Monday, October 28, 2019

How Vocabulary Lists Help Students Conduct Better Searches

Can you identify this mushroom
found in the forest near my house
in Maine?
In chapter five of The Joy of Search Daniel Russell explains the process he used to determine whether or not a plant that he found was poisonous. When I read that chapter a couple of weeks ago I was struck with the reminder that more domain-specific knowledge one has, the deeper the search he or she can conduct. In other words, the greater your vocabulary about a topic, the more ways you have to search for more information about that topic.

One of the things that I often make my students do when they're conducting online research about a topic is to make a list of all of the terms and words they know that are associated with that topic. Google's old Wonder Wheel product was a helpful aid in that process as was the now defunct Wiki Mind Map. In any case, making lists of vocabulary terms can help students recall bits of information that then helps them in formulating and refining search queries.

I made this pre-search checklist a few years ago as a tool to help students think about what they know about a topic before they begin searching online. One of my ninth grade students computer science students used the third part of that checklist, "what are the words or phrases other people would use to describe your topic?" this morning when he was trying to come up with some ideas for a meditation app that he's designing and will eventually build with the MIT App Inventor. His answers and subsequent search took him in slightly new design direction.

So the next time your students seem to be floundering in their online search endeavors, consider having them stop and make a list of vocabulary they know about their central topic.

To learn more about search strategies your students can use, take a look at my on-demand webinar Search Strategies Students Need to Know. And for truly advanced methods, read Daniel Russell's The Joy of Search

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Robocompass - A Robotic Geometry Box

Robocompass is described by its developer as robotic geometry box on 3D. Not being a math teacher and not having taken a math course since the Clinton administration, I wasn't exactly sure what "robotic geometry box" meant at first. So I gave it try and quickly realized that it is an online tool for graphing and drawing just like I did with a pencil and compass when I was in high school. But Robocompass is neater (no pencil smudges) and has a function for playing back the steps of creating a graph or chart.

Robocompass lets students save their work directly into their Google Drive accounts. Students who don't use Google Drive can share their work by providing a direct link to their work or by embedding it into a blog post or web page.

Applications for Education
Robocompass could be a good alternative to using paper and pencil because it does provide an easy way for students to save their work online and share it with you. You can play their work back to see the steps they took.

Disclosure: Robocompass is currently an advertiser on

Creativity and Leaf Piles - The Week in Review

Good morning from Maine where the sun is shining and almost every leaf in my neighborhood seems to have landed in my backyard. The only good thing about leaf removal is making big piles for my kids to jump in. They sliding down their Little Tykes slide into the piles. Wherever you are this weekend, I hope that you're doing something fun too.

This week I announced the Practical Ed Tech Creativity Conference. This is a free online event that will happen December 10th through 12th. If you're interested in presenting, please fill out the short form found at the bottom of this page. If you want to register, you can do that in two seconds right here.

These were the week's most popular posts:
1. Kami - Annotate PDFs in Google Drive
2. Actively Learn - Find & Create Engaging Reading Assignments and More
3. A New, Free Online Conference for Teachers
4. A Halloween Writing Contest for Middle School Students
5. How to Use Loop to Gather Feedback from Students
6. A Couple of Fun and Simple Map Games for Students of All Ages
7. The Practical Ed Tech Podcast - Episode #15 Featuring Mike Tholfsen

I'll come to your school in 2020! 
I'm already booking my 2020 workshop and conference schedule. This will be my tenth year of speaking at schools and conferences. Send me an email at richard (at) to learn more.

On-demand PD
On I have seven professional development webinars available to view whenever you like.

Thank You for Your Support!
Other Places to Follow My Work
Besides and the daily email digest, there are other ways to keep up with what I'm publishing. 
  • Practical Ed Tech Newsletter - This comes out once per week (Sunday night/ Monday morning) and includes my tip of the week and a summary of the week's most popular posts from
  • My YouTube Channel - More than 15,000 are subscribed to my YouTube channel for my regular series of tutorial videos including more than 300 Google tools tutorials. 
  • Facebook - The Facebook page has nearly 450,000 followers. 
  • Twitter - I've been Tweeting away for the last twelve years at
  • Instagram - this is mostly pictures of my kids, my dogs, my bikes, my skis, and fly fishing. 

Friday, October 25, 2019

How to Create and Run Polls in Google Slides

Slido is a polling service that recently released a free Google Slides add-on and companion Chrome extension. The combination of the two tools makes it easy for anyone who uses Google Slides to quickly create and launch polls directly within the Google Slides editor. The thing that I like about Slido is that you can see your students' responses without having to toggle between presentation and editing modes in Google Slides. Your students' responses pop-up on the screen in realtime. Your students respond to your Slido poll or survey by simply going to on their laptops or phones and then entering the code that appears on your polling slide.

Watch my short video below to see how easy it is to create, run, and respond to a poll made with Slido in Google Slides.

The Practical Ed Tech Podcast - Episode #16

It was a long week at school for me. I think you'll hear that in my voice in the latest episode of The Practical Ed Tech Podcast. In this episode I shared some news about the Practical Ed Tech Creativity Conference, shared my thoughts about Facebook's and Google's latest initiatives to deal with "fake" news, and answered a handful of questions from readers and listeners. The show notes with links to the resources mentioned in the episode can be found in this Google Doc.

Listen episode 16 of The Practical Ed Tech Podcast right here or on your favorite podcast network.

You can listen to all episodes of the podcast here or find them on the following podcast networks: