons as refining search results according to language of publication. Additionally, viewing search results according to the region of publication is useful when evaluating perspectives on a historical event. Particularly divisive geopolitical events are often written about in distinctly different ways depending upon who is doing the writing, where they live, and their political alliances. Looking at these differences is good for developing a balanced understanding of events.

The option to refine search results according to the last update is obviously helpful when searching for the latest published information about a trending news topic. It’s also helpful when trying to locate webpages that were published during a specific range of dates. A good use case for this is to search for information that was published about an event as it was happening or immediately after it. Then compare that information to more recent information published about the same event. For example, students conducting research about the World Trade Center attacks of September 11, 2001 can refine their search results to pages published or updated September 11, 2001 through December 31, 2001 then compare those results to that of search not refined by date of publication.

It should be noted that refining Google search results according to date of update or publication is not always accurate. One of the reasons for that is some website owners will manipulate the content of their pages to make it appear that their sites have been updated even though nothing has materially changed on the site. To get a better picture of what was published on a particular website on a given day, try using The Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. The Wayback Machine contains archived versions of websites. Large, popular websites like are archived more frequently than smaller websites. You can learn how to use The Wayback Machine by watching this short video. A screen image of what looked like on September 11, 2001 as archived by The Wayback Machine is included below.

This blog post was written by Richard Byrne and originally appeared on If you see it elsewhere it has been used without permission. 

Monday, July 26, 2021

Free Music for Classroom Projects

Creating multimedia projects like videos, podcasts, and audio slideshows is a great way for students to develop a variety of skills. Some of those skills are technical skills while others are soft skills that they can carry over into all aspects of academic life. Those soft skills include respecting the intellectual property of others. That's why when students create multimedia projects they should try to use media of their own creation, media in the public domain, or media that has a Creative Commons license. Finding images that meet that criteria is easy. Finding audio that fits that criteria is a bit of a challenge for some. That's why I've put together a new video that highlights my three go-to places to find free audio that students can use in their multimedia projects. 

In this short video I provide an overview of how to find and download free music from Pixabay, Dig CC Mixter, and Bensound. 

Pixabay's audio collection features instrumental recordings across a wide range of genres. You can listen to the tracks in their entirety before downloading them. Like all other media on Pixabay, you can download and reuse the sound tracks for free. And as they state in the terms of use, you don't have to cite them but it is appreciated.

Dig CC Mixter offers thousands of songs that are Creative Commons licensed. The site is divided into three main categories. Those categories are Instrumental Music for Film & Video, Free Music for Commercial Projects, and Music for Video Games. Within each category you can search according to genre, instrument, and style. When you click the download icon on a file you will be prompted to copy the attribution information that is required to include in your project.

Bensound offers a few hundred music tracks that you can download for free. Those tracks are arranged in eight categories. Those categories are acoustic/folk, cinematic, corporate/pop, electronica, urban/groove, jazz, rock, and world. You can listen to the tracks before you download them. When you click the download button you will see the clear rules about using the music. You can download and use the music in your video projects for free provided that you credit Bensound for the music. Alternatively, you can purchase a license to use the music wherever you want without crediting Bensound.

Join Me Next Monday!

The August session of the Practical Ed Tech Virtual Summer Camp begins next Monday at 10am ET. If you haven't registered, you can do so up until an hour before it starts. 

In the Practical Ed Tech Virtual Summer Camp I'll cover ten key topics over the course of ten live webinars (recordings will also be available). There's time for live Q&A as well. This is a great opportunity to get some new ideas to implement this fall. 

These are the topics for the Practical Ed Tech Virtual Summer Camp:
  • Teaching Search Strategies & Digital Citizenship
  • Video Projects for Every Classroom
  • Classroom Podcasting 101
  • Building Digital Portfolios
  • Fun Formative Assessment Methods
  • Using AR & VR in Your Classroom
  • Making Virtual Tours
  • Easy Ways to Make Your Own Apps
  • Simple and Fun Makerspaces Projects
  • Blending Technology Into Outdoor Lessons

Register online or email me to register your group of five or more. 

Frequently Asked Questions
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.

How Excluding Words Helps Narrow the Scope of a Search

One of the options in Google's Advanced Search menu is to exclude specific words from search results. At first, excluding words from search results might seem counterintuitive to learning as much as possible about a chosen research topic. After all, reading extensively about a topic is the best way to learn about it. However, there comes a point in the research process that we realize there are certain terms or names that are no longer germane to our research but still frequently appear when researching our chosen topic.

