Friday, August 12, 2022

How to Loop Videos in Google Slides

Yesterday I published a blog post about playing Google Slides on an automatically advancing loop. That blog post prompted a question from a reader about playing videos on a loop within a Google Slides presentation. Specifically, she wanted to know if she could have a video play on a loop. The answer is yes, and it's rather easy to do. 

To make a video loop in Google Slides all you have to do is present your slides then right-click on the video. When you right-click on it you'll be able to choose an option to loop the video. Watch my short video to see how it's done.



Applications for Education
Playing a video on a loop in a slide could be useful when you want to play a video to use as a welcome announcement in a virtual meeting or in a physical meeting as students are slowly joining in.


A Webinar and eBook for New Tech Coaches and Integrators

Are you new to the role of tech coach or tech integrator this fall? If so, I have an eBook and webinar for you!

On August 30th at 3pm ET I'm hosting A Framework for Technology Integration. Anyone who purchases a copy of my eBook 50 Tech Tuesday Tips between now and midnight (Eastern Time) on August 29th will get a link to join the webinar. And if you previously purchased a copy and want to join this webinar, just send me a note and I'll register you. 

In 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 was curated from more than 400 editions of The Practical Ed Tech Newsletter 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.

Thursday, August 11, 2022

Try Canva's New Whiteboard Templates With Timers

I use Canva nearly every day of my work week. When I logged into my account a couple of days ago and saw a new whiteboard template option I had to give it a try. If you log into your Canva account today, you'll probably notice the new whiteboard template options too. 

The new whiteboard templates in Canva are intended to be used collaboratively. They can be used for a variety of purposes including hosting brainstorming sessions, designing flowcharts, and making KWL charts. To help you and your collaborators focus on the task at hand, Canva has added a timer option to the whiteboard templates. The timer is found in the bottom, left corner of the templates. You can set the timer of any interval that works for your group. 

In the short video that is embedded below I demonstrate how to use Canva's new whiteboard templates with a timer


For even more Canva tutorials, take a look at my playlist that now includes 46 Canva tutorial videos

New Microsoft Teams Features for the New School Year

Mike Tholfsen is a product manager at Microsoft he has early access to features that are rolling-out to users. That means his videos sometimes include overviews of new features before anyone else has used them. If you want to know about what's new in Teams and other Microsoft products Mike's YouTube channel is for you. In one recent video he highlighted ten new Teams features that you might want to try this fall. 



Of the ten new features highlighted in the video above, the ones that stood out to me are collaborative annotation, the new rating question type in polls, and speaker coach.

How to Play Google Slides on an Automatic Loop

The new school year is quickly approaching and you might be thinking about your first morning with staff or students. That first morning is often filled with information that needs to be repeated quite a bit. Things like the wi-fi network and code, lunch times, and other logistical information. You could make yourself hoarse by repeating it over and over or you could put it in a set of slides that plays on a loop in your room. 

In the short video that is embedded below I demonstrate how to play a set of Google Slides on an automatically advancing and repeating loop

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Try This Tool for Picking Accessible Color Schemes

Earlier today I published a list of ways to improve the accessibility of your Google Docs, Slides, and Forms. On a related note, you can improve the accessibility of any slideshow presentation or website by choosing an appropriate color scheme. The Accessible Color Matrix hosted on Github makes it easy to identify accessible color schemes to use in your presentations, documents, and websites. 

Watch my demo video to see how the Accessible Color Matrix provides a quick and easy way to see which color combinations do and don't work from an accessibility standpoint.

Google Docs, Slides, and Forms Accessibility

As the new school year approaches and you start to update some of your old Google Docs, Slides, and Forms take a moment to assess the accessibility of those materials. And if necessary, it's fairly easy to improve the accessibility of your Docs, Slides, and Forms. 

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.



Google Forms
Google Forms got some new features this summer including the ability to add custom fonts. One of the fonts that you can add to your Forms is Lexend Deca. Lexend fonts are designed to improve the accessibility of writing by reducing visual stress. You can learn more about these fonts on Lexend.com. This video and this video demonstrate how to add custom fonts to Google Forms

Google Forms does offer the option to add alt text to pictures that you include in your forms. However, in the case of Google Forms Google refers to alt text as hover text. Watch this brief video to learn how to add alt text or hover text to Google Forms. 

