Monday, December 6, 2021

Classroomscreen - Timers, Names, and Noise Meters

A couple of weeks ago my Practical Ed Tech weekly newsletter was all about timers and random selectors. A reader named Erin replied to the newsletter with a suggestion to try a tool called Classroomscreen. I'm so glad that she suggested it beccause Classroomscreen is fantastic! 

Classroomscreen is a service that lets you create a homescreen on which you can place reusable countdown timers, stopwatches, noise meters, random name selectors, and more helpful classroom management tools. The noise meter lets you set a sensitivity level and have an alarm sound when the room gets too noisy. The random name selector lets you enter a list of names and save it for unlimited reuse. The countdown timers are easy to adjust for time allotment and appearance. 

In addition to the timers, noise meters, and random name pickers, Classroomscreen also offers handy tools like a digital whiteboard, a calendar, a task list, and a QR code to share the whole screen with your students. 

In this short video I demonstrate the key features of the free Classroomscreen plan. 

Applications for Education
What's nice about Classroomscreen is that you can create and save homescreens so that you can create a set of tools once and reuse them as often as you need without having to start from scratch each time. I also like that I can write a task list or other note on the screen and display it right next to a countdown timer to help students stay on track to complete a classroom activity.

Sunday, December 5, 2021

Seven Ideas for Crafting Comics in History Classes

My first teaching position was as a mid-year replacement for a literature teacher who left to become the head of an ESL/ELL program in another school district. That teacher left behind a stack of comic book versions of Romeo and Juliet along with a note along the lines of “these might help with your reluctant readers.” She was right!

What I learned in using those comic book versions of Romeo and Juliet was that comics can help emerging readers understand the key points of fiction and non-fiction stories. Of equal importance those comic books helped me get kids excited to learn more of the story and ask questions about details of the story. Eventually, I progressed from having students read comics to having students create comics about fictional and real events.

Much like reading comics can get a reluctant reader interested in a story, creating comics can be a great way to get reluctant writers to put pencil to paper (or digital ink to digital paper). Over the years I’ve had history students create comics to tell stories from the Lewis & Clark expedition, to illustrate letters written by American Civil War soldiers, to create modernized dialogues between historical people, and to try their hands at crafting political cartoons.

Let’s take a look at some ideas and tools for crafting comics in history classrooms.

Biographies and Dialogues
Create short biographies of historical figures. Have students select a key moment from a person’s life. Then ask your students to illustrate that moment. For example, students studying John F. Kennedy could create comics to illustrate a conversation between JFK and Bobby Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

If you want students to create comics to illustrate conversations in languages other than English, Make Beliefs Comix is a great choice because it supports six languages in addition to English.

Modern Communication Between Historical Characters
How might history have been different if the communication technology we have today was available 200, 300, or 500 years ago? Ask your students to think about that question and then illustrate the outcome. Students can use the SMS Generator from or the wireframes in to simulate text message and or email exchanges between historical characters like George Washington and Ben Franklin.

Create Political Cartoons
Create political cartoons. This is the obvious use for cartoons in social studies classes. Cartoons for the Classroom offers excellent, free lesson plans for using political cartoons. Single frame comic creation tools like ToonyTool are great for making political cartoons.

Illustrate a Sequence of Events
Illustrate a timeline of an event or series of events. Rather than simply writing summaries of key events, students create illustrations of the events. Canva is a good tool for making comics to illustrate a series of events. Not only does Canva provide comic templates, it also provides timeline templates. And you can mix elements of both templates. A demonstration of how to create a comic with Canva is available here.

Courtroom Comics
Whether it’s a modern case in which cameras weren’t allowed or a historical case, making comics is a good way for students to summarize the key arguments in a case. offers pre-made artwork for creating courtroom scenes. Canva also has plenty of pre-made artwork that could be used to create courtroom scenes. Students can use Google Scholar to find state and federal court cases and rulings to use as references when creating their summative comics. Here's an overview of how to use Google Scholar to find state and federal court cases. 

