Saturday, November 6, 2021

Engineering, Games, and Puns - The Week in Review

Good morning from Maine where it's a brisk 24F while I wait for the sun to rise. After the sun rises and it warms up a bit, I'm going on my favorite bike route for one last time before cold and snow make it unpleasant, if not impossible, to ride again until spring. If you're curious, I'll be pedaling over Height of Land in Roxbury, Maine then meeting my family at my kids' favorite playground. It's not quite as exciting as last weekend's trick o' treating, but it will be fun. I hope that you also have something fun planned for your weekend. 

As I do every weekend, I have put together a list of the most-visited posts of the week. Take a look and see if there's something interesting that you missed during the week. 

These were the week's most popular posts:
1. A Cute Series of Videos About Engineeering
2. TinyTap - Create Your Own Educational Games in Your Browser
3. It's That Time Again...
4. A Punny Explanation of Savings Bonds
5. Certify'em - Send Personalized Certificates via Google Forms
6. Reading Progress + ReadWorks in Microsoft Teams = Awesome!
7. How to Use Google Books

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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 and WayBetterSite. Featured image captured by Richard Byrne.

Questions from my Daughters - What is Frost?

On my phone I keep a list titled "Questions from my Daughters." Whenever they ask a question that is interesting to them and is one that I haven't thought about for years, if ever, I add it to the list. This week's addition to the list came from my four-year-old who asked, "what's frost?" when I told her that what she saw on our lawn Wednesday morning was frost and not snow. 

While driving to preschool I did my best to try to explain to my daughter that frost condensation (water) that freezes on plants and objects. I'm not sure that she quite understood my explanation, but she said, "thanks, Dad" anyway. All that to say, the conversation prompted me to look up some better explanations of what frost is. 

Where Does Frost Come From? is a SciShow Kids videos through which students can learn how the right combination of cold temperatures and moisture can make frost appear on plants. Students can also learn why sometimes frost seems to just disappear while other times you can clearly see frost melting.

For an older audience, What is Frost? explained by MET Office - Weather provides a short overview of the conditions that create air, ground, grass, and hoar frost. (Note for my American audience: the video lists temperatures in Celsius).

Friday, November 5, 2021

The 2021 Great Thanksgiving Listen

The Great Thanksgiving Listen hosted by StoryCorps is back for the seventh year in a row. This annual event is intended to get people to record audio stories with family and friends. This year there might be a lot more remote recording than in the past, but the goal of the project is still the same. 

The Great Thanksgiving Listen was originally developed to get high school students to record the stories of their parents, grandparents, and other older family members. It has expanded over the years to be open to anyone who wants to participate.

StoryCorps has always provided materials to help students and teachers get involved in The Great Thanksgiving Listen. Last year the resources have expanded to include a video overview of how to use the StoryCorps Connect platform to remotely record stories. If students can record in-person, the StoryCorps mobile app is still available as well. Resources for teachers include lesson plans, handouts, and even letters and a permission slip that you can send home to help explain the project to parents.

Applications for Education
I love Thanksgiving and I love oral histories. I would have my students participate in The Great Thanksgiving Listen as a way to have them gather local history stories in the context of personal stories. Before The Great Thanksgiving Listen came along I did this kind of project with a social studies class by having them record their parents' and grandparents' stories about going to our local county fair.

This video provides little tip about recording that makes post-production a little easier. It's one you'll want to teach to your students before they record for The Great Thanksgiving Listen. 

Five Good Places to Find and Create Story Starters for Students

When it comes to creative writing assignments, the hardest step for many students is coming up with things to write about. Fortunately, there are many good tools and websites that teachers can use to generate writing prompts for students. Likewise, there are lots of good websites that offer creative writing prompts for students. Here are some of my favorite tools for creating story starters and favorite sites for finding story starters.

Create Story Starters in Google Sheets
Flippity offers a random name picker Google Sheets template. While it was designed to randomly select a student's name from a list, you could list story prompts instead of names in the sheet and have it display a random story prompt every time the picker is shuffled. Here's a video about how it works.

Flippity MadLibs is another Google Sheets template that can be used to create story prompts. As the name implies, it can be used to create MadLibs-style fill-in-the-blank stories. Watch the following video to see how it works.

Writing Sparks
Writing Sparks offers timed writing prompts to share with your elementary school students. Students can respond to the prompts by writing on paper, in a word processing document like MS Word, or by writing on the Writing Sparks website. The Writing Sparks website provides students with templates to complete as they respond to each writing prompt.

Scholastic Story Starters
Scholastic Story Starters is a great tool that students will enjoy using to create short, creative fiction stories. Scholastic Story Starters offers four story themes; fantasy, adventure, sci-fi, and scrambler. To create a story on Story Starters a students picks a theme, enter his or her name, chooses his or her grade, and spins the big wheels of prompts. The student can spin the wheels until he or she finds a prompt he or she likes. After the prompt is selected the student can write his or her story using the letter, postcard, notebook, or newspaper format provided by Scholastic Story Starters. When the story is finished it can be printed.

Make Beliefs Comix
the Make Beliefs Comix journaling ebooks filled with ideas for students to write about. Many of those ebooks are excellent for social emotional learning activities as well as creative writing activities. All of the ebooks are available as fillable PDFs that your students can download and share with you when they're done writing. Watch this short video to learn how to use the free ebooks from Make Beliefs Comix. (Disclosure: Make Beliefs Comix is an advertiser on this blog). 

WriteReader is a good tool for elementary school students to use to write multimedia 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

Thursday, November 4, 2021

Webinar Recording and Next Live Webinar - Two EdTech Guys Take Questions

Last week Rushton Hurley and I hosted the fourth fall installment of our Two EdTech Guys Take Questions series. In the episode we answered questions about making green screen videos, questions about collecting audio-only responses from students, and questions about making ebooks. We also answered a few Google Workspace-related questions. You can watch the full recording here and get all of the shared resources here

We're hosting the next episode of Two EdTech Guys Take Questions next Thursday (November 11th) at 4pm ET/ 1pm PT. You can register for the session right here. Use World Time Buddy to find your local time for the webinar.

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