Mote is a Chrome extension that makes it easy for teachers and students to add voice recordings to Google Slides, Google Classroom, and Google Forms. It lets you add voice recordings not only to the questions in your Google Forms but also to the answer choices and feedback section in Google Forms. Mote lets you add voice recordings into the question line, into the answer choices (for multiple choice questions), and into the feedback section of the answer key that you create for quizzes in Google Forms. All of those things are demonstrated in this short video.

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

PrepFactory’s New Online Algebra Program Features 100 Interactive Lessons

Disclosure: PrepFactory is an advertiser on FreeTech4Teachers.com

PrepFactory is a popular platform for online ACT and SAT prep. I covered it for the first time back in 2015 and again when it transitioned from video-based lessons to truly interactive SAT and ACT prep activities. This fall PrepFactory is using that interactive technology to help students learn Algebra I.

PrepFactory’s new Algebra 1 program is free and available right now for teachers who want to use it. In this post I’ll share the highlights of PrepFactory’s Algebra 1 program and then dive into how it works and how you can get access to it today.

Highlights of PrepFactory Algebra 1
PrepFactory’s Algebra 1 program consists of 2,000 interactive teaching questions and 1,000 comprehension check questions. The interactive teaching questions are divided into one hundred lessons. Students get instruction and feedback on each of the interactive teaching questions. At the end of every lesson students can test their new skills and knowledge with a series of ten multiple questions.

As you might expect from any new online math program, PrepFactory’s materials are aligned to Common Core standards. What you might not expect is that PrepFactory’s Algebra 1 materials are aligned to three popular Algebra 1 textbooks. You also might not expect a company to make their complete curriculum and alignments public in a Google Sheet, but PrepFactory has done that. You can find it all by following the curriculum map link on their Algebra 1 homepage.

How PrepFactory’s Free Algebra 1 Program Works
When students sign into PrepFactory they can choose a lesson like Variables and Expressions. After selecting a lesson students will see a brief written overview of the lesson that they can read before jumping into the interactive modules. The written overview highlights the key vocabulary terms students should learn in the lesson. Students can view that overview while working through the twenty modules in the lesson.
To complete a lesson students need to correctly complete 75% of the questions in a lesson. Each question includes little help bubbles that students can view before answering. After submitting an answer students immediately see a written explanation of the correct answer. Those explanations include little help bubbles that further explain or reinforce the key vocabulary of the lesson. The teaching questions that students will find in the lessons are a mix of arithmetic, equations, identification questions, and word problems.
After successfully completing a lesson students need to take a ten question quiz in order to move onto the next lesson in the curriculum. When taking the quiz students don’t see the help bubbles like they do in the lesson. They do, however, get instant feedback on their answers.
Watch the short video that is embedded below to see how a student would work through a lesson and quiz in PrepFactory’s Algebra 1 program.



Get Access to PrepFactory Today!
PrepFactory’s Algebra 1 program is free for any teacher who would like to use it. You can request access on the homepage. Just make sure to enter a school-issued email address.

How to Add Alt Text to Images in Google Forms

On Monday I answered a question from a reader who wanted to know if it was possible to add alt text to the images that she uses in Google Forms. My answer was, "yes, but not in the way you would in Google Docs or Slides." 

To add alt text to images Google Docs and Google Slides you simply right-click on an image and then select "alt text." For some reason, in Google Forms Google refers to alt text as hover text. To add hover text you have to open the little sandwich menu (the three stacked dots) to the right of the image title field and then choose "hover text." 

In the brief video that is embedded below I demonstrate how to add alt text or hover text to images in Google Forms

Monday, August 8, 2022

Super Courses for Super Kids

A couple of weeks ago I held a webinar about creating your own apps. Afterward, one of the participants, Candy, emailed me to share a neat site that I hadn't previously seen. That site is called Kidzcourse, Super Courses for Super Kids

Kidzcourse offers twelve courses featuring hands-on activities for kids from ages six through thirteen. All of the courses include downloadable materials like templates for making board games, developing storyboards, and making escape room activities. Each course also has video tutorials to help students complete the required tasks. 

