Monday, October 25, 2021

BookWidgets - Create Unique Online Activities for Your Students

BookWidgets is a service for creating interactive online activities. It has been on my radar for a while and last week I finally gave it a try. I wish I had tried it sooner.

BookWidgets lets you create online interactive activities for your students to complete on any device. One of the best things about it is that it offers more than thirty question types that you can choose to insert into your activities. In other words, you can build in enough question variety and activity variety that students won’t get bored by just answering the same types of questions over and over.

Unique Online Activities
One of the first things I noticed when I started to create a BookWidgets activity is that there are some activity templates that I haven’t found in any similar platforms. A few that stand out include split whiteboards, split worksheets, and active plotting.

The split whiteboards template lets you create an activity in which students read text on one side of the screen and use freehand drawing and writing on the other side of the screen to answer questions. I can envision a lot of mathematics teachers using that option. The active plotting template is another that math teachers will like. It lets you create a graphing activity that your students complete online. The neat thing about it is that you can watch their work in real time. The split worksheets template, like the split whiteboard template, shows students text on one side of the screen and questions on the other side.

There are many other interesting templates and widgets that you can use in the creation of online activities for your students to complete via BookWidgets. There are templates for before and after comparisons, templates for adding interactive markers to images, and templates for showing a sequence of animation and video frames.

My screenshot below shows you some of the many types of templates that you can use to create online activities in BookWidgets.



View Progress in Realtime!
The little camera icon next to a BookWidgets template title indicates that you can view your students’ progress in realtime. The little checkbox icon identifies templates that can be used to create activities that can be automatically scored for you.

Getting Started
Like any good educational technology service, BookWidgets provides a comprehensive set of tutorials for first-time users. But as I do whenever I try a new service, I skipped the tutorials and dove right into making an activity. I recommend doing the same as I think it’s the best way to discover how a tool will really work for you.

When you first sign into your BookWidgets account you’ll be taken to your teacher dashboard. There you’ll see a home button on the left-hand side of the screen. That’s where you’ll also find a “My Widgets” box where you can then click to create your first widget (I’d call widgets “activities” if I was in charge of naming things). When you click “create a widget” you’ll then see a menu of more than thirty widget types including the aforementioned split whiteboard widget and split worksheet widget.



Once you’ve selected a widget type you’re ready to start customizing it for your needs. The process of customizing a widget starts the same way regardless of which one you pick. You’ll give your widget a title, choose a background image (optional), and then select your sharing settings. From there your next steps are to add content to your widget. If you’re using one of the quiz or other assessment widgets you’ll write your questions and create an answer key (if you want it automatically scored). If you’re using the split whiteboard widget, you’ll enter text to prompt your students. Take a look at my screenshot below to see the split whiteboard widget in action.



As you can see in my screenshot above, the split whiteboard widget includes the option to use video as part of the prompt that students respond to on the whiteboard.

Assigning Activities and Viewing Progress
There are a few ways that you can distribute your BookWidget to students. The simplest way is to simply grab the unique link assigned to your widget and share it with your students wherever you normally share links. Another option is to import your Google Classroom roster and share your widgets as assignments in Google Classroom. It’s also possible to connect to Microsoft Teams, Moodle, Schoology, and Canvas. And if your students use tablets or phones in your classroom, you might want to use the QR code option to share activities with them.


Students can complete BookWidget activities in the web browser on any device. When they’ve completed the activity they’ll simply tap or click the envelope icon in the upper-right corner of the screen to submit the assignment. Students don’t need to have email addresses in order to complete BookWidget activities. Once they’ve submitted a completed activity, you can view your students’ responses by simply clicking the “Grades & Reporting” option in your teacher dashboard then clicking “student work” where you can then view individual work and score it. You can also view a summary of submissions in the “Grades & Reporting” field.

As I mentioned above, it is possible to see your students’ work in progress before they have submitted it for your review. To do that just connect your Google Classroom account and click on “Live” in your teacher dashboard to see which of your students are working on an activity and how much they’ve done.

Options for Every Teacher
I could probably write one thousand words just about the customization options available to teachers creating BookWidgets activities. Suffice it to say, there is something for everyone. You can format your text for left-to-right or right-to-left. You can choose from sixteen language options or add your own custom translation. Pages can be formatted in landscape or portrait mode.

More than thirty question types and response types are available to add to BookWidgets activities. In this blog post I’ve only scratched the surface of what’s available. Some of the other notable features include the ability to record audio responses to questions, annotate images and drawings as responses, take and or upload image responses, and a slew of matching and ordering question formats. Math and science teachers will be pleased to learn that BookWidgets even has tools for authoring questions with equations and for creating responses with equations.

Watch my short video below to learn how to create your first BookWidgets activity and see how your students will use it.

And for even more examples of using split worksheets and split whiteboards take a look at this example called Kung Fu Grasshoppers and this one of an online maze.



Disclosure: BookWidgets is an advertiser on FreeTech4Teachers.com.

Accessibility in Google Docs and Slides

On Saturday morning I published a video about word art, fonts, and special characters in Google Docs and Slides. Later in the day someone Tweeted at me to "make sure the fonts are accessible." I replied with a section of my free Practical Ed Tech Handbook that is dedicated to accessibility. An excerpt of that section is included below. 

Google Documents
Google Documents has some built-in accessibility options that you should know how to enable. There are also some third-party Google Docs add-ons that can help you improve the accessibility of your documents.

