Monday, January 24, 2022

Making Snowflakes and Sundials

Last week I shared a couple of good places to find ideas and plans for at-home, hands-on science lessons. Here's a couple more ideas to try courtesy of SciShow Kids. 

In this SciShow Kids video students learn how a sundial works and how they can make their own sundials. The video could be the basis for a fun, hands-on lesson about learning to tell time.

For those in cold, northern climates creating and taking sundials outside might not be practical right now. SciShow Kids has a video that is a little more appropriate for winter. That video is How to Make a Paper Snowflake. The video gives directions at a nice pace that students can follow. The video also introduces some science vocabulary that might be new to elementary school students.

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Five Tools for Making Wordle Word Clouds

Do you remember when Wordle was a word cloud generator that was taking the Web 2.0/ edtech world by storm? I do and lately I can't help but think of it whenever I see people post their Wordle scores on social media. For those who don't remember those days, Wordle was originally a word cloud generator that teachers were using to create visual summaries of large blocks of text. I found it to be useful in providing students with a nice way to visualize the most frequently used words in a passage of text. 

The original Wordle word cloud tool no longer exists, but there are others that still do and are still helpful. Here's a handful of them to try. 

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

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

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

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

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

Three Tips for Getting More Out of Webinars

I love webinars. They're a convenient way to learn from experts that I otherwise wouldn't get to interact with. But not everyone enjoys them like I do. In fact, I didn't always find them enjoyable. Then about ten years ago I made some simple, almost "duh," discoveries that helped me get more out of each webinar that I joined. A few years ago I shared those tips in this video on my YouTube channel. Below the embedded video I have written the tips.

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

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

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

Next week I'm hosting a webinar for those who have purchased a copy of my ebook, 50 Tech Tuesday Tips. Learn more about the ebook and the webinar right here

Saturday, January 22, 2022

Math, Science, and QR Codes - The Week in Review

Good morning from frozen Maine. It's -5F as I write this. The snow in my yard is so frozen that my dogs and my kids don't break through the when walking on it. It should warm up a bit today and we'll go outside to play for a bit. Part of being a Mainer is learning to have fun outside in all seasons. If you don't go outside all winter, you'll catch cabin fever in January and be downright nutty by March. Heck, I get a little stir crazy if I don't play outside for a day. 

I hope that you had a great week and have a great weekend. If part of your weekend calls for catching up on some light reading, take a look at this week's list of the most popular posts of the week. 

These were the week's most popular posts:
1. Read Aloud in Edge and Other Immersive Reader Uses
2. Good Resources for Remote Math & Science Lessons
3. QRToon - Cartoons in Your QR Codes
4. A Couple of Good Places to Find Science Activities for School or Home
5. Top Tools and Activities for Collaborative Learning in 2022
6. Making Your Educational Games Look Good With TinyTap
7. Three Alternatives to ViewPure for Distraction-free YouTube Viewing

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

On-demand Professional DevelopmentOther 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 39,000 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 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.

Easy Ways to Create Voice Recordings - No Account Required

The post that published on Wednesday about adding bird sounds to Google Slides prompted a couple of people to ask me about other tools for quickly recording audio files. There are three tools that I typically recommend to those who are looking to just record short spoken audio tracks and don't require additional editing functions. Those three tools are Vocaroo, Online Voice Recorder, and Twisted Wave. 

All three of these tools don't require students to have email addresses or create any kind of account in order to make a short audio recording then download it as an MP3.

I've been using Vocaroo for more than a decade. It's incredibly simple to use. Just head to the site, click the record button, and start talking. When you're finished recording hit the stop button. You can listen to your recording before downloading it as an MP3. If you don't like your recording you can create a new one by just refreshing the homepage and starting again. Here's my demo of how to use Vocaroo.

Online Voice Recorder offers the same simplicity of Vocaroo plus a couple of features that I've always wished Vocaroo had. One of those features is the ability to pause a recording in progress and resume it when I want to. The other feature is the option to trim the dead air at the beginning and end of a recording. Watch my video to see those features in action.

Twisted Wave
Twisted Wave offers many more features than either of the tools mentioned above. But at it's most basic level you can still just head to the site, launch the recorder, start talking, and then export your recording as an MP3 all without creating an account on the site. For those who are looking for a way to save audio directly into Google Drive, Twisted Wave offers that capability. Watch my short video below to see how you can use Twisted Wave to make an audio recording and save it directly to your Google Drive.