Some of the hands-on Kidzcourses that stood out to me were Building an Escape Room, Paper Circuits, Save the Ocean, and Build an App

Applications for Education
Kidzcourses can be done at home with parents. They can also be completed as in-classroom activities. Kidzcourse provides educators with supply lists, learning objectives, and handouts for each course. Some of the courses could be great as group projects that students do at the start of the school year to build some good cooperative learning habits in a fun and educational way.

Blackbird Provides a Great Environment for Teaching Coding

Disclosure: Blackbird is currently an advertiser on FreeTech4Teachers.com

Last week I wrote a lengthy blog post about how Blackbird can be used by anyone to teach coding. That post focused on how you can use Blackbird to teach coding even if you don’t have much or any coding experience and your students are new to coding as well. Today, I’d like to highlight why Blackbird is helpful even if you do have extensive experience teaching coding and or your students have a solid understanding of the basics.

Workshops, Warmups, and Code Review
While Blackbird offers four complete curricula for teaching and learning to code (JavaScript), you don’t have to follow any of those if you don’t want to. In fact, Blackbird has a feature called Workshop where you can create and assign your own projects for students to complete. Additionally, students can use the Workshop to create their own projects from scratch and have you review their code. And if your needs fall somewhere between using a premade curriculum and building your own, Blackbird offers a series of thirty warm-up activities and prompts to give to your students.

The Workshop space in Blackbird can be utilized in a few different ways. First, you can use it to create your own project that you then share with your students so that they can view and modify it. This set of slides and my video at the end of this post detail how you can create a project and share it with your students. Second, you can let your students create their own projects to share with you and or their classmates. They can use a little hand raise icon to indicate that they want you to review and comment on their code. The third way to use the Workshop is to let students explore sample projects provided by Blackbird and then modify those projects. Again, they can ask you to review and comment on their code.

It’s important to note that the Workshop in Blackbird can be accessed at any time. You don’t have to wait until students have completed a curriculum in order for them to use it. You could use it to supplement the Blackbird curriculum that you have chosen to use. For example, let’s say you’re using the Games and Animations curriculum and your students have just completed the lessons about points, lines, and squares. You could extend those lessons by creating a Workshop project in which students have to write a program to draw a cube or two cubes. When they’ve completed the project or they get stuck, they can submit their work for code review by you.

Code Review in Blackbird makes it easy for you to comment on your students’ projects. To do that you simply log into your teacher dashboard and select “Code Review.” You’ll then see a list of students who have submitted work for review. You can then view a student’s work and comment on it. You can also award digital feathers to students who have submitted projects. The feathers are like digital badges for a job well done. You can award feathers for whatever criteria you want to use, but if you’d like some guidance Blackbird provides a simple rubric to follow for awarding feathers (link opens a PDF).

Suggested Personal Projects in Blackbird
Many years ago (almost 20, where did the time go?) I taught a ninth grade language arts class. One of the challenges that I faced then was helping students start creative writing pieces. A colleague lent me a book of story starters to help solve that problem. I had a similar problem in 2019 when I asked students in my Intro to Programming course to design a project from scratch. Blackbird offers a solution to that problem of “I don’t know what to make” when students are asked to create a project from scratch.

Blackbird provides a set of three personal project starters for students. These are projects that students complete in their Workshops in their Blackbird accounts. Like other things made in their Workshops, students submit their work for code review by you. Blackbird includes rubrics for each of the three suggested personal projects.

Announcements, Grades, and Student Summaries
In last week’s post about Blackbird I included a video that demonstrated the basics of creating a class account through Google Classroom. You can also use Clever to create class accounts. A third option is to manually create a classroom in Blackbird. Whichever method you use to create your Blackbird classroom, you have access to the same tools for classroom management.

In your Blackbird classroom you can post announcements and reminders for all students to see. You can create grade reports to see all of your students’ progress in one place. And you can create reports to view an individual student’s progress.

