Friday, November 29, 2019

7 Google Product Updates to Note from November

The end of November is here. During the last month Google announced a bunch of updates to many of the products frequently used by teachers and students. I covered many of them during the month, but there were a few that I missed. And there are few updates to the original updates from earlier this month. Here are seven Google product updates to note from November.

Add Audio to Google Slides
This was probably the biggest update that Google announced in November. After years of waiting Google Slides finally has native support for adding audio to your presentations. You no longer need to use any third-party add-ons of suspect quality or other wacky work-arounds to add audio to your slides. Watch my video to see how you can add audio to Google Slides.

Smart Compose in Google Docs
Much like Smart Compose in Gmail, Smart Compose in Google Docs will try to predict what you want to write in a sentence. If the prediction is correct you can hit the tab key to complete the sentence. To use this feature you will have to register to be a part of the beta test. To register for the beta you must be a domain administrator. Read more information here.

Different Page Numbers for Different Sections of Google Docs
This is a small, but welcome update for Google Docs users. You can now specify the page numbers that apply to a section of a Google Doc instead of being stuck with the default sequence of page numbers. More details here.

Create Tours in the Web Version of Google Earth
This is a feature that we've been waiting two years to see add to the web version of Google Earth. Now you can add your own sequence of multimedia placemarks to Google Earth. Read more or watch my demo to see how it works.

A New Way to Gather Feedback in Google Sites
This was announced on November 19th but an update six days later said that this feature is on hold for most users. When it does fully roll-out Google Sites users have a new option for getting feedback through their sites. Instead of creating then embedding a Google Form, you can use a native feedback form in the footer of Google Sites. Learn more about how that works by reading this announcement from Google.

Add Collapsible Text Boxes to Google Sites
At first I didn't think too much of this update. Then I saw how much it improved the layout of some of my students' portfolios that are built in Google Sites. This has proven to be a great option for my students to use on the pages on which they're writing long blocks of text about their app development projects.

Reuse Rubrics in Google Classroom
Earlier this fall Google introduced a beta test of a rubrics feature in Google Classroom. My feedback, as well as that of many others, was that an option to reuse rubrics was needed. Google listened and added that option this week.

12 Quick Thoughts After 12 Years of Free Technology for Teachers

Yesterday marked twelve years since I started this blog. I didn't have much of clue about what I was doing. I chose the name Free Technology for Teachers because it was the height of the Web 2.0 boom and everything new seemed to be free. I wanted to try it all out. Writing blog posts about what I was finding and trying seemed like a natural thing to do. Little did I know that so many people would be interested in what I was writing. I also didn't foresee doing it for twelve years and nearly 15,000 posts. So if you'll indulge me for a moment, here are twelve quick thoughts after twelve years of blogging about educational technology.

1. I started this in my twenties and I'm still doing it in my forties.

2. Windows XP, Vista, 7, and 8 have come and gone.

3. iPads came along and were supposed to revolutionize educational technology, they didn't.

4. Chromebooks came along and were supposed to revolutionize educational technology, they didn't.

5. Podcasting became popular, then lost popularity, now it's back.

6. I taught social studies, was an independent consultant, was briefly a marketing guy, and now I teach computer science.

7. My feelings about social media have gone from love to love-hate.

8. If you don't know how a company is making money, it either isn't or it's making money from your data.

9. RSS was the way that everyone was going to read blogs and websites. It turns out that email, social media, and direct visits is how most people consume media now.

10. The title "Free Technology for Teachers" has been a blessing and a curse.

11. The longer I do this, the harder I have to work to try new things that really excite me.

12. The positive comments out number the negative ones, but the negative ones are usually the ones that stay with me the longest.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

The History of Corn - A TED-Ed Lesson

Pictures of corn like the one in this blog post have become symbols of fall harvest and Thanksgiving. Corn and many products made with it are a staple of the diets of many of us today. How did corn become a staple of our diets? What has enabled it to become one of the most cultivated crops in the world? And what are the consequences of cultivating so much corn? Those questions and many others are addressed in a new TED-Ed lesson titled How Corn Conquered the World.

Applications for Education
This TED-Ed lesson could be the jumping-off point for more or deeper lessons about how agriculture affects many parts of our lives whether we realize it or not. For example the graphs at toward the end of the lesson illustrate how increased corn production contributed to increased meat production and both of those things create environmental impacts. The increase in cheap corn production also increases the amount of cheap junk food which in turn can lead to obesity.

