Monday, April 16, 2018

How to Create a Custom Google Forms Theme

A couple of years ago I published a video tutorial on how to create a custom Google Forms theme. More than 10,000 people have since used that video tutorial to customize the appearance of their Google Forms. One of the criticisms of that video that I have heard from some viewers is that it goes too quickly so they have to rewind it a few times. To remedy that problem I put together a set of annotated screenshots that illustrate each of the main steps in the process. Those screenshots can be seen in the slideshow that is embedded below.

And here's the video for those that prefer a video explanation.

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Find the Features of Digital Vaults in DocsTeach

The U.S. National Archives used to have a great feature called the National Archives Digital Vaults. The Digital Vaults site offered great tools for teaching with primary sources from the National Archives. One of the aspects that I particularly liked was called "pathways challenges" which allowed students to see the connections between events and primary sources.

Unfortunately, the National Archives discontinued the Digital Vaults service within the last year and let the domain fall into the control of someone who now uses it to sell a "stop snoring" product. The good news is that offers many of the features that Digital Vaults used to offer.

Applications for Education
If you previously used the "pathways challenges" in the Digital Vaults, the following two activity templates on can be used for similar purposes.

Making Connections is a template that you can use to create an activity in which your students analyze two or more primary source artifacts to find the connections between them. Students also have to identify the connection between the the primary sources and an event or theme.

Seeing the Big Picture is a template that you can follow to create an activity in which your students will match excerpts from primary source documents to events, people, or themes.

Both templates are accompanied by detailed directions. And if you want to see examples of the templates in action, you will find these templates used in the activities published by DocsTeach staff and other teachers who use DocsTeach.

DocsTeach is one of the many resources that I feature in my Teaching History With Technology course that is on sale today and tomorrow

2000+ Recordings of Poets and Fiction Writers Reading and Discussing Their Work

A few years ago the Library of Congress published an online collection of audio recordings of poets and fiction writers reading and discussing their works. At the time of its launch the collection contain 124 recordings. Since then the collection has grown to include more than 2,000 recordings.

The Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature contains recordings of writers reading some of their poems and other works. Many of the recordings are long interviews with the writers during which they read some of their works. The audio can be heard on the LOC website and or embedded into blog posts as I've done here. Below you will find the recordings of Ray Bradbury and Robert Frost.

Applications for Education
The Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature could be a good resource to use during National Poetry Month. You could have students search for and listen to recordings of the authors of a favorite poem. Or you could select a recording yourself for your students to listen to a writer's explanation of his or her thoughts on what makes a good poem.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

DIY Solar Updraft Tower - A Hands-on Elementary Science Lesson

SciShow Kids has a playlist of videos titled Super Simple Machines. The videos in that playlist feature explanations and demonstrations of simple machines that students could make in your classroom. One of those videos is Spin a Wheel With Sunlight.

By watching Spin a Wheel With Sunlight students can learn how solar energy can be transferred through a solar updraft tower. The video provides clear directions on how students can make their own solar updraft towers with materials commonly found in classrooms or homes. In the example in the video, the solar updraft tower makes a pinwheel spin.

By Request - Life on Minimum Wage Simulation

Last week I received a handful of requests for the Google Docs version of my Life on Minimum Wage economics game. While I no longer grant print or edit access to my public Google Docs, I do make PDFs of my documents available to download through

The purpose of Life on Minimum Wage is for students to recognize how difficult it is to save money when your only job(s) pay minimum wage without benefits. To win at Life on Minimum Wage the students have to reach five financial goals that they select. To earn money the students have to complete the tasks of their assigned jobs. The students then have to pay required bills before using money for their selected financial goals. As the game progresses students will be issued "surprise" cards which require them to spend money on things like speeding tickets, trips to a health clinic, and increases in rent.

All of the jobs in Life on Minimum Wage are connected so that if one "business" slows production or closes, the workers of another business are also effected. The goal here is to demonstrate the effects of a business closing on a small town's economy.

The PDF is embedded below. You can also access it here on

(Note, before you email me about the Browning rifle goal card in Life on Minimum Wage, please understand that these were goals chosen by my students in a rural community in which hunting is a way of life for many students. You're welcome to change that card for use in your own classroom).