Sunday, April 2, 2017

If I Was Starting Free Technology for Teachers Today...

I am frequently asked about how I started Free Technology for Teachers. In response to that question I always tell the story about starting it as a hobby that I never thought would turn into the business that it has become. As a follow-up to that, I usually share what I would have done differently if I had thought that it was going to become a business. Here are some of the things that I would do differently if I was starting Free Technology for Teachers over again from scratch.

1. Self-host the blog and use WordPress. 
While I still believe that Blogger is a good choice for classroom blogs or small hobby blogs, it does become limiting at a certain point. One the bigger limitations being in the level of design customization that can be accomplished without diving into lots of coding. Another limitation of concern is that I'm still at the mercy of Google. If Google decides to shutter Blogger, I would still have all of my content in an XML file, but I'd have to find a new place to host it and do the arduous work of rebuilding search engine visibility. In other words, every day is a gamble running a business that relies on Google not shuttering Blogger.

Every professional blog (,, and others) that I've started in the last five years has run on WordPress. To be clear, I'm referring to the free software not the hosted blog option. I use MediaTemple as the hosting service. It's not the cheapest hosting service you'll find, but the customer service is great! And they're currently running a promotion that gives you two months of free hosting.

There are thousands of themes and templates that you can use on a WordPress blog. I've used free themes, but I've been happiest with themes that I've purchased from WooThemes, StudioPress, and DIY Themes.

2. Create and share more videos.
It's only in the last couple of years that I started to make and share a lot of my own tutorial videos. Screencast videos don't take a lot of time to make and they're quite helpful to visitors. Posting the videos on YouTube with links back to the blog is also a great way to get more visitors to the blog itself.

3. Offer an email newsletter. 
When I started this blog RSS readers were the darling of the Web 2.0 world. People were trying all kinds of things to monetize RSS feeds because the RSS reader was going to replace email. In fact, Allen Stern proposed charging $1 feed. (Side note, Allen Stern was one of the truly great guys in the Web 2.0 blogging community. He taught me and many others a lot about blogging. Sadly, he passed away far too young four years ago). Fast forward ten years and email is still here and Google Reader is long gone. The email newsletter that I finally started in 2014 now has more than 13,000 subscribers and it accounts for almost as much traffic as Facebook referrals while accounting for the majority of webinar registrations.

What I did right.
The thing that I did right from the start is have a clearly defined (at least in my head) purpose of sharing only free resources and always trying to share an idea for how that resource could be used in a classroom.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what I've learned about turning a blog into a business over the last ten years. In my upcoming course, From Blog to Job, I'll share everything I've learned and give you guidance on developing your own blog-based business. 

Don't Forget the Greater Context on Your VR Trip

During last week's Practical Ed Tech Live episode (join me this Thursday at 4pm EDT) I was asked about virtual reality, specifically Google Expeditions. The point that I tried to emphasize in my response was that it's important that we don't lost the greater physical geographic context when we take students on virtual reality trips.

Before you embark on a virtual reality field trip have your students look at physical maps and have them hypothesize about what they might see on the virtual reality trip. Ask students to use their prior knowledge to form those hypotheses. When they've done that, then go on the VR trip. It will have more meaning to your students if they have a greater context and aren't just touring around a location you sent them to in virtual reality.

For a greater discussion about virtual reality in education, please see the Hangout that I recorded with Greg Kulowiec from

The resources that we shared during the Hangout are available at

Saturday, April 1, 2017

The Week in Review - The Most Popular Posts

Good morning from Maine where it is snowing. No, that's not an April Fool's joke. It really is snowing. The weather forecast calls for ten inches of snow. There's nothing to do but put on snowshoes and take the dogs for a walk. Which is what I'll do right after publishing the list of this week's most popular posts.

Here are this week's most popular posts:
1. How to Add Spoken Audio to Google Slides
2. How to Add Interactive End Screens to YouTube Videos
3. How to Create Short Answer Activities in Socrative
4. Create and Track ACT & SAT Prep Activities in PrepFactory
5. Use Socrative to Create Quiz Games That Accept Short Answers
6. Kupiter - Asteroids Meets Review Game
7. Video Tips With Isla

Join me on Tuesday afternoons in April for a series of professional development webinars

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.
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.
My Simpleshow provides a great way to create explanatory videos.

7 Google Product Updates You Might Have Missed in March

It can be hard to keep up with all of the changes and updates that Google makes to the products that have become an integral part of many teachers' lives. Some of the changes are minor and insignificant to the average end-user while others are significant to a larger portion of end-users. Here are some of the more significant Google product updates that you might have missed in March.

1. Google Keep is now a core product in G Suite. This means that you can now import your Google Keep bookmarks and notes into Google Documents. Watch my video to learn how to import Google Keep notes into Google Docs. 

2. Google Calendar is now optimized for iPads. This is convenient for teachers whose primary classroom device is an iPad. 

3. Google Maps now has Street View imagery of volcanoes and villages in Vanuatu. This adds to the ever-growing list of neat places that students can see in fine detail that we never could see as students in geography classes. 

4. Google Docs has a convenient, new formatting option. It's now easier to insert blocks of all-caps text. A new automatic headline formatting option has also been added to Google Docs. See more here.

5. Team Drives are now available to all schools using G Suite for Education. Rather than just sharing a single file or folder, Team Drives will give everyone in the team access to everything in the Team Drive by default.

6. Google Classroom is now available to anyone who has a Gmail address...kind of. Anyone who has a Gmail address can join a Google Classroom classroom provided that he or she has been given the classroom code. Gmail users cannot yet create their own classrooms in Google Classroom, but that option appears to be coming soon.

7. And in the "definitely not free and probably destined to flop" category, you can now buy Jamboard for $5000 plus an annual fee of $600. I can think of many better ways to allocate $5600 of your technology budget.

33 Lessons on Critical Thinking

From analyzing a persuasive essay to dissecting research findings to determining the cause of an outcome in a science lab, having sharp critical thinking skills serves students well. Wireless Philosophy has a series of 33 video lessons about critical thinking. The most recent lesson explains the difference between causation and correlation.

Take a look at these 7 great tools for creating flipped lessons with these videos.