Friday, January 21, 2022

Roles in Group Video Projects

This is an excerpt from the most recent issue of my weekly Practical Ed Tech Newsletter

Video projects provide a great opportunity for students to work together to create something all team members can be proud of. But for any good project to come together, students need to have a plan and need to have roles within the group. This is true whether students are making an animated video made with Canva, a book trailer video made with Adobe Express, a documentary with WeVideo, or just about any other type of video project beyond a basic Flipgrid response video.

My hope is that this gives you some ideas for developing your own planning guide for your students based on their ages, skills, and interests.

Roles in the Group Project
It’s important to recognize that all of our students have different interests, strengths, and personalities. Some love to be on camera and love to hear their own voices. Others don’t want any part of being on camera and hate hearing their own voices played back to them (here’s an explanation of why that’s common). That’s okay because there can be a role that plays to the strengths and interests of every person in the group.

Here are some of the roles that I’ve given to or had students choose when working on group video projects.
  • Script writer
  • Voiceover artist
  • On-camera performer
  • Editor
  • Fact-checker
  • Researcher
  • Materials gatherer
  • Cartoonist
  • Reviewer
Some of these roles can be and probably should be done by all group members. In my U.S. History classes if students were working in groups to make videos about an element of the American Revolution, all of the students would be involved in planning, researching, and script writing.

Artifacts of U.S. History for Teaching and Learning

Earlier this week I was catching up on some RSS feeds in Feedly when I came across this drawing from the patent application for the board game that became Monopoly. That drawing was the featured artifact of the day on the Today's Document website published by the U.S. National Archives. It's a resource that I frequently used when I taught U.S. History. Every morning Today's Document features a new image or document from the archives. The documents are usually accompanied by some additional research links and lesson plan resources. 

The Library of Congress offers a daily artifact feed similar to the one offered by the National Archives. Today in History from The Library of Congress offers a new image or document along with the story of the notable event or person connected to it. The LOC generally includes more information about the featured artifact than what the National Archives includes about their daily documents. 

Applications for Education
When I was teaching U.S. History I used both of the resources on a regular basis. Sometimes I'd use, with modification, the lesson plans associated with the artifacts. Most of the time I just used the featured artifacts to spark little discussions about moments in history.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the importance of helping students recognize the differences between primary and secondary sources. If you missed that post, you can read it here

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Three Alternatives to ViewPure for Distraction-free YouTube Viewing

Earlier this week a reader reached out to me with a concern about ViewPure. For many years ViewPure has been a popular tool for teachers to use to hide distracting sidebar and "related" content when playing YouTube videos in their classrooms. There are other tools like it. If you find yourself looking for alternatives to ViewPure, here are some things to try. 

Watchkin is a service that provides a few ways to watch YouTube videos without seeing the related video suggestions and comments. You can enter the direct URL of a video into Watchkin to have the sidebar content removed. You can search for videos through Watchkin and have family-friendly results displayed (if a video appears that is not family-friendly Watchkin has a mechanism for flagging it as inappropriate). Watchkin also offers a browser bookmarklet tool that you can click while on to have the related content disappear from the page. Watch this video to learn more about Watchkin. 

Quietube is a convenient tool that you can add to your browser's bookmarks bar. With Quietube installed you can simply click it whenever you're viewing a video on YouTube and all of the related clutter will be hidden from view. Installing Quietube requires nothing more than dragging the Quietube button to your toolbar. makes it possible to view YouTube videos without displaying the related videos and associated comments. To use simply copy the URL of a YouTube video and paste it into SafeShare also offers browser a bookmarklet tool that will eliminate the need to copy and paste links from YouTube into SafeShare.

Ten Updated OneNote Features to Note

Mike Tholfsen is a product manager for Microsoft Education and the producer of some excellent Microsoft product tutorial videos for teachers. I frequently reference his videos in my weekly newsletter and when answering readers' questions about Microsoft products. 

This week Mike released a new video about the latest updates to OneNote. OneNote is the Microsoft tool that I use more than any other in my daily life so I was excited to see what's new. Of the ten things Mike features in the video there were two that I'm particularly happy to see. The first is an updated zoom tool (great for my aging eyes) and a new option for seamlessly transitioning between the web and desktop versions of OneNote. Watch Mike's video here or as embedded below to learn more about ten updated OneNote features for teachers and students. 

