Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Change the Dialect to Change Your Search Results

One of the points that I always make in my Search Strategies webinar is the importance of thinking about how other people describe the topic you're researching. Here are two examples of how that has had an effect on my travel planning.

Going to Australia
A couple of years ago I gave the opening keynote for a conference in Australia. Since the trip to Australia from Portland, Maine is about the longest one I could make without leaving Earth's atmosphere, I spent some time researching the best flights and seats within those flights.

To do my research I turned to the message board community on (it's kind of like Consumer Reports meets Trip Advisor for airlines). Once it was determined that I would be flying Qantas (I didn't have much choice on that matter) from Dallas to Sydney I set out to see what people were saying about seats on the A380 that flies on that route. I started out using the name Dallas in my search, but I didn't see nearly as many posts on the topic as I had hoped. Further, the posts that I did find were written by people who had made relatively few contributions to the community. After reading some not-so-helpful post I realized that most frequent contributors to the community don't actually spell out full city names. Instead, they use airport abbreviation codes like DFW when writing about Dallas. As soon as I switched out Dallas and for DFW in my search I found a lot more posts from frequent contributors to the FlyerTalk community.

Storing luggage in London
The first time that I went to London for the BETT Show I needed to store some of my luggage at the conference center during the day. It isn't uncommon for large conference centers to offer a luggage hold service for a nominal fee. I wanted to confirm my hunch in advance so I spent some time searching on the BETT and conference center websites for “coat check,” “bag check,” “coat room,” and “bag storage” in the hopes of confirming my assumption. My searches were fruitless.

Eventually I confirmed my assumption about a baggage check when I stumbled upon a map of the conference center. In browsing around the map I discovered a “cloakroom.” When I hear “cloak” I instantly think of the Count Chocula character from the cereal boxes of the 1980’s (my mother never let us eat that kind of cereal despite our pleas). I never thought to use the word “cloak” in any of my searches for information about storing my jacket and small bag for the afternoon. Cloak is just not a regular part of my American vernacular.

How this applies to students:
Five or six years ago I heard my friend Tom Daccord at (an advertiser on this blog) give an example of social studies students researching films of the early 20th Century. In his example Tom mentioned that the students who insisted on using the term "movies" in their searches didn't get nearly as far as those who used terms like "talkies," "moving pictures," and "cinema." This was due to the fact that "movies" wasn't a part of the common dialect of film critics in the early 20th Century.

For students to understand the dialect of the topics that they are researching, they will have to do some prior reading and learning on the topic. One thing that I've asked students to do when reading primary sources that I've distributed to them is to highlight or write down the terms and phrases that are new to them. Often those highlighted terms and phrases often end up being a huge asset to them when they are trying to choose the best terms to use in Google searches.

By the way, if you copy and paste a primary document into Google Docs then share it with students, it is very easy for them to highlight new-to-them phrases and for you to see what they've highlighted.

How to Use Hemingway to Analyze Your Writing

This morning I received an email from someone who was requesting a little help getting started with is a free tool for analyzing your own writing. In the video embedded below I demonstrate how to use

Three Super Bowl Themed Educational Activities

The Super Bowl is this coming Sunday (I predict that the Patriots will win). The odds are good that you have some students who are also interested in the game. Try one of the following resources to turn your students' enthusiasm for the Super Bowl into a fun lesson.

NBC's Science of Football is a series of ten videos from NBC Learn explaining and demonstrating math and science concepts as they relate to football. The list of topics covered in the Science of NFL Football includes Torque & Center of Mass, Pythagorean Theorem, Geometric Shapes, Projectile Motion & Parabolas, Vectors, Kinematics, Nutrition, and Newton's 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Laws of Motion.

Choosito has a lesson plan that asks students to investigate the causes and effects of concussions. The lesson includes studying the trends in concussion diagnoses and treatments during the last 20 years.

Practical Money Skills hosts a series of eight online games designed to teach students some money management skills. One of the games that is timely considering that the Super Bowl is just a few days away is Financial Football. Financial Football has students answer questions about budgets, savings, and spending to move their football teams down the field against another team. The games use real NFL team logos. Financial Football takes at least twenty minutes to play.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Best of Free Technology for Teachers in January

Sunset over Casco Bay.
Good evening from Maine where the sun is setting on the first month of 2017. It has been a busy month here at the Byrne Instructional Media, LLC World Headquarters. Besides the usual blogging activities that you see here, I hosted a series of Wednesday afternoon webinars, taught a course, spoke at a conference, and made arrangements for this summer's Practical Ed Tech Summer Camps. And, of course, I tried to answer your email requests for ed tech help. You can always email me at richardbyrne (at)

As I do at this time every month, I have compiled a list of the month's most popular posts.

Here are the most popular posts from January, 2017:
1. New Google Classroom Features Focus on Individual Instruction
2. Two Tools That Help Students Analyze Writing
3. Three Alternatives to Google Classroom
4. Practical Ed Tech Handbook - Best of 2016
5. Track Progress Toward Goals With This Google Sheets Template
6. Quick Rubric Offers an Easy Way to Create Rubrics Online
7. Tips for Accessing Sites Blocked by Your School
8. Students Can Build and Launch Virtual Rockets on Rocket Science 101 from NASA
9. A Cute Video About Email Etiquette for Students - Best of 2016
10. Storyboard That Offers Lesson Plans for Every Month

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.

Access All Google Drive Templates From One Place

Using Google Documents, Sheets, Slides, and Forms templates can save you time when you need to create something that many other teachers also need. For example, rather than creating a certificate from scratch, you might use and modify the template that someone else used. For the last couple of years when you went to the Google Docs, Forms, Sheets, or Slides homepages you would see the template options. Yesterday, Google announced that you can now access those same templates within Google Drive.

To create from a template in Google Drive just select "new" in your Google Drive dashboard then choose the type of file you want to create. Then, rather than just choosing a new file choose "from template."

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