Friday, February 1, 2019

Ten Search Strategies Students Should Try

Students often think that because they can type a phrase into Google or saying something aloud to Siri they know how to search. Of course, any teacher who has heard a student say "Google has nothing on this" or "there's no information about my topic" knows that students don't inherently know how to search despite growing up in a world filled with Google and Siri. When your students need help formulating or refining a search, have them review the following ten tip. Better yet, have them review these tips before starting their next searches.

Ten Search Strategies Students Should Try
1. Ask your teacher-librarian/ school librarian for help. He or she can probably give you access to databases that aren’t otherwise publicly accessible. He or she likely knows more about search than anyone else in your school building.

2. Search is a thinking skill just as much as it is a technical skill. Take time to stop and think about your query terms before typing your query into the search box. Account for all information that you have when you are formulating your queries.

3. Brainstorm alternative words and phrases. Think about the words that other people might use to describe the same topic. Turn to your notebook or textbook to find words and phrases associated with your topic.

4. Use a pre-search checklist. Did you brainstorm alternative words and phrases? Did you check in your notes for clues that can help you in your search? Did you make a list of things you already know about your topic? If not, do that now before typing your query into Google.

5. Try alternative search engines. is not the only search engine that you can use. Ask your librarian about databases that you can access through a school account. Try Google Scholar, Bing, Wolfram Alpha, or Duck Duck Go.

6. Look within your search results. This means actually clicking the links on the search results page and reading through the pages. If a web page or document is particularly long, use “control+F” on a Windows computer or “command+F” on a Mac to search for specific words and phrases within a page.

7. Refine your Google search according to file type. Web pages generally rank far above documents, spreadsheets, slides, and Google Earth files in search results. That doesn’t mean they’re not valuable. In fact, they can be more valuable than some web pages that appear at the top of search results. Open the advanced search options in Google and scroll down to the field that lets you search according to file type. You can then search for PDFs, Word Docs, PowerPoint, Excel files, Google Earth (KML) files, and RTF (Rich Text Format) files.

8. Refine your search results according to date. On a Google search results page you can open the “tools” menu and specify that you only want results from sites that have been updated within a particular time frame.

9. Refine your search results according to domain. By default Google will serve up results from any site that ranks in its search algorithm. You can narrow the scope of your search by using the advanced search menu and entering a top-level domain in the “site or domain” field. Some examples of top-level domains are .edu, .mil, and .gov. Every country has its own top-level domain too. Canada’s top-level domain is .ca. Refine a search by using .ca in the “site or domain” field in Google’s advanced search page and you’ll only get results from sites based in Canada.

10. Combine strategies. Using each strategy on its own can help you get better results and find what you’re looking for. But combining multiple strategies like refining by top-level domain and file type can help you get more specific results faster than just scouring the web one search results page at a time.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Taskade - Collaboratively Create Meeting Notes and Task Lists in One Place

Taskade is a task management tool that you can use on your computer, phone, or tablet. The service is collaborative because you can invite other people to join you to work on lists and notes in the same online space. The best part of Taskade is the selection of templates that you can use to organize notes, calendars, and to-do lists. Watch my video to see how you can use Taskade to create a collaborative meeting plan.

How to Use Audio or Video in Your Sub Plans

The other day I saw a meme that read, "a teacher never realizes how much they do until it's written down in sub plans." Many of the the comments written under that meme said things like, "that's why I go in when I'm sick" and "it takes forever to write sub plans." I felt that way for a long time too. Then one day about nine years ago I was so sick that the idea of writing a sub plan was exhausting. So instead of writing a detailed sub plan I just made a voice a recording on Vocaroo and embedded it into my classroom blog. Then for my sub plan I sent an email to our school secretary that just read, "have kids visit blog and listen to my directions." That was nine years ago. Today, there are more options for quickly creating audio or video recordings to use in sub plans.

Places to Post Your Sub Plans
Google Classroom, Microsoft Teams, or a class blog can be a good place to post your audio or video instructions. Many LMSs like Otus and Edmodo have places to post your audio or video instructions too. Whatever you do, make sure the place that you post your instructions to is a place that your students are already familiar with visiting for important class information. This is not the time to experiment with a new platform.

Audio Tools for Sub Plans
As I mentioned above, Vocaroo was the tool that I used when I started leaving audio sub plans. Vocaroo is still a great option because it doesn't require registration and it works on Windows, Mac, and Chromebook. Recordings can be downloaded, shared with a link, or embedded into blog posts. If you're using Google Classroom, Microsoft Teams, or another LMS just post the link for your students to click and listen. Watch this video for an overview of Vocaroo.