And if you missed it last fall, Mike's Top 20 Microsoft OneNote Tips and Tricks 2021 could be an eye-opener to the possibilities for using OneNote in school settings. In the video Mike also spends a good deal of time demonstrating the use of Immersive Reader in OneNote as well as Outlook integrations with OneNote.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Top Tools and Activities for Collaborative Learning in 2022

This blog post was sponsored by Lumio, but it features a bunch of other great tools as well

At this point in the school year and our second school year in a pandemic, we’ve all become familiar with the nuts and bolts of Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, or whatever other platform your school uses for live, online instruction. The challenge is no longer how to use those tools, it's how to use them in conjunction with other collaborative learning tools so that our students don’t suffer from device-o-lation (a term I recently learned from Kacie Germadnik). To that end, here are some of my favorite tools that can be used for collaborative learning online, in-person, or both.
Social Studies
A classic social studies class assignment is to have students create timelines. There are two tools that recommend more than any others for students to use to collaboratively create timelines. Those are Timeline JS and Canva. Canva is a little more aesthetically pleasing than Timeline JS, but Timeline JS offers a bit more flexibility in terms of content inclusion. Creating a timeline with Timeline JS is done in a Google Sheets template that students can collaborate on. Canva offers timeline templates that students can share. An overview of how to use Timeline JS can be seen here. A demo of making timelines in Canva can be watched here.

Creating and or labeling maps is another classic social studies assignment that once was done on paper and can now be done in a collaborative digital environment. One way to make this a collaborative activity is to use Google Drawings as I demonstrated before the start of the last school year. Another option is to use Lumio to import an image of a map and then have students work together to label it. Here’s a good example of using Lumio for that purpose. By the way, if you like that example you can save a copy of it and use it with your own students. Here’s a little instruction on how to make copies of Lumio activities.

Language Arts
I’ve told this story dozens of times over the years and I’ll tell it again. I got my first teaching job as a mid-year replacement for a ninth grade language arts class. In the classroom that I inherited I found a stack of comic books with a note that read, “these might help with your reluctant readers.” They sure did! Since then I’ve used comics as reading material and used comic creation as a writing activity in language arts and in social studies classes.

There are many tools for creating comics individually, but few that support collaborative creation of comics. A couple of options for collaborative comic creation are Google Slides as shown here, Canva as demonstrated here, and Lumio as found in these templates. And if you want your students to map their stories before they begin the comic creation process, you can have them use one of Lumio’s graphic organizer templates.

When I think of math instructional tools I think of two things, Desmos and virtual manipulatives. Desmos, for those who aren’t familiar with it, is a free online graphic calculator. But it’s much more than that. In addition to the calculator tools, Desmos provides activities to distribute to students and tools for students to share their thinking and work with you and each other. Additionally, Desmos is now integrated into Lumio where you can create activities for students to complete individually or collaboratively. Here’s a selection of Desmos-integrated activities in Lumio.

In the last two years I’ve answered more questions about creating virtual manipulatives for math than I did in all of the first twelve years of writing this blog. In most cases I suggested using Google’s Jamboard to create virtual manipulatives because you can let students use them individually or collaboratively depending upon the sharing settings that you choose. This fall, I started referring some people to Lumio because it provides fifteen virtual manipulatives templates that are perfect for elementary school math lessons. And much like Jamboard, the Lumio virtual manipulatives can be used individually or collaboratively depending on the settings that you choose.

If you teach a middle school or high school science class, you should be familiar with PhET simulations produced by University of Colorado, Boulder. PhET offers more than 150 simulations for teaching concepts in physics, chemistry, biology, and earth science. Many of these simulations can be used as stand-alone activities or be used as part of a larger activity in which students make and share observations. Take a look through these PhET activities to find one that meets your needs. PhET is also integrated into Lumio where you can use the simulations to create collaborative learning experiences for your students. Here’s a selection of PhET-integrated learning activities available in Lumio.

Bottom Line
The value of any collaborative learning tool comes down to how it’s used by you and your students. The value of collaboration is learning from each other as well as from the teacher. When using collaborative learning tools remember to give students time to “wander” a bit as they generate and exchange ideas. It’s during that time that many students will begin to feel connected to their classmates and a little less device-o-lated.

TeacherMade Adds New Feedback Types and Makes Pro Features Free!

TeacherMade is a platform for creating online, interactive assignments for your students. I first covered it in the fall of 2020 and since then it has rapidly grown in popularity. One reason for that growth is that TeacherMade lets you take your existing favorite documents and turn them into automatically graded online assignments. You can even use it to add audio to your document-based assignments.

As any good edtech tool should, TeacherMade has continuously made improvements and added features since its inception. The latest round of updates to TeacherMade include some great enhancements to the way that you can provide feedback to your students and the ways that students can complete assignments.

Updates for Teachers!
TeacherMade now offers you the ability to record individualized audio feedback on your students’ assignment submissions. You can also now draw and highlight on your students’ submitted assignments. Doing that should make it a lot easier for students to understand exactly what you’re giving them feedback on. That could be particularly handy when giving feedback on an assignment that has large blocks of text in it. Finally, you can now reward your students with fun stickers and emojis that you add to their submitted assignments.