A Comic Diagram
Have students create a comic diagram to explain how a bill becomes a law. Creating a comic diagram is a good way for students to show what they know about all of the powers and responsibilities of each branch of government. Within each branch of the diagram students can include comic frames to illustrate the types of conversations and debates that politicians have with each other and lobbying groups as a bill proceeds through the process of becoming a law. You could have students do this in Google Slides or PowerPoint by following the model in this video.

Illustrate Letters
As I mentioned in the opening section, years ago I had some of my students illustrate letters written by Civil War veterans. When I did that I had my students choose from a selection of materials that I found through the Maine Memory Network. Students then used to illustrate parts of the letters they chose.

Many state and local historical societies have collections of letters that you can access online and share with your students. The Library of Congress has a program called By The People that offers thousands of primary source documents for students to access.

SpinnerWheel - A Great Random Name, Number, and Word Picker

SpinnerWheel is a new-to-me site that provides an easy way to create custom spinners for random name selection, random number selection, and even random image selection. What's great about SpinnerWheel is that in additiona to customizing the names, words, numbers, and pictures that appear in the spinner, you can also customize the sound and visual effects of the spinners you create. 

SpinnerWheel lets you place multiple spinners on the same screen and spin them at the same time. By doing that you can create a random group picker, generate randomized writing prompts, randomly generate math problems, and even create random quiz game questions. 

You can use SpinnerWheel without creating an account on the site. However, if you do create a free account on SpinnerWheel you will be able to save your spinners to use whenever you like an as often as you like. 

In this short video I demonstrate all of the key features of SpinnerWheel including creating multiple spinners, customizing the spinner content, and modifying the sound and visual effects of the spinners. The video also provides a demonstration of using multiple spinners simultaneously to create randomized writing prompts and randomized math problems. 

Saturday, December 4, 2021

Germs, Math, and Videos - The Week in Review

Good morning from Maine where it's a clear and cold morning. Earlier this week we had our first real accumulation of snow. That snow covering will make it easier for me to drag our Christmas tree to the house later this morning. My daughters are excited to help decorate the Christmas tree this weekend. I hope that you have something that you're equally excited to do this weekend. 

Every once in a while a blog post that I published months or even years ago is resurfaced by someone who then shares it on social media. That's evident when you look at this week's list of the most popular posts. The post about math problems was published in July but was one of this week's most popular posts. The whole list is included below. 

These were the week's most popular posts:
1. Germ Science Investigation - A Game About Stopping the Spread of COVID-19
2. Three Updated Google Docs Features
3. Five Helpful PowerPoint Features You Might Be Overlooking
4. Three Places to Find Fun and Interesting Math Problems
5. My Big List of Tools for a Variety of Classroom Video Projects
6. Two Easy Ways to Make Your Own Mobile App
7. Scan Documents and QR Codes With Your Chromebook

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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.

Two Options for Automatically Removing Choices from Google Forms

Earlier this week a reader of my newsletter sent me a question looking for a way to limit the number of times that an answer choice could be used on a Google Form. My first suggestion was to try the Google Forms add-on called Choice Eliminator 2

Choice Eliminator 2 is a Google Forms add-on that I've used for years to limit the number of times that an answer choice can be used on a Google Form. When the limit is reached, the answer choice stops appearing on the form. For example, if I create a multiple choice question like "what's your first choice of winter carnival activity?" and then give four answer choices, I can then use Choice Eliminator 2 to only allow answer choice "A" to be chosen three times before it disappears from the form. In fact, that's exactly what I demonstrate in the second half of this video

Choice Removal is another Google Forms add-on that will remove answer choices from a Google Form as they get used up. The difference between Choice Removal and Choice Eliminator 2 is that Choice Removal doesn't allow you to specify how many times an answer choice can be used. Instead, Choice Removal simply removes an answer choice as soon as it has been used one time. 

In this video I demonstrate how both Choice Eliminator 2 and Choice Removal work.