Researching Harry Lyon’s car provides an instructive example of the benefit of excluding words from Google search results. The prompt for that challenge is,
Everyone knows that Hannibal Hamlin (Abraham Lincoln’s first Vice President) lived on Paris Hill in Maine. What you might not know is that Paris Hill was the home of another person who participated in a notable first.
The prompt itself tells us that we can probably eliminate mentions of Hannibal Hamlin from our search results. However, we don’t know that for sure until we’ve established that it was Harry Lyon we were looking for. Once we’ve done that, removing Hannibal Hamlin from our search results can narrow our search. However, the words that will turn out to be the most useful to eliminate are “Founders Day” and “Bob Bahre.”

Bob Bahre was a wealthy businessman who purchased the Hannibal Hamlin estate on Paris Hill in the early 1970s. Bahre was also a collector of expensive antique cars, many of which are pre-World War II vintage. Every year for the last 42 years Bahre’s family opened the collection to public viewing as part of a fundraiser for the local library. That fundraiser is known as Founders Day.

Google searches that mention “cars” and “Paris Hill” return plenty of articles about Founders Day, Bob Bahre, and his car collection. So when trying to determine what kind of car Harry Lyon was sitting in in this picture, “Bob Bahre” and “Founders Day” may seem relevant at first, but you’ll quickly find that it’s actually not helpful to find articles about Bahre, his car collection, or Founders Day.

By the way, this is a good article if you are interested in learning about Bahre and his car collection.  

Saturday, July 24, 2021

What Car Did Harry Lyon Drive? - The Answer to Tuesday's Search Challenge

On Tuesday I shared a search challenge and wrote that you could email me if you wanted the answers to the questions in the challenge. I got a lot more emails than I thought I would. And some people I emailed the answers to wrote back asking for more details about the process of finding the answers. So yesterday morning I spent time writing out the process of finding the answers to Tuesday's search challenge. If you missed the challenge, you can find it here. The solution is detailed below. 

There are a few ways to arrive at the answers. What I’ve outlined below is the most direct way to get to the answers. (Thanks again to Daniel Russell’s Joy of Search for inspiring the development of search challenges like this one).

Step 1: Identify the airplane and its historical significance.
The image itself gives us a big hint. Do a quick Google search for “southern cross airplane” and the top result will be a Wikipedia page about the airplane. It’s important to include “airplane” in the search because searching Google for just “southern cross” will put a music video of the Crosby, Stills, and Nash song Southern Cross at the top of the results. Further down the search results page for “southern cross” you’ll find links to articles about the constellation of the same name, links to an energy company, and links to a Brazilian award for chivalry. In fact, you won’t see any reference to an airplane in the first ten pages of Google search results when searching “southern cross.” Furthermore, “southern cross airplane” isn’t even a term that Google suggests when you enter “southern cross.”

As mentioned above, the top Google search result for “southern cross airplane” is the Wikipedia page about the airplane. Read through that page and you’ll learn that it was the first aircraft to be flown from the United States to Australia.

Step 2: Identify who flew on the airplane.
Also on that same Wikipedia page you’ll learn that the four members of the flight crew were Charles Kingsford Smith, Charles Ulm, Harry Lyon, and James Warner.

Once you’ve identified who the members of the flight crew were, the next step is to figure out which one had a connection to Maine. To do this, open the Wikipedia page for each member of the flight crew then use keyboard commands of CTRL+F (Windows computers) or COMMAND+F (Mac computers) to search each page for the word “Maine.” Only the pages for Charles Kingsford Smith and Harry Lyon include a match for “Maine” and the match on Smith’s page is only found in the context of the word “remained.” Lyon’s page includes “Maine” as part of a link to the Maine Memory Network’s website which is mentioned in the hints for this challenge.

Step 3: Find the reference to Paris Hill.
If you follow the link to the Maine Memory Network from the Wikipedia page about Harry Lyon, you’ll find a fairly long article about Lyon and his life including that his parents bought a house on Paris Hill and Lyon later lived there.

Alternatively, you could have followed the hint about using the Maine Memory Network’s website then headed there to do a search within the site for references to Harry Lyon.

Step 4: Find the reference to a car.
At the very bottom of this Maine Memory Network page about Harry Lyon you’ll see a picture of Lyon sitting in a car in his driveway in 1927. (The image is copyrighted so you'll have to view it there). 

Step 5: Identify the car.
This is the hardest part of the whole challenge. To do this you’ll want to enlarge the picture found on the Maine Memory Network’s article about Lyon. Fortunately, they provide a zoomable version of the image. By zooming in on the image you can look at some important details including the shape of the front door on the car, the shape of the front of the car, and a little badge on the front of the car.

At this point the process becomes a little bit of guesswork followed by a process of comparison and elimination. There are some points to consider before guessing at what kind of car is in the picture. Here’s a list of those points to consider: First, the picture was taken in 1927, a year before the flight of the Southern Cross. From reading about him, we know that Lyon was not a man of exceptional wealth, but probably middle to upper-middle class. Based on Lyon’s financial standing as well as looking at the details of the car we can probably remove luxury brands from our guesswork.

