Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Two Free and Cool Summer Learning Opportunities for Teachers

Summer feels like it's a long way off right now which is why I like to start thinking about it now and putting some fun things on summer calendar. If you like to do the same, here's a couple of cool summer learning opportunities that you might want to investigate and apply for. 

C-SPAN Fellowship and Conference
Every year C-SPAN hosts an educators' conference and hosts a summer fellowship program. A friend of mine participated in the conference a couple of years ago and he said it was an amazing experience! This summer the program is going to be virtual. C-SPAN's Summer Fellowship program is now open for applications. Those who are accepted into the program will spend a few weeks working remotely with C-SPAN's education team. Participants receive a $1,000 stipend for their participation in the program. More details about the summer fellowship program are available here. Applications are due by May 6, 2022.

Smithsonian Teacher Innovator Institute
This is a program for middle school STEAM teachers. This is a two week program hosted at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. Lodging, food, and travel is paid for by the museum. If you're not sure if that's you, there is a little eligibility check tool that you can use on the Smithsonian Teacher Innovator Institute website. Applications are due by February 15th. 

Monday, January 24, 2022

Ten Cool Things You (And Your Students) Can Do With Lumio

Disclosure: Lumio is currently an advertiser on FreeTech4Teachers.com. Advertisers help keep the lights on here.

Lumio was one of my favorite new tools in 2021. I wrote about it back in November, but I don’t think I fully captured everything that makes Lumio great. And since Google Analytics tells me that people prefer articles that have lists, here are ten cool things that you and your students can do with Lumio. Take a look and then give Lumio a try for yourself.

1. Physics and Math Simulations
Lumio can be used in all subject areas in elementary school, middle school, and high school. The latest update to Lumio lets you incorporate PhET simulations into the online lessons and activities that you create in Lumio. PhET, produced by the University of Colorado Boulder, offers nearly 100 simulations designed to help students understand concepts in physics, chemistry, earth science, biology, and mathematics.

Speaking of mathematics, you can also use the Desmos graphing calculator directly inside of your Lumio account to create mathematics lessons and practice problems for your students.

Here’s a video on how to use PhET simulations in Lumio activities.

2. Make Your Favorite Images and Slides Interactive Perhaps my favorite aspect of Lumio is that you don’t need to create all new material in order to use it. In fact, you can simply import your existing slides (Google Slides and PowerPoint), PDFs, and images into Lumio and turn them into interactive, online activities for your students.

Take a look at this video to see how easy it is to import your Google Slides into Lumio.

3. Make Any Activity Collaborative or Individual!
In Lumio you can make any page in any lesson a collaborative activity or an individual activity. To do that simply click on the magic wand icon while editing your activity then choose collaborative or individual. The collaborative option provides the whole class with access to one shared copy of the activity. The individual option provides each student with his or her own copy of the activity to complete.
4. Create Fun Formative Assessments
I tend to think of formative assessment in broader terms than many other teachers. For example, I think that any activity that gives me in-progress feedback about how my students understand a concept or topic is a form of formative assessment. To that end, I love Lumio’s “Shout it Out” activity template. This is an activity in which all students quickly respond to one prompt that you give them. Responses are shown on your screen and you can display them in a couple of ways including as a randomized display of digital sticky notes. You can also choose to display or not display students’ names alongside their responses.

Now if your definition of formative assessment is a bit more structured than mine, Lumio has formative assessment templates for you. In my first blog post about Lumio I went into detail about creating formative assessments because I think that creating a formative assessment provides the best way to learn how Lumio works from a teacher’s perspective. Here’s the video overview from that blog post.

5. Share Successful Lessons With Your Colleagues
Have you ever had a lesson that went absolutely perfectly from start to finish? You know, one where you felt like the kids “got it” and had fun “getting it.” I've had a few of those in my career and I shared them widely with my colleagues. If you have one of those lessons and you’ve done it through Lumio, you can quickly share it with your colleagues. To do that, just hit the “share” button on your lesson and send the link to your colleagues. Don’t forget to tell them why you’re sharing it and how much your kids liked it. Check out this Lumio Tweet to see a video demo of how to share a lesson with your colleagues.

6. Play YouTube Videos Without Distractions
I love a good YouTube video to help me help my students understand a concept. For example, I used some of these PowerCert videos in my networking course last year. What I don’t love is dealing with the advertisements and “related” videos that come with using YouTube in my classes. Lumio offers a solution to that problem. When you use YouTube videos in Lumio, you don’t see the advertisements and related video suggestions typically found when visiting YouTube.