How to Create and Review Workshop Activities
If you’re ready to give Blackbird a try for teaching coding this fall, watch the short video embedded below to see how to create Workshop activities for your students to complete in Blackbird.

Sunday, August 7, 2022

Lessons on Compound Interest, Rent, and Mittens

Last week I got an email from the Council for Economic Education. The email listed the ten most popular resources on their site. Two of them stood out to me and one of them led me to an additional resource that wasn't included in the email. 

The Compound Interest Calculator is the most popular resource on the Council for Economic Education's website. It does exactly what the name states. Students enter age, interest rate, initial investment, and monthly savings to see how much they'll save and earn over time. There are lots of tools like this one on the web. The nice thing about this one is that it's not surrounded by a zillion ads for mortgages and investment brokers. 

Renting a Place to Live is the ninth most popular resource offered by the Council for Economic Education. It is a free lesson plan that is designed to help students understand the process of finding a place to live and the true cost of renting a place to live. The lesson plan includes some handouts for students to use to identify the costs associated with renting. 

A resource not mentioned in the CEE's email was Economics in Children's Literature. I discovered that collection by going down a virtual rabbit hole of related resources after looking at the Renting a Place to Live lesson plan. Economics in Children's Literature is a collection of lesson plans for introducing economics concepts to elementary school students through the use of literature. For example, this lesson plan about scarcity is centered on reading Jan Brett's story, The Mitten (a story my own kids love). 

How to Quickly Broadcast Your Screen to Your Students' Screens

A few months ago I published an overview of DisplayNote Broadcast. It's a tool that you can use to broadcast your screen to your students' laptop or tablet screens. Shortly after I published my initial overview DisplayNote Broadcast added a Google Slides and Classroom integration. The latest update is a Chrome extension that you can use to share your screen with just a couple of clicks

In the short video that is embedded below I demonstrate how to broadcast your screen to your students' screens by using the Display Note Broadcast Chrome extension. 


Applications for Education
DisplayNote Broadcast is the type of tool that is great for getting all of your students to look at the same thing on your computer at the same time. I found this to be particularly useful when giving coding demonstrations to students as they could see things in more detail than just looking up at a projector screen.

Saturday, August 6, 2022

Airplanes, Lesson Plans, and Coding - The Week in Review

Good morning from Maine where we're hoping the heat and humidity will break today. I write that sentence knowing full well that in a month I'll probably be back to wearing flannel shirts and sweaters. Until then we're going to try to enjoy the last few weeks of summer before school starts. 

This week I held the sixth webinar in my summer webinar series. A big thank you to everyone who has registered for one or all of them. Your support helps me keep the lights on. There is one more webinar in the series. It's Get Organized With Google Classroom, Calendar, and Keep

These were the week's most popular posts:
1.Five Good Resources for Learning About Airplanes and Airlines
2. A Great Place to Find Lesson Plan Ideas
3. Google Classroom Now Has Add-ons - For Some Schools
4. Blackbird Provides an Innovative Way for Anyone to Teach Coding
5. Significant Changes to Screencastify's Free Plan
6. How to Make Whiteboard Videos in Microsoft Flip
7. Elinor's Nature Adventure and Hands-on Learning Activities

50 Tech Tuesday Tips!
50 Tech Tuesday Tips is an eBook that I created with busy tech coaches, tech integrators, and media specialists in mind. In it you'll find 50 ideas and tutorials that you can use as the basis of your own short PD sessions. Get a copy today!

Webinar on Tuesday!
This summer I'm hosting a series of Practical Ed Tech webinars. There is one left in the series. You learn more and register through the link below.
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 42,000 subscribers watching my short tutorial videos on a wide array of educational technology tools. 
  • I've been Tweeting as @rmbyrne for fifteen 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 Icons Daily and Daily Dose. Featured image captured by Richard Byrne.

Win a Classroom Makeover from Lumio

I've never been one to spend much time on classroom decoration (partly because it's not in my nature and partly due to frequently changing classrooms). But I know a lot of teachers who do spend a lot of time and money on classroom decoration. If that's you, you'll want to enter Lumio's $2,500 Classroom Makeover contest

This is one of the easiest contest you could enter. All you have to do is go to Lumio's contest page and enter the email address you use for accessing Lumio by SMART. If you don't have a Lumio account, you can sign up for one for free and then enter the contest. That's it, there's nothing else you have to do to enter. 