In Google Documents there is a built-in voice typing capability. To find the voice typing tool simply open the “Tools” drop-down menu then select “Voice typing.” A microphone icon will appear in the left margin of your document. Click it to activate your microphone then start speaking and your words will appear on the page. You will have to speak directions like “question mark” to add punctuation and “new line” to start writing on a new line.

In the same “Tools” drop-down menu that contains the voice typing tool you will find the general accessibility settings menu. It is there that you can enable support for screen readers and screen magnifiers.

On the topic of screen readers, when you insert an image into a Google Document you can right-click on it to bring up the option to add alt text. Alt text is text that you add to an image to describe what is in the image. Screen readers will read the alt text.

Grackle is a Google Docs and Slides add-on that will check your documents and slides for accessibility compliance. When you run Grackle's accessibility checker it will identify places where your slide doesn't meet accessibility standards. It makes suggestions for improvement on the areas in which your document, slide, or sheet doesn't meet accessibility standards. Some of the suggestions can be implemented with just a click from the Grackle Add-on menu while others are changes that you will have to make yourself.

You can watch a demonstration of all of the Google Docs accessibility options mentioned above right here.



Google Slides
In Google Slides subtitles appear at the bottom of your screen when you are in full-screen presentation mode. You can enable subtitles by entering presentation mode then hovering your cursor over the lower-left corner of your slides to make the subtitles option appear. This short video provides a demonstration of how to enable subtitles in Google Slides.



Alt text, short for alternative text, is text that you can add to images and videos to describe what they are and or what they contain. Adding alt text can make your slideshows accessible to people who use screen readers. The alt text describes what is in a picture, chart, or video that is included in a slide. PowerPoint, Keynote, and Google Slides all provide options for adding alt text to your presentations.

To add alt text to images or videos in Google Slides simply right-click on the image or slide to which you need to add alt text. The menu that appears when you right-click on the image or video will include an alt text option where you can then write a title and description for the image or video. This video provides a demonstration of how to add alt text to Google Slides.



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 WayBetterSite. Featured image captured by Richard Byrne.

Sunday, October 24, 2021

A Video Project for the Week - Halloween Safety

Halloween is just seven days away. Ten days ago I shared my updated list of Halloween-themed activities and resources. In that list I included playing a Halloween safety review game from Kahoot. Keeping with the idea of Halloween safety, consider having students create a short video about trick o' treat safety. 

There are a lot of tools and ways that student could create a short video about trick o' treating safety. They could make a quick one-take video in Flipgrid in which they share a Halloween safety tip. Another option is to use Adobe Spark to make a little audio slideshow about Halloween safety. And my favorite option would be to use Canva's video editor to make a little animated video about Halloween safety. 

A quick search for "Halloween" in Canva will provide you with templates for making Halloween-themed videos and lots of Halloween-themed animated GIFs and drawings. Here's a demonstration of how to create an animated video by using Canva's video editor. 


Saturday, October 23, 2021

Forms, Earth, and STEM - The Week in Review

Good morning from Maine where it is still dark as I draft this blog post. In fact, it will be dark for at least another hour. The late sunrise is the only thing that I dislike about this time of year in Maine. Except for the big oak tree in my front yard, all of the leaves on the trees have changed color, the temperatures are a pleasant range of 50-60F, and there's lots of fun to be had outside. We'll be playing in the big leaf piles in our yard today. I hope that you do something fun today too. 

As I do every week, I've assembled a list of the most popular posts of the week. Take a look and see if there's something interesting that you missed earlier in the week. 

These were the week's most popular posts:
1. An Overview of Google Forms Quiz Settings
2. Samsung Solve for Tomorrow - A Great STEM Contest for Students!
3. Life on Minimum Wage - A Personal Economics Simulation Game
4. Ten Skills Students Can Learn from Google's Applied Digital Skills Lessons
5. The United Nations Explained for Kids
6. Gary Paulsen Talks About Reading and Writing
7. I'm Feeling Lucky - A Google Earth Lesson

Thank you for your support!
Your registrations in Practical Ed Tech courses (listed below) help me keep Free Technology for Teachers going.

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 38,000 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. 
  • 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 and WayBetterSite. Featured image captured by Richard Byrne.

Tips on Word Art, Fonts, and Special Characters in Google Docs and Slides

Earlier this week I received an email from a reader who wanted some advice to pass along to colleagues about using custom fonts in Google Docs. I made this short video to lend some assistance. Before you watch the video there are a few things to note about fonts in Google Docs and Slides. 

Unfortunately, without using a third-party add-on there isn't a way to upload fonts into Google Docs and Slides from outside of the Google Workspace ecosystem. That said, there are more than 400 fonts available in the fonts drop-down menu in Google Docs and Slides. 

Word Art in Google Slides lets you create text that automatically resizes when you click and drag on the corners around it. Word Art can also be customized with border and fill colors as well as border dashes and dots. 

Special characters in Google Docs and Slides are found in the "insert" drop-down menu. This is where you can find things like emoticons, musical symbols, accent marks, and lots of little icons. 

Watch this video to learn more about using Word Art, fonts, and special characters in Google Docs and Slides. 

