Thursday, May 16, 2019

Wikispaces Alternatives

Almost a year after it ceased operations, Wikispaces and "Wikispaces alternatives" are still two of the most frequently searched terms on this blog. If you find yourself looking for an alternative to Wikispaces, here are some good options to try.

Google Sites
Google Sites, like almost every G Suite for Education product, offers collaboration options. Create a Google Site and invite students or colleagues to be editors on that site. As editors of the site they can add content to the pages of the site and edit the work of all contributors to the site. In a classroom setting I might create a page for each student to be responsible for managing. Here's an overview of how to get started using Google Sites.

Notion is a service that is best described as part wiki and part project management tool. Notion is designed for group projects. You can create sections for each of your projects. Within each section you can create a list of tasks. Notion also lets you add sections that include links, videos, images, and documents that you have written outside of the service. And you can write directly on a page in your Notion account too.

Weebly for Education
Weebly for Education will let you create a website that can have multiple contributors. Just like with Google Sites, I would create a series of pages and assign each student to be responsible for maintaining one of those pages. Here's an overview of how to get started with Weebly for Education.

Wikis in Plain English
Wondering what a wiki is? Looking for a way to explain wikis to students or colleagues? Common Craft's Wikis in Plain English is probably the best explanation you'll find. (Disclosure: I have a long-standing in-kind relationship with Common Craft).

ReadWorks Offers Free Summer Reading Packets

Summer will be here soon (in the northern hemisphere) and ReadWorks has free summer reading packets that you can send home with your students. The free summer reading packets are available with fiction and nonfiction articles for students entering first grade through high school. Click on either the fiction or nonfiction packet for a grade and it will open a PDF that you can print and distribute to your students. There is an option to download a packet with reading comprehension questions for each grade level.

To preview, download, and print the ReadWorks summer reading packets you will need to create a free ReadWorks account.

If this is your first time reading about ReadWorks, there is much more to it than just PDF packets. ReadWorks offers a complete online environment for finding grade-level appropriate fiction and nonfiction assignments then distributing those to your students. Here's a video overview of how ReadWorks works.

5 Google Drive Tips for New Users

Google Drive is the core of many aspects of G Suite for Education. There are lots of little features of Google Drive that are often overlooked by new users. If you're new to using Google Drive take a look at these five features that can help you save time and otherwise improve your Google Drive experience.

Change the Layout of Your Google Drive Dashboard
There are two layouts that you can apply to your Google Drive dashboard. You can use either the material view (the layout that has files arranged in tiles) or the linear view. I prefer the linear view that puts all of my files and folders in a list. Watch this video to see how to change the layout in your Google Drive dashboard.

Disable Email Notifications
If you end up sharing files and folders with a lot of people, you could end up getting an overwhelming volume of notification emails. You can disable those notifications rather easily. Here's how to disable email notifications in Google Drive.

Create Shared Google Drive Folders
Do you have a bunch of documents and slideshows that you want to share with a colleague? Put those files in one folder and share it. Here's how you can create and share a Google Drive folder.

Share Videos Through Google Drive
You can store just about anything in your Google Drive including videos. In fact, Google Drive offers a great way to share videos without having to upload them to a video sharing site. Here's how to share videos through Google Drive.

Automatic File Conversion
If you're transitioning to G Suite for Education there is a good chance that you have a lot of older Word and PowerPoint files that you'll still want to use. You can have those files automatically converted to Google Docs and Slides format when you upload them to Google Drive. Watch the following video to learn how to have files automatically converted to Google Docs format when you upload them to Google Drive. It's important to note, as Deborah Alexander pointed out to me, that converting a file from PPT or Word to Google Docs or Slides can impact on the formatting of that file.

Learn more about Google Drive and G Suite for Education in my upcoming course, Getting Going With G Suite

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

How to Use the New Version of Google Books

On Monday I published a list of my ten go-to tech tools for social studies teachers and students. Google Books was one of the tools that I included in that list. Recently, Google Books got an updated user interface. The new interface includes some handy features including an option to quickly locate libraries near you that have your chosen book available to lend out. Watch my new video embedded below for an overview of how to use the new version of Google Books.

Google Books is a fantastic tool for students to use to locate books and search within those books. As is demonstrated in the video even if a book isn't available to download in its entirety, students can still search within the book to determine if the book contains enough references to make it worth their time and effort to buy or borrow a copy of the book.

5 Ways for Students of All Ages to Make Animated Videos

Making animated videos is a great way for students to bring their written stories to life on screen. Those could be fiction or nonfiction stories. Some nonfiction animated video topics include making a video to illustrate a historical event, making biographies, and explaining complex concepts in simple animations like Common Craft does. In the fiction realm you might have students make an adaptation of a favorite story or an animation of their own creative writing. Whichever direction you choose, the following five tools offer good ways for students of all ages to make their own animated videos.

Toontastic 3D
Toontastic 3D is a great app for making animated videos that I have been using and promoting since its launch a few years ago. Toontastic 3D can be used on iPads, Android tablets and phones, and Chromebooks that support Android apps. Students can use Toontastic 3D without having to create or sign into any kind of account.

To make an animated video with Toontastic 3D students simply open the app, select a background scene or draw their own, select some characters or draw their own, and then record themselves talking while moving their characters around the screen. When students have completed their recordings they can add background music to their videos. Finished videos are saved directly to device on which the video was created.

Animaker is a service that students can use to create animated videos in the web browser on their Chromebooks, Windows computers, or Macs. Students create videos in Animaker on a slide-by-slide basis. Animaker provides lots of background settings that students can add to the slides that will form their videos. On each slide students add the pre-drawn characters that they want to have appear in their videos. Each character's appearance and positioning can be edited in each slide. Once the backgrounds and characters have been positioned students can add audio to each their videos by selecting from a gallery of royalty-free audio, by uploading audio recordings, or by using the built-in voice-over tool in Animaker.

Brush Ninja + Screencastify
This is a method of making an animated video that I detailed back in October after using it with a great group of eighth grade students. This method calls for making animated GIFs with the free Brush Ninja drawing tool and then recording a series of GIFs with the Screencastify screencast video tool for Chromebooks. You can get detailed directions for combining Brush Ninja and Screencastify in this post.

Google Slides + Screencastify or Screencast-o-Matic
Google Slides, like PowerPoint and Keynote, provide users with lots of ways to animate elements within their slides. Use those animation tools to make clipart and simple drawings move on the screen. Then capture those movements with a screencasting tool like Screencastify or Screencast-o-matic. Of course, you'll want to include a voiceover while recording. This method can be used to create animated videos like those made popular by Common Craft. You can read about and then watch this whole process in this Practical Ed Tech article.

Draw and Tell
Draw and Tell is a free iPad app that has been on list of recommendations for K-2 students for many years. In this free app students can draw on a blank pages or complete coloring page templates. After completing their drawings students then record a voiceover in which they either explain the drawings or tell a story about the characters in their drawings.