Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Ten Good Tools for Telling Stories With Pictures

This is an update to a blog post that I published six years ago on this topic. Some of the tools in the original post are either no longer available or have implemented a subscription-based business model. 

Composing a story from scratch comes naturally to some people. For the rest of us, it can be a struggle. Over the years I’ve found that using pictures helps a lot of students get started on crafting stories. In some cases I’ve had students create collages to represent elements of a story. In other cases I’ve had them choose five pictures and write two hundred words about each. Being asked to write two hundred words about five pictures feels a lot less daunting than being asked to write one thousand words in one shot.

Here are some of my favorite tools for students to use to create image-based stories.

Create Collages to Tell Stories
Canva is a great service for creating infographics, slides, and photo collages. On Canva you can create infographics, slides, and photo collages in much the selecting a template then dragging and dropping into place background designs, pictures, clip art, and text boxes. Canva offers a huge library of clip art and photographs to use in your designs (some of the clip art is free, some is not). You can also import your own images to use in your graphics. Your completed Canva projects can be saved as PDF and PNG files. Canva offers a free iPad and Android apps that work in much the same way as the web version of the service. Check out Canva’s education page for more ideas about using it in your classroom. And learn lots more about Canva through this collection of tutorial videos

Google Drawings, Google Jamboard, and Google Slides can both be used to create simple collages. Into each service you can import images from your desktop or your Google Drive account. You can drag and drop images into any placement that you like. The tools include options for cropping images and adding borders. Word art is available to use in each service too. When you're ready to use your collages outside of the Google Workspaces environment, you can download them as image files. Here’s a tutorial on using Google Drawings to create collages that can be shared via Google Classroom.

Once your students have finished their collages they can enhance them by using ThingLink to add an interactive element to their collages. A video tutorial for that process can be seen here. Here’s a video on how to use Google Drawings as an alternative to Thinglink. 

Thread Images Into Stories
Adobe Spark offers a great suite of digital creation tools for students to use. One of those tools is Adobe Spark Page. Adobe Spark Page can be used in your web browser or you can use it as an iPad app. With Adobe Spark Pages your students can create web pages that contain images, text, and videos. Those pages can then be published as stand-alone sites or they can be embedded into blog posts or other existing webpages. A tutorial on using the Pages element of Adobe Spark can be seen here

Create Talking Pictures
ChatterPix Kids is one of my favorite digital storytelling apps for elementary school students to use. The free app is available in an iPad form and in an Android form. To use the app students simply open it on their iPads or Android devices and then take a picture. Once they've taken a picture students draw a mouth on their pictures. With the mouth in place students then record themselves talking for up to thirty seconds. The recording is then added to the picture and saved as a video on the students' iPads or Android devices. Tutorials on how to use both versions of the app can be seen here.

Create Picture Books
Book Creator is a popular service for creating multimedia ebooks. Book Creator can be used in your web browser or as an iPad app. The web browser-based version of Book Creator can be used for free while the iPad app costs $4.99 (less with volume purchasing). By using Book Creator students can create ebooks that include their own pictures and drawings. Students can use Book Creator’s built-in voice recorder to add their voices to their picture books. A complete tutorial on how to use Book Creator can be seen here on my YouTube channel.  

WriteReader is a good tool for elementary school students to use to create image-based stories. WriteReader has two distinguishing features that I always point out to new users. First, it provides space for teachers to give feedback to students directly under every word that they write. Second, WriteReader has a huge library of images, including some from popular programs like Sesame Street, that can be used for writing prompts. WriteReader does have a Google Classroom integration that makes it easy to get your students started creating picture-based stories. A series of WriteReader tutorials is available here

Picture Book Maker allows students to create six page stories by dragging background scenes into a page, dragging in animals and props, and typing text. All of the elements can be sized and positioned to fit the pages. Text is limited to roughly two lines per page. Completed stories are displayed with simple page turning effects. Stories created on Picture Book Maker can be printed and or saved as PDFs.

Create a Comic Book
Make Beliefs Comix is a creative writing platform that I have recommended for years. The core of Make Beliefs Comix is a free set of tools that students can use to create their own comics in multiple languages. Students don’t have to be good at drawing in order to make comics because Make Beliefs Comix offers tons of free artwork that they can use in their stories. Here's a video overview of how to use Make Beliefs Comix.

In addition to the comic strip creation tools, Make Beliefs Comix hosts free ebooks that you can use online or download for free. All of the ebooks are full of inspiring drawings and are designed as fillable PDFs that your students can write in.

Picture Yourself in Front of Any Landmark
Remove.bg and PhotoScissors are tools for removing the background from any image that you own. For example, if I have a picture of myself in front of my house, I can use either Remove.bg or PhotoScissors to quickly remove the background and just leave the image of me in front of a white background. Once the background is removed I can take the image of myself and layer it over a new background image by using tools as simple as Google Slides and PowerPoint. That process is outlined in this video. The process of removing image backgrounds can also be accomplished in PowerPoint by following the steps outlined in this video.

Some of these tools and many more ideas like those featured in this blog post will be covered in depth during the Practical Ed Tech Virtual Summer Camp. Register today!

This post originally appeared on FreeTech4Teachers.com. If you see it elsewhere, it has been used without permission. Sites that steal my (Richard Byrne's) work include CloudComputin, TodayHeadline, and 711Web. Featured graphic created by Richard Byrne. 

