Monday, September 12, 2016

6 Things to Check When a Website or App Isn't Working

This is the time of year when you might find yourself trying to use an app or website for the first time after a few month layoff due to school vacation. This is also the time when you might be trying a completely new-to-you app or site that you saw demonstrated during a PD session during the summer. When you visit that site or app you might find that it's not working the way that you expected it to work. Before throwing your hands up at it, try these simple fixes.

1. Are you using a modern and updated web browser? In a lot instances of a site not working properly in a school, the cause can be traced to using an outdated version of Internet Explorer. If you're using an outdated version of a web browser not only will some sites not work correctly, you are also opening yourself up to more potential security threats. Find out which browser and version you're using by visiting

2. Do you have cookies enabled? Many websites require cookies in order to offer you the best possible experience. Explania and Common Craft offer good explanations of how cookies work.

3. Do you have a pop-up blocker turned on? It is not uncommon for a website to use a pop-up window for account log-ins. If the pop-up is blocked, you won't be able to log-in.

4. Are you using the site on a tablet/ iPad/ Chromebook? While it would be great if every site was optimized for tablets, that is not the case.

5. Have you updated your operating system? New apps and sites may not function properly on an outdated operating system. Take the time to run the update on your iPad or computer.

6. Have you checked your spam folder? If you sent a help request to the help desk/ site administrators, they may have replied and had their messages flagged by your spam filter. I've experienced this more than once when using a school district email address.

And just to bring a little humor to this, in the words of The IT Crowd, "have you tried turning it off and on again?"

Disclosure: For years I have had an in-kind business relationship with Common Craft.

The Problem With Automating Your Blog

The web is great. Everyday a new tool appears that makes some task easier than ever to accomplish. But not every task that can be automated should be automated. For example, let's say you decide that your organization (perhaps SETDA) needs a blog, but you cannot find time to have someone actually write blog posts on a regular basis. So instead of making a commitment to authentic blogging you find a free blog template and some free software that automatically aggregates and displays blog posts from the RSS feeds of some popular blogs that you like. Then you sit back and never have to worry about your blog (perhaps called EdTechUpdate) again because all the work is done for you. If only it was that simple...

The problems with creating a blog that just aggregates and displays blog posts from RSS feeds:
1. If you use the wrong settings, you'll end up publishing full blog posts without permission of the authors. In other words, you've just automated your plagiarism.

2. You're not really doing anything to promote your own thoughts or your organization's mission. Even an blog run by an organization should have some kind of voice of its own. Take a look at any of the large, successful, multiple author blogs and you'll notice that their is an editorial style present throughout the blog.

3. The service that you think you're providing, isn't much of a service. Sure, some people might discover a new blog through your aggregation, but that's about it. Once they've found a new blog that they like, they're going to visit it directly instead of going through your aggregation of dozens of feeds.

Things you can do instead of automating your blog:
1. Put someone in charge of writing original blog posts on a regular schedule. One post per week on the same day is better than five posts randomly distributed throughout a month. Take a look at as an example. I publish only one post per week on it and it has 11,500 subscribers. It serves my mission of providing practical tech tips for teachers.

2. If you must use other bloggers' content, add to it with your own thoughts and commentary. Explain to your audience why you think someone else's blog post was particularly useful and worth sharing.

3. Use social media and email to distribute the handful of original blog posts that you do publish. Even on their favorite blogs most people don't read see every post the first time it's published. Use social media and email to redistribute your original posts on a regular schedule.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Campaign Comics Templates for Kids

Make Beliefs Comix offers comic strip templates and writing prompts in up to seven languages. The templates and prompts can be completed online or you can print them out to give to your students. Recently, Make Beliefs Comix added templates centered around the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. These new comic templates include prompts for writing theoretical conversations/ debate points between Clinton and Trump, templates for political bumper stickers, templates for writing campaign promises, and a neat graphic organizer for designing your perfect candidate.

Applications for Education
To some students creating a comic feels less daunting than sitting down with a blank piece of paper and being told to write about something. The structure and visuals of a comic can help students craft a story or illustrate a point. These new campaign comic templates could be particularly useful in helping students break a complex topic into smaller chunks to write about. Through their comics students could demonstrate their understanding of candidates' positions on a variety of topics.

How to Create Shared Google Calendars

Last week on the Free Technology for Teachers Facebook page someone asked me for a recommendation for creating and maintaining a shared calendar. My immediate suggestion was to use Google Calendar. Google Calendar can be used in your web browser as well as in its respective iOS and Android apps. In the video embedded below I provide a short demonstration of how to create a shared Google Calendar. In the video I also explain how shared Google Calendars can be used by teaching teams.

Youngzine is Updated for 2016-17 School Year - Great Current Events Resource

Youngzine is a great service that provides teachers with current events articles written for classroom use. I first used the site in 2012 and it has only gotten better since then. Youngzine has been updated for the 2016-17 school year with a fresh and responsive design, new classroom discussion features, and easier sign-in options.

Youngzine articles feature a mix of news, sports, and entertainment stories for elementary school students. A new edition is published weekly. Most articles on Youngzine are accompanied by a supporting video. Articles that reference locations include a map so that students can quickly identify the setting for a story. All articles are accompanied by critical thinking prompts for students. Those prompts can be used in Youngzine online classrooms created by teachers.

In Youngzine online classrooms you can assign articles for your students to read, ask them to respond to articles and discussion prompts, and view their scores on the Youngzine weekly quiz. This year Youngzine added support for sign-in with a Google Account.

Applications for Education
Elementary school and middle school teachers looking for current events materials that will suit their students' reading abilities will find Youngzine to be a great resource. In addition to the classroom blog option featured above, Youngzine also offers students the option to contribute their own reporting to the site through the U-Write section of the site. Students can sign-up individually to contribute to Youngzine's U-Write section or a teacher can register his or her entire class.

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