Saturday, October 31, 2020

The Week in Review - Halloween Edition

Good morning from Maine where it's so cold you'd think it was the last day of December not the last day of October. It's Halloween and my daughters are excited even though trick o' treating is going to be severely curtailed this year. They're excited to wear the costumes that they've been talking about for months! I hope that you have something on your weekend schedule that gets you as excited as my daughters are for Halloween. 

As I do at this time every week, I've compiled a list of the week's most popular posts. Take a look and see if there's anything interesting that you missed during the week. 

These were the week's most popular posts:
1. 13 Google Forms Tutorials for Beginners and Experienced Users
2. Tools for Scheduling Parent-Teacher Conferences and Other Meetings
3. Two Ways to Create Your Own Online Memory Games
4. Five Screencasting Tools Compared and Ranked - Fall 2020
5. How to Simultaneously Caption and Translate Presentations
6. Five Last Minute Resources for Teaching About the Electoral College
7. Three Ideas for Stop Motion Video Projects to Make With Cloud Stop Motion

On-demand Professional Development:
Through Practical Ed Tech I'm currently offering an on-demand course called A Crash Course in Making & Teaching With Video.


Thank you for your support! 
  • More than 300 of you have participated in a Practical Ed Tech course or webinar this year. Those registrations help keep Free Technology for Teachers and Practical Ed Tech going. I couldn't do it without you!
  • Pixton EDU is a great tool for creating comics and storyboards. 
  • Cloud Stop Motion makes it easy to create a stop motion video in your web browser. 
Other Places to Follow Me:
  • The Practical Ed Tech Newsletter comes out every Sunday evening/ Monday morning. It features my favorite tip of the week and the week's most popular posts from Free Technology for Teachers.
  • My YouTube channel has more than 30,000 subscribers watching my short tutorial videos on a wide array of edtech tools. 
  • I've been Tweeting as @rmbyrne for thirteen years. 
  • The Free Technology for Teachers Facebook page features new and old posts from this blog throughout the week. 
  • And if you're curious about my life outside of education, you can follow me on Instagram or Strava.

Friday, October 30, 2020

Learn About Exploration and Compasses by Making Your Own

Today, many of us just use an app on our smart phones when we need to get directions and navigate from point A to point B. Most of our students have never experienced getting directions in any other way. So they may be surprised to learn that we used to use maps and compasses to find our way from point A to point B. How compasses work and how you can make your own is the topic of a SciShow Kids episode released earlier this week

Make Your Own Compass explains to kids what a compass is, how it works, and how they can make their own with common household products. 



Applications for Education
Making a compass could be a great little project for kids to do at home with their parents. After making the compass students and parents can test it out with a backyard or neighborhood "expedition."

Building a compass could also be a fun project to incorporate into an in-class lesson about explorers and explorations like those of early polar explorers Amundsen and Peary. 

How to Create QR Codes to Share Google Forms

Back in September I wrote about and made a video about how I'm using Google Forms as a sign-in/sign-out sheet for my classroom. Some of my colleagues are doing the same thing. One of my colleagues, Erin, had the good idea to create QRs code for the forms that students use the most and post them on the classroom wall. That way students students don't have to filter through Google Classroom to find the sign-out form or lunch form when they need it. Of course, this only helps if your students are allowed to use their mobile phones in school as mine are. 

There are a lot of free tools for making QR codes. Some have more features than others but they all do essentially the same things. The tool that I use for making QR codes is QRCode Monkey. QRCode Monkey lets you adjust the resolution of your QR codes before downloading and printing them. QR Code Monkey also lets you change the QR code's color and shape. In the following short video I demonstrate how to use QRCode Monkey to create a QR code for a Google Form. 

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Witeboard - A Simple Online Whiteboard

Last week a reader named Donna sent me an email asking me what I knew about Witeboard. It was a new tool for me so I gave it a try. 

Witeboard is a collaborative online whiteboard. To use it just head to the site and start drawing. Witeboard has some basic drawing tools and text tools. To share your Witeboard whiteboard all you have to do is give someone the URL that's assigned to it and they can start drawing on it. 