How to Find Published Google Workspaces Files

Refining Google searches according to domain is one of my favorite ways to get students to look beyond the first couple of pages of their typical Google search queries. Students can specify site or domain in Google's advanced search menu to limit results to those that are only from top-level domains like .edu. They can also specify a subdomain like docs.google.com. In fact, that's a great way to find publicly shared Google Documents. It also works for finding publicly shared Google Slides, Forms, Sheets, and Drawings. 

How to Find Public Google Workspaces Files:

  • Go to: https://www.google.com/advanced_search
  • In "site or domain" specify one of the following domains to locate public Google Docs, Slides, Forms, Sheets, or Drawings. 
    • docs.google.com
    • docs.google.com/presentation/
    • docs.google.com/forms/
    • docs.google.com/spreadsheets/
    • docs.google.com/drawings/

Applications for Education
Searching for publicly shared Google Docs, Slides, Sheets, Forms, and Drawings can be helpful to teachers and to students. For teachers, it can be a good way to find some ideas for lesson plans and assessments. For students, it can be a good way to find materials that have been published by teachers. Of course, it is worth noting that it's possible for students to find public documents, make a copy, and try to pass it off as their own.

Aside from finding Google Workspaces files, searching by site or domain is a good way to get students to look at websites and materials that they might not otherwise find because of where they rank in search results.

I'll be sharing many more tips and strategies like this during the Practical Ed Tech Virtual Summer Camp. Register early to get the session of your choice.

This post originally appeared on FreeTech4Teachers.com. If you see it elsewhere, it has been used without permission. Sites that steal my (Richard Byrne's) work include CloudComputin, TodayHeadline, and 711Web. Featured graphic created by Richard Byrne. 

Monday, May 3, 2021

My Ten Favorite "Hidden" Office 365 Features

Last week my most popular post on Free Technology for Teachers was this one highlighting my favorite features of Google Workspaces that are frequently overlooked. Based on the response to that post and video I decided to do the same thing for Office 365 users. I don't use Office 365 products as much as I do Google Workspaces (that's a result of the schools I've worked in over the years), but I still do have some favorite "hidden" features of Office 365 for teachers and students. 

My favorite “hidden” Office 365 features:
  • Word: Image insert with Pexels add-in.
    • Video insert and playback.
  • PowerPoint: Presenter coach
  • Forms: Open and close dates
  • OneNote: Save articles without annoying advertising pop-ups.
  • OneDrive: Share files with an expiration date and password.
  • Teams: Export Whiteboard Drawings as PNG
  • Excel: Analyze Data
  • Outlook: Schedule sending.
    • Message encryption/ forwarding prevention.
  • Message encryption/ preventing forwarding.
  • To Do: Add multiple steps within a task.

All of those features are demonstrated in this video.

This post originally appeared on FreeTech4Teachers.com. If you see it elsewhere, it has been used without permission. Sites that steal my (Richard Byrne's) work include CloudComputin, TodayHeadline, and 711Web.

Blackbird Code - Overview and First Impressions from My Students

Last week I published a written overview of a new learn-to-code platform called Blackbird. In short, Blackbird is a platform that is trying to bridge the gap between using block editors like Scratch and making students jump into a full-fledged IDE without any built-in support resources. Blackbird teaches students how to write code (specifically, JavaScript) through a series of short, guided lessons before challenging them with some "workshop projects." Along the way there are plenty of easily accessible help resources for students to use without having to leave the code that they're currently writing. Watch this video that I made for a visual overview of Blackbird.

Initial Impressions from My Students
I have a small group of students taking a Computer Science Principles class with me. In the class there is a mix of freshmen, juniors, and seniors (sophomores are welcome to take the class, I just don't have any this year). Today, I used Blackbird with them for the first time. All of my students thought the first few lessons were "too easy" and they breezed right through them. But by the time they got to the fourth lesson in stage 1, they didn't feel that way. At that point they started to use the "show me" button in Blackbird to get a little help writing their code. All of the students felt like there was a lot of repetition which, as one student pointed out, is a good way to learn the language.

The exception to the above impressions from my students was one junior who had a lot of prior experience writing JavaScript. He ripped through all of the stage 1 lessons very quickly. So quickly, in fact, that I challenged him to watch this video then try to code the Snake game. He accepted and will probably finish by the time class meets again on Thursday.

This post originally appeared on FreeTech4Teachers.com. 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. 

Saturday, May 1, 2021

Zoom, Voice, and April Showers - The Week in Review

Good morning from Maine where we're hoping for some sunshine after a few rainy days. Either way, I'm going for a long bike ride today as I continue to prepare to ride in the Unbound Gravel 200 in June. I hope that you also have something fun in store for your weekend. 

This week I hosted the third installment of my Teaching History With Technology course and continued to work on preparations for this year's Practical Ed Tech Virtual Summer Camp. I hope you'll join me for one of the sessions in June, July, or August. Register by June 1st and save $50. 

These were the week's most popular posts:

  1. Ten Google Workspaces Features for Teachers You Might Be Overlooking
  2. How to Use Zoom's New Immersive Views
  3. 7 Interesting Features You Can Add to Google Sites
  4. Build Your First Google Site With the Help of These Tutorials
  5. How to Add Voice Recordings to Google Forms
  6. Tools to Help Students Analyze Their Own Writing
  7. What is Hotlinking? - Why You Should Avoid It
On-demand Professional Development
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 35,000 subscribers watching my short tutorial videos on a wide array of educational technology tools. 
  • I've been Tweeting as @rmbyrne for fourteen 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.
This post originally appeared on FreeTech4Teachers.com. If you see it elsewhere, it has been used without permission. Sites that steal my (Richard Byrne's) work include CloudComputin, TodayHeadline, and 711Web.