Updates for Students!
Updates to the feedback tools aren't the only things new in TeacherMade in January. Right after the start of the year TeacherMade introduced new options for assignment creation and assignment completion. Those new options include the ability to let students add math expressions to any assignment even those that don’t specifically list a math problem for students. That option could be useful for STEM assignments that contain open-ended questions or prompts.

One of the other early-January updates to the student experience in TeacherMade is an option to enable students to use special characters when completing assignments. This new option supports diacritical marks and special characters found in French, German, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese.

Updates and Resources for Everyone!
TeacherMade is a company that I’ve seen listen to teachers’ feedback and implement as fast as possible. One of the places they get that feedback is in the TeacherMade Community message board. It’s there that you can connect and share ideas with other teachers who are using TeacherMade. It’s also there that you’ll find activities developed by TeacherMade staff and other teachers that you can copy, modify, and use in your classroom. For example, take a look at this collection of activities for teaching about Martin Luther King, Jr. and this collection of shared holiday activities.

The biggest TeacherMade news by far is that TeacherMade Pro is going to be free for all teachers for the next 60 days! This will give all teachers access to all of TeacherMade’s features including syncing Google Classroom rosters with your TeacherMade account. Syncing the two accounts makes it very easy to post TeacherMade activities as assignments in Google Classroom.

To access TeacherMade Pro you don’t need to do anything more than sign into your existing, free TeacherMade account and follow the prompts for accessing the pro version. If you don’t already have a free TeacherMade account, now is the time to get one.

A Cool Combination With TeacherMade
Canva and TeacherMade is a great combination for folks who would like to make great-looking activities but don’t have either the eye for design or the time to make them. You can utilize any of the more than 2,000 worksheet templates offered by Canva and then import them into your TeacherMade account to create interactive, online activities. Watch this video to learn how easy that process is.

Disclosure: TeacherMade is curently an advertiser on

Adding Bird Calls to Google Slides - Answering a Reader's Question

Yesterday I answered an email from a reader who was looking for a little help with her students' Google Slides projects. The students were creating slideshows about birds and wanted to add some audio to the slides. Using Mote wasn't an option for her students. So my suggestion was to find or record audio outside of Google Slides then upload it to Google Drive before inserting it into the slides. I then created the following video to further explain my solution. 

In this new video I demonstrate two options for adding audio to Google Slides. The first option was to use an audio file that I found on The second option was to use audio that I recorded using Vocaroo. 

Two Ed Tech Guys Take Questions - Live at 4pm ET Tomorrow

Tomorrow at 4pm ET/ 1pm PT Rushton Hurley from Next Vista for Learning and I are hosting the next episode of the second season of Two Ed Tech Guys Take Questions and Share Cool Stuff! We'd love to have you join us! You can register for the session right here

In every episode we answer questions from readers and viewers like you. We also share some cool and interesting things that we've found around the Web. Rushton tends to share cool videos and pictures while I tend to share cool tech tools. And we both try our best to give helpful answers to your questions about all things educational technology. 

Please join us! And feel free to email me in advance with your questions or send them in live during the webinar. 

Recordings and resources from our previous episodes are available on this Next Vista for Learning page

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Making Your Educational Games Look Good With TinyTap

Last week I introduced you to the basics of creating your own educational games with TinyTap’s web-based educational game creation tool. In case you missed it, in that post I outlined how you can create an educational game in which students hear you reading questions aloud and then have to identify objects on the screen. This week we’re going to dive into more of TinyTap’s educational game creation tools including how to use some great drawing and design tools.

One of the things that I look for in any creation tool is the ability to help me, a person who doesn’t have an eye for design, make things that do look good. That’s why I use Canva for presentation design and why I like TinyTap’s Creation Packs and other integrated design tools for making educational games.

Styles and Layouts
When you start the process of creating an educational game with TinyTap you can apply any of the many premade styles and layouts to your game. You can apply these styles and layouts to the whole game or to just one scene within your game. You can even mix and match styles and layouts throughout the game.

Some of the many styles that you’ll find in TinyTap include solid color backgrounds, backgrounds that have gradients and patterns, and frames that you can apply to the background of your game. These are great for matching the look and feel of your game to the content of your game. For example, if I was creating a geography game I would probably pick one of the styles that includes a map in the background.

After selecting a style for your game or section of your game you can then choose a layout for your game or section of it. The default is a blank layout and there are dozens of different layouts that you can choose to use to replace the default layout. Some of those layout options are columns of different widths and frequency (two columns, three columns), grids of different sizes, and grids with circles in place of traditional box shapes. You can mix and match layouts throughout your game.