What is Lumio?
If you're not sure what Lumio is or how you might use it your classroom, take a look at this blog post that I published earlier this year. Or watch the videos below to learn more about how to use Lumio.

A Quick Guide to Finding, Editing, and Using Lumio Lessons

Lumio - Quickly Create Online Formative Assessments

Friday, August 5, 2022

Five Interesting Ways to Use Screencastify in Your Classroom

A couple of days ago I wrote a short post about the changes to Screencastify's free plan. At the end of that post I included some ideas for using Screencastify in your classroom. If you missed that short list, here are the ideas in more detail. 

Add Interactive Questions Into Your Videos
Adding interactive questions into your instructional videos is a great way to make sure that students actually watch your lesson all the way through. It's also a good way to determine if you need to re-teach something or alter your explanation of a concept. You can do that by looking to see if there is a pattern to the answers your students choose while watching your video. Here's a demo of how to use Screencastify to add questions into your videos.
 


Blur Faces and Objects in Your Videos
The option to blur things in your videos is a great way to protect your and your students' privacy when publishing a video. Besides blurring faces you may also want to blur names or email addresses if they appear in a screencast video. Watch this video to learn more.



Comment on Google Docs
The process of using Screencastify and Google Keep to create a video comment bank for Google Docs is fairly straight-forward. First, record your short video comments or short lesson with Screencastify. Second, get the "share" link from Screencastify. Third, create a note in Google Keep that contains the link to the video (I recommend giving the notes easy-to-remember names and labels). Finally, whenever you need the video link just open Google Keep in the sidebar of the Google Doc you're viewing and copy the video link from the Google Keep into your comment. Watch this video for a demonstration of the whole process.



Make a Common Craft-style Video
A little more than decade ago Common Craft created a whole new style of explantory video. You and your students can make your own videos in that simple style by using a screencasting tool like Screencastify and Google Slides. Watch this video to see how that's done.



Record a Narrated Google Earth Tour in Your Web Browser
The web version of Google Earth doesn't have the same tour recording tools that are available in Google Earth Pro. The solution to that problem is to use a tool like Screencastify to record your tour. Watch this video to see how you can do that.

Google Search Tools Students Often Overlook

The default action for students to take when given a research task is to turn to Google. Unfortunately, many students won't venture much beyond the first couple of pages of Google.com results pages before declaring, "I can't find anything about this." But as Dan Russell reminds us in The Joy of Search, good search often requires the use of multiple tools. To that end, Google offers search tools beyond just Google.com. Unfortunately, students won't use those tools unless they know that those tools exist and how to use them. Here are some of the Google search tools that students often overlook. 

Google Books helps students locate and search inside books without having to track down a physical copy of each book that they are interested in reading. If students do want a physical copy of a book, Google Books can help them find a local library that has a copy of the book they desire. Those features of Google Books and more are demonstrated in my new video Five Things Students Should Know About Google Books


Google Dataset Search is a search tool that is designed to help users locate publicly available datasets. This isn't a tool for searching within the datasets, it's a tool for finding datasets. For example, if you're doing research on earthquakes and want to find some datasets to analyze, Google Dataset Search will help you locate datasets that you could then open and or download to analyze. Watch the following short video to see how to use Google Dataset Search



Google Scholar is probably best known as a search tool for locating peer-reviewed, academic papers. It can also be used to locate patent filings and to locate court cases. Those features and more are demonstrated in the following tutorials.

Thursday, August 4, 2022

How to Create a Badge Tracker in Google Sheets

A few days ago a reader reached out to me with a question about creating a badge tracking system to keep track of students' progress toward various goals. While there are quite a few companies that offer badges as part of their systems, ClassDojo comes to mind, she was looking for something that was a little more independent and customizable. My suggestion was to try using the Badge Tracker Google Sheets template from Flippity

Flippity's Badge Tracker template lets you create a customized badge system. You can add in your own badge designs and set your own badge goals. It can be used to award complete badges and partial badges to students. 