When we zoom-in on the car we can see that it has some imperfections as the result of driving and or post-manufacturing modification. Notable, there are what appears to be two wooden bench seats behind the driver’s seat. The back half of the body appears to be wooden as well.

Now that we’ve considered the points above we can start guessing at the manufacturer of the car and the production year. Noting that cars didn’t significantly change from one model year to the next at this time, if they did at all, we’re guessing the year according to decade or half-decade is a viable approach to this challenge. At this point, turning to Google Image search is our next step. A search for “1920s cars” or “1910s cars” is a starting place. However, those results generally feature examples of luxury cars of the time. We’re looking for cars that could have been owned by middle to upper-middle class people of the time. At this point in the process it’s helpful to have a list of American car manufacturers of the 1910s and 1920s. Again, we may turn to Wikipedia for such a list or to any number of antique car websites for such a list.

Based on the lists of American car manufacturers and what we know about Lyon, Ford is the most common guess as it was the most popular brand in the United States at the time and is still in the forefront of Americans’ minds today when they think of automobile manufacturers. Some adults will still think of Studebaker as an American car manufacturer. Dodge is also a common guess as it satisfies both the price and popularity components of our quest. So now it’s a matter of comparing pictures of cars produced by those manufacturers during the 1910s and early 1920s.

Use Google Images to find images of Ford, Studebaker, and Dodge cars produced in those decades. Compare the pictures closely to those of the picture of Lyon sitting in his car and you’ll start to notice that the shape of the door in his car doesn’t match those of Ford and Studebaker (they’re not as rounded at the bottom). The front of Lyon’s vehicle is also more rounded than that of the Fords and Studebakers made at the same time. A final detail is on the hood of the car when we look at the radiator caps of the vehicles. In all three cases, the Dodge examples are consistent with what we see in the picture of Lyon in his car. The final answer is a Dodge Touring car produced around 1919 (give or take a year) that was modified in the back.

Disclosure: I spent at least ten hours comparing images of cars to the one of Lyon sitting in his car. To verify my information about the car I enlisted the help of one the top antique car preservationists in the country, Jeff Orwig. Jeff is a friend of mine and the curator of Bob Bahre’s exquisite car collection housed on Paris Hill in Paris, Maine. You can read more about the collection here

Chat, Search, and Puffins - The Week in Review

Good morning from Maine where the sun is rising and I'm about to head out on an early morning bike ride. Before I do that I have this quick week in review to share with you. 

This week I didn't host any webinars as I spent four days working on developing new materials about search strategies including developing a new search challenge for students. I also took a day off this week to go to the ocean with my family. We went looking for puffins and found hundreds of them! Unfortunately, I forgot to take my good camera with me so I don't have any good pictures. Oh well, that's a good excuse to go looking for puffins again later this summer. If you'd like to learn more about puffins in Maine, visit the Audubon Society's Project Puffin website

These were the week's most popular posts:
1. Collect Chat - Turn a Google Form Into a Chatbot
2. Getting Started With Google Forms - The Basics and More
3. See the Elements Present in Common Products - The Periodic Table in Pictures and Words
4. Three Places to Find Fun and Interesting Math Problems
5. Add PhET Simulations to Your PowerPoint Slides
6. Challenge - Introduce Students to Academic Search Engines and Databases
7. GitMind - A Collaborative Mind Mapping and Outlining Tool

On-demand Professional Development
On the Road Again!
  • I'm accepting a limited number of invitations to speak at events during the 2021-2022 school year. If you're interested, please send me an email at richard (at) for more information. 

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 36,000 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 If you see it elsewhere, it has been used without permission. Sites that steal my (Richard Byrne's) work include CloudComputin and WayBetterSite. Featured image captured by Richard Byrne.

Friday, July 23, 2021

A Timeline of Mathematics and Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem

This week TED-Ed published a new video about Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem. This is the latest in a long list of mathematics video lessons produced by TED-Ed. The timing of the video was perfect for me as I had planned on writing about Mathigon's Timeline of Mathematics this week. That timeline includes an entry about Gödel's incompleteness theorems.  

Mathigon's Timeline of Mathematics is an interactive timeline of developments in mathematics throughout history. The timeline begins with the development of the first counting systems and progresses through today. Throughout the timeline there are images and names to click on to learn more about each development. For example, at the beginning of the timeline you can click on an image of the Ishango Bone to learn that this artifact is the oldest representation of early counting systems. Much later in the timeline you can click on the image of Kurt Gödel to learn about his contributions to mathematics and click on examples of his theorems in practice. 