Friday, October 22, 2021

Create a Portfolio With Carrd.co

I often get asked for recommendations for simple website builders that teachers and students can use to create small websites. Google Sites is fine, but the aesthetics still have a long way to go. Services like WordPress and Weebly are great, but have way more menus and options than what's needed for a quick and simple site. Carrd.co is a new service that just might fill the need for an easy-to-use tool to quickly create good-looking, simple websites. 

I gave Carrd.co a try this afternoon. In ten minutes I created a little photography portfolio site that looks way better than anything I could have created with Google Sites or WordPress. Watch this short demo video to see how you can create a portfolio site with Carrd.co.



Applications for Education
Carrd.co could be a good little tool for high school or college students to use to create simple websites to share information about themselves and their work. They can create sites that are useful to have and share when applying for an internship, a scholarship, or a job.

A Helpful New Feature for Formatting Google Docs

Google Docs users who regularly create multiple page documents will be happy to learn that Google is adding a new page break feature to Google Docs. The new page break option will let you insert a page break before any new paragraph. This means that you'll no longer have to manually insert spaces to create a page break. Likewise, your formatting of the page break will be preserved if you have to later add more text or images to a page within your document. 

Applications for Education
This new page break will be welcomed by anyone who uses Google Docs to create long documents like worksheets that incorporate a lot of images, charts, or special text formatting. The new page break option should make it easier to preserve the formatting of pages without having to manually insert or delete spaces.

Google Adds More Audio and Video Controls to Google Meet

This week Google announced a new feature that will be welcomed by any teacher who regularly uses Google Meet to host online classes. That feature is the ability to selectively mute participant audio and video. For quite a while you've been able to mute all participants and turn off their webcams. The new feature prevents participants from unmuting themselves after you've muted them.

Those who have access to breakout rooms in Google Meet will find that the participant audio and video settings will also apply to breakout rooms. 

It should be noted that if your students are joining from an Android device or iOS device, they will need to be updated to the latest version of the Google Meet apps. If they don't use the updated apps, they won't be able to join your meeting if you have the audio and video locks enabled in your call. 

Applications for Education
I can think of at least a few times in the last 18 months that this new feature would have been helpful to me. I've muted students who wanted to interupt and had them unmute themselves. It then became kind of an annoying game of "mute, unmute" that distracted the class.

Like almost all Google Workspace updates, this one will take a couple of weeks to appear in all users' accounts. 

Thursday, October 21, 2021

An Interactive Land Use Map

WorldCover Viewer is a new interactive land use map produced by the European Space Agency. The map lets visitors see how land is used worldwide and in specific places. Visitors can pan and zoom to see land use for an area or use the statistics explorer tools built into the map to see land use statistics for a country, state, or province. Views of the map and associated data can be downloaded from the WorldCover Viewer. 

The map represents ten categories of land use. Those categories are:

  • Tree Cover
  • Shrubland
  • Grassland
  • Cropland
  • Built-up
  • Bare/ Sparse Vegetation
  • Snow and Ice
  • Permanent Water Bodies
  • Herbaceous wetland
  • Mangroves
  • Moss and Lichen
As you'll see in my video overview of WorldCover Viewer, it include a tool for measuring areas of land use. In my video overview I also demonstrate how to enable different layers on the map. 



Applications for Education
WorldCover Viewer could be a great resource for students to use to learn about how land is used in the area around them and globally. Students might be surprised to learn how much land is or isn't built-up in their home state or province. I can see using WorldCover Viewer as the starting place for student research into environmental challenges and concerns about land use.

H/T to Maps Mania for sharing WorldCover Viewer. 

Reminder - Old Google Sites are Going Away!

After five years of warnings, Google is finally ending support for the old version of Google Sites on December 1st. If you've been clinging to the hope that Google wouldn't force you to transition to the current version of Google Sites, it's time to give up that hope and convert your old site to the current version of Google Sites. Otherwise, on December 1st you'll no longer be able to edit your site or do anything else with it. 

In the following video I demonstrate how to convert your old Google Sites websites to the current version. Fortunately, the process is very simple and quick. Just head to sites.google.com then click on "classic sites manager" in the left margin of the page. Then on the next screen you can select the site(s) that you want to convert. Once you've clicked "convert" Google will handle the rest. If you're not sure which version of Google Sites you are using, watch my video to learn how you can quickly tell which version you're using. 

On a related note, I have a complete playlist of Google Sites tutorials right here. The best video to get started is this one that walks you through everything you need to know to create your first website with Google Sites.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

The United Nations Explained for Kids

A couple of weeks ago I discovered CBC Kids News and I shared a great video that explains what the word indigenous means when referring to people. This afternoon I browsed through CBC Kids News again and found a nice animated video that explains the United Nations to kids

United Nations Explained is a short video designed to help elementary school students understand the basics of what the United Nations is, it's purpose, how it functions, and what it says about kids. Watch the video right here or as embedded below. 



Applications for Education
The video is good on its own as an explanation and introduction to the United Nations. You could have students answer some basic questions about the U.N. after watching the video. But I'd prefer to have students write down lists of questions that the video raised in their minds while they were watching. Questions like, "what if the countries don't get along?" and "what happens if they break the rules?" could lead to some great classroom conversations and lessons.

Samsung Solve for Tomorrow - Timeline Extended

On Tuesday I published a blog post about Samsung's Solve for Tomorrow contest that is now open for entries. This afternoon it was brought to my attention that Samsung has extended the judging period for initial entries. Initial entries are still due by November 8th (it only takes a few minutes to enter) but the state winners will now be selected in early December instead of on November 18th as I wrote yesterday. 