Watch my short video that is embedded below to learn how to use Google Sheets to create your own badge tracker

Short Lessons on Centripetal Force and Tea Cups

Last week I took my older daughter to Storyland to ride the roller coaster as many times as she wanted to. Today, I'm taking my younger daughter for a daddy-daughter day at Storyland. Her favorite rides are the Flying Dutch Shoes, Alice's Tea Cups, and the Cuckoo Clockenspiel. In other words, she likes to spin around and feel the effects of centripetal force. 

Thinking about those spinning rides prompted me to look for some concise explanations of centripetal force. Here are a few resources that I found that could be helpful to students. 

CK-12 offers a couple of interactive simulations and lessons about centripetal force. Students can use these on their own or as part of a larger lesson that you lead. 

Planet Nutshell published a concise, animated explanation of centripetal force. You can watch it here or as embedded below. 



Here's a student-produced video addressing centripetal force in the context of "the tea cup problem." Jump to the two minute mark to see how he enlists the help of his brother to create the explanation.


Finally, PhET offers lots of lessons and interactives to help students understand various forces in physics. Make sure you look at their list whenever you need help explaining a physics concept to students. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Significant Changes to Screencastify's Free Plan

Screencastify is a versatile screencast recording tool that I've used over the years to create many kinds of instructional videos including Common Craft-style videos and virtual tours. As I write this blog post, I still prefer Screencastify to the new built-in recording option in Chromebooks. That said, it should be noted that Screencastify has just introduced some significant changes to their free plan. 

Here's What's Changing in Screencastify

The new free version of Screencastify increases the recording time for your videos from five minutes to thirty minutes. That's a huge change! The trade-off is that you now can only store ten videos in your free Screencastify account. That's also a huge change! The previous free version allowed unlimited videos as long as they were under the five minute limit. You can still export all of your videos as MP4 files. So if you find that you bump up against the ten video limit, you can export one or delete one to get back under that limit. 

Ways to Use Screencastify in Your Classroom

How to Use Virtual Backgrounds in Microsoft Flip

Virtual backgrounds and background blurring are features of Microsoft Flip that can be helpful to you and your students in a few ways. First, virtual backgrounds and blurring are useful in protecting student privacy when they are recording at home or anywhere else outside of your classroom. Second, you can use virtual backgrounds as a teaching aid (see my video below for more about that). Third, virtual backgrounds are just fun and provide a nice way for you and your students to express a little personality. 

In the brief video that is embedded below I demonstrate how to use virtual backgrounds and how to blur backgrounds in Microsoft Flip videos


Learn more about Microsoft Flip in the following videos:

How to Convert Word Documents and PDFs Into Microsoft Forms

There are many little features of Microsoft Forms that shouldn't be overlooked. And there is a new big feature of Microsoft Forms that definitely shouldn't be overlooked. That feature is the ability to import Word documents and PDFs into Microsoft Forms. 

The import feature in Microsoft Forms makes it possible to quickly take a quiz that you've written in Word and have it automatically turned into a quiz that students can complete in Microsoft Forms. Likewise, you can do the same with a quiz that you have in a PDF. This feature works with quizzes that are written in multiple choice, true/false, and short answer format. 

Watch my video that is embedded below to learn how to convert Word documents into quizzes Microsoft Forms



Applications for Education
If you, like me, have quizzes or tests that you wrote years ago before Microsoft Forms and Google Forms existed, this new import feature in Microsoft Forms could be a huge time-saver!

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Google Classroom Now Has Add-ons - For Some Schools

Yesterday afternoon Google made an announcement that had some teachers on Twitter buzzing. That announcement was that Google Classroom now has add-ons for teachers to use. Those add-ons are supposed to make it easier to access popular tools like EdPuzzle, WeVideo, and Pear Deck from Google Classroom. 