Applications for Education
The Timeline of Mathematics provides a good opportunity to combine mathematics and history into the same lesson. The early artifacts in the timeline are appropriate for use as an introduction to the development of counting and basic arthimetic. Items later in the timeline are more appropriate for conversations in middle school and high school settings.

Primary vs. Secondary Sources

A couple of times this week I have written about using primary sources in history lessons and or research lessons. That has reminded me of a couple of good videos that can help students understand the differences between primary and secondary sources. 

The Minnesota Historical Society offers a fantastic video on the topic of primary v. secondary sources. By watching the short video students can learn what a makes a resource a primary or secondary source. The video provides a handful of examples of each along with a description of what makes the example a primary or secondary source. This is probably the best video that I have seen explain the differences between primary and secondary sources.

Using Primary & Secondary Sources is a video that was produced by the Oregon School Library Information System. The video is intended to help elementary school students understand the difference between primary and secondary sources. The video uses some clear examples of each type of source and how those sources can be used in the research and writing process. The best part is that there are examples aligned to multiple subject areas including art and science.

World History Commons - Annotated Primary Sources for Students

World History Commons offers a free collection of more than 1700 primary sources covering a wide array of themes and events in world history. The best part is that all of the primary sources in the collection are annotated with helpful notes for students. World History Commons also offers a collection of free teaching guides that incorporate the use of primary sources. 

The search function on World History Commons searches the entire site instead of just the primary source collection. The primary source collection itself does have some filters that you can apply as you browse through the collection. You can filter according to region of the world, time period, subject, and source type (audio, image, text, video, or object). The world, time period, and source type filters do exactly what you'd expect. The subject filter is a little trickier because some events could be classified into multiple subjects but might only appear under one of the filters. 

The teaching guides section of the World History Commons offers some lesson plans and advice on strategies for teaching with primary sources. The guides are aligned to specific primary sources within the World History Commons collection of primary sources. Your search for teaching guides can be refined according to time period, region, and subject. 

Applications for Education
The World History Commons is a resource that everyone who teaches world history lessons should have bookmarked. While the primary sources on their own are useful, the annotations can help students understand the significance of what they're seeing and reading. The teaching guides are also helpful in providing some inspiration for how to use primary sources in a variety of settings. I particularly enjoyed reading through this guide to teaching about Chinese propaganda posters

Thursday, July 22, 2021

The Freshwater Access Game

Aquation is a free iOS, Android, and web game offered by the the Smithsonian Science Education Center. The game, designed for students in upper elementary school or middle school, teaches students about the distribution of clean water and what can be done to balance global water resources. In the game students select a region to explore its current water supplies. Based on the information provided students take action in the form of building desalination plants, conducting further research, reacting to natural events, and attempting to move water between regions.

As mentioned above, Aquation is available to play on Android devices, on iOS devices, and in your web browser. If you try to play it in your web browser, be patient as it takes a while to load. 

Applications for Education
Aquation isn't a fast-paced game so it probably won't grab your students' attention when they open it. But if you can push through the initial "blah" reaction from your students, the game contains some valuable lessons about the global distribution of freshwater resources and the challenges that face the regions that have less than others.

See the Elements Present in Common Products - The Periodic Table in Pictures and Words

The Periodic Table of Elements, in Pictures and Words is an interactive site that shows students how each element is used or is present in familiar products. When students click on an element in the interactive display an image of a familiar product or object appears along with a description of the element and its characteristics. For example, if you click on aluminum an image of airplane appears along with a description of aluminum, its uses, and its characteristics.

The Periodic Table of Elements, in Pictures and Words was created by Keith Enevoldsen. He also offers free PDFs of The Periodic Table, in Pictures and Words. Should you choose, you can support Keith by purchasing a poster of the table.

Applications for Education
The Periodic Table of Elements, in Pictures and Words could be a great resource for middle school science classrooms. It also provides a nice model for an assignment in which you have your students pick an element and then try to identify as many products as possible that contain that chosen element.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Three Places to Find Fun and Interesting Math Problems

Giving students some clever math problems that tie-in a "real world" situation or topic can go a long way toward helping them see how math skills are skills they'll use for a lifetime. The following three websites all provide good math challenges to use with your students. 

Would You Rather? is a website maintained by John Stevens for the purpose of sharing quick and fun math challenges for students.  Would You Rather? presents a picture with a mathematics problem that asks "would you rather?" Most of the questions have a financial aspect to them. One of my favorite examples is this challenge that asks "would you rather go on a 5 minute shopping spree in the store of your choice or get a $2,000 gift card to the store of your choice?" Would You Rather? offers a simple worksheet that your students can use to analyze the choices presented to them in the challenges.