I should point out that everything else that I wrote about Samsung's Solve for Tomorrow contest is still correct. State winners will receive one Samsung Video Kit (approximate retail value $2,600) and a $6,500 prize package to be redeemed through DonorsChoose. National finalists win $50,000 in classroom technology prizes and the overall winner receives $100,000 in classroom technology prizes.

The contest is open to sixth through twelfth grade public school students and teachers in the United States. You can learn more and enter here.

Disclosure: Samsung Solve for Tomorrow is an advertiser on my blog.

I'm Feeling Lucky - A Google Earth Lesson

From voyages to games to simple measuring tools, the web version of Google Earth has a lot of neat features that can help students learn about the world. One of those neat features is the "I'm Feeling Lucky" button that is found on the left hand toolbar in Google Earth. Clicking that button will take students to a randomly-selected place in the world. 

On its own the "I'm Feeling Lucky" button provides a good way for students to discover new places. That said, students learn more through the "I'm Feeling Lucky" button  if you give them a little more direction than just "click the button and look around." That's why I created a little question sheet to prompt students to do a little research about the places they discover in Google Earth via "I'm Feeling Lucky." My question sheet can be found here as a Google Doc. 

This short video demonstrates how students can explore Google Earth in more detail after clicking "I'm Feeling Lucky."



To learn more about using Google Earth in your classroom, take a look at my Crash Course in Google Earth & Maps for Social Studies.

Five Ways to Use Wakelet in Your Classroom

Yesterday's blog post about using Wakelet to create instructional videos got me thinking about other ways that Wakelet can be used in classrooms. Here's an overview of five ways to think about using Wakelet in your classroom. 

Create an Instructional Video



Prompt of the Day.
If you're not using a learning management system that contains an easy way to post daily prompts for your students to reply to, consider using Wakelet. You can post a prompt in the form of text, picture, or video and then have your students reply by writing a reply, recording a video, or by uploading an image. Just make sure you've enabled collaboration on your Wakelet collections.

Video collections.
Want to do more than just make a playlist in YouTube? Consider making a collection of videos in Wakelet. You can include videos from many sources besides YouTube and organize collections by theme or topic.



Organize Research
With Wakelet's browser extension it's easy to save links and files to then organize into collections for a research project. Here's a video on how to use Wakelet's browser extensions.



Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Samsung Solve for Tomorrow - A Great STEM Contest for Students!

Disclosure: this is a sponsored post about a topic I've covered in the past. 

The 12th annual Samsung Solve for Tomorrow contest is now open for submissions until November 8th. This year the contest asks students to consider how science, technology, engineering, and mathematics can be used to create change in their communities. The overall contest winners will receive a prize package that includes $100,000 in classroom technology and materials for their school. National finalists will receive $50,000 in classroom technology prizes. And state finalists receive $6,500 in prizes for their schools.

This year’s Samsung Solve for Tomorrow contest requires students and teachers to think about how STEM can be used to create change in their communities. Samsung provides an example of STEM impacting a community in the article Starving Out Hunger: Students Use STEM to Fight Food Insecurity. As you’ll see in that example as well as others, for the purpose of this contest community can refer to the area immediately around your school or it can refer to the global community. Furthermore, when you register for the contest you’ll see that it is seeking submissions that can align with U.N. Sustainable Development Goals.

Benefits of Contest Entry
There are other benefits to entering the contest besides the chance to win $100,000 in classroom technology. One of those is that it can help your students identify and propose solutions to problems that affect their local communities. But, as you can see from past contest finalists, the problems and solutions that students identify often have global applications. Furthermore, creating Solve for Tomorrow projects can help your students see the importance of integrating skills from science, technology, engineering, arts, and math into meaningful solutions to real world problems.

Another benefit of participating in Samsung’s Solve for Tomorrow contest is that it can be used to help students learn how to propose solutions, plan a project, and measure the impact of the project. You’ll see that after filling out the initial application information, the second page includes the following question, “What assessments will you put in place to measure the impact of your solution (pre, during and post project) that can be presented by Spring 2022?”

Take a look at some videos of previous winners to get ideas and inspiration for this year’s Samsung Solve for Tomorrow contest.

Contest Timeline
As in previous years, Samsung’s Solve for Tomorrow contest has an initial entry deadline. This year that deadline is November 8th! State winners are chosen just ten days later!

After the initial entry deadline submissions will be judged and state winners will be announced in early December. State winners will receive one (1) Samsung Video Kit (approximate retail value $2,600) and a $6,500 prize package to be redeemed through DonorsChoose.

The state winners will then create three minute videos to demonstrate how STEM can be applied to help improve their community. The videos should show the application of a specific STEM activity/topic used to address the issue submitted in their initial entry into the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow contest. Ten national finalists will be selected from submissions of the state winners. Judging of national finalists’ submissions will begin in February and run through April of 2022.

Initial entries are due by November 8th. It only takes a few minutes to enter today!

How to Enter!
Entry into the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow contest must be made by a teacher on behalf of their students. Samsung provides a comprehensive set of resources and an FAQ page for teachers to consult as they prepare to enter the contest with their students. Those resources include a sample entry form and a sheet of tips for bringing PBL (project based learning) into virtual classrooms as well as in-person classrooms.