By using a variety of layout options you can create a game that gets progressively more challenging for players. In the case of building my geography game I might start with a slide that has a grid of four boxes for matching flags to the capitals of the countries they represent. Then as the game progresses I might use a layout that has a grid of six boxes to match flags, capitals, and regions of the world.
Images and Animations
The visuals are a critical component of any good educational game. TinyTap provides easy ways to add visuals to the educational games that you design.

One easy option for adding visuals to your TinyTap game is to upload an image that you have stored on your computer. This could be a photograph, drawing, or animated GIF that you created or one that you have the rights to use. Once you’ve uploaded an image you can resize it by simply clicking and dragging the edges of it. Likewise, you can reposition the image by clicking and dragging it on your screen. There are a few image editing tools available as well. You can use those to remove whitespace and to flip the orientation of your uploaded images.

Using your own images in TinyTap is a good way to create a game in which students learn about their school building, school personnel, or the neighborhood around the school. You could upload images of school personnel to create a game in which elementary school students practice identifying the principal, secretary, guidance counselor, librarian, and nurse.

TinyTap offers an integrated image, drawing, and animation search tool. Through this search tool you can locate royalty-free images, drawings, and animations to use in your games. Simply enter a search term then choose whether you want to find photographs, clip art, line art, or animations. When you find something you like, just click on it to add it to the game scene you’re working on.

Just like with uploaded images, you can use the editing tools with images you find through TinyTap’s integrated image, drawing, and animation search. And one of my favorite parts of the integrated search is that you can specify that you only want background-free images so that you don’t have to worry about images that have distracting backgrounds or that simply don’t match with the general aesthetic of your game.

The integrated search option in TinyTap is useful for creating games about things that you might have a hard time drawing or photographing yourself. Games about animal tracks come to mind when thinking about making a game about things that are difficult to draw well or photograph.
Creation Packs
If you need some inspiration for a game or you went through the image search process above and didn’t find exactly what you were looking for, take a look at the Creation Packs in TinyTap.

Creation Packs are found in the same place as the styles and layouts in TinyTap’s game editor. Creation Packs feature thematically organized premade game styles and artwork to use in your games. Some of the many Creation Packs that you’ll find include “Back to School,” “Feelings,” and “Seasons.” You’ll also find Creation Packs that contain sets of animated icons, animated diagrams, cartoon faces, and cartoon animals. Harkening back to my days of teaching geography, I’m a big fan of the “Flags of the World” Creation Pack. Finally, if there’s a holiday coming up that you’d like to build a game about, there are Creation Packs that can help you do that. I might use the Halloween Creation Pack to build a game about Trick o’ Treating safety for my kids to play next fall.

It’s important to note that you can use all or just some of the elements from a Creation Pack in TinyTap. Furthermore, you can mix and match elements from multiple Creation Packs into one game. In other words, it’s possible to pick a couple of the flags from the “Flags of the World” Creation Pack and use them with content from the “Travel Puzzle” Creation Pack to create a game in which students match the flag to the corresponding country on a map.
Make Your Text Stand Out
As you might expect, TinyTap includes some text editing tools for you to use on every element of the games that you create. The text editing tools solve two problems for me. First, they allow me to create a game in which my students don’t have to rely on audio prompts. Second, the text editing tools let me create text that is easy to see. By using the text editing tools in TinyTap I can adjust the color, size, style, and placement of my text until I’m certain that it’s easy to see and read when students play my game.

See all of these game design tools in action!
I made a video to provide an overview of all of the game design tools mentioned in this blog post. You can watch the video right here. Or if you’re like me and the best way to learn is to just dive in and try things, you can do so by creating a free TinyTap account right here.

Disclosure: TinyTap is an advertiser on

50 Tech Tech Tuesday Tips - And a Free Webinar

At the end of 2021 I released a new ebook for tech coaches, media specialists, and anyone else who is responsible for delivering short professional development sessions in their schools. The ebook is called 50 Tech Tuesday Tips. It was curated from more than 400 editions of The Practical Ed Tech Newsletter

On January 31st at 4pm ET I'm going to host a webinar just for those who have purchased a copy of 50 Tech Tuesday Tips. If you've already purchased a copy, thank you! You'll be getting an email with webinar information later today. If you haven't yet purchased a copy, get one by January 30th and you'll be able to join us. 

In the webinar, A Framework for Technology Integration, I'll share my framework for helping teachers use technology in meaningful ways in their classrooms. I'll also provide some examples of how I've done it in the past and how you can replicate them in your school.  

About the eBook:

50 Tech Tuesday Tips provides you with ideas for lots of helpful things that you can teach to your colleagues and to students. Throughout the eBook you'll find tutorials and handouts that you can pass along in your school. 

