Showing posts with label remote learning. Show all posts
Showing posts with label remote learning. Show all posts

Thursday, December 16, 2021

Six Reasons to Try Tract for Remote & Hybrid Learning

Disclosure: Tract is an advertiser on

As we head into winter (in the northern hemisphere) there may be more opportunities to try new approaches to online and hybrid learning. One of those new approaches to try is using Tract. Tract is a service that I wish I had access to last year when my school was switching between in-person, online, and hybrid instruction on what felt like a weekly basis.

What is Tract?
I’ve written about Tract a handful of times this fall. If you didn’t see one of those posts, here’s a quick summary of what Tract is.

Tract is a new service that launched this past summer. It offers fun lessons for elementary school, middle school, high school students taught by high school and college students. The lessons and corresponding activities cover a wide array of fun and interesting topics. On Tract you will find lessons about photography, gaming, cooking, music, sports, and much more. Students can earn digital and physical prizes for completing the lessons and their corresponding activities.

As the preceding paragraph implies, high school students can contribute to Tract by creating their own video lessons for others to learn from. Lessons can be created for just about any topic that students are interested in teaching to others (provided it’s school-appropriate).

Take a look at this video for a teacher and student perspective of how Tract works.

Benefits for Students
There are numerous potential benefits for students using Tract as part of their remote and hybrid learning experiences. Perhaps the biggest benefit is getting to pursue the topics that interest them. Within Tract students can pursue learning paths of their choosing (you get to see their choices in your teacher dashboard). Tract learning paths cover a huge array of topics ranging from fun things like musical animals to serious things like investing in different sectors of the stock market to lots of interesting things between those extremes. In short, there is not a shortage of fun and interesting things for students to learn through Tract’s student-created learning paths.

Tract doesn’t limit students to just watching and completing learning paths. Students are also encouraged to participate in producing their own learning paths. In November I outlined that process in this blog post. By creating videos and challenges for learning paths of their own design, students are able to showcase their knowledge of favorite topics and share their knowledge with classmates and the world at large. For many students creating a learning path about a topic of personal interest will be a welcome deviation from creating projects about a prescribed topic. In other words, students get to be the expert and share their expertise with a “real world” audience.

Students can create Tract learning paths about a favorite topic at home and or in your classroom. When they create the learning path content at home, students are able to incorporate props they likely already have. For example, a student creating a learning path about bicycle maintenance can use his or her own bicycle as a prop in a video. A student creating a learning path about cat grooming, can use pictures or videos of his or her own cat. The benefit here is that students can really add some of their own personalization to the content they create.

Benefits for Teachers
As I mentioned at the start of this blog post, I wish that I had access to Tract last year when my school was frequently switching between in-person, online, and hybrid classes. Creating Tract learning paths about topics related to computer science (all of my students chose to be in the class) would have been a great activity for hybrid learning. Students could create content for their learning paths on their own then check-in with me for feedback on what they were developing. Again, see this blog post for directions on the student creation process. Developing learning paths during hybrid instruction days would be a great way to smoothly transition from in-person days to hybrid days to fully online days.

Another benefit of having students create a Tract learning path is that you get to see how they organize their thoughts about a topic or process. The process of reviewing students’ learning paths provides some insight into what a student thinks is the most important part of a chosen topic and what they think is the best way to explain that topic.

Finally, even if students only use Tract to view the lessons and do the challenges created by other students, there is still a great benefit for you. That benefit is getting to see what your students are truly interested in beyond what they have to do for your class.

Give it a try before the end of the year!
Sign-up for Tract using the code BYRNE before the end of the year to enjoy free access to all of Tract’s features for you and your students.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Five Ways to Get Students to be More Active in Remote Learning

This is a guest post from Hali Larkins (@HaliLarkins), communications intern at The Learning Accelerator and Master's student at Columbia Teachers' College.

In remote environments, sustaining engagement is a challenging task even for adults, but with school continuing to take place virtually, the question of “How to motivate and keep students engaged in remote learning?” continues to be top of mind for many teachers. In exploring this question, The Learning Accelerator has outlined five key steps to getting and keeping students engaged:

1. Be Clear and Consistent:
Classroom agendas can be recreated virtually to offer students a central place to track objectives and activities for the lessons. Tools such as virtual notebooks, online agendas, and visual virtual classrooms can establish consistency for students.