To enter Samsung’s Solve for Tomorrow contest you do need to register for a free account on the contest homepage. When you register you’ll answer a few short questions about your school and the project that your students envision. Once you’ve done that you’ll unlock the full project plan sheet and the scoring rubric for the contest.

Register here to enter Samsung’s Solve for Tomorrow contest, it only takes a few minutes to complete the initial entry.

How to Record an Instructional Video in Wakelet

Wakelet is an excellent tool for creating collections of bookmarks, notes, and files to share with your students. It has has a built-in video creation tool in the form of a Flipgrid integration. That integration allows you to create videos with your webcam, by recording your screen, by recording on a virtual whiteboard, or a combination of those options. You can record short instructional videos by recording with your webcam and the virtual whiteboard within Wakelet. In this short video I demonstrate how to do that. 



Applications for Education
You can use Wakelet's Flipgrid integration to create short instructional videos that you add to a collection of resources in Wakelet. Consider creating collections based on topics or units of instruction to make it easier for students to quickly find the help resources that they need when working on a homework or other assignment.

Students can also use Wakelet's Flipgrid integration to create instructional videos. I'd consider having students make short instructional videos to demonstrate their understanding of a problem solving process. I'd also consider having students make instructional videos to talk about and teach a lesson on topics their passionate about outside of school.

An Easy Way to Make an Animated Video in Canva

Last week Canva launched a new online video editing studio. I gave it a try last week and recorded a short overview of the basics of how it works. Yesterday, I spent more time diving into all of the features within Canva's video editor and found some gems. One of those gems is the ability to edit and combine stock animation clips within the frames of a larger video project. 

Canva has always had a large collection of free animated GIFs and animated video clips to add to graphics. Now you can trim those clips, combine them, and duplicate them in Canva's video editor. Doing that provides an easy way to make an animated video. The video editor will also let you add audio to accompany the animations that you combine in Canva. Watch this short demonstration to see how I made a short animated video with Canva's new video editor studio. 


Applications for Education
Creating an animated video with stock footage from Canva's gallery could be a good way for students to bring their writing to life. Another way to think about using this is to have students create animations to illustrate science concepts in a manner similar to PhET simulations. Canva is designed for online collaboration and so students can work in pairs to edit their videos together. 

Monday, October 18, 2021

An Overview of Google Forms Quiz Settings

Back in July I published a series of videos and blog posts detailing what you need to know to get started using Google Classroom, Drive, Docs, Slides, and Forms in your classroom (those are linked below). Of course, Google had to make some updates to Google Forms right at the start of the new school year and in doing so added some more functionality to Google Forms while also moving the location of some settings menus. That's why I recorded a new overview of Google Forms quiz settings. 

In my new video, An Overview of Google Forms Quiz Settings, you'll learn:

  • How to access the settings. 
  • What each setting does. 
  • Why you may or may not want to use some settings. 



More Helpful Google Forms Tutorials:

How to Share Google Arts & Culture Experiences in Google Classroom

Last week Google Arts & Culture published a great online exhibit titled Walk the Great Wall. It's a fantastic colleciton of Street View imagery and multimedia stories about the Great Wall of China. As I wrote last week, Walk the Great Wall includes detailed imagery of the bricks of the wall, short lessons about the construction of the Great Wall, stories of myths and legends of the Great Wall, and lots of imagery of the Great Wall from end to end in all four seasons of the year.  

The only "problem" with the Walk the Great Wall Google Arts & Culture exhibit is that it is so large that if you want all your students to look at a specific section of it all at once, you have to share individual sections with your students instead of the whole exhibit. Fortunately, Google does make it relatively easy to share just a section of a Google Arts & Culture exhibit with your students. In this new video I demonstrate exactly how to do that. 



Applications for Education
Sharing a specific section of a Google Arts & Culture exhibit is a good way to get all of your students looking at and discussing an element of an exhibit at the same time. Alternatively, you could assign different sections of an exhibit to groups of students then have them share observations with the whole class. 

The method that I demonstrated in the video can also be used with other learning management systems. Simply get the sharing link from the section of the exhibit that you want to share and then manually paste it into an assignment in your LMS instead of using the Google Classroom button.

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Copyright, Handbooks, and Goals - The Week in Review

Good morning from Vermont where in a few hours I'll be riding in my last bike race of the year, The Hibernator. I still have fitness goals to reach this (riding 7,500 miles in 2021 is the big one), but this is my last event of the year and it looks like the weather is going to be a typical northern New England mix of clouds, drizzle, and a large temperature swing during the day. It should be fun! I hope that you have something fun planned for your weekend as well. 

Before I head out on my bike I have this week's list of the most popular posts of the week to share with you. Take a look and see if there's something new or interesting that you missed during the week. 

These were the week's most popular posts:
1. Get Your Free Copy of The Practical Ed Tech Handbook
2. Transcribing Early Copyright Applications
3. The Science of Cake! - And 83 Other Food Science Lessons
4. Ten Skills Students Can Learn from Google's Applied Digital Skills Lessons
5. Five Genius Hour Activities With Tract - Students Teaching Students
6. Taskade - A Complete Project Planning Solution for Teachers and Students
7. What Does Indigenous Mean? - And Why Some States No Longer Celebrate Columbus Day

Thank you for your support!
Your registrations in Practical Ed Tech courses (listed below) help me keep Free Technology for Teachers going.