Some of the many things you'll find in 50 Tech Tuesday Tips include:

  • What to do when a web app isn't working as you expect.
  • Building your own search engine.
  • How to create green screen videos.
  • Improving instructional videos. 
  • Streamlining email management.
  • Creating educational games. 
  • DIY app creation.
  • Podcasting tips for teachers and students. 

Get your copy of 50 Tech Tuesday Tips right here!

No, this ebook isn't free but the tools that feature within it is free to use. Creating something like this takes many, many hours but reading it can save you many, many hours. Purchases of 50 Tech Tuesday Tips make it possible for me to create other free resources like The Practical Ed Tech Handbook that I update and give away to thousands of teachers every year.

Monday, January 17, 2022

A Couple of Good Places to Find Science Activities for School or Home

While standing around watching my daughters' ski lesson on Sunday I ended up chatting with another parent. The conversation inevitably turned to "what do you do?" When she found out what I do she excited, and with a tinge of relief, asked if I had any suggestions for science activities she can do at home with her elementary school age students. My immediate suggestions were to take a look at Exploratorium's Science Snacks and Microsoft's Hacking STEM. 

Exploratorium's Science Snacks website has dozens and dozens of hands-on science and engineering projects for students of all ages. There is a subsection of the site called Family-Friendly Snacks that offers activities specifically designed for parents to do at home with their kids. The vast majority of the projects can be done with common household items. And in response to the COVID-19 outbreak Exploratorium has a selection of activities and videos about viruses.

Hacking STEM is a Microsoft website that offers a couple dozen hands-on science and engineering lessons. The activities are a mix of things that students can probably do on their own and some that probably can't be done without the supervision of a teacher or parent with working knowledge of the concept(s) being taught. For example, the mini solar house project that I've done with ninth grade students was done safely without my direct supervision (I removed the hot glue gun component and had them use tape). But the "party lights" activity on the same page is not something I'd have students do on their own without direct supervision. 

Five Uses for QR Codes in School Settings

Over the weekend I shared a neat QR code generator called QRToon that lets you create a QR code that includes a cartoon version of yourself in it. Writing that post got me thinking about how far QR codes have come since I first saw them while working for Roadway Package Systems (now called FedEx Ground) in the late 90's. As a package handler and later as a dock coordinator, I hated QR codes because the tiniest smudge and made the code nearly impossible to scan with the big, clunky scanners we had. And generating the QR code labels seemed to take forever. Fast-forward a quarter century and QR codes are easy to make and easy to scan on mobile phones. 

Five Uses for QR Codes in School Settings
Now that QR codes are easy to make and easy to scan with mobile phones and tablets, they can be helpful in accomplishing a lot of things in school settings. Here's a short list of ways to consider using QR codes in your school. 
  • Share sign-in/sign-out sheets via QR code. If you're using Google Forms or Microsoft Forms to maintain sign-in/sign-out sheets, post a QR code on the wall of the room to be signed into or out of to make it easy for students or colleagues to access those forms. Here's a demonstration of using QR Code Monkey for that purpose. 

  • Share links to important and frequently updated webpages like the school lunch menu. Last year the daily lunch menu was plastered all over my school in the form of a QR code that students could scan to get the day's menu and place orders in advance. One of the easiest ways to make a QR code for that purpose is to use the QR code generator that is built into Google Chrome. Here's a demo how that works

  • Create QR codes to access voice messages. With the Mote Chrome extension installed you can simply click the Mote icon to record voice notes. When you're done speaking simply click the share button and you'll have an option to view and download a QR code. Anyone who scans your QR code will be able to listen to your voice recording. Watch this short video to learn how you can share voice notes via Mote QR codes.  

  • QR codes can be useful for distributing important contact information to parents and students. QR Code Monkey lets you not only create QR codes for URLs, but also create QR codes to distribute contact information like phone numbers and email addresses. 

  • I forget which school I that I first saw it in, but a handful of years ago I visited a school library in which there was a selection of books that had QR codes inside the dust jacket. The QR codes linked to book trailer videos that students had made about those books. 

How to Make QR Codes
I've linked to a few tutorials above. I'm also listing them below for easier access.

Create QR Codes With QR Code Monkey

Create QR Codes With QRToon

Create QR Codes With Google Chrome

Sunday, January 16, 2022

QRToon - Cartoons in Your QR Codes

QR codes are handy for making long URLs easy to access on mobile devices. Last year I used QR codes to make my classroom sign-in/sign-out forms easy for students to access on their phones. I typically use either QRCode Monkey or the QR code generator built into Chrome. Recently, I discovered another neat QR code generator called QRToon

Like all QR code generators, QRToon will create a QR code for any URL that you specify. The difference between QRToon and other QR code creators that you might have tried is that QRToon will let you upload a picture to use in your QR code. That picture is then turned into a cartoon version. The QR code in this post includes a cartoon version of a headshot of myself that I uploaded to QRToon. 