Twelve Good Tools for Creating Mind Maps & Flowcharts - Updated

Earlier this week I published a video about a neat new service called Transo that lets you turn your notes into a mind map with just one click. Creating that video and writing the corresponding blog post got me to revisit a list of mind mapping tools that I published a couple of months ago. Here's my updated list of mind mapping and flowchart creation tools.

Transno is a service that lets you write notes and outlines that can then be turned into mind maps and flowcharts with just one click. It reminds me a lot of the old Text2MindMap service that I used to use. Transno is better because it offers a variety of mind map and flowchart styles while Text2MindMap only offered one. Transno also supports collaboration by letting you invite others to edit and add to your notes. In the following video I demonstrate how Transno works.

Canvas by Google
Canvas is a new drawing tool from Google. Canvas is a great alternative to Google Drawings for iPad and Android tablet users. Canvas lets anyone create a drawing in his or her web browser by simply going to Once there you can start drawing on a blank canvas. There are four drawing tools that you can use to draw in a wide array of colors. Watch my video that is embedded below to see Canvas in action.

Google Slides & PowerPoint
If your students have a computer in front of them, they probably have access to either Google Slides or PowerPoint or both. Google Slides and PowerPoint have built-in tools that students can use to create flowcharts. The following videos demonstrate how students can use Google Slides and PowerPoint to create flowcharts. As you'll see in the videos, you can make the flowcharts interactive through the use of linking in PowerPoint and Google Slides. is a mind mapping and flowchart tool that I've been recommending for more than a decade. It has evolved overtime to keep up with the needs of students, teachers, and other users. Creating mind maps on is an easy process of simply clicking on the center of your screen then entering the central topic of your mind map. The next step is to add "child" topics or bubbles that are connected to the central topic. Those are added by clicking the "+" that appears while holding your cursor over an existing bubble.

Padlet offers templates for creating flowcharts and know, want, learn charts. Unfortunately, you can only make three Padlet walls before you have to either delete one to make a new one or upgrade to a paid plan. The upside to using Padlet is that it's designed for collaboration.

This is a mind mapping tool that was a commercial project for a few years before going out of business then coming back as an open-source project supported by Tobias Løfgren. The way that it works is that you type a linear outline and Text2MindMap will automatically generate a corresponding mind map. To use it simply go here, clear the existing text and replace it with your own text. Every line that you type in your outline becomes a node in the mind map. You can create a branch from a node by simply indenting a line in your outline.

Post-it App for Android and iOS
The Post-it mobile apps for Android and iOS let you take a picture of physical sticky notes and then sort them on a digital canvas.

MindMup is a free mind mapping tool that can be used online, with Google Drive, and on your desktop. MindMup works like most mind mapping tools in that you can create a central idea and add child and sibling nodes all over a blank canvas. MindMup nodes can contain text and links. When you're ready to save your MindMup mind map you can save it to Google Drive, save it to your desktop, or publish it online. If you publish it online, you can grab an embed code for it to post it in a blog post or webpage.

Coggle is a collaborative mind-mapping service that is very easy to use. To create a Coggle mind map just sign-in with your Google account and click the "+" icon to start your mind map. After entering the main idea of your mind map you can add branches by clicking the "+" icons that appear next to everything you type. To re-arrange elements just click on them and drag them around your screen. Coggle is a collaborative tool. You can invite others to view and edit your mind maps.

Google Drawings and Google Jamboard
Both of these free Google tools can be used to create mind maps and flowcharts. Drawings has more features than Jamboard. The upside of Jamboard is that it's probably a more intuitive tool for new users. Demonstrations of how to use both tools are embedded below.

Spider Scribe is an online mind map creation service. Spider Scribe can be used individually or be used collaboratively. What jumps out about Spider Scribe is that users can add images, maps, calendars, text notes, and uploaded text files to their mind maps. Users can connect the elements on their mind maps or let them each stand on their own. You can embed your interactive SpiderScribe mind map into your blog or website.

Happy Thanksgiving!

It's Thanksgiving Day in the United States. Somehow over the last 50 years it became a tradition that classic rock stations play Alice's Restaurant Massacree at noon on Thanksgiving Day. And it has become a tradition for the last ten years that I post a video of Alice's Restaurant Massacree here on Free Technology for Teachers. If you search for the song on Wolfram Alpha you will find a chart of Wikipedia traffic for the search term "Alice's Restaurant." So the question/ cultural history lesson for students is "why do people search for that term around Thanksgiving?"

Happy listening! Happy Thanksgiving!