Monday, February 4, 2019

Two Image-based Search Challenges to Use With Your Students

One of my favorite ways to reinforce the use of good search strategies to students is to show interesting pictures and have students try to make a long list of questions about what they see. Then I let the students try to find the answers to those questions. When they get stuck, I intervene to remind them of one of the search strategies that they have been taught. The other method that I use is to give students a bit of an image-based riddle to solve through the use of the search strategies that they have learned. Outlines of both types of challenges are included below. (Feel free to use the images, just give me credit for them).

Challenge #1 - The Big Truck!
I like to use this one with elementary school and middle school students. I display the following picture in the front of the room then ask students to ask any questions that they have about it. A lot of students will ask things like, “is that real,” “how big is it,” and “can I drive it?” All of those questions above can be answered by using various search strategies and tools. Using the "similar images search" in Google Images will help you answer these questions. Google Maps Street View will help you answer the questions too. And while not essential to answering the questions, refining your search to a specific top-level domain could help too.

Challenge #2 - The Camel!
This is a challenge for middle school, high school, and college students. It involves a bit of geography, geology, and folklore.

Step 1: Take a look at the following pictures.

2. Find the camel in the second picture. (Hint: it’s the outline of a camel you’re looking for, not an actual camel).
3. The search challenge is to find out which mythological person rode that camel.
4. Identify the connections between the camel and the shoe.
5. Explain how the camel in the picture was actually formed.

The Explanation of the Camel Challenge
1. The camel is outlined in the picture below.

2. Students need to think about mythology beyond the usual Greek mythology that they tend to default to. The picture should give students a clue or two that this "camel" isn't in a typical environment for a myth or folklore involving a camel. They should rule out stories that center on a camel in a desert environment. Eliminating those stories will narrow the list of possibilities.

The camel is actually at the Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland.

3. Once students figure out where the camel is located, they should be able to discover that the camel is part of the story of Finn McCool (also written as Fionn MacCoul or Fionn mac Cumhaill).

4. The shoe is representative of Finn McCool's shoe that, according to the folklore, he lost while fleeing from the wrath of Scottish giant, Benandonner.

5. The camel is actually a basaltic dyke.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Search Strategies, PDFs, and the Super Bowl

Good morning from Maine where I'm not doing anything particularly exciting other than brewing up a batch of chili to have during the Super Bowl tomorrow night. Between stirs of the chili I'm working on materials for a bunch of workshops and keynotes that I have coming up over the next three months. The first is next week and then I have at least one every week for through the April. When those are over it will almost be summer. Speaking of summer, the first registrations for the Practical Ed Tech Summer Camp came in this week. Register in February for the lowest rate.

These were the week's most popular posts:
1. Ten Search Strategies Students Should Try
2. Ten Overlooked Google Docs Features
3. CleverPDF Offers 20 Ways to Work With PDFs in Other Formats
4. Free PDF Containing 30 Pages of Illustrated Vocabulary Lessons
5. Take Your Class On a NFL Virtual Field Trip
6. How to Create a Self-grading Quiz from Google Classroom
7. Boclips - Millions of Ad-free Educational Videos

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. 

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.