Using QRToon is easy and it does not require registration. Simply head to the site, enter the URL that you want to turn into a QR code, and then upload a picture. QRToon will generate the QR code with your cartoonized portrait in it. You can download your QR code as PNG file to print and use wherever you like. 

It's worth noting that QRToon will only work with pictures that have just one human face in them. It didn't work when I tried to use it with pictures that had me and my kids in it. It also didn't work when I tried to use pictures of my dogs and cats.

Applications for Education
Does the world need another QR code generator? Probably not. Is it nice to have a personalized QR code that includes your likeness? Sure. The utility of QRToon is probably in just being able to personalize your QR codes to include your likeness in them for your students to recognize.

By the way, the QR code in this post will direct you to my eBook, 50 Tech Tuesday Tips

Questions From My Daughters - What Are Freckles?

Last night one of my daughters asked, "what are freckles?" I did my best to explain that freckles are spots of melanin in our skin. Of course, I then had to try to explain to my five-year-old what melanin is. She then asked why she has freckles and one of her classmates doesn't. That was an answer I couldn't give beyond, "everyone's bodies are a little different." This all led to her trying to count the freckles on my arm. 

After my freckle discussion with my daughter, I turned to my favorite source of kid-friendly science explanations, SciShow Kids. There I found Why Do I Have Freckles? which does a good job of explaining what freckles are, what makes them appear, and why some people don't have any and why some people have lots of them. Should you find yourself trying to explain freckles to children, Why Do I Have Freckles? is a good resource to consult as is the SciShow video Why Do We Get Freckles?

Applications for Education
Besides answering the question of "what are freckles?" both of these videos could be good for introducing some biology concepts to older students. At just three minutes long, both videos are a good length for making online lessons in tools like EDpuzzle or Vialogues.  

Saturday, January 15, 2022

Good Resources for Remote Math & Science Lessons

PhET is a great resource that I've shared a bunch of times over the years. Recently, I was looking through the site when I noticed that its activity search tool now includes a filter for remote activities. Through this search tool you can locate lesson plans designed for remote instruction and learning. You can combine the remote search filter with any of the other subject, level, and language search filters. Watch this short video to see how it works. 

More About PhET
In the following video I demonstrate how to include PhET's science and math simulations in your Google Site. Those of you who watch the video will also notice that the simulations can also be shared via a direct Google Classroom integration.

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.

Cold, Chrome, and Games - The Week in Review

Good morning from Maine where it is a crisp -7F as I write this. Fortunately, some warm weather is on the way. Today will probably be a day for a lot of games of Memory being played and some LEGO creations being made today. Tomorrow it will be up to 10F when we head out to ski. We'll drink some hot chocolate as during our ski day. I hope that you have some fun things planned for your weekend as well. 

These were the week's most popular posts:
1. Read Aloud in Chrome
2. The Science of Winter Olympics Sports
3. About Primary Sources
4. Read Aloud in Edge and Other Immersive Reader Uses
5. ReadWriteThink Interactives Now Work Without Flash!
6. A New Smithsonian Learning Lab Tool for History and Art Teachers
7. How to Create Your Own Educational Games With TinyTap - Getting Started

Thank you for your support!
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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, January 14, 2022

Create an Alphabet Book on ReadWriteThink

This week Larry Ferlazzo shared the exciting news that ReadWriteThink relaunched all of their popular interactive student writing templates. The templates now work without Flash. One of my favorite templates that has been relaunched by RWT is the Alphabet Organizer template. 

Alphabet Organizer is a great little tool from Read Write Think that students can use to create alphabet charts and books. The idea behind Alphabet Organizer is to help students make visual connections between letters of the alphabet and the first letter of common words. In this short video I demonstrate how to use this tool.

Anesthesia and Tonsils

One of my daughters had a tonsillectomy this week. Prior to the surgery we talked with her about what was going to happen that day and why she was going to get so much ice cream afterwards. She's too young to really understand the science of how anesthesia works, but she did understand the idea of tonsils and why they were being removed. The preparation for tonsillectomy day reminded me of a TED-Ed lesson and a SciShow Kids lesson that I shared years ago. 

How Does Anesthesia Work? is a TED-Ed lesson that provides a five minute overview of the history of anesthesia and painkillers used during surgeries. The second half of the video explains the basics of the physiology of how anesthesia works. The lesson is appropriate for high school students taking an anatomy and physiology course.

