Friday, December 10, 2021

The Future of Flickr's The Commons

Flickr's The Commons has been one of my go-to resources for historical imagery since I first wrote about it nearly fourteen years ago. That's why my heart sank a little bit when I visited The Commons earlier this week and saw a note that read "learn more about the future of Flickr Commons." Whenever I see notes like that on favorite websites that have been around for a long time, I expect bad news. Fortunately, this time there was good news. 

Flickr has made a commitment to reinvigorate and revitalize The Commons. The first step in that process appears to be creating a new home for The Commons. That new home is at The Flickr Foundation found at It's there that you can read the full plan for the future of The Commons. The plan is published as a series of Google Documents and a Google Slides presentation.

The key takeaways for teachers and students who use The Commons are:

  • It's not going away. 
  • It's going to be improved with better discovery tools.
  • It's going to be improved with better descriptions (which will help with discovery).
  • Content contribution opportunities will improve (expanding the collection). 
Applications for Education
The bottomline is that Flickr's The Commons is a great resource for history teachers who want to find historical imagery to use in their lessons. It's also a great place for students to find historical imagery to use in research presentations. Over the next couple of years The Commons should improve to make it a better resource than ever before.

How to Embed Google Sheets Into Websites

Earlier this week a loyal reader named Judith sent me a question about embedding Google Sheets into websites. I was happy to answer her question and made this short video to explain how to include a Google Sheet in Google Sites and in Blogger

In the video I include instructions for resizing the spreadsheet when you embed it into blog posts and websites. This is important because if you use the default embed code provided by Google Sheets, the sheet will appear very small and nearly unusable when embedded into a blog post or web page. The change to the code is to simply add width and height dimensions to the end of the code provided by Google Sheets. Watch this video to see how to embed Google Sheets into a website and adjust the size of the display of the sheet. 

Applications for Education
Embedding a Google Sheet into a website can be a good way to share collected and organized data from surveys conducted via Google Forms.

Five Short Lessons About the Start of Winter

Even though it has been cold and snowy here in Maine for the last week or so, the start of winter is still eleven days away. The winter solstice is always welcomed as it does mean the shortest day of the year (in terms of amount of sunlight) will be behind us. If you're looking for some resources to help students understand the winter solstice, take a look at the resources I have listed below.

What is a Solstice? is a National Geographic video. The two minute video explains why we experience solstices. The video also explains why the solstice and the first day of winter aren't always the same.

PBS Kids Nature Cat has a cute video that explains the basic concept of winter and summer solstice.

Last year TIME published a video featuring "four things you probably didn't know about the winter solstice." Spoiler alert! You probably knew them, but the video will remind you about those things.

Mechanism Of The Seasons is a six minute video about why the length of daylight we receive in a location changes throughout the year. This video could be helpful in a flipped classroom environment.

Autumn Stars and Planets is a short PBS video that explains why the stars and planets that we see from Earth change with the seasons. The video is embedded below.

Thursday, December 9, 2021

Helpful New Table Options in Google Docs

This week Google added a handful of helpful new features for customizing tables in Google Documents. A couple of the new features are things that I've wanted for years. 

The first new feature that I'm excited about is the option to specify that a table row not be split at a page break. Making that designation keeps the content of the cells in that row together instead of splitting it. I've wanted this option for years because I've always had to tinker with font size and spacing whenever I've wanted to keep a row from splitting. 

Another new feature that I've wanted for years and finally got to use last night is a drag-and-drop option for adjusting the order of rows and columns in a table. This is much easier than copying and pasting cell content to move it into a different order in a table. 

Some other new features of tables in Google Docs makes them act more like spreadsheets than simple tables. You can now pin rows to the top of a table and sort rows according to cell content. 

Finally, there's a new sidebar menu for setting the properties of your table. This doesn't materially change the settings options, it simply moves the menu. 

Applications for Education
This update to tables in Google Docs should make it easier for middle school and high school students to include simple data sets in things like science lab reports or school surveys.

As is the case with nearly all updates to Google Workspace tools, this update is rolling-out over the next couple of weeks. Some users may see the new features already and others may have to wait. I'm already seeing the update in my personal account but I haven't seen it in my Google Workspace for Edu account.

Blackbird Code Offers Two New Self-paced Coding Lessons

Blackbird Code is one of my favorite new educational technology resources launched in 2021. For Computer Science Education Week they've released two new self-paced, self-directed lessons through which students can learn a bit about JavaScript. 

The new Blackbird Code lessons are Tether Game and Screen Saver. The two lessons teach students how to create a simple game and a simple screen saver through the use of JavaScript. 

The best thing about Blackbird Code lessons, including these two new lessons, is that students choose how much guidance and direction they need. Blackbird Code provides students with a series of steps to complete by writing the JavaScript to create each part of either the Tether Game or the Screen Saver. 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. After each step of the lesson students can see their code run and debug as needed with guidance from Blackbird Code.

Applications for Education
If you're looking for some short, "Hour of Code" lessons to use with students in fifth through ninth grade, Blackbird Code's new lessons are definitely worth giving a try. Your students won't become master programmers in an hour, but they will learn more about how programs are written than if they just used a block editor.