Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Doodle for Google 2021 - "I am strong because..."

The Doodle for Google art contest is back for the 13th year in a row! This year's theme is "I am strong because..." 

Just like all previous editions of the contest, Doodle for Google 2021 asks K-12 students to create original artwork that addresses this year's theme. Students then have their artwork submitted on their behalf by their parents or teachers. The contest awards the winner a $30,000 college scholarship and a $50,000 technology grant to the winner's school. The deadline for entry is February 26, 2021. 

A small change from previous years is that this year's Doodle for Google contest includes a required "artist's statement" about their work.  

Teachers who are interested in having students create artwork for this contest as part of a classroom activity should head to the Educators' Resources page on the contest website. On that page you'll find an educators' guide (PDF) that includes lesson plans for incorporating the contest into your classroom. 

New Google Meet Tools to Help You Improve Call Quality

Google has added a new tool to Google Meet to help you answer the question, "why is Google Meet call quality so bad?" 

Now when you're in a Google Meet call you can click on the little "three dot" menu in the bottom-right corner of the screen and you'll find a "Troubleshooting and Help" menu. In "Troubleshooting and Help" you'll find useful information that you can use to analyze the cause of problems with your Google Meet call quality and get tips to resolve those problems. 

Some of the information that you'll find in the Google Meet "Troubleshooting and Help" menu includes CPU usage/ load and tips for improving system performance. You'll also find a live graph of system usage. The "Troubleshooting and Help" menu also includes many of the tips that you probably already know like "close unused tabs" and "move closer to your Wi-Fi router." 

The new "Troubleshooting and Help" menu in Google Meet is available now for some users and will be rolled-out to all domains over the next couple of weeks. 

Wolfram Alpha for Social Studies

Trying search tools besides Google is one of the ideas that I feature in Ten Search Strategies Students Need to Know. Wolfram Alpha is one of those alternatives to Google that I frequently mention to teachers and students. Wolfram Alpha is best known as a computational search engine that can help students with questions related to math and science. What's often overlooked about Wolfram Alpha is its utility for social studies teachers and students. 


 Wolfram Alpha is quite useful in providing students with quick fact sheets about people and places. Additionally, Wolfram Alpha can provide students with side-by-side comparisons of two or more people or two or more places. Those options are more are featured in this short video



Applications for Education
In the video above I highlighted the graph of Wikipedia hits for topics searched in Wolfram Alpha. As mentioned in the video, this graph could be the starting point for some quick, in-class research into what was happening in the world to cause a spike in interest in a topic and the corresponding spike in Wikipedia traffic for that topic.

Tax Help for High School Students

Yesterday afternoon one of my students said, "Mr. Byrne, how do you do taxes?" It was one of those questions and moments that embodies the idea that we teach students first and content area second. I was happy to explain to her that her employer (Walmart in this case) would be giving her a W-2 and that she'd have to fill-out and send a 1040 to the IRS. That led to more questions about getting the forms and questions about our state income taxes. By the end I had a sample 1040 and sample W-2 on my whiteboard and was walking her through the completion of the forms. 

I'm sure that there many high school students like mine who are also wondering if they need to file a tax return and how to do it. If you have high school students ask you questions about filing tax returns, here are some helpful resources to consider sharing with them. 

Your Local Public Library
In non-pandemic times, my local public library and many others around the United States have hosted volunteers to help people like my student file their federal and state income tax forms for the first time. Check with your local public library to see if and when they're hosting volunteers to help students file tax forms.

Free File Alliance
The Free File Alliance is a public-private partnership of the IRS and leading tax preparation/ online accounting services that provides free federal tax return filing to those who have an adjusted gross income of less than $72,000. More information including how to get started is available here on the IRS' website.

Video Explanations
This video from Five Minute Finance is helpful in pointing out some of the unnecessary "upsells" that pop-up when using free online tax preparation programs. 


This video from Practical Personal Finance offers clear guidance on the whole process of gathering the information needed to file a tax return and then completing the proper forms.


Monday, January 11, 2021

How Many People Does it Take to Make a Cup of Coffee?

I drink a lot of coffee! Thanks to the timer on my coffee maker my day usually starts by smelling freshly brewed coffee at 4:47am. Making the coffee is pretty simple task in my house; pour in some water, add some ground beans into the filter, and set the timer. But getting the roasted coffee beans to my house is not a simple process. That process is detailed in a new TED-Ed lesson titled The Life Cycle of a Cup of Coffee

The Life Cycle of a Cup of Coffee details the steps from coffee being grown and harvested through being turned into a beverage for our enjoyment. There are two aspects of the video that I particularly appreciated. One of those is a mention of the warehousing and customs processing of imported coffee beans. The other is at the end of the video when the faces of coffee farmers are featured along with a note to not value the end product more than the people who make it possible. The lesson page also contains a question designed to get students to think about the pros and cons of locally grown versus globally sourced products. 


I drink my coffee without sugar, milk, or cream so this TED-Ed lesson is reflective of the process to created the beverage that's in my cup. The process would have many more elements if I included sugar or milk in my coffee. Researching the entire process to create a cup of coffee that has milk and sugar could be a good continuation of the TED-Ed lesson, The Life Cycle of a Cup of Coffee