But before you get too excited, at the end of the announcement Google mentioned that add-ons are only available in schools that have Google Workspace for Education Plus edition or Teaching & Learning Upgrade. In other words, it's only available in the paid versions of Google Classroom

If you do have Google Workspace for Education Plus, the new add-ons look like they could be helpful to you. From a classroom management perspective, the add-ons should make it easier to get students signed into tools like EdPuzzle, WeVideo, Kahoot, and a dozen other popular educational technology tools. Here's a little video overview of Google Classroom add-ons. 



For those who will be introducing colleagues to Google Classroom add-ons, Google offers this slide presentation.

Search Tip - How to Find Published Google Workspaces Files

Refining Google searches according to domain is one of my favorite ways to get students to look beyond the first couple of pages of their typical Google search queries. Students can specify site or domain in Google's advanced search menu to limit results to those that are only from top-level domains like .edu. They can also specify a subdomain like docs.google.com. In fact, that's a great way to find publicly shared Google Documents. It also works for finding publicly shared Google Slides, Forms, Sheets, and Drawings. 

How to Find Public Google Workspaces Files:

Watch the following short video to learn how to find public Google Workspace files or follow the steps outlined below.



  • Go to: https://www.google.com/advanced_search
  • In "site or domain" specify one of the following domains to locate public Google Docs, Slides, Forms, Sheets, or Drawings. 
    • docs.google.com
    • docs.google.com/presentation/
    • docs.google.com/forms/
    • docs.google.com/spreadsheets/
    • docs.google.com/drawings/

Applications for Education
Searching for publicly shared Google Docs, Slides, Sheets, Forms, and Drawings can be helpful to teachers and to students. For teachers, it can be a good way to find some ideas for lesson plans and assessments. For students, it can be a good way to find materials that have been published by teachers. Of course, it is worth noting that it's possible for students to find public documents, make a copy, and try to pass it off as their own.

Aside from finding Google Workspaces files, searching by site or domain is a good way to get students to look at websites and materials that they might not otherwise find because of where they rank in search results.

Monday, August 1, 2022

Blackbird Provides an Innovative Way for Anyone to Teach Coding

Disclosure: Blackbird is currently an advertiser on FreeTech4Teachers.com.

A Around this time every year I get emails that go something like this, “Hi Richard, I have a new job this fall and I’ll be teaching coding for the first time. Do you have any resources you can share with me?” Usually these emails come from folks who aren’t teaching coding as their full-time jobs but will be doing it under the banner of a larger title like tech coach, STEM teacher, or Makerspace Coordinator. If this sounds like you, Blackbird is a resource that you need to bookmark right now.

Blackbird is a free platform designed to make it easier than ever to introduce students to coding principles even if you don’t have any prior experience teaching coding. I gave it a try with my students at the end of the 2020-21 school year and we liked it. Since then Blackbird has significantly expanded their offerings by partnering with schools and listening to feedback from teachers and students. As we head into the new school year, let’s take a look at how Blackbird works and how using it can be beneficial to your students.

What Makes Blackbird Different?
The first thing you need to know about Blackbird is that it is not a block editor, it’s a text editor. In other words, through Blackbird students learn to write code (specifically, JavaScript) instead of positioning blocks to create a program like they would do in something like Scratch.

If you’ve used block programming in the past and are now looking for something a bit more advanced, Blackbird is for you. That said, you don’t need to have any prior coding experience in order to use Blackbird. Blackbird will show you and your students everything you need to know in order to write code from scratch.

Lead Innovation at Your School!
The other aspect of Blackbird that makes it different from other learn-to-code services is that Blackbird is actively looking to partner with schools to develop curriculum that meets their needs. For example, take a look at this article about Blackbird’s work with Washington’s Bellevue School District where more than 400 middle school students learned to code physics simulations as an integrated part of their science classes. It was done that way to help students see computer science as a conduit to problem solving and not as just an elective course of study that stands alone.

The Blackbird Approach to Teaching Coding
Blackbird offers four curricula to choose from. Those are Games and Animations, Expressions and Equations, Magnet Rocket, and Ratios and Proportions. Whichever curriculum you choose, Blackbird works in the same manner. That manner is to start with a simple activity that makes a point or line appear on the screen. Students then see a split screen lesson that shows them some brief instructions on the left side of the screen and a code editor on the right side of the screen. It’s in the split screen environment that students write their first lines of code. See the screenshot below for a visual of what students see.
Students can work through the lessons at their own pace. There is a helpful “show me” button that students can click when they get stuck on a lesson. Clicking “show me” reveals the solution and its explanation. However, students still need to actually type the code in order to complete the lesson. And if you’re worried about students progressing too quickly and getting ahead of their classmates (or you), Blackbird’s workshop space gives students a space where they develop their own projects.