It is possible to create an account on Witeboard but you don't need to create one. The benefit of creating an account is that you can save your work and access it from multiple devices. 

In the following video I demonstrate how to use Witeboard. 



Applications for Education
There are a lot of whiteboard tools on the market today. I use Google's Jamboard almost daily in my classroom. If Jamboard's not your jam, Witeboard is a nice alternative to try. 

Like all collaborative whiteboard tools, Witeboard could be handy to use when you need to sketch a concept for students during a virtual meeting (I made one today to explain port forwarding). It's also a handy tool for students to use to show you their sketches of a concept. 

Five Screencasting Tools Compared and Ranked - Fall 2020

The launch of Vimeo Record earlier this week made me think that perhaps it was time to write a comparison of popular screencasting / screen recording tools. For this comparison I selected the five options that pop into my head whenever I'm asked about screencasting (which has been almost daily since March). With the exception of Flipgrid all of the tools in this comparison have free and paid options. This comparison only addresses the features that are available to educators for free. If you'd like to see the comparisons in a chart format, I have embedded a chart at the end of this post (if you're reading this in email or RSS you'll need to click through to the website to see the chart). 

Common Features for All Five Tools
All of these tools allow you to download your videos as MP4 files which you can then upload to YouTube, Google Drive, OneDrive, or any other video file hosting service of your choice.

All of these tools allow you to record your screen and your webcam although Flipgrid doesn't allow that to happen simultaneously (more on that below). 

My Rankings

1. Screencastify 
In the interest of disclosing my bias, I kind of didn't want to put Screencastify at the top because I'm still a little sour about getting rejected for a job with them. But after comparing of all these options objectively, Screencastify came out on top. 

Screencastify has the most integrated sharing options of the five tools in this comparison. The ease of integration with Google Classroom and EDpuzzle is particularly nice. What pushes it to the top are the drawing tools and editing tools that are available for free. There are some convenient tools for drawing on your screen while recording. That function is great for emphasizing a particular item on your screen or creating a whiteboard video with Jamboard. In the free version of Screencastify's editor you can overlay text on your video. That function is, again, great for emphasizing or clarifying what students are seeing. 

2. Loom
Loom offers a very generous package of features to verified teachers through their Loom for Education program. Those features include recording for up to 45 minutes per video, unlimited storage, viewing insights, and password protection of your videos. Loom also has a fantastic Gmail add-on that lets you record and send screencasts right from your inbox. If Loom had just a couple more editing tools (the ability to draw on screen would be great as would overlaying text) I'd put it ahead of Screencastify. 

3. Flipgrid/ Flipgrid Shorts
I have to clarify that for this comparison I only focused on the screen recording element of Flipgrid. Flipgrid has many other wonderful features that aren't directly related to screen recording. If you want to know more about Flipgrid's other uses, take a look at this playlist of videos

The nice thing about Flipgrid's screencasting tool is that you have access to it whenever you launch the Flipgrid recorder for any other video that you might make. You can also combine a screencast with a simple webcam video or whiteboard video that you make in Flipgrid. The downsides to Flipgrid's screencasting tool are that you can't use the drawing tools while recording your screen, there isn't a cursor highlighter, and you can't capture your webcam at the same time as your screen. 

4. Screencast-o-matic
I use the paid version of Screencast-o-matic for nearly all of the videos that appear on my YouTube channel (an overview of the paid version is available here). The free version, however, doesn't measure up that well against the free offerings of Screencastify, Loom, and Flipgrid. 

The recording length limit on Screencast-o-matic's free plan is a generous fifteen minutes. And the cursor highlighting is fantastic. The ability to reposition the webcam cutout is also handy.

The shortcomings of Screencast-o-matic's free plan are found in the sharing and editing options. While you can download your video as an MP4, the only integrated sharing options are YouTube and Screencast-o-matic's hosting service. The post-recording editing options are also limited to just trimming your recording. 

5. Vimeo Record
This one only made the list because it was fresh in my mind after its launch earlier this week. It's so new that it might not be fair to even try to compare it to the well-established tools on this list. Vimeo Record doesn't have any editing tools, drawing tools, or integrated sharing options other than hosting on Vimeo itself. But at least you can download your videos as MP4 files.