Math Pickle is a free site that offers dozens of fun and challenging math puzzles for students of all ages. The puzzles are designed to foster collaborative problem solving over the course of 45 to 60 minutes. Almost all of the puzzles are presented as a series of small, connected problems that students need to solve to complete the puzzle presented to them. The puzzles can be viewed as slides and or downloaded as PDFs.

Expii Solve is a series of seventy sets of word problems. Within each set there are five problems aligned to a theme. For example, the most recent problem is about cell phones and distance that radio waves can carry. The problems within each set on Expii Solve vary in difficulty so that you can pick the one(s) that best suit your students. Or you can let your students register on the site and self-select the problems that they want to tackle. In fact, that is how the site is intended to be used. Students can get instant feedback on their answers to the problems that they try to solve. Students who need a bit of help solving a problem can use the hints and tutorials linked at the bottom of each problem page.

Changing Search Predictions

Google has a lot of help search tools if you know how to access them and use them. Just opening the advanced search menu often shows students a new world of search refinement possibilities. However, Google also has a couple of search options that sometimes do more to distract than to help. Those options are "autocomplete with trending searches" and "personal autocomplete predictions." Fortunately, you can turn off both of those options. 

To turn off "autocomplete with trending searches" simply head to the Google search preferences page while you're signed into your Google account. Then scroll down and select "Do not show popular searches."

You can turn off personalized autocomplete predictions by going into your personal results page then unchecking "Show personal results." 

Applications for Education
Neither one of these features is inherently bad, but they can contribute to distracting students from their intended query.

Short Lessons on the Value of Money

Last week TED-Ed published a new video lesson titled Why Can't Governments Print an Unlimited Amount of Money? The purpose of the video is to explain how governments, particularly the United States federal government, were able to spend trillions of dollars on COVID-19 economic relief programs in the last year. The video explains the role of central banks in controlling the money supply and the concepts of inflation and quantitative easing. There is also an explanation of government bonds, why they're sold, and who buys them. Overall, it's a solid video for middle school or high school students. 

Why Can't Governments Print and Unlimited Amount of Money? is the latest of many videos about money and economics that TED-Ed has published over the years. A couple that dovetail with the latest video include What Gives a Dollar Bill Its Value?, What Causes Economic Bubbles?, and What Causes an Economic Recession?

Applications for Education
Before showing either Why Can't Governments Print an Unlimited Amount of Money? or What Gives a Dollar Bill Its Value? I'd ask students to think about some products they purchase and what contributes to the price and or price increases of those products.

All of the videos are suitable as introductions to larger lessons. To that end, I may have students watch the videos in EDpuzzle where they can answer some questions about the videos as an assignment.

Here's an overview of how to create an assignment in EDpuzzle.

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Three Ideas for Encouraging Students to do Research in Digital Archives

Yesterday morning I wrote about the challenge of getting students to use resources like academic databases and digital archives in their research. This morning I received an email from a reader who asked if I could share an example or ideas of how to encourage students to use digital archives in their research. The following are three suggestions that quickly came to my mind. 

Show Them
A simple way to encourage use of academic databases and digital archives is by showing them how to navigate those resources. For many students the obstacle to using academic databases and digital archives is simply the frustration that they experience when “it doesn’t work like Google.”

Challenge Them
A fun and effective way to encourage students to use academic databases and digital archives is to have them solve search challenges that are based upon items found in the digital archive or academic database of your choosing. When it comes to creating search challenges there is no better authority on the topic than Daniel Russell. He is the the author of The Joy of Search and Google’s Senior Research Scientist for Search Quality and User Happiness. His book and corresponding blog, SearchResearch, is full of examples of using interesting images and factoids as prompts for research practice challenges. Included below is an example of a search challenge that I created for students studying local history in Maine.

            The Prompt: Everyone knows that Hannibal Hamlin (Abraham Lincoln’s first Vice President) lived on Paris Hill in Maine. What you might not know is that Paris Hill was the home of another person who participated in a notable first.

        Your challenge has three parts:
  • Identify the significance of the airplane pictured below.
  • What is the connection between the airplane and Paris Hill?
  • Find out what kind of car was driven by the person who represents the connection between the airplane and Paris Hill.
  • Make or find a list of all of the people who flew on this airplane.
  • Utilize resources on the Maine Memory Network website to attempt to identify the type of car driven by the person who represents the connection between the airplane and Paris Hill.

Require Them
A third tactic to encourage students to utilize an academic database or digital archive in their research processes is to make it a requirement in the assignments that you give them. When they produce the bibliography for their research papers and presentations, make it a requirement that at least one or more references are drawn from one of the databases or archives that you’ve listed for them. While this can be an effective method of getting students to use academic databases, it’s not nearly as fun for you or them as solving search challenges. Try the search challenge approach first.

