Thursday, April 30, 2020

The Month in Review - The Most Popular Posts

It's the last day of April. In some ways this month seemed to fly by and in others it seemed to drag along. The part that flew by was all work related as I was constantly answering questions from students, colleagues, and readers in between hosting virtual class meetings and webinars. The part that dragged along was all related to weather. Winter wouldn't give way to spring here and we had more than a handful of snowy days here in Maine.

As I do at the end of every month, I've created a list of the most popular posts of the month. It will probably not be a surprise to you that most of the posts in the list address topics related to online instruction. Take a look and see if there is something useful that you missed earlier in the month.

These were the most popular posts in April:
1. An Option for Making Sure Students Know They Have Google Classroom Assignments
2. An Overview of How Students View and Return Assignments in Google Classroom
3. Now You Can Use Flipgrid to Make Screencast Videos
4. 5 Google Classroom Tips for Teachers - Things You Might Have Overlooked or Forgotten
5. Google Classroom Assignments from Teacher and Student Perspectives - Nine Lessons
6. 5 Things You Should Never Do In a Virtual Staff Meeting
7. How to Quickly Create a Narrated Video from PowerPoint or Google Slides
8. Three Ways to Share Docs in Google Classroom - When to Use Each
9. By Request - How to Create a Timed Quiz in Google Classroom
10. How to Quickly Incorporate Google Meet Into Google Classroom

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Other Places to Follow My Work
Besides FreeTech4Teachers.com 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 it includes my tip of the week and a summary of the week's most popular posts from FreeTech4Teachers.com.
  • My YouTube Channel - More than 21,000 people subscribe to my YouTube channel for my regular series of tutorial videos including more than 350 Google tools tutorials. 
  • The Practical Ed Tech Podcast is where I answer questions from readers, share news and notes, and occasionally talk to interesting people in education. 
  • Facebook - The FreeTech4Teachers.com Facebook page has more than 450,000 followers. 
  • Twitter - I've been Tweeting away for the last thirteen years at twitter.com/rmbyrne
  • Instagram - this is mostly pictures of my kids, my dogs, my bikes, my skis, and fly fishing.

5 Easy Ways to Improve Your Videos

Many of us are making more videos than ever before as a way to deliver instruction and or to simply keep our students updated about school. With time and practice you might become adept at using the editing functions in your favorite video software. You can also improve your videos without having to learn a bunch of editing tricks. Here are some simple things that we can do to improve our videos without having to learn a whole bunch of editing techniques.

1. Look at the camera, not the screen. 
It's natural to look at the screen on your phone or laptop while recording. When you do that, you're not looking at the camera and not making eye contact with your virtual audience. Practice looking at the camera.

2. Elevate your camera.
Put your camera at eye level or slightly higher. Doing that accomplishes a few things. First, people aren't looking up your nose. Second, it makes you look a little thinner and can improve your lighting. Third, I've found that elevating the camera makes it easier for me to remember to look at my camera instead of the screen.

3. Adjust Your Lighting
If you can, try to use relatively bright and even lighting around yourself. Doing this can eliminate shadows being cast on your face and can improve the overall visual clarity of your video. A ring light can be helpful in casting an even light but even just adjusting the position of a lamp on your desk can improve your lighting.

4. Pay attention to your background. 
Try to make your background interesting but not distracting. A large bookcase can make a nice background that is interesting but not distracting. An outdoor setting also makes a nice background, outdoor backgrounds can make lighting tricky. Try to record at a time and place that doesn't cast a lot of shadows. If you want to attempt making a green screen video, here's how you can do it with Zoom.

5. Adjust your sound. 
If possible, try to use an external microphone instead of the microphone built into your laptop or mobile phone. even a simple 3.5mm microphone can reduce background and echo sounds. Often the wired earbuds that come with some smartphones include a microphone that can be used for recording. If an external microphone isn't an option for you, just turning off audio playback (muting your speakers) while recording can improve the quality of your audio recording.

Learn more about making videos at the Practical Ed Tech Virtual Summer Camp or in one of my on-demand webinars

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

How to Create a Green Screen Video Without a Green Screen

If you have ever wanted to make a green video but didn't have access to iMovie and couldn't make the investment in other video editing software, this new video is for you. In the following video I demonstrate how you can use Zoom and Adobe Spark together to create a green screen video.

Zoom's desktop client has an option to replace your background with any picture that you want to upload to your Zoom account. Host a Zoom meeting without any participants in it, replace the background, and start talking. When you end the meeting you'll have an MP4 that you can import in Adobe Spark for further editing and or combine with other video clips.

Watch my new video to see how you can create a green screen video with Zoom and Adobe Spark.


In the Practical Ed Tech Virtual Summer Camp I'll be covering lots of other ideas for classroom video projects. Registration is open now. 

Take a Virtual Field Trip to Maine's Wildlife Park

The Maine Wildlife Park is on my list of must-visit places for anyone visiting Maine with kids between ages two and twelve. It's a place where you can see moose, bears, beavers, deer, bobcats, lynx, and many other animals that are native to Maine. My daughters absolutely love it! Unfortunately, like many other parks the Maine Wildlife Park is closed for the foreseeable future due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Fortunately, the park service is offering some virtual field trips this spring.

Starting next week the Maine Wildlife Park will be hosting two virtual field trips per week throughout the month of May. These virtual field trips are designed for elementary school and middle school students, but are open to anyone who wants to join. The field trips will be held through Zoom.

Additional Resources for Educators
The Maine Wildlife Park offers nineteen PDFs that teachers can distribute to students. Included in the list of PDFs are fact sheets, coloring pages, and animal observation charts. The observation charts could make a great companion to the upcoming virtual field trips.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

National Parks Games and Challenges - Try Virtual National Parks Bingo

I love the National Parks service that we have here in the U.S. One of the things I'm looking forward to doing with my kids when they're a little older is to help them explore some of the places in National Parks and National Forests that I've enjoyed in my life. My love of the outdoors is why I always get excited when I come across new and updated resources from the National Parks Service.

Most National Parks are still closed right now, but that doesn't mean kids can't learn about them. The National Parks Service offers a large collection of online and offline activities that kids can do to learn about National Parks even if they can't visit them right now.

The NPS Games and Challenges collection includes games about animals and landmarks within parks, drawing and coloring pages, hands-on projects like making costumes, and virtual scavenger hunts.

The NPS games about animals are a fun little guessing games in which students see a baby animal and have to guess what it will look like when it is grown up. For example, can you tell if this is a baby mountain lion or a baby bobcat? The Where the Park Am I? game shows you a 360 image taken within a park and you have to guess which park it was taken in. Go here and see if you can spot Acadia National Park (that's the only National Park in my state).

Virtual National Park Bingo is a game that asks players to explore a variety of NPS webpages and external resources to complete the bingo board. One of the bingo squares requires taking a national parks virtual tour. You could do that on the NPS website or head to this Google Earth collection to tour the U.S. National Parks.

Applications for Education
I only highlighted a few of the dozens of activities that you can find on the NPS' Games and Challenges site. There is something on there for students of all ages to try online and offline. And, of course, many of the activities can be modified to the needs of your students. For example, it wouldn't be hard to create a different version of National Parks Bingo based entirely on the imagery and information in the Google Earth collection of NPS tours.

On a related note, I offer an on-demand webinar all about using Google Earth and Maps in your classroom. You can find that webinar here.