Thursday, January 29, 2015

PBS Learning Media Storyboards Offer a Good Way to Create Short Lessons for Students

PBS Learning Media offers a lot of useful tools for teachers and students. Two of their tools that I discovered today are their Storyboard and Lesson Builder tools.

PBS Learning Media's Storyboard tool allows you to create a collection of videos, text, and images organized around almost any topic of your choosing. The collection appears in a collage-like format. You can share your Storyboards directly with your students through the PBS Learning Media website (you have to create an account in order to do this). Storyboards can also be created by students. As a teacher you can assign topics to your students and have them develop storyboards around their assigned topics. When they have completed their assignments students can share their Storyboards with you through PBS Learning Media.

PBS Learning Media's Lesson Builder tool is similar to their Storyboard tool. The difference is that in the Lesson Builder you can include quiz questions for students to answer after watching a video that you have selected for them.

Applications for Education
Both the Storyboard and Lesson Builder tools could be good for creating short introductory lessons to larger units of study that students are undertaking in your classroom. The shortcoming of both tools is that you are limited to content that is hosted by PBS Learning Media.

PBS Kids Writers Contest for K-3 Students

PBS Kids recently announced the launch of a creative writing contest for students in Kindergarten through third grade. The contest asks students to create short fiction stories (50-200 words for K-1 students, 100-350 words for 2nd and 3rd grade students). The stories must be accompanied by at least five illustrations developed by students. Students submitting winning entries will receive a prize package that includes ARTHUR® books and a personal technology device (that's how PBS described it, what that device actually is is a mystery to me). Click here for the full contest rules and prizes.

Applications for Education
The PBS Kids Writers Contest itself doesn't get me too excited. The reason that I'm sharing it is that PBS Learning Media offers some good resources for helping students develop short creative stories. In the PBS Learning Media resources accompanying the contest you can find writing guides and brainstorming templates that students can use in developing short stories even if they're not planning to make submissions to the PBS Kids Writers Contest.

How to Create an Online Course on Versal

Disclosure: Versal is currently an advertiser on

Versal is service that you can use to create online classes that are bit more robust than your average flipped lessons. On Versal you can build online courses that incorporate text documents, images, videos, maps, slideshows, and more. When you build a course in Versal you build it lesson-by-lesson in an easy-to-follow outline. In the video embedded below I provide a demonstration of how to get started building your first course on Versal.

Google Docs users can embed content from their Google Drive accounts into their Versal courses. Take a look at the process in the video below.

Microsoft OneDrive users can embed content into Versal courses too. The video embedded below will show you how.

Three Platforms for Writing Choose Your Own Adventure Stories - A Comparison

Over the weekend I published a review of Twine, an open source program for writing choose your own adventure stories. In the past I've reviewed a couple of other tools for the same purpose. This post is a short comparison of the three.

Inkle Writer provides a platform on which you can write choose your own adventure style stories. On Inkle Writer you write each paragraph (or less) as an independent piece that you can connect to other pieces of your story. You can take the story into many directions then piece them together from your menu of paragraphs. What I like about Inkle Writer compared to the other tools in this list is that you don't have to plan every element of your story before you write. You can simply write out a few paragraphs then go back and connect the pieces as you like.

Playfic is a tool for creating text-based, choose your own adventure stories. Playfic is based on Inform7 which uses "if, then" logic to allow anyone to create their stories. When authors plan and write their stories they can include multiple paths for readers to pursue as they progress through their stories. Readers navigate through the stories by entering directional commands such as "go north" and "go south." Click here to try a sample story and learn a bit about the logic of Playfic. The aspect of Playfic that I like best is that while writing their stories students can click on a preview. If students have errors in the logic of their stories, when they click on the preview Playfic will point those out with an explanation of the errors.

Twine is an open-source program for writing choose your own adventure stories. You can use Twine online or you can download the software for Mac or Windows. To write a choose your own adventure story with Twine online start by giving your story a title. After titling your story you will be taken to a grid canvas on which you can write short passages in a series of sticky notes. Each sticky note should be given its own title. To link elements of your stories you place brackets around the title of note within a note. Each note can be linked to two or more other notes in your story. When your story is complete you can read through it and click through it in your browser. The aspects of Twine that I like the best is the sticky note nature of the story canvas. The sticky notes make it easy to see the connections between elements of your story. The downside to Twine is that like Playfic you really need to have a good outline before you start writing otherwise you will spend a lot of time going back to edit previous story elements.

How to Use Skitch to Blur Faces and More

On Monday I wrote a short post about using Skitch to protect students' privacy when sharing pictures of school events. A few people contacted me through the FreeTech4Teachers Facebook page for more information about how Skitch works. To answer those questions I created the video that you see embedded below.

This video has been added to my playlist of more than 50 practical ed tech tips.