2. Provide Opportunities for Ownership and Choice:
Systems such as classroom jobs, choice boards, and award systems can be designed for virtual contexts to both give students something to look forward to and establish a sense of agency in their learning.

3. Offer Opportunities Non Verbal Engagement:
Normalizing non-verbal communication through strategies such as wait questions, muted share alouds, and communicating with hand signals allows for variety in classroom participation.

4. Establish Effective Small-Group Collaboration:
Establishing clear expectations, assigning group roles, and providing space for wellbeing check-ins can help students build community and connection with their peers in across both remote and in-person environments.

5. Build Movement in Lessons:
In remote learning, students are generally less active than usual. Teachers can motivate students to get active by offering brain breaks, creating active activities, and providing virtual scavenger hunts.

The key to designing engaging remote learning experiences is for them to be fun, interesting, and account for the full needs of students during these times. We want to create learning environments where students feel challenged, emotionally safe, and connected to their learning community — whether remote or in-person.

This post originally appeared on If you see it elsewhere, it has been used without permission. Sites that steal my work include CloudComputin and 711Web.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Three Ways Teachers Can Improve Remote Learning

This is a guest post from Hali Larkins (@HaliLarkins), communications intern at The Learning Accelerator and Master's student at Columbia Teachers' College.

Right now, many students are still trying to navigate major changes to their environments, learning formats, and wellbeing —all factors that can impact their ability to do well in remote learning. Teachers can help students to do their best by introducing them to tools and skills that allow them to manage their own learning. We found that not only do skills in self-directed learning help students to take initiative and set goals, as well as to identify and choose the right resources, but it can also lead to success in remote learning. Here are three areas that teachers can focus on to better help students develop the skills that they need to do well during these times:

Build Independent Learning Skills: 
Independent learning, whether synchronous or asynchronous, requires students to exert greater effort to self-regulate and direct themselves. Teachers can help students build these skills by giving them tools to track their learning through goal setting— a fundamental skill that can help students track their learning progress. With the help of their teachers, students who are learning remotely can co-create schedules and goals in order to manage, monitor and reflect on their learning to know when and where to seek help.

Partner with Families: 
Remote learning also provides a tremendous opportunity to increase partnership with families. Teachers can establish open lines of communications using tools such as Google Classroom to provide weekly guardian summaries and offer frequent communication through emails, texts, and virtual check-ins. These mechanisms can empower parents and guardians tooth guide students and provide valuable feedback to teachers.

Foster Supports for the Whole Child: 
Students’ abilities to fully engage in learning is ultimately influenced by their social and emotional wellbeing (SEL). In remote learning, teachers can implement SEL supports by providing time for students to reflect, journal, and share their feelings, through the use of emojis, and by providing “brain breaks” during instruction time. These strategies not only help teachers to fully understand students’ emotional needs but also provide them with valuable information to adjust instruction as needed.

Navigating remote learning continues to be a challenging task for students. The areas and strategies mentioned above can be applied at every grade level and with all students to provide skills in self management that are valuable beyond academics.

Friday, October 9, 2020

Two New Helpful Features in Google Meet

Since the summer Google has been teasing us with announcements of new features "coming soon" to Google Meet. Some of those features are finally starting to arrive. Two of them that I recently got access to are background blurring and meeting controls. With background blurring enabled everything behind me is blurred. With the meeting controls I can specify whether or not students can screen share and whether or not they can use the chat function during a meeting. In the following video I demonstrate how to access and use both of these features. 

Applications for Education
Background blurring could be great for eliminating distractions for your students. Students can also use it to protect their own privacy to not show things in the background when joining classes from home. Background blurring can be turned on or off multiple times during a meeting. I might start a meeting with my background blurred then unblur it to reveal something that I have written on the whiteboard behind me. 
The option to disable chat could be helpful if you find that your students are abusing the chat or otherwise not using it as intended.

Friday, June 26, 2020

7 New Google Meet Features for Teachers

In a move that clearly is an attempt to match the functionality of Zoom and Microsoft Teams, Google has announced some new features that will soon be coming to Google Meet for G Suite for Education users. All of the new features that were announced address the many concerns about Google Meet that teachers have expressed in the last few months. Some of these features are available now and some will be coming over the next couple of months.