Want the answers? If you're interested in the answers to this challenge, please send me an email and I'll be happy to share them with you. 

Image source: Public Domain image hosted on Wikipedia.,_Southern_Cross_in_Brisbane,_Queensland,_ca._1928.jpg

GitMind - A Collaborative Mind Mapping and Outlining Tool

GitMind is a mind mapping tool that offers some excellent features for teachers and students. GitMind offers more than one hundred templates for teachers and students to use and modify. Some of the templates you'll find in the gallery include essay structure, timelines, book reviews, and study plans. GitMind also lets you create your mind maps and flowcharts from scratch. 

GitMind is a collaborative mind mapping tool. You can invite people to work on your mind maps with you by sending them an email or by sharing a link and private access code. 

My favorite design aspect of GitMind is the option to quickly turn your mind map into a linear, bullet point outline. The best thing is that you can toggle back and forth between the mind map view and the outline view as much as you like without affecting any elements of your mind map's design. 

As you would expect of any good mind mapping tool, GitMind offers plenty of tools for customizing the organization and color scheme of your mind maps. You can make wholesale changes to your mind map's color scheme by choosing a predefined theme. Minor color scheme changes can be made by selecting individual nodes and lines then choosing a different color, line thickness, font type, font color, and font size. 

GitMind can be used in your web browser. Free GitMind Android and iOS apps are also available. 

Applications for Education
GitMind's best feature for teachers and students is the option to quickly switch between mind map views and linear outline views. I've always liked having that option in a mind mapping tool because while some students like seeing the mapped connections between ideas other students prefer to have them listed in bullet points. GitMind satisfies the needs of both types of students.

How Rockets Fly - And DIY Model Rockets

This morning Jeff Bezos is blasting into space on a new rocket designed by his company, Blue Origin. The BBC has a succinct overview of how the rocket is designed to work. For a kid-friendly explanation of how rockets work, turn to SciShow Kids. Last week SciShow Kids released a video titled How Do Rockets Fly? 

Like all SciShow Kids videos, How Do Rockets Fly? offers an easy-to-follow explanation of the basic design and purpose of rockets. I particularly like the comparison of the weight of a rocket to the weight of one hundred elephants. Watch the video here or as embedded below. 

After watching the video about how rockets fly, take a look at the latest SciShow Kids video about how to build paper rockets. The video is based on the directions that NASA provides for making straw rockets and the teacher guide for making stomp rockets

Monday, July 19, 2021

Collect Chat - Turn a Google Form Into a Chatbot

A couple of weeks ago I published a video about how to create your own chatbot with a free tool called Acquainted. This morning I discovered another tool for creating your own chatbots. 

Collect Chat is a free Google Forms add-on that you can use to turn a Google Form into a chatbot. I gave it a try and found that it is very easy to use. With the add-on installed you simply have to open a Google Form then open Collect Chat and choose to convert the form into a chatbot. You can choose to use the chatbot on its own stand-alone page or you can embed it into an existing webpage that you own. Either way, visitors viewing your chatbot will see the same questions as they would if they viewed the Google Form directly. The difference is that the questions appear one at a time and look as though they were typed by a live person. 

Take a look at this little exit ticket chatbot that I made with Collect Chat to see how it works. (Update: on Friday I disabled the exit ticket because it had received a flood of responses and I'd exceeded the limits of Collect Chat's free plan). 

Applications for Education
While Collect Chat itself is easy to use, it would take a bit of planning to make an effective chatbot via Google Forms. If you want your chatbot to actually interact with user input you would need to create a fairly long Google Form that accounts for a variety of responses from users. That said, I can see the potential to create a chatbot to walk users through troubleshooting problems with their computers or to help parents locate important school information in a guided manner. There's also potential to create a chatbot that serves as an interactive test practice. 

To learn more about Google Forms take a look at this collection of Google Forms tutorials that I published last week. 

All About Rubber

Here in Maine we've had more rainy days than sunny days lately. That means we've been wearing our rainboots a lot. Yesterday, as I was trying to convince my daughters to wear their rainboots instead of sneakers my four-year-old asked "what's rubber?" To which I replied that it's a waterproof material used in boots to keep our feet dry. That, of course, prompted her to ask where it comes from. I explained to her that it comes from trees kind of like maple syrup comes from trees. And now she wants us to grow a rubber tree. That prompted another line of questioning about why we can't grow rubber trees in Maine. 

If you have a child in your life who is also curious about where rubber comes from, Maddie Moate has a video for you. In Where Does Rubber Come From? Madddie visits a forest in Thailand to learn how rubber trees are tapped and how the sap is used to make products like rubber boots. 

On a related note, here's a short TED-Ed lesson on how the rubber glove was invented.

