Saturday, January 28, 2017

The Week in Review - The Texas Edition

When it Texas, wear cowboy boots.
Good evening from Fort Worth, Texas where I am relaxing after a great day at the Fort Worth ISD Technology Conference. I had the honor of giving the opening keynote and the privilege to see some other great presenters including Hall Davidson and Maggie Elliott. The conference had a great mix of opportunities for hands-on learning, break-out presentations, and some time for exercise (have you tried Drum Fit? I did today). If you're in the greater Fort Worth area, put this conference on your calendar for next year.

Tomorrow morning I'm leaving the relatively warm weather of Texas to go home to the cold of Maine where I'm already making plans for the summer. Those plans include hosting two Practical Ed Tech Summer Camps. Discounted early registration is now open for both events.

Here are this week's most popular posts:
1. Six Tools for Collaborative Brainstorming - A Comparison Chart
2. Slick Write Helps You Analyze Your Writing
3. The Climate Time Machine
4. This Handy Extension Helps You Get Back on Task
5. Use Google Maps to Tell a Story Within a Story
6. 5 Good Elementary School Activities from the Smithsonian
7. A Great Example of Using Google Maps in Science

Next week my Wednesday Webinar series begins again. The topic of the next webinar is Mind Mapping and Collaborative Brainstorming. Learn more about the series here.

Do you need a workshop or keynote speaker this spring or summer? 
My calendar is filling up, but I still have some dates available. Click here to learn more about workshops and presentations.

Please visit the official advertisers that help keep this blog going.
Practical Ed Tech is the brand through which I offer PD webinars.
Storyboard That is my go-to tool for creating storyboards.
QuickKey saves teachers tons of time when scoring formative assessments.
WriteReader is a fantastic multimedia writing tool for elementary school students.
Math Playground offers hundreds of math games and tutorial videos. 
Discovery Education & Wilkes University offer online courses for earning Master's degrees in Instructional Media.
PrepFactory offers a great place for students to prepare for SAT and ACT tests.
Boise State University offers a 100% online program in educational technology.
EdTechTeacher is hosts workshops in six cities in the U.S. in the summer.
My Simpleshow provides a great way to create explainer videos.

Three Alternatives to Google Classroom

Last week I received an email from a reader who was looking for an alternative to Google Classroom. This is not an uncommon request. A couple of times a week I get similar questions from folks who don't have access to Google Classroom. Here are my three recommendations for a free alternative to Google Classroom. This list is ranked by my preference.

Otus is designed to be a complete LMS (learning management system) for teachers. In addition to the gradebook you have options for sharing assignments and delivering quizzes directly to your students' inboxes. Otus provides teachers with a library of instructional resources (videos, texts, interactive review activities) that they can share with their students. Third-party resource providers are integrated into the Otus LMS. A couple of notable third party applications are Khan Academy and OpenEd. OpenEd offers thousands of math and language arts practice assessments aligned to Common Core standards. Otus is free for individual teachers to use. Otus can also be purchased for district-wide implementation which includes additional reporting tools for administrators.



Kiddom is a free service that enables teachers to create online classroom spaces. In Kiddom you can create and manage multiple classrooms. In those classrooms you can distribute assignments to students to complete and return to you. One of the things that Kiddom offers to try to make itself stand out is an integrated search for assignment materials. For example, fourth grade teachers can search for mathematics assignments that are aligned to standards of their choosing. When a material is found teachers can then assign it to their students as a homework assignment, as a quiz, or as a long-term assignment. Teachers can also create assignments from scratch by uploading materials and or importing them them Google Drive. Read my full review of Kiddom here.

Edmodo, in a nutshell, is a system designed specifically for teachers and students to share announcements, assignments, and handouts. Edmodo allows teachers to create a group specifically for their students and exclude those not invited to the group. Edmodo provides teachers with a place to post assignment reminders, build an event calendar, and post messages to the group. Just as with any good microblogging service users can share links, videos, and images. One of the most popular posts ever published on this blog outlined 15 things you can do with Edmodo.

5 Ways Students Can Earn Money Without Flipping Burgers

One of the talks that I give from time to time is titled Preparing Students to Work and Learn Independently. The focus of the talk is to help people understand the learning and employment opportunities that exist today that didn't exist 10-15 years ago. One part of the talk includes examples of the kinds of self-employment opportunities that are available to students today that didn't exist 10-15 years ago. Here are five of those opportunities.

1. Tee-shirt design and sales. There are plenty of online services that let students design and sell tee-shirts without any start-up costs. SunFrog is a service that I have personally used for that purpose.

2. Drone piloting. Students who have drones might offer their skills for sale to real estate agents. I know one realtor in my area who has hired students to fly drones to photograph the properties they are listing for sale.