New Moderator Controls
  • Remotely mute all participants.
  • A hand-raising function will be coming soon. This lets students raise their hands in Google Meet to indicate that they want to speak in the meeting. 
  • Teachers will be able to end meetings for all and prevent students from rejoining after the meeting has been ended by the teacher. 
  • Guests can only "knock" or request to join after being ejected from meeting. 
  • The default setting for Google Meet will not allow anonymous guests.
Integrated Whiteboard!

  • This might be the most-requested feature for Google Meet. I've shared a couple of options (here and here) for a DIY whiteboard integration, but this should be a lot easier to use. 

Change Your Background

  • Much like in Zoom, you'll soon be able to use a custom background in Google Meet. 

Features for G Suite for Education Enterprise
G Suite for Education for Enterprise is the paid version of G Suite for Education. There are some new features coming to that version too. Those features include an option to record attendance and an option for break-out rooms in Google Meet. 

Monday, May 4, 2020

Quickly Create Online Whiteboards for Your Students

In this week's Practical Ed Tech Tip of the Week I mentioned a new service called A few weeks ago I learned about it from Alice Keeler and Larry Ferlazzo. Last week I was able to give it a real try. lets you create an online room in which each of your students has his or her own whiteboard to draw on. As the teacher, you can see what your students are drawing as they do it. You have the ability to clear students' boards and to kick them out of the room if they are not using their whiteboards as intended. Students are also able to see your whiteboard if you choose to push it out to them.

The whole process of using is outlined in my video below. For those who would prefer to read step-by-step directions instead of watch a video, I have outlined those steps before the video.

Getting started with
1. Head to the site and click "New Class."
2. Name your class and it will be assigned its own unique URL.
3. Give the URL to your students.
4. Students open the URL and enter a screen name.
5. Students draw on their whiteboards. Their drawings appear on your screen as well as their own.
6. When a students are done with their drawings they exit the room.
7. You can close the room at any time and students won't be able to access it again.

Applications for Education has the potential to be a good tool to use when you want your students to quickly illustrate how to solve a math problem or you want them to make a simple mind map.

In a remote learning environment could pair well with Google Meet or Zoom. Rather than fumbling around to pass screensharing back and forth between yourself and your students, you can just give them the link to and you can watch all of them sketch or do math problems on your screen in realtime.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

The Week in Review - It Was a Rough One

Good morning from Maine where the ground is once again blanketed with six inches of heavy, wet snow. We had a big storm on Thursday night that knocked out the power to more than a third of the homes, including mine, in my county. So in the midst of remote learning we had a snow day.

Earlier in the week we were notified that we are not going back to school this year. That wasn't a complete surprise, but it was somber confirmation of what we all kind of thought would happen even though we didn't want it to happen. It's a weird incomplete feeling to have the typical "last day of school" activities replaced by the "have a nice weekend" that we said to each other on March 13th. I wonder how many of you feel the same way.

I've been going like a man with his hair on fire for a month now. My school inbox and my personal inbox have been a non-stop stream of help requests. Some of those requests end up being addressed in blog posts, but most are addressed directly (even if it takes a few days). I explained how I'm handling those inboxes in the free webinar I hosted on Thursday. That said, I'm taking the weekend off from my inbox. I'm going to play outside with my kids, hide Easter eggs on Sunday morning, and try to relax. I hope that you can have a relaxing weekend too. If reading about educational technology is relaxing for you, take a look at these week's most popular posts.

These were the week's most popular posts:
1. An Option for Making Sure Students Know They Have Google Classroom Assignments
2. Three Ways to Share Docs in Google Classroom - When to Use Each
3. 5 Google Classroom Tips for Teachers - Things You Might Have Overlooked or Forgotten
4. Now You Can Use Flipgrid to Make Screencast Videos
5. Video Puppet Turns Your PowerPoint Presentations Into Narrated Videos
6. How to Use PDFs in Google Classroom
7. Three Ways to Make Whiteboard Videos on Your Chromebook

Online PD With Me!
I've been hosting professional development webinars for a decade.

  • My most popular webinars are available on-demand right here
  • If you prefer live webinars, I am planning to host some more later this month and in May so stay tuned for more information about those soon. 
  • I'm always available to schedule custom, online PD for your school.

Thank You for Your Support!

