Thursday, May 6, 2021

CodePen - See How Web Apps Come Together

CodePen is a code editing environment in which students can see how HTML, CSS, and JavaScript work together to form web applications. As you can see in the screenshot that I've included below, the screen is divided into four parts. There's a column for HTML, a column for CSS, and a column for JavaScript. Below that there is a preview panel that displays what the application looks like and how it functions. 

The best aspect of CodePen is that it is a real-time editor. That means you can change any aspect of the HTML, CSS, or JS and immediately see the effects of those changes in the preview panel. This is a great way to see what happens when a variable is changed in an application. If the change didn't work as anticipated, a quick "CTRL+Z" on your keyboard reverts it back to the previous state. The same is true when you edit an aspect of the HTML or CSS. 

You can register for a free CodePen account using an email address, a GitHub account, Twitter account, or a Facebook account. (I signed up using my school-issued Gmail address and my students did the same). The first time that you sign into your CodePen account you'll be taken through a very short tutorial that leads into making your first project. The first project is a simple "Hello World" project that has some basic HTML, CSS, and JS elements that you can quickly edit. 

CodePen does have a gallery of publicly shared projects that you can copy and modify. In fact, the screen image above is of a project that I found and shared with my students so that they could get some fun practice with CodePen. You can access the same project right here

Applications for Education
My Computer Science Principles class is now at the point that they're ready to break out of scripted activities or projects and work on making functioning applications of their own. During the year they've had experience writing HTML, CSS, and JavaScript (most recently they ripped through the lessons in Blackbird Code). So this morning I had them jump into CodePen, specifically this LOLCat Clock, to experiment and see what they could modify and make. Without exception all of my students liked using CodePen and one was even effusive in praising how quick it was to see changes implemented. 

Next week my students will spend some more time using CodePen to tinker with existing projects before I send them off to brainstorm and develop web apps of their own.

CodePen Free and Paid Plans
CodePen offers free and paid plans. My students and I have only used the free plan so far. The paid plan offers additional features that could be helpful to me in the future. Those features include Professor Mode and Collab Mode. Professor Mode would let me remotely watch my students' progress in real-time. Collab Mode would let me and my students collaborate on projects in real-time much like working in Google Docs. You can read more about CodePen's paid plans for educators right here

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. 

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Strange Borders - A Geography Lesson

Yesterday afternoon I read an interesting article titled Belgian Farmer Accidentally Moves French Border. The whole story is almost exactly what the title says. A farmer moved a stone that was in his way when plowing a field. It just happened that the stone he moved is a marker for the border between two small towns in Belgium and France. The border itself is not in dispute and the border is a relatively normal one between two friendly neighbors. Still, reading the story reminded me of a couple of videos that I've bookmarked about irregular country borders. 

Countries Inside Countries (Bizarre Borders, Part 1) was produced by CGP Grey seven years ago to illustrate where some of the landlocked countries of the world are and how they became landlocked. The video also highlights countries that have only one neighbor. 

Canada & The United States (Bizarre Borders, Part 2) explains why border between the United States and Canada might look like a long straight line in many places, but is not a straight line. The video also delves into some border quirks and disputes. The Google Earth file used in video is available to download here on CGP Grey's website.

Tom Scott has also produced a couple of interesting videos about interesting borders between countries. In The Most Complex Borders in Europe: Why Do We Have Nations? he explains the complicated border between Baarle-Nassau in the Netherlands and Baarle-Hertog in Belgium. 

In The US-Canada Border Splits This Road Down the Middle he visits the border between Stanstead, Quebec, Canada and Derby Line, Vermont, United States where the border really does split a road or, depending upon who you ask, the road splits the border. In the video he explains what you can and can't do on the road as well as how border enforcement has increased in the last couple of decades. (Speaking as someone who has lived relatively close to the US-Canada border for all of my adult life and has crossed the border countless times, border crossings today are much more regulated today than they were the first time I crossed in the late 90's).

Applications for Education
The article I mentioned above along with the videos could make for a good starting place to introduce lessons on international boundaries, border enforcement, and negotiations between countries. I'd probably put the videos about US-Canada borders into EDpuzzle to add comprehension questions to the videos for my students to answer while they watch the videos. Here's an overview of how to use EDpuzzle.

Google Earth offers lots of great tools that students can use to explore quirky borders and neat features of geography. My self-paced Crash Course in Google Earth & Maps shows you how to use those tools and more.

This post originally appeared on 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 image taken by Richard Byrne. 

Wolves in My Yard and Penguins in My House! - Fun With Augmented Reality in Search

Thanks to where I live and the amount of time that I've spent hiking, camping, fly fishing I have slightly more experience seeing wildlife like bears and moose than the average person. Almost every night at dinner my three-year-old asks me to tell a story about seeing a bear, a moose, or other animal. But last week when she asked for a story about a wolf, I didn't have one because I've never had an encounter with one in the wild. So I did a quick Google search on my phone to show her pictures of wolves. That's when I was reminded of Google's augmented reality in search experiences

When you conduct a Google search on your Android or iPhone/ iPad Google will suggest objects to "view in 3D." Of course, your search has to be for something that Google offers as a 3D augmented reality object. The complete list of objects can be seen here in Google's Search Help Pages

Some of the animals in Google's 3D Augmented Reality Objects in Search:

  • Timberwolves
  • Tigers
  • Pandas
  • Alligators
  • Great White Sharks
  • Penguins
  • Golden Retrievers
Animals aren't the only things available to view in augmented reality via mobile Google search. You can also view representations of chemistry, physics, and biology concepts. There is also a small selection of cultural objects and sites available to view as 3D augmented reality objects. Again, that complete can be found here. Some highlights from the list include:
  • Red blood cells
  • Metallic bonding
  • Plasma membranes
  • Human digestive system
  • Apollo 11 command module
Applications for Education
One of the neat things that you can do with the 3D objects is view them in augmented reality while recording a video about those objects. To do that you open the object on your phone or tablet then tap "view in your space." Then you'll be prompted to point your camera at a flat space. Once you've done that the 3D object appears in your camera view. I did this to put a wolf in my front yard (see the video here). I recorded the video by simply holding the camera shutter button while viewing the object. 

Your video of the 3D object in augmented reality can include sound. Simply start talking while recording. Doing that could be a good way to record a short video lesson for your students. Likewise, it could be a good way to have students record short videos about animals or concepts they're learning about in your classroom. 

Learn more about augmented reality and its place in the classroom during the Practical Ed Tech Virtual Summer CampRegister today!

This post originally appeared on 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 screenshot created by Richard Byrne. 

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 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 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 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 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:
  • In "site or domain" specify one of the following domains to locate public Google Docs, Slides, Forms, Sheets, or 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 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. 

Popular Posts