Another option for making audio recordings in your web browser is Online Voice Recorder. It works in manner that is similar to Vocaroo. The advantage of Online Voice Recorder is that you can crop your recording file.

If you would prefer to create your audio recordings on your phone, then I recommend trying's iPhone and Android apps. You do have to create an account on in order to use the app, but once you have created an account it is easy to just tap the record button and start talking. Unique URLs are created for each of your recordings. You can share that link anywhere that you would share any other kind of link. There is also an option to share directly to Google Classroom.

Video Tools for Sub Plans
If you use Google Classroom, you should try Screencastify to record short videos with your webcam. Screencastify provides the option to save your recording directly to Google Drive and to share it directly to Google Classroom. Screencastify is also a good choice because you can record your screen to give instructions while also recording with webcam at the same time.

You can broadcast from your YouTube account from computer or from your phone. Regardless of how long it is, your broadcast is saved in your YouTube account and from there you can share it anywhere that your students can see it. Of course, this won't work if YouTube is blocked in your school. If that's the case for you, try recording on your phone then uploading the video to Google Drive. Once your video is in Google Drive it can be shared anywhere via the "anyone can view" link available in the sharing menu for all Google Drive files. Watch this video to learn how to do that.

A Few Final Thoughts to Keep Your Principal Happy

  • I wrote this with middle school and high school classrooms in mind. 
  • If your school requires that you use a standardized substitute template, use it but add links to your audio or video in it. 
  • Having every student play your video or audio at the same time could make your classroom sound like the Tower of Babel. Designate a student who can play the recording aloud for the whole class including the substitute. 
  • Still keep a written emergency sub plan in your desk just in case your students come to class and all of the sudden there isn't an internet connection. 

Videos, Image Editing, and G Suite - The Month in Review

Good morning from frigid South Paris, Maine. As I posted in an Instagram story, this morning it's so cold that even in my office I'm wearing a down jacket. Like every January in Maine we've had a lovely mix of frigid days and snowy days. I like the winter, but these frigid days just make me appreciate summer days even more. Speaking of summer, this week I opened the registration for the 2019 Practical Ed Tech Summer Camp.

As I do at the end of every month, I have put together a list of the ten most popular posts of the month. This month's list includes a couple of cool image editing tools, some updates to G Suite for Education products, and a library of educational videos.

These were the most popular posts in January, 2019:
1. Boclips - Millions of Ad-free Educational Videos
2. The WWII Museum Announces D-Day Electronic Field Trip
3. Remove Image Backgrounds With PhotoScissors
4. Doodle 4 Google 2019
5. Free PDF Containing 30 Pages of Illustrated Vocabulary Lessons
6. A New Look is Coming to Google Slides, Sheets, Docs, and Sites
7. How to Create a Self-grading Quiz from Google Classroom
8. Picture Yourself in Front of Any Landmark With Remove.BG and Google Slides
9. Students Can Create Their Own Tours to Share in Google Expeditions
10. How to Use Canva to Create a Timeline

Now Booking Summer Workshops!
I know that June can feel a long way away in the middle of January, but I'm already booking my summer workshop calendar. If you'd like to have me come to your school this spring (I have two May openings) or summer, please take a look at my speaking page and fill out the short form at the bottom of it.

And speaking of summer, the Practical Ed Tech Summer Camp is happening on July 15th and 16th. I've secured a beautiful location for it that offers lots of activities for the whole family within walking distance. Register in February and you'll save $70! Registration is now open here.

Please visit the official advertisers that help keep this blog going.
Practical Ed Tech is the brand through which I offer PD webinars.
TypingClub offers more than 600 typing lessons for kids.
Storyboard That is my go-to tool for creating storyboards.
University of Maryland Baltimore County offers a great program on instructional design.

Seterra offers a huge selection of geography games for students. 

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Two More Lessons in TED-Ed's "Why Should You Read..." Series

Last fall TED-Ed started publishing a series of lessons titled "Why Should You Read..." The series features TED-Ed lessons that explain the significance of classic works of literature. When I last wrote about the series it contained seven lessons. The series is now up to nine lessons. The latest lessons are about Fahrenheit 451 and the works of Flannery O'Connor. Those lessons are linked and embedded below along with the seven other lessons in the series.

Why Should You Read Fahrenheit 451?

Why Should You Read Flannery O'Connor?

Why Should You Read MacBeth?

Why Should You Read A Midsummer's Night Dream?

Why Should You Read Kurt Vonnegut?

Why Should You Read "Waiting for Godot?"

Why Should You Read "Don Quixote?"

Everything You Need to Know to Read "The Canterbury Tales."

Why Should You Read Edgar Allan Poe?