Other Places to Follow My Work
Besides and the daily email digest, there are other ways to keep up with what I'm publishing. 
  • Practical Ed Tech Newsletter - This comes out once per week (Sunday night/ Monday morning) and it includes my tip of the week and a summary of the week's most popular posts from
  • My YouTube Channel - More than 20,000 people subscribe to my YouTube channel for my regular series of tutorial videos including more than 350 Google tools tutorials. 
  • The Practical Ed Tech Podcast is where I answer questions from readers, share news and notes, and occasionally talk to interesting people in education. 
  • Facebook - The Facebook page has more than 450,000 followers. 
  • Twitter - I've been Tweeting away for the last thirteen years at
  • Instagram - this is mostly pictures of my kids, my dogs, my bikes, my skis, and fly fishing.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

The Arduino Design Project I'm Doing With Students Who Don't Have Materials at Home

Like a lot of other schools, mine closed without much more than a few hours notice. We went home on a Friday afternoon and Sunday evening we were told that we were not going back. My 9th grade computer science principles students were really starting to hit their stride with the various Arduino projects they were working on. Of course, I hadn't sent any materials home with my students.

For a couple of weeks I gave my students some lessons via EDpuzzle to keep the basic concepts fresh in their minds. When it became clear that we weren't going to be returning to our school I started to think of other ways to keep my students interested and challenge them a little bit. (Note, this is an elective course and most of my students would be working on these types of things even if we didn't offer a course about it).

What I'm doing this week and next week to try to keep my students interested and challenged is to give them a list of parts available then find or design a project that utilizes those components. They then have to write the code and directions for assembly. After they submit their project ideas and code I'm assembling the project in a Google Meet in front of them (I have a ton of materials in my home office). Below this paragraph you'll see the directions and parts list that I gave to my students this week.

1. Find or design an Arduino project that uses some or all of the parts listed below. The project can only use the parts that are listed below. Your project must be more complex than the basic blinking programs that we did in class before school was closed. Yes, you can consult the Arduino Project Hub as well as YouTube or any other website you find that has Arduino project ideas.

2. In a Google Document write out the steps for assembling the project. At the end of the document include the code that needs to be used in order for the project to run correctly.

Parts Available:

  • 2 Arduino Unos
  • 2 Breadboards
  • 1 Potentiometer
  • 1 5V Relay
  • 1 IR Receiver
  • 1 Remote
  • 5 Buttons
  • 2 Buzzers
  • 1 Ultrasonic Sensor
  • 1 Stepper Driver Motor
  • 1 Power Supply Module
  • 1 Servo Motor
  • 1 Temperature and Humidity Sensor Module
  • 1 Tilt Switch
  • 2 NPN Transistors
  • As many jumper wires as needed (up to 100)
  • As many resistors as needed (up to 50)
  • 1 LCD Display Module
  • 1 Diode Rectifier
  • As many single color LEDs as needed (up to 100)
  • 2 RGB LEDs
  • 2 USB cables to connect Arduino to computer.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

A Student View of Joining a Zoom Meeting on an Android Phone

A few days ago I got an email from a reader asking me what it looks like when a student tries to join a Zoom meeting on an Android phone. It was a good question because it is important to have an understanding of what a student experiences when he or she tries to use the technology that we're requesting them to use. I made the following short video to show what it looks like when a student joins a Zoom meeting on an Android phone.

It's important to note that students can join without installing the Zoom Android app. This video shows what it looks like when students join without installing the app.

On a related note, here's my overview of how to schedule and start a Zoom meeting as a teacher.

Monday, March 23, 2020

A Solution to Zoom "Not Responding" on Windows 10

On Friday morning I started having problems with every Zoom meeting that I tried to launch or join on my Windows 10 computer resulting in the annoying "application not responding" message. I didn't have the same problem on my Mac.

Based on the response to a Tweet that I posted, I wasn't the only one with the problem of the Zoom Windows 10 client freezing. To fix the problem I tried all of the usual tricks of restarting my computer, uninstalling and reinstalling the Zoom desktop client, and disabling every application that I thought might be creating a conflict. I even made sure that the driver for my graphics card was updated. None of those things fixed the problem. Finally, late this afternoon there was an update from Zoom that fixed the problem.

Zoom's notes about the update simply state "minor bug fixes." I'd say it's more than a minor bug fix. I know that Zoom's employees are probably working double-time in the current climate so I'm glad that they were able to release an update rather quickly. The lesson in this for all of us to make sure we have a second option getting things done. I used Google Hangouts today when Zoom wouldn't cooperate for a meeting I had scheduled.

While we're on the topic of Zoom, here's my tutorial on how to host a meeting with it.