Challenge - Introduce Students to Academic Search Engines and Databases

In the minds of many students yelling “Hey Siri, tell me about Martin Luther King, Jr.” or “Hey Google, when did the Soviet Union collapse?” is conducting research. As teachers we know that research is a process that goes far beyond telling a machine to give us some information. The challenge is to get students to understand that research is a process and is not just typing a question into a search box or speaking a query aloud in the hopes that some AI-powered machine spits out new, useful information.

To move students past entering simple queries into Google and onto conducting research, we should show them that is not the only search engine they can use. There’s a good chance that your school library and or local public library pays for a subscription to a database of academic articles. A few examples of those include JSTOR, Academic Search Premier, and ScienceDirect. The librarians in your school and public libraries will be happy, perhaps thrilled that you asked, to show your students how to access those databases through a library login.

In addition to the aforementioned subscription-required databases, there are free databases that your students can use in their research processes. Some popular choices include ERIC, Semantic Scholar, and Get The Research.

History teachers should also be sure to point their students toward digital archives such as those housed by The Library of Congress, The World Digital Library, and The Commons hosted by Flickr. Additionally, most countries, states, and provinces have digital archives of their own that can be freely searched. Some of the records in these databases may appear in Google search results and some may not. In either case, the records within the archives aren’t likely to rank highly in a search result and it’s therefore worthwhile to compile a list of the digital archive databases that you think will be helpful to your students. Somewhat ironically, the easiest way to find these archives is to type into the name of the country, state, or province followed by “digital archive,” “national archive,” “state archive,” “provincial archive,” or simply “archive.”

Another good source of information for student researchers is in the digital archives of libraries, museums and historical preservation societies. The largest of these, like The British Museum and The New York Public Library are well organized and relatively easy to search. Smaller ones like those of small-town historical societies may not have a search function at all. In that case students will have to browse through archives in hopes of finding a useful piece of information.

One of the primary differences between searching for information through compared to searching through academic databases and digital archives is found in the organization and presentation of search results. ranks search results based on five key factors; meaning of your query, relevance of webpages, quality of content, usability of webpages, and context and settings. In short, Google is trying to predict what you’re searching for and serve up what its algorithm predicts is the best thing for you to read or watch. The results are therefore a ranking based on that combination of factors and some lesser factors that Google doesn’t always publicly acknowledge. With few exceptions, academic databases and digital archives are not in the prediction game. Their search results pages are based on matching your query to the content of items in their databases.

The difference between how search results are organized and presented matters to students for two reasons. First, in a quest to appear at the top of Google search results website owners often publish material in a quest to satisfy Google’s algorithm which leads to lots of superficial or basic content rather than in-depth academic content. Deep, academic content is rarely written to satisfy Google’s algorithm and therefore rarely appears in the first pages of Google search results if at all. Second, the predictive text or suggested search terms provided by Google can lead students into searches that distract them from their original search strategies.

Finally, many academic papers are not indexed by Google at all because they are behind the paywall or login of a database and or the owners of those databases have requested that Google not index their content. Students who rely solely on for their research needs are missing out on valuable information.

This writing and image originally appeared on If you see it elsewhere, it has been used without permission. Writing and feature image created by Richard Byrne.

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Math Learning Center Apps Now Include Sharing Options

Math Learning Center offers twelve free apps that are designed for teaching elementary school mathematics lessons. All of the apps are available in versions as free iPad apps and as web apps. Last week I visited the Math Learning Center for the first time in a while and noticed that the apps now have a sharing function. 

The sharing function in the Math Learning Center apps allow you to send to your students the specific virtual manipulatives that you have designed in the apps. For example, when using the fractions app you can design a virtual manipulative for students to practice identifying and writing fractions. You can then share your virtual manipulative with your students by giving them a direct link to it or by having them use an activity code that is automatically generated for you. In either case, your students don't need to sign into any kind of account to access the virtual manipulative that you share with them. 

With the exception of the flashcards app, all of the Math Learning Center's free apps are designed to provide you and your students with virtual manipulatives. Geoboard is a good example of how all of the apps are intended to be used. Geoboard is a free app on which students stretch virtual rubber bands over pegboards to create lines and shapes to learn about perimeter, area, and angles. Another app features US currency to help students learn to add and subtract money. The Pattern Shapes app is designed to help students recognize and develop patterns by moving colorful shapes into place.

Applications for Education
It is important to note that except for the flashcard app all of the Math Learning Center apps are virtual manipulatives designed to be used as a part of lesson plan not as stand-alone practice apps. You will need to provide your students with feedback when they are using these apps. The new sharing option makes it easier for you to share with your students and for your students to share their work with you. They can provide a link to their work for you to see what they've done. 

