Tuesday, February 8, 2022

How to Create VR Tours of Local Landmarks

I live near a little ski mountain called Mount Abram that is totally geared toward being family-friendly, affordable (seriously, my kids ski the whole season for $20!), and community-oriented. During the weekends when my kids are in lessons I like to skin up the mountain. By skinning I burn a lot calories and I get to take in some views that a lot of people miss when they only ride the lifts. 

I like to take a lot of pictures of this little winter playground at Mount Abram. Last weekend when I stopped to take some pictures I used the photosphere mode on my Pixel 5 to capture a 360 view of the intersection of a few trails. Doing that reminded me of a cool tool called Story Spheres that offers an easy way to make little virtual tours of places that you photograph. 

How to Create a VR Tour

There are many ways that you could create a virtual reality tour. This is a simple method that utilizes the native camera app on a Pixel 5, Google Photos, Story Spheres, and Vocaroo

Step 1: Use the photosphere mode in the camera app on a Pixel 5. (If you don't have a Pixel 5 or 6, there are other camera apps you can install to capture 360 imagery). Save the picture to Google Photos. 

Step 2: Go to your Google Photos account and download to your computer the 360 image that you want to use in your VR tour. 

Step 3: Create a free account on Story Spheres.

Step 4: Create a new story on Story Spheres. The editor will walk you through uploading your 360 image. 

Step 5: Use Vocaroo.com to record short audio narration for your Story Sphere. Save the recording as an MP3 file. 

Step 6: Upload your MP3 to your Story Sphere story (again, the editor guides you through that process). 

Step 7: Publish your Story Sphere!

I provide a complete overview of this short process in this short video

Applications for Education
Creating a VR tour with Story Spheres can be a great way to get students to research, create, and share little reports about landmarks in their communities. Their Story Spheres could be included as part of a larger multimedia project that they publish on Google Sites or a similar platform.

Are you a tech coach or media specialist looking for some new ideas to share with your colleagues? If so, 50 Tech Tuesday Tips is an eBook you need. You can get it right here.

How to Create Collaborative To-do Lists in OneNote

In this week's Practical Ed Tech Newsletter I featured some tools and ideas for students to use to manage group projects. OneNote was one of the tools that I mentioned using for that purpose. It's a good option for students who are already using OneNote because they don't have to learn a whole new tool just to keep track of a group project.

OneNote for Project Management

An easy for students to use OneNote for group project management is to simply create a new shared notebook and on the first page include a task list. Then when group members complete tasks they can check them off. The nice thing about this is that students can see the task that have been done and who did them. They can also uncheck tasks or add notes if a task needs to be done again.

Watch this short video to learn how to create collaborative task lists in OneNote.

Are you a tech coach or media specialist looking for some new ideas to share with your colleagues? If so, 50 Tech Tuesday Tips is an eBook you need. You can get it right here.

Monday, February 7, 2022

Use TinyTap to Create Interactive Lessons and Games With Soundboards

Disclosure: TinyTap is currently an advertiser on FreeTech4Teachers.com

Over the last four weeks I’ve highlighted different ways to use TinyTap to create educational games for your students. This week I’m going to take a slightly different approach and share ideas for using TinyTap’s soundboard option to make interactive lessons and games.

What is a TinyTap soundboard?

A soundboard in TinyTap lets you add an image to a slide then create interactive hotspots on that image. Those hotspots can be made to play audio files when students tap or click on them. You can also use the hotspots to direct students to more information about the items they’ve tapped or clicked on. And if you want to use the soundboard as the basis for a game, you can do that by making sounds play and animation appear when students tap or click hotspots. We’ll take a look at all three of these options in this post.

How to Create a Basic Soundboard Activity
The first soundboard activity that I’m going to create is a simple one about America’s favorite pastime, baseball. Just like all of the other TinyTap games and activities I’ve made in this series, I started by logging into my free TinyTap account and clicking “create game.” Then I added a title slide and used TinyTap’s creation packs to pick a style and layout for the slide.

After making my title slide I created a second slide that became the basis for my soundboard activity. I used TinyTap’s integrated image search to find an image of a baseball field and added it to my slide.
Once the picture of the baseball field was added to my slide it was then time to start using the soundboard tools. To do that I chose “set activity” then chose “soundboard.” See the GIF below for details on where to find those options.
After choosing the soundboard option I then had to trace each place on the image that I wanted to become a hotspot. In this case that meant tracing home plate, first base, second base, and third base. As soon as I traced a base I was prompted to add audio and text (optional). I did this five times on the image of the baseball field. The first was to record a general overview of the field and the other four were to explain each base on the field. The final step in making my soundboard about baseball was to record instructions for students to follow. These instructions are played as soon as students view the soundboard slide. To record my instructions I just opened the “options” menu in the soundboard editor then clicked on the recording button. The GIF below provides a quick overview of where to find the soundboard recording options.
With my soundboard complete I can now publish it and share it with my students. When they tap on each base on the baseball field they’ll hear a short audio recording about it.

If you’ve read this far, you might have already come up with some ideas for how to use the soundboard activity type in your classroom. If not, here are some other ways that a basic soundboard activity could be used in your classroom.
  • Place sheet music on a slide then create hotspots for students to practice reading music.
  • Add a map to a slide then add hotspots for students to hear the name of each country, state, or province read aloud.
  • Put a set of vocabulary words on a slide then create hotspots for students to tap to hear the pronunciation of each word.
Make Your Soundboard Link to More Resources
One of the really neat things about TinyTap’s soundboard tool is that you can make each hotspot on a slide direct students to more information about the items they tap or click on. In the case of my baseball field soundboard, I made it possible for students to learn more about the rules of baseball by tapping on each base on the field. For example, when a student taps on home plate he or she will be directed to a new slide that provides information about the importance of home plate in the game of baseball.

To create my soundboard activity in which students learn more about each base on the baseball field I once again started by adding an image of a baseball field to a slide. Then I created slides about each base (each one has an image, some text, and a short audio recording). After creating the slides about each base I then went back to the slide that has the image of a baseball field and selected the soundboard option.

With the soundboard activity type enabled I once again traced each base on the field and recorded a little audio. But this time I also selected the option to “jump to page.” When I selected “