A big thank you also goes to the companies whose advertising helps keep the lights on.
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 38,000 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. 
  • 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 and WayBetterSite. Featured image captured by Richard Byrne.

Gary Paulsen Talks About Reading and Writing

Gary Paulsen's book, Hatchet was the first book that I willingly and eagerly read from cover to cover when I was in elementary school. It filled my suburban child mind with great thoughts of adventure and a little virtual escape at a time when my own parents were going through divorce. The book meant and still means a lot to me. That's why I was sad to learn of Gary Paulsen's passing earlier this week.

After learning of Gary Paulsen's death I went looking for more stories about him. In doing so I came across this nice video produced by Random House Kids. The short video was released in 2010 and it features some poignant moments of Mr. Paulsen talking about his life and his work. Librarians may be especially pleased to hear him talk about how he was inspired to read. 

If you enjoyed Gary Paulsen's books the way that I did, spend a few minutes watching the video. I think you'll like it. 

Self-Paced Professional Development

The primary means through which I am able to keep Free Technology for Teachers going is through consulting and speaking engagements along with the sales of my live and on-demand Practical Ed Tech courses

The latest addition to my catalog of on-demand courses was made last month when I released Search Strategies Students Need to Know. The courses that I offer are a Crash Course in Google Earth and Maps for Social Studies and A Crash Course in Making and Teaching With Video

All three of these courses are completely self-paced. Each course contains six to ten modules that will take you sixty to ninety minutes to complete from start to finish. Of course, as you go through the courses you can go back and review any and all of the modules as often as you like. A certificate of completion is provided at the end of each course. 

Group rates for departments and schools are available for all three courses. Just send me an email at richard (at) byrne.media to learn more about group enrollment.  


Friday, October 15, 2021

Life on Minimum Wage - A Personal Economics Simulation Game

Almost twelve years ago I published a Google Document that outlines a personal economics simulation that I conducted in my classroom. For many years after that it was the most-requested Google Doc that I published. Then for the last few years I haven't had any requests for it. In fact, I forgot that I had even published it. That changed this week when out of the blue I got a few requests for it. You can get a copy of my simulation, Life on Minimum Wage right here

The purpose of Life on Minimum Wage is for students to recognize how difficult it is to save money when your only job(s) pay minimum wage without benefits. To win at Life on Minimum Wage the students have to reach five financial goals that they select. To earn money the students have to complete the tasks of their assigned jobs. The students then have to pay required bills before using money for their selected financial goals. As the game progresses students will be issued "surprise" cards which require them to spend money on things like speeding tickets, trips to a health clinic, and increases in rent.

All of the jobs in Life on Minimum Wage are connected so that if one business slows production or closes, the workers of another business are also impacted. The goal here is to demonstrate the effects of a business closing on a small town's economy.

Important notes before using this activity:
I created this activity twelve years ago and I have not adjusted it for inflation since then. You'll probably want to do that.

Before you email me about the Browning rifle goal card, please understand that these were goals chosen by my students in a rural community in which hunting is often a family tradition. You're welcome to change that card for use in your own classroom.

How to Create a Video in Canva

Yesterday, Canva released a new video editor. As I mentioned in yesterday's post about it, Canva has had some video creation tools for a couple of years, but this is a new option that can be used to create anything from a thirty second personal introduction clip to a long documentary-style video and anything in between. 

I tested out Canva's new video editor and found it rather easy to use. I made this video to demonstrate how it works from start to finish. 



To learn about the many other things that you and your students can do with Canva, please take a look at this playlist of Canva tutorials that I've created.

Fifteen Exit Ticket Questions for Almost Any Classroom

This is an excerpt from this week's Practical Ed Tech Newsletter. The newsletter is sent every Sunday evening (Eastern Time) and it includes my tip of the week and summary of the week's most popular posts from Free Technology for Teachers. You can sign up for the newsletter right here. 

Whether an exit ticket is conducted with digital tools or on scraps of paper (a strategy I abandoned years ago because I always seemed to misplaced a paper or two), strategy is the same. I try to ask questions that aren't "yes/ no" but can still be answered by all students in just a minute or two. To that end, here's a list of general purpose exit ticket questions that I developed and have used at various times in my career.

1. What’s a new-to-you word or term you heard today?

2. What’s one thing you’d change about today’s lesson?

3. How did today’s lesson make you feel?
 
4. How well do you think you’d do if we had a quiz next week?
 
5. How would you describe today’s lesson to a classmate who was absent?

6. What was your favorite part of today’s lesson?

7. What surprised you about today’s class?
 
8. What’s something you wish was different in class?
 
9. What’s one question you’d put on a quiz about today’s lesson?
 
10. How would you help a classmate who didn’t understand today’s lesson?
 
11. What’s one thing you’d like to learn more about?
 
12. What was the easiest part of today’s class?
 
13. How did today’s lesson fit with the one before it?
 
14. What do you think the next lesson will be about?
 
15. What was the hardest part of today’s class?

Thursday, October 14, 2021

A New Video Editing Tool from Canva

Over the years I've used Canva to create everything from simple social media graphics to websites and dozens of things in between including making short video presentations. Today, Canva introduced a new video editor that goes beyond the basics of the previous video creation options available in Canva. 