Blackbird makes it incredibly easy for you as a teacher to try all of the lessons that your students will do. All you have to do is sign into your teacher then click “learn” to see what your students will see. You can complete any and all of the lessons yourself and use all of the help tools like “show me” that your students have access to when they’re signed into Blackbird.

What if the kids know more than me?
When you’re teaching coding for the first time the fear that “the kids know more than me” is a very real one. Likewise, there can be a real fear that some kids will go way ahead of you and or their classmates. If that’s the case for you, consider what a teacher named Ashley at Bellevue School District had to say about these topics.

Ashley used Blackbird to teach coding as an integrated part of a science class. She didn’t have prior experience teaching coding and was worried that kids would know more than her and get way ahead of their classmates. She said having some students go ahead gave them leadership opportunities in her classroom. Additionally, she liked that it helped those kids build their confidence.

Ben, a middle school teacher in Portland, Oregon, saw using Blackbird in his classroom as an opportunity for his class to feel like they were building something together instead of just following his instructions. He also mentioned in an interview with Blackbird that he liked the fact that using Blackbird moved the focus of the class away from him and onto what the students were creating.

Finally, I’ll remind you that teaching coding (or anything that you’ve never taught before) is a good opportunity to model lifelong learning for your students.

How to Start Using Blackbird in Your Classroom
Getting started using Blackbird in your classroom was easy when I did it sixteen months ago. It’s even easier to get started for the 2022-23 school year. You can register for a free account using your Google account, Clever account, or your email address. Blackbird will let you sync your Google Classroom rosters in order to create classes for your students to join. Alternatively, you can manually create classes for your students to join. Either way, once they’ve joined your class they can start on the lessons for the Blackbird curriculum you’ve chosen to use. And as you would expect, you can view your students’ progress in your Blackbird account.

Watch the video embedded below for an overview of how to use Blackbird to teach coding in your classroom.

Elinor's Nature Adventure and Hands-on Learning Activities

As I mentioned last week, my daughters have started to enjoy Elinor Wonders Why on PBS Kids. While they were watching an episode this morning I went on the PBS Kids website to search for some Elinor-themed learning activities. I wasn't disappointed with what I found. 

The parents page for Elinor Wonders Why is full of resources for activities for parents do with their children. Of course, the resources are also great for elementary school teachers who are looking for some hands-on activities. On the parents page you'll find directions for making Elinor-themed finger puppets, placemats, mini-libraries, costumes, and many other craft projects. You'll also find directions and templates for creating investigative activities like identifying insects and sorting "treasures" found in nature. 

PBS Kids also offers some online games for kids to play and learn from. Those games include the investigative style games Elinor's Nature Adventure, Pond Life, and Backyard Life. There are seven games in all. All of the games can be played without having to sign-up or sign into any kind of account. The games I tested worked equally well in the web browser on my laptop and on my iPad. 

How to Make Whiteboard Videos in Microsoft Flip

Last week's most popular post was Getting Started With Microsoft Flip. To start this week let's look at doing a little more than just a basic selfie video in Microsoft Flip. An additional way to use Microsoft Flip is to create whiteboard style videos. 

When you open the recording tool in Microsoft Flip press record and then open the options menu you'll find lots of tools for enhancing your videos. It's there that you'll also find an option for a whiteboard. You can use that virtual whiteboard when recording a video as a topic prompt and or when replying to a topic. 

Watch the following video to learn how to record a whiteboard video in Microsoft Flip



Applications for Education
You can use Microsoft Flip's whiteboard video tools to create an instructional video for your students to watch. But having students make videos can be a great way to learn what they know about a topic and how they think about a topic. Here's a list of 25 topics for students to create whiteboard videos about.