Friday, April 23, 2021

Blackbird Fills a Gap in Programming Instruction

Blackbird is a new platform for teaching programming to middle school and high school students. Blackbird is positioning itself as a platform that fills the gap between using a blocks-based service like Scratch and writing code in an IDE. Blackbird doesn't use blocks or even offer any blocks. Instead, Blackbird provides a series of interactive lessons in which students write JavaScript. 

Blackbird lessons are arranged in progressive units. From the first lesson students are building a game they can customize to their heart's content. When they've finished all of the lessons students can move onto a "workshop" where they can work on independent projects that you can observe from your teacher dashboard in Blackbird. 

There were a few features that stood out to me during my first run-through of Blackbird. First, students can get choose how much guidance they get on each lesson. Second, students' progress is locked in place as they go. Third, from your teacher dashboard you can see how much time your students spend on each activity. 

Students can use just the basic instructions for each lesson or click on the definitions and "deep dives" embedded within the instructions. Those definitions and deep dives give students an explanation of what they're writing and puts the explanation into an applicable context. 

Blackbird units are composed of progressive lesson sequences. When a student completes a lesson with 100% accuracy the code they wrote for that lesson is locked. It's locked because the next lesson will build upon their correctly written code. Locking the previously written code in place prevents students from accidentally changing their existing code and thereby impacting what they're currently working on. 

Blackbird - How It Works from Blackbird on Vimeo.

Applications for Education
While it's helpful to have some prior coding experience, Blackbird can be used by teachers who don't have any prior coding experience. Blackbird provides detailed tutorials and lesson guides for teachers who don't have coding experience. Furthermore, teachers can do the exact same lessons and activities as their students to learn alongside them.

This post originally appeared on If you see it elsewhere, it has been used without permission. Sites that regularly steal my (Richard Byrne's) work include CloudComputin, TodayHeadline, and 711Web. 

DIY Wind Turbines and How They Work

Earlier this week TED-Ed published a new lesson titled How Do Wind Turbines Work? The video covers the basics of how the turbines harness the power of wind to generate electricity. The basic math of wind turbine design is also explained to viewers of the video. Overall, it's a fine lesson but not the most detailed of lessons. If you want students to learn more about how wind turbines work, consider having them build their own small wind turbines. 

Microsoft's Hacking STEM website offers a detailed project guide for building model windmills and wind turbines. Not only will students build the windmills, they'll also capture data generated by their windmills. The data is captured in real-time through the use of Arduino and the Data Streamer add-in for Excel. Students then analyze the data to evaluate the effectiveness of their windmill and wind turbine designs. 

Microsoft's Hacking STEM windmill activity is great if you have the time and resources required to do it. If you don't and you'd like a little less in-depth windmill project, take a look at Instructables. There you will find dozens of windmill and wind turbine projects ranging from relatively simple cardboard creations to full-fledged turbines capable of powering appliances. 

Finally, if you haven't seen the TED video of William Kamkwamba sharing his story of building a windmill, you need to watch it. It's the basis of the book The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

This post originally appeared on If you see it elsewhere, it has been used without permission. Sites that regularly steal my (Richard Byrne's) work include CloudComputin, TodayHeadline, and 711Web. Featured image taken by Richard Byrne while driving between Amarillo and Abilene, Texas in June, 2016.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Join Me for the 2021 Practical Ed Tech Virtual Summer Camp

For many years teachers from all over the world came to Maine join me for the Practical Ed Tech Summer Camp. While I was hoping to return to an in-person format, this summer I’m going to host the Practical Ed Tech Summer Camp as a virtual event.

Just like last year's Practical Ed Tech Virtual Summer Camp this year there will be three sessions available. Each session will consist of ten live webinars hosted over the course of five days. You can register for the June, July, or August session.

Live and on-demand!
I realize that the schedule is not perfect for everyone. That's why every live session is also recorded. Everyone who registers has access to the recordings for a year!

You Should Attend!
Anyone who has an interest in learning new ideas for using technology in education is welcome to join and learn. In the past I’ve had teachers of all subjects and grade levels participate. Some have returned for multiple years. Teacher-librarians, instructional coaches, principals, and professors have all participated in past editions of the Practical Ed Tech Summer Camp.

You don’t need to be a “techy” person to participate and learn. All you need is a willingness to learn and a connection to the Internet.

Discounts and More!

You can learn more about the Practical Ed Tech Virtual Summer Camp right here.

Register through the ticketing page by May 1st and use the discount code "April21" to get an extra $25 off the early registration price.

Group discounts are available to schools/ districts registering five or more people at the same time. Email me at richard (at) for more information.

What's Hidden Behind a Bitly Link?

Bitly is a handy URL shortener that I've used for many years. As a registered user I can create custom, shortened URLs that people can actually spell. I use these whenever I need to share a link to a Canva or Google Slides presentation because the default URLs provided by those services are always long and incoherent. 

Unfortunately, not all Bitly users are using them for good reasons. Some people use them to hide nefarious links. Fortunately, there is an easy way to quickly determine what's behind a Bitly URL without actually clicking on the link. The trick is to simply add a "+" to the end of any Bitly URL. When you add the "+" the URL will redirect to Bitly instead of to whatever the original URL was. That will then show you the Bitly page on which the shortened URL is hosted and will show you what the original link was. 

You can try this trick with a URL that I recently shortened. will lead you directly to a copy of the slides that I used in my recent Intro to Teaching History With Technology webinar. will lead you to the Bitly page where you can see my original presentation URL and see when I created the shortened URL. 

Watch this short video to see how you can use the "+" trick to find out what's hidden behind a Bitly link. 

Applications for Education
Building good digital citizenship and cyber safety skills is something that all of us should be helping our students do. Showing them little tips like this one to avoid clicking on suspicious links is one of the ways that we can help our students build their digital citizenship and cyber safety skills.

This post originally appeared on If you see it elsewhere, it has been used without permission. Sites that regularly steal my (Richard Byrne's) work include CloudComputin, TodayHeadline, and 711Web.

How to Change Camera and Microphone Access Settings in Chrome

On a fairly regular basis I get questions from readers that go something like this, "I'm trying to use Flipgrid but my camera won't work. What can I do?" A variation on that question asks for help with a microphone. 

When you're trying to use a website like Flipgrid, Vocaroo, GoSynth, or any other site that you want to use to record audio or video you need to grant access to your computer's mic and camera. In Chrome you can do that in the privacy and security settings. You can access those settings by simply typing chrome://settings/privacy into your address bar. Then select "site settings" followed by "view permissions and data stored." Then search for the site that you want to adjust your settings for. Those steps are outlined in this short video

An alternate way to access these settings is to click on the "lock" icon in your browser's address bar while visiting the website on which you want to adjust camera and microphone settings. That option works the majority of the time, but not always.

This post originally appeared on If you see it elsewhere, it has been used without permission. Sites that regularly steal my (Richard Byrne's) work include CloudComputin, TodayHeadline, and 711Web.