7. View Activities the Same Way Your Students See Them
Lumio does something that I wish every educational technology tool would do. That is to show teachers exactly what their students will see when using the tool. From interactive previews to seeing student work live in delivery, teachers get a full picture of the lesson their students will be engaged in.

8. Add Audio Support to Your Activities
Whether it is to add clarification, to give helpful hints, or to simply read directions aloud, Lumio has you covered. On any and all of your activities/pages you can record audio support for your students to play aloud. To do that simply click on the audio icon while editing an activity.

9. Keep Students Signed-in When Switching Activities
Nothing kills momentum quite like having to wait while all of your students enter a code to join an online activity. Fortunately, that’s not an issue when using Lumio. Your students use one code to join your class and as long as they keep using the same computer, tablet, or phone they stay signed in even when you switch activities. In other words you could do a Lumio activity in the morning then do another in the afternoon and your students wouldn’t have to re-enter the classroom code.

On a related note, you would think that by 2022 every educational technology tool would work on all mobile devices and all computers, but that’s not always the case. Lumio works on every device commonly used by students. Students can complete Lumio lessons on iPads, Android tablets, iOS and Android phones, and in the web browser on their favorite laptop computer (including Chromebooks).

10. Get Inspired!
If you’ve ever been “stuck” and need some inspiration for creating a new lesson, Lumio has you covered with a huge selection of lesson activity templates and resources covering everything from elementary school math to high school language arts. When you find a template that you like you can copy it into your Lumio library where you can then use it as written or modify it to better suit your needs. Here’s a little demonstration of how that’s done.

Create an Educational Puzzle Game With TinyTap

Disclosure: TinyTap is currently an advertiser on FreeTech4Teachers.com.

Over the last two weeks I covered the basics of creating an educational game with TinyTap and how to make it look good. This week I’m going to start diving into some of the more interesting game types and formats available in TinyTap. The first of those is the puzzle game format.

Ideas and Examples for Puzzle Games
When you read “puzzle game” you might automatically think about jigsaw puzzles, I know that I do. You can certainly make a jigsaw puzzle game with TinyTap, but there are a lot of other ways to use the puzzle game creation tools in TinyTap.

With the TinyTap puzzle game creation tools you can create games in which students drag and drop game pieces together. By doing this you can create games in which students match letters to pictures as is done in this game or games in which students place animals onto the countries, states, or provinces that they represent as will be done in the game that I create.

Another way to think about using the TinyTap puzzle game creator is to have students complete a counting activity. In this style of game students will drag a sequence of objects into position in order to count them. Give it a try in this counting trains game.

There is probably an infinite number of identification games that you could create with TinyTap’s puzzle game tools. A few that I can think of are games to identify birds and other wildlife, games to practice identifying parts of speech, and games to practice identifying parts of a computer system. And for some reason that I can’t identify when I thought of making a puzzle game for practicing identifying things, I thought of how helpful it would have been to have an identification game when I was taking an anatomy and physiology course twenty something years ago.

And because each game is created on a slide-by-slide basis, it is possible to combine elements of counting, sorting, matching, and object alignment into one comprehensive game. Take a look at this game about fruits and vegetables as an example of using all of the puzzle tools in one game.

How to Make a Puzzle Game in TinyTap
For this example, I’m going to create a game in which I have students drag and drop flags onto the New England states that they represent. To begin, just like creating any other game in TinyTap I’ll start by adding a title slide for my game. As a reminder, you can use any of the styles, layouts, and creation packs to design the slides in game. This video that I published last week shows you how to use those design tools.

The next step of the puzzle game design process is probably the most important one to get right at the start. Put all of the pieces together in the places where they should be when the puzzle is solved. In other words, think of it like making a jigsaw puzzle by cutting up a picture. Another way to think about it is creating the answer key before writing the quiz. In this case I’ll be putting a map of New England on my slide and then placing the corresponding state animals on that map. See my screenshot below for more details.
After arranging the elements of the game slide into the places where they represent the correct answers it’s time to choose an activity type. The activity type that I’m using for this game is “shape puzzle.” After selecting the shape puzzle option it is time to cut out the pieces that will be dragged into position when students play the game. Pieces are cut by using the tracing tools in TinyTap. As each piece is traced and cut it should be dragged over to the side or bottom of the slide to create a bank of pieces. It’s from that bank that students will select pieces to move during the game. It’s also important to note that you can record audio to accompany each puzzle piece that you create. In my game I simply read aloud the names of the animals in my puzzle pieces. Take a look at my screenshots below for more detail.
After cutting out the game pieces and putting them into a bank, you could simply click “Done” and the game would be ready to play. However, there is more that you can do to enhance the gameplay experience for your students. Those things are found by opening the “options” menu when viewing the shape puzzle editor. In that menu you’ll find options for recording audio. I highly recommend using that option to provide your students with some instructions or clues for playing the game. You can also enable the following gameplay features:
  • Bounce Back - this option bounces the pieces back to the bank if they’re not placed in the proper place.
  • Easy Mode - this option enables the students to see the puzzle completed at the start and then scatters the pieces to start the game. (only available on iPad)
  • Disable Hints - this is a pretty self explanatory option. (only available on iPad)
  • Hints - when the guided play mode is on, this will give students three tries before the piece is automatically placed in the correct spot. (only available on iPad)
  • 3D - this option displays the pieces in 3D or makes them appear to pop out from the screen.
At this point it’s a good idea to preview the game before going any further. To preview the game all you have to do is click on the play icon just to the left of the slide. As soon as you click that the game will load and it can be played just like a student would see it.