3. YouTube publishing. YouTube allows you to monetize your videos through the use of their ad network, AdSense. Students could publish tutorial videos for their favorite games, demonstrate DIY projects, or publish videos about any other topic that strikes their fancy. It takes a lot of video views to make significant money this way, but it's  not unrealistic for a teenager to make $50-100/month.

4. Design and sell 3D printed objects. I've seen students create cell phone cases and speakers with 3D printers. A simple e-junkie or eBay store is a fine platform for resale of those items.

5. Virtual tech help. This has been an in-person option for years, but free tools like Skype, Zoom, and Google+ Hangouts make it possible for students to offer tech help remotely.

Disclaimer: Most online stores and advertising programs require people to be 18 or older. Therefore, students will need to have their parents register and let their teens manage the materials sold. Depending upon how much students earn, there may be tax implications to consider. 

Friday, January 27, 2017

5 Good Elementary School Activities from the Smithsonian

The Smithsonian offers wonderful online resources for students of all ages. The Smithsonian's Learning Lab lets teachers create collections of resources. But you don't have to use the Learning Lab to use many of the activities available through the various Smithsonian channels. Here are five good online activities available through the Smithsonian. These are activities for elementary school students.

How Things Fly is a feature from the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. How Things Fly contains an interactive module in which students design their own airplanes. The activity starts with a simple and slow airplane that students have to modify until it reaches a target speed and altitude. As students modify the wings, fuselage, and engines of their airplanes they are given instant feedback on the effects of those modifications. In some cases the feedback includes the airplane crashing and the students having to start over again.

Shutterbugs Wiggle and Stomp is an educational game produced by the Smithsonian. The purpose of the game is to help children recognize the movements of animals. In the game children move through a virtual zoo with a zoo keeper. As they go through the virtual zoo the zoo keeper will ask students to take pictures of animals who are demonstrating running, jumping, stomping, and other movements. Shutterbugs Wiggle and Stomp can be played online. The game is also available as a free iPad app and as a free Android app.

The Smithsonian Science Education Center's Weather Lab is a simple online activity designed to help elementary and middle school students learn about weather patterns. In the Weather Lab students select an ocean current and an air mass then try to predict the weather pattern that will result from their choices. The Weather Lab provides an overview of the characteristics of each air mass and ocean current. Students should use that information in making their weather predictions.  After making their predictions the Weather Lab will tell students if they were correct or not. In the feedback given to students they will find links to videos for further learning about each weather pattern featured in the Weather Lab.

Habitats is a fun little game from the Smithsonian Science Education Center. The online game challenges elementary school to match animals to their habitats. The game shows students images representative of four habitats; desert, coral reef, jungle, and marsh. Students drag pictures of animals from a list to their corresponding habitats. Students receive instant feedback on each move they make in the game. Once an animal has been placed in the correct habitat students can click on it to learn more about it in the Encyclopedia of Life.

The Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage has some neat resources for teachers and students. One of the resources that I like is the Masters of the Building Arts Activity Guide. The Masters of the Building Arts Activity Guide provides the history of six types of buildings and architectural features. At the conclusion of each section there is a hands-on activity for students to try in your classroom. For example at the end of the section on timber framing you will find directions for an activity in which students attempt to create a model building with straws or pipe cleaners. At the end of the section on stained glass students can try to create their own "stained glass" panels with tissue papers, ribbons, and glue.

Three Things to Brainstorm Before You Search

One of the things that I ask students to do before they begin any research activity is to take some time to brainstorm. They might groan about having to do this instead of immediately typing or speaking search phrases, but it is good habit for students to develop. Here are three things students should brainstorm about before searching.

1. Brainstorming a list of alternative search terms and phrases to use in a search engine. It is easy for students to fall into the trap of thinking about a topic in only the way that they describe it or how you've described it to them. Stopping to brainstorm a list of similar words and phrases can open students to new ways of describing the topic they're researching.

2. What are the best formats for sharing information about the topic you're researching? If the topic is related to geography or geology, you might find a lot of value in refining the search to return only KML and KMZ files. Refining in that way will bring students to items that typically don't rank highly in search engines, but none-the-less contain valuable information.

3. Who can you ask about this topic? Asking the school librarian might be the best thing that students can do to improve their search results. The school librarian has knowledge of the databases available to students. Many students will struggle with those databases without guidance from a librarian.

You might also have your students try to develop a list of people they know (parents, other teachers, friends of parents) who have expert knowledge on a topic. Those experts can help students think about a topic in a different way.

Strategies like this one and many others are covered in Search Strategies Students Need to Know