Monday, August 14, 2017

Three Countdown Calendars For Your Classroom Blog

In my workshops about developing blogs and websites for classrooms I always make the point that you should add some content that will appeal to all students and parents when they visit the homepage. This content can include links to handouts, a calendar of due dates, and current announcements. Another item that you can add without taking up too much space is a countdown timer to an important date like the start of a vacation. Here are three countdown calendars that you can add to your blog or website (note, none of these work in the new version of Google Sites).

It's Almost is the simplest of the countdown calendars in this list. To create a countdown calendar just go to the site and complete the phrase, "It's Almost..." and then select a date. You can get the embed code for your calendar by clicking "share this" below the running countdown that is displayed immediately after you choose the countdown target name and date. It is important to note that when you embed it into your blog, you must display it at a size of at least 275px wide or it will not work.

TickCounter is another simple countdown calendar service. It offers a little more customization than It's Almost offers. You can customize the colors for the display title and the numerical display in the countdown. When you embed a TickCounter countdown calendar into your blog, it is automatically resized to fit in the space allotted by your blog's template.

CountingDownTo offers the most customization options of the three countdown calendars in this list. You can customize the layout design and the color scheme for your countdown calendar's display. And the display is mobile-friendly. The downside to CountingDownTo is that it does add a watermark to your embedded calendar unless you subscribe to a CountingDownTo paid plan.

Applications for Education
When I was in the third grade my teacher, Mrs. Turkington, had two countdown calendars on the wall near the chalkboard. One calendar represented the number of days left in the school year and the other represented the number of days until our next "special event" (those events were birthdays, field trips, or school assemblies). Today, Mrs. Turkington could put those calendars on a classroom blog's homepage.

(Side note, Mrs. Turkington is now retired and living in Florida. We became Facebook friends 30 years after she was my teacher).

If I Don't Like It, I Don't Write About It

Every morning I receive at least ten pitches from PR agents promising that a company offers something that is new, unique, revolutionary, or better than some other service that I have reviewed. 90% of these emails don't get more than twenty seconds of my attention. Of the ten percent that I do consider, perhaps half lead to me writing a blog post. This is why you don't see me writing negative reviews of a service or product.

Writing a negative review of a service or product isn't a great use of my time or your time. I focus my effort on bringing you the services and products that can help you and your students. So if I don't write about something, I probably didn't like. The exception to that being that there are some products I really like and actually pay for, but don't fit the editorial guidelines of Free Technology for Teachers.

Reminder - These Are Attachments You Should Never Open

This morning as I sifted through the mountain of spammy PR emails that greet me every morning, I noticed one email that had the subject line "Secure Document from X." (X = person whose name I didn't recognize). I recently bought a new home so I have had a lot of secure attachments from my realtor, the bank, and insurance company lately. But this secure attachment didn't seem right. See my screenshot and explanation below.

Clues that the attachment is a phishing attempt/ scam:
1. The body of the email just said "see attachment." I, of course, didn't open the attachment. I am not inclined to open random attachments from people I don't know.
2. I was BCC'd on the email. No one sending me a legitimate attachment isn't going to BCC it to me.

Obviously, I reported this email at a spam/ phishing attempt and then I promptly deleted it.

On a related note, Common Craft offers a great video that explains phishing scams and how to recognize them.

Disclosure: I have an in-kind relationship with Common Craft. 

Sunday, August 13, 2017

18 Updates to Google Tools That You Might Have Missed This Summer

The middle of August is almost here which means that many have returned for the start of the new school year. And those who haven't started will be starting soon. During the summer Google added bunch of new features to Google Classroom, Google Forms, and other tools that teachers and students use throughout the year. I counted eighteen updates. Here they are:

New in Google Forms since June 1st:

  • Add written feedback on every question on a quiz made in Google Forms.
  • A new checkbox grid response format. This allows students to choose multiple responses to a question.
  • You can now ask people to upload a file as a response to a question in a Google Form even if they are not a member of your school’s G Suite domain.
  • When you are creating a quiz in Google Forms you can now set a default point value for your questions rather than having to specify the value of each question individually.
  • Intelligent response validation is a new feature that will attempt to verify that the type of response submitted is what you requested. For example, if you ask for an email address and the respondent doesn’t include a complete email address, the response won’t be accepted.
  • You can now rearrange the order of sections of your Forms by just dragging and dropping the entire section into a new place in your Form.
  • Batch grading of questions on quizzes created in Google Forms will let you grade on a question-by-question basis. In other words, you can grade all responses to question #1 on a quiz rather than having to grade one student's complete set of responses before moving on to the next student's set of responses.
  • Coming soon! - Import grades from Google Forms quiz responses into your Google Classroom gradebook.

New in Google Classroom since June 1st:

  • You can now view all of a student’s work in one stream. Simply click on a student’s name in your Google Classroom roster to view all of that student’s work in one place.
  • A minor update to the gradebook in Google Classroom lets you use decimal points in your grading.
  • You can now display your Google Classroom join codes in full screen. This should make it a bit easier to get all of your students to join your Classroom quickly.
  • More 3rd party services have been made available for seamless integration into Google Classroom. Those new services are Kami, Quizizz, and Edcite.
  • It is now possible to transfer ownership of Google Classroom classes from one teacher to another.
  • Administrators can now sync rosters from student management systems to Google Classroom rosters.

Other updates:
  • Google Earth (the web version) can now be added to your G Suite for Education domain.

Stockio - Free Images, Icons, Fonts, and Videos

Atlantic Puffin Pair -
Ray Hennessey via Stockio
Stockio is a website that offers free images, icons, fonts, and videos to download and re-use in your own projects. According to the notices that accompany each file on Stockio, attribution is not required but is appreciated.

To download an image, an icon, or a font set from Stockio you do not have to register on the site. Simply browse or search then hit the download button when you find something that you like. You have to be a registered user (registration is free) in order to download videos from Stockio. Update: you no longer have to register to download videos.

Applications for Education
I always recommend that students use their own pictures, sounds, and videos whenever possible. However, it is not always possible for students to use their own creations in multimedia projects. That's when I will have them turn their attention to a site like Stockio to search for images and video clips that they can download and use for free.