It is also possible to create a puzzle game that doesn’t use a bank of answer choices. TinyTap calls this alternative puzzle type a “mixed puzzle.” Mixed puzzles are great for creating games in which students match two or more pieces together to create a complete image. For example, in my game I created a mixed puzzle in which students have to reassemble the map of New England states. To that I duplicated the slide from earlier and then removed my cut out pieces. Then I used the tracing tool to trace each state and made them their own pieces of the puzzle.

When you create a mixed puzzle game, as I did with the map of New England, it could be very helpful to your students to have “easy mode” enabled so that they can see the full picture before having to try to piece it together. That’s a lot when you put together a physical jigsaw puzzle and look at the picture on the box to help get yourself started.
More Puzzle Games Inspiration and a Tutorial
The folks at TinyTap were kind enough to put together a collection of puzzle games that anyone can try right now. So if you’re looking for ideas for making educational games for your students, take a look at following examples:
Finally, you can see the whole process that I outlined above demonstrated in this tutorial video.

Making Snowflakes and Sundials

Last week I shared a couple of good places to find ideas and plans for at-home, hands-on science lessons. Here's a couple more ideas to try courtesy of SciShow Kids. 

In this SciShow Kids video students learn how a sundial works and how they can make their own sundials. The video could be the basis for a fun, hands-on lesson about learning to tell time.

For those in cold, northern climates creating and taking sundials outside might not be practical right now. SciShow Kids has a video that is a little more appropriate for winter. That video is How to Make a Paper Snowflake. The video gives directions at a nice pace that students can follow. The video also introduces some science vocabulary that might be new to elementary school students.

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Five Tools for Making Wordle Word Clouds

Do you remember when Wordle was a word cloud generator that was taking the Web 2.0/ edtech world by storm? I do and lately I can't help but think of it whenever I see people post their Wordle scores on social media. For those who don't remember those days, Wordle was originally a word cloud generator that teachers were using to create visual summaries of large blocks of text. I found it to be useful in providing students with a nice way to visualize the most frequently used words in a passage of text. 

The original Wordle word cloud tool no longer exists, but there are others that still do and are still helpful. Here's a handful of them to try. 

Paste your text into Analyze My Writing and it will generate a ton of information about your writing. Analyze My Writing will give you a break-down of the readability of your writing on five indices. The analysis will include listings of the most common words and most common word pairs in your writing. A listing of how frequently you use punctuation and punctuation types is included in the analysis provided by Analyze My Writing. Finally, a word cloud is included at the end of the analysis of your writing. The word cloud and the graphs can be saved as images.

Word It Out creates word clouds out of any text that you paste into the word cloud generator. Once the word cloud is created you can customize the size and color scheme of the cloud. You can also customize the font used in your word cloud. The feature of Word It Out that I like the best is that you can choose to have Word It Out ignore any word or words you choose. Ignoring words keeps them out of the word cloud.

Tagxedo makes it very easy to customize the design of your word clouds. You can select from a variety of shapes in which to display words or you can design your shape for your word cloud. You can enter text into the word cloud generator manually or simply enter a URL from which Tagxedo will generate a word cloud. As with other word cloud generators you also have options for excluding words from your word clouds.

WordWanderer attempts to be different from other word cloud creation tools by letting you drag and drop words to rearrange the look of your word clouds. Additionally, WordWanderer includes a search tool that you can use to find a word. The context of your chosen word is shown below the word cloud itself.

On WordClouds.com you can create word clouds in a variety of shapes and sizes with a wide array of color schemes. I've even used it to make a word cloud about cats in the shape of a cat. In my video embedded below I demonstrate the features of WordClouds.com.

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