Canva's new video editor includes hundreds of video creation templates designed for school projects. All of the templates can be modified as teachers and students see fit. It's also possible to simply build a video from scratch without using a template in Canva's new video editor. The video editor works the same way whether you use a template or build your video from scratch. And just like the other design tools in Canva, the video editor is designed for online collaboration. 

Key Features of Canva's New Video Editor
There are a lot of things that you could do with Canva's new video editor. Here's a run down of the key features:
  • Online collaboration. Students can invite their classmates to work on a video project remotely. 
  • Hundreds of templates designed for school projects. 
  • Millions of stock pictures, drawings, and icons. 
  • Large library of free music and video clips to include in video projects. 
  • Record new video clips within the editor and or import your own video clips into the editor. 
  • Videos can be downloaded as MP4 files and or published online via Canva. 
How it Works
The basic framework of Canva's video editor is that you build your video on a frame-by-frame basis much like slideshow presentation. However, each frame can be as short or as long as you want it to be and each frame can be as simple or complex as you make it. Additionally, the finished product doesn't come across as an audio slideshow the way that videos made with other tools like Animoto or Adobe Spark appear.

Within each frame of your Canva video you can add pictures, text, video clips, and background audio. You can also add background audio to the entire video and edit that audio separately from the video frames. 

Completed projects can be saved and shared in a number of ways. The simplest thing to do is to download the video as an MP4 file so that you have a local copy to share anywhere you like. Additionally, you can share your video by using one of the many sharing options built into Canva's video editor. Those options include sharing via unique links, publishing as a simple stand-alone website, sharing to Google Drive, and grabbing an embed code to post on a blog. 

Applications for Education
Canva's new video editor could be used for all kinds of projects from 30 second personal introductions to book trailers to short documentary-style videos. As it is an online and collaborative tool, Canva's video editor is perfect for students to use at home as well as in your classroom without having to worry about misplacing or forgetting project assets. 

I gave Canva's new video editor a first try this morning and I'd recommend it for students in grade five (age 10-11) and above. Younger students may be frustrated by it because there are so many options and it's not immediately obvious how to use all of them. 

To learn more about other ways to use Canva in your classroom, take a look at this blog post that I published last month. In that post you'll find tutorials on using Canva to make interactive worksheets, create presentations, make infographics, create multimedia timelines, and much more. 

Blackbird - Coding as a Conduit

Last spring I trialed a new learn-to-code platform called Blackbird. As I wrote in May, I liked it and most of my students liked it. This fall Blackbird introduced an updated user interface and a new slogan of "Coding as a Conduit." The mission of Blackbird remains the same as before. That mission being to help teachers introduce coding to their students. 

How it Works
Blackbird is a platform that is trying to bridge the gap between using block editors like Scratch and making students jump into a full-fledged IDE without any built-in support resources. Blackbird teaches students how to write code (specifically, JavaScript) through a series of short, guided lessons before challenging them with some "workshop projects." Along the way there are plenty of easily accessible help resources for students to use without having to leave the code that they're currently writing.

What's New This Fall
Last spring I made this short video about how to use Blackbird. The concepts are the same as when I made the video, but the user interface has changed to make it easier for students to find the lessons and for teachers to view their students' progress. Blackbird released a new video that shows how the current user interface looks. That video is embedded below.

Blackbird Product Tour - Fall 2021 from Blackbird on Vimeo.

Applications for Education
If you have lots of experience teaching coding and programming, Blackbird might be too simple for you. But if you're new to teaching coding and programming, Blackbird is a great choice because it will walk you through all of the activities and lessons before your students do the lessons.
Another update from when I used Blackbird last spring is an improved integration with Google Classroom that makes it easy to import your Google Classroom rosters and view your students' progress through the lessons.

Tour the Great Wall of China - A New Google Arts & Culture Experience

After Google announced the closure of Google Expeditions earlier this year Google Arts & Culture became the place to go to find much of the virtual imagery that was available in Expeditions. The library of imagery and stories in Google Arts & Culture has steadily grown throughout the year. The latest big addition to that library is found in the new Walk the Great Wall exhibit that was introduced yesterday

Walk the Great Wall includes a virtual tour of the Great Wall of China in which you can view immersive, 360 imagery of the towers and the wall. The Walk the Great Wall exhibit also includes detailed imagery of the bricks of the wall, short lessons about the construction of the Great Wall, stories of myths and legends of the Great Wall, and lots of imagery of the Great Wall from end to end in all four seasons of the year. 

Learn With Google Arts & Culture
Earlier this year Google introduced a new resource for teachers called Learn With Google Arts & Culture. It is a collection of lesson plans, Street View imagery, and virtual tours based around the content found in Google Arts & Culture

The lesson plans are what make Learn With Google Arts & Culture worth bookmarking. There are dozens of detailed lesson plans available through Learn With Google Arts & Culture. The lesson plans are very detailed and include links for students and teachers to follow. Much of each lesson plan that I reviewed could be completed by students working independently. 

In this video I provide an overview of Learn With Google Arts & Culture. The overview includes:

  • How to access the lesson plans. 
  • How to share specific portions of Google Arts & Culture in your Google Classroom. 
  • How to create collections of artifacts from Google Arts & Culture to share with your students. 

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Ten Skills Students Can Learn from Google's Applied Digital Skills Lessons

Disclosure: this article was written as a paid partnership with Google for Education. 