Meet Your Tonsils! is a SciShow Kids lesson that explains what tonsils are, what they do, and how a doctor checks them. It's a lesson that is appropriate for elementary school students.

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Make Math Flashcards on Canva

Canva is my go-to recommendation whenever someone asks me for help with anything requiring a bit of an eye for design. So on Wednesday when a reader asked me for a tool to create printable flashcards Canva was my recommendation. There are more than 300 flashcard templates in Canva's design gallery. In that gallery you'll find templates for making flashcards for math, spelling, geography, and more. And all of the templates can be modified to fit your needs. 

In this short video I demonstrate how to use Canva to create printable math flashcards. While watching the video pay attention to my trick for making all of the cutting lines exactly the same. 

Applications for Education
There is still a time and place for offline flashcards. The reader who emailed me this week wanted to make flashcards that her students could use at home with their parents in a screen-free environment. Canva provides a good way to make those flashcards to distribute to students and parents. Of course, students can also use Canva to create their own printable flashcards.

Wind Chill and Our Perception of Cold

As I mentioned earlier this week, we've had a couple of exceptionally cold days here in Maine this week. One town near me recorded a wind chill of -36F on Tuesday. This weekend is supposed to be just as cold.  I've gone ice fishing in similar conditions without moaning about it (at least that's how I remember it). The cold got me wondering, "am I being a wimp about the cold or has my perception of cold changed?" At that line of thinking brought me back to an older Minute Earth video about perceptions of extreme weather. 

The psychology of extreme weather
Is the weather really "extreme" or is that just our impression of it? The following Minute Earth video takes on the topic of how extreme weather affects our thinking about weather patterns in general. I found the video to be interesting from a psychology perspective. The video is embedded below.

How wind chill is calculated
As I mentioned above, the wind chill was -36F earlier this week in a town near mine. Wind chill or not, that's cold! The following video explains how wind chill is calculated. The video comes from Presh Talwalkar.

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

How to Enable Spell Check in Blogger

Yesterday afternoon I answered an email from an old colleague who needed a little help with a frustrating little setting in Blogger. She wanted her students to be able to spell check their weekly reflection blog posts before they published them. Her frustration was caused by the fact that Blogger doesn't have a built-in spell check setting. 

At one point Blogger had spell check built into it. Then at some point over the last five or so years it disappeared from all of the settings menus that are built into Blogger. Today, if you want to use a spell check in Blogger you have to enable spell check in your Chrome browser settings. When you've done that you'll then have a spell check function in the blog post editor in Blogger. 

Watch this short video to see how to enable a spell check option for Blogger

A New Smithsonian Learning Lab Tool for History and Art Teachers

This week the Smithsonian Learning Lab released a new tool that could be very helpful to history and art teachers. The tool is simply called Canvas (no connection to the LMS of the same name). Smithsonian Learning Lab's Canvas tool lets you build colllections of Smithsonian digitized artifacts and arrange the display of those artifacts however you like. 

The Canvas tool will work with new collections that you create in your Smithsonian Learning Lab account and it will work with your existing collections. In both cases you can select the layout for the collection, the size of the images, and the color scheme of the notes in your collection. You can also share your Canvas so that your students can view it. Complete directions for using the new Smithsonian Learning Lab Canvas can be found here. Directions for creating collections can be seen here

Applications for Education
In the announcement of the Canvas tool the Smithsonian Learning Lab provided a couple of uses for the new tool. Those uses include arranging artifacts for making side-by-side comparisons (great for art teachers/ students) and creating thematic collections that span multiple areas. This Canvas of postcards is a good example of arranging a collection thematically. 

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

ReadWriteThink Interactives Now Work Without Flash!

For many years ReadWriteThink offered a great collection of interactive templates for students to use to create all kinds of things including poems, story plots, timelines, compare & contrast maps, and much more. Unfortunately, the deprecation of Flash caused nearly all of the ReadWriteThink templates to stop working. That is until now!

Thanks to Larry Ferlazzo's weekly Ed Tech Digest post, this morning I learned that ReadWriteThink has released updated versions of their popular student interactives. The updated versions retain all of the great aspects of the originals, but now they work without Flash. You can find all of them right here

In this video I provide a brief overview of the updated ReadWriteThink student interactives collection. The video includes a demonstration of one of my favorite templates, the Trading Card Creator.

Applications for Education
Some of the ways that the ReadWriteThink Trading Card Creator could be used by students is to create a set of trading cards about characters in a novel, to create a set of cards about people of historical significance, or to create cards about places that they're studying in their geography lessons.