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Docs, Slides, and Simulations - The Week in Review

Good evening from Maine where we had a fun day outside despite the clouds and rain. My mother came to visit and my daughters enjoyed showing her all of the fun things in our yard including wild raspberries and blueberries, our garden vegetables, and their little backyard clubhouse. Getting an ice cream treat was also a highlight of the visit. I hope that you also had a fun start to your weekend. 

This week I hosted the second session of the Practical Ed Tech Virtual Summer Camp. I'll be hosting one more session in August. You can register for the August session right here

These were the week's most popular posts:
1. 21 Google Docs Features You Should Know How to Use
2. Getting Started With Google Drive and Google Docs - Everything You Need to Know
3. Getting Started With Google Slides - The Basics and More
4. What Strava Taught Me About Using Digital Badges in School
5. Whimsical - A Good Tool for Collaborative Diagram Creation
6. Add PhET Simulations to Your PowerPoint Slides
7. 700 Space Math Problems

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 36,000 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 If you see it elsewhere, it has been used without permission. Sites that steal my (Richard Byrne's) work include CloudComputin and WayBetterSite. Featured image captured by Richard Byrne.

Friday, July 16, 2021

Add PhET Simulations to Your PowerPoint Slides

PhET is a free resource that has been popular with science and math teachers for many years. PhET provides free interactive math and science simulations covering topics in physics, chemistry, biology, earth science, and mathematics. In the PhET library you'll find simulations appropriate for elementary, middle, high school, and university students. PhET even offers a search tool that will help you find lesson ideas built upon the free simulations.

Dozens of the PhET simulations are available to insert into PowerPoint presentations through the use of PhET's free PowerPoint Add-in. With the Add-in installed you can browse the available simulations and insert them into your slides. The simulations work in your slide just as they do on the PhET website.

Watch my short video that is embedded below to learn how to install PowerPoint add-ins. 

Applications for Education
The PhET PowerPoint Add-in could be time-saver if you are planning to use more than one simulation during a lesson. Rather than clicking through menus or clicking through bookmarks to bring-up the right simulation, you could just create a slideshow that has your PhET simulations arranged in the sequence you plan to use them during your lesson.

Getting Started With Google Classroom - Teacher and Student Perspectives

This week I have been publishing a series of videos designed to help teachers who are new to Google Workspace learn what they need to know to use Google Drive, Docs, Forms, and Slides in their classrooms. Continuing in that series I've just published a new video titled Getting Started With Google Classroom

In Getting Started With Google Classroom I explain and demonstrate everything a teacher needs to know to start using Google Classroom. The video includes a student perspective of Google Classroom so that teachers can see how students access and complete assignments in Google Classroom. All of the points covered in the video are listed below. 

➡How to create a Google Classroom.
➡How to invite students to a Google Classroom
➡How to invite a co-teacher to Google Classroom
➡Student settings in Google Classroom
➡How to create assignments in Google Classroom
➡How students complete assignments in Google Classroom
➡How to view students' work in Google Classroom

The other videos in this series are listed below:
Getting Started With Google Forms

More Than 20,000 Teachers Get Tech Tips This Way

About seven years ago I noticed that "too many updates" was the most common reason for people unsubscribing from the emails from this blog. To remedy that I created the Practical Ed Tech Tip of the Week Newsletter. What started out small now has more than 20,000 weekly subscribers. 

The Practical Ed Tech Tip of the Week newsletter features my favorite tip of the week along with a summary of the most popular blog posts from my blogs,, and The newsletter is emailed on Sunday evening/ Monday morning (depending on your time zone). Some of the newsletters include Google Docs and PDFs that aren't published elsewhere. 

Those of you who read via email will be pleased to know that the Practical Ed Tech Tip of the Week email is published manually which means that unlike the daily emails, you can read the entire article in your inbox.

Sign up for the Practical Ed Tech Tip of the Week newsletter right here.

Thursday, July 15, 2021

700 Space Math Problems

Space Math is a NASA website containing space-themed math lessons for students in elementary school through high school. This evening  I revisited for the first time in a couple of years and noticed that it now offers more than 700 math problems related to space and space exploration. 

On Space Math you can search for problems according to grade level or mathematics topic. The bulk of the materials seem to be PDFs of directions for carrying out the lesson plans. The exception to that pattern being the middle school (grades 6-8) resources which include the use of some of NASA eClips videos.

While you're exploring the Space Math problems you might also want to check out the free ebook, A Guide to Smartphone Astrophotography which is currently featured on the Space Math homepage. 

Applications for Education
Each of the Space Math lessons align to different NASA missions. The NASA missions provide the context for the math lessons. That alignment makes Space Math lessons a good option for an integrated science and mathematics lesson.