Over the years I’ve always recommended creating your own lesson plans as much as possible. However, the reality is that sometimes we just run out of ideas and need to borrow some inspiration from others. That is why, after more than a decade of introducing students and teachers to the capabilities and possibilities of using Google Workspace tools, I now recommend looking at Google’s Applied Digital Skills lessons for ideas about teaching with Google Docs, Slides, Sheets, and other Google Workspace tools.

There are currently 160 lesson plans available in Google’s Applied Digital Skills catalog. I’ve gone through and selected ten that can be used not only to help students become familiar with Google Workspace tools but also to develop skills that they can use throughout their academic careers and beyond.

All of the lesson plans in the Applied Digital Skills curriculum follow the same format. The lesson begins with a short introductory video (written transcripts are available) followed by videos that demonstrate the skills and tasks required to complete the lesson. Upon successful completion of the lesson students can receive an Applied Digital Skills certificate of completion.

Evaluate the Credibility of Online Sources
If your students are doing any online research, evaluating online sources is a skill that they need to develop. The days of evaluating websites based on top-level domain or site aesthetics are long gone (thankfully). Today, students need to have a process for analyzing the content of what they’re reading online. A process for evaluation is exactly what the Evaluate the Credibility of Online Sources Applied Digital Skills lesson teaches. Along the way, students also learn some helpful tips about creating and formatting Google Docs and Google Sheets.

Build Healthy Digital Habits
Between mobile phones, laptops, tablets, and television it is easy to spend an unhealthy amount of time looking at a screen. That’s why I was happy to find the Build Healthy Digital Habits Applied Digital Skills lesson that can help students become aware of their own digital habits and begin to build better ones. In the lesson students use Google Slides to create a journal in which they log their digital and non-digital activities. In addition to logging activities students write short reflections about how those activities made them feel and how they might change their activities in the future to create a better balance between digital and non-digital activities.

Time Management
For years I’ve told my high school students that showing up on time and getting things done on schedule is a skill that will help them be successful in many areas of their lives beyond school. Of course, school is the place to develop that skill. The Applied Digital Skill lesson Create a Study Schedule with Google Sheets can help students develop better time management skills. Through the lesson students will also learn how to format spreadsheets, how to conduct sorting functions in spreadsheets, and how to track progress in spreadsheets.

Group Project Management
Being able to work with a group of people to complete a project is a skill that can serve students well throughout their lives. Much like individual time management, group project management can be made easier when done with a plan. Google Sheets is a great tool for creating a plan and system for managing a group project. The Applied Digital Skills lesson Organize a Group Project walks students through how to format a spreadsheet, share it, and use it to track project tasks with a group.

Story Planning
Writing an If-Then Adventure Story is a lesson in which students collaborate with classmates to create a story that has multiple possible story paths. I’ve used variations of this lesson with students as young as fourth grade all the way through high school. The basic idea is that students use hyperlinking within Google Slides to build multiple pathways through their stories and the reader gets to pick the direction in which the story goes. Through the process of creating an If-Then Adventure Story students develop story planning skills as they learn to account for multiple possibilities throughout the story.

Game Design
Playing a game that someone else made is fun. Watching someone play a game that you built or playing a game you built with someone can be even more fun. I’ve witnessed this first-hand with my own students. If you want your students to develop a digital game and learn some spreadsheet skills at the same time, take a look at the Applied Digital Skills lesson titled Wage a Sea Battle with Google Sheets.

Mind Mapping
Mind mapping is a topic that I have researched and written about extensively over the years (most recently right here). I’ve used Google Drawings for years to have students create their own mind maps on a wide variety of topics. Creating mind maps is a great way for students to think about and demonstrate the connections that they make between topics on a given subject. This Applied Digital Skills lesson will show you and your students how to Create a Mind Map with Google Drawings.

Conducting Job Searches and Identifying Career Paths
The days of high school students opening the classifieds to find a part-time job are long gone. Likewise, learning about career paths is no longer limited to looking in a few library books about careers. Google for Education’s Applied Digital Skills lesson library has lessons that can help you help your students learn how to find part-time jobs and explore career paths.

In the Search for a Part-time or Summer Job lesson, students learn to identify their interests, create a list of their experiences and skills, and then find part-time jobs that match their interests and experiences.

The Research Career Paths lesson takes students beyond the old days of reading about careers in a book or listening to guest speakers during a “career day” at school. The lesson plan walks students through using Google Sheets to analyze career paths based on pay, education requirements, education costs, and job outlook. I used a slightly modified version of this lesson last year to help my students research career paths. My modification added a layer specifically for career paths within computer science.

Understand Digital Footprints
It seems like every day there’s a new story about a celebrity or public figure getting in hot water because of something they said or did online in the past. That should serve as a good reminder to us to teach our students to be mindful of what they say and do online. At the same time it serves as a reminder to teach students that they leave digital footprints everywhere they go. In Understand Your Digital Footprint students use Google Sheets to create visualizations of their digital footprints to understand how large their footprints can be.

Build a Portfolio
As I’ve told my high school students over the last couple of years, building a digital portfolio can be a part of managing your digital footprint and increasing your job opportunities. To that end, my high school students created small digital portfolios. My students used Google Sites for that process and yours can too when they follow the steps outlined in Google for Education’s Applied Digital Skills lesson titled Build a Portfolio With Google Sites.

Start Using These Lessons!
Watch this short video that I created and learn how you can distribute Google for Education’s Applied Digital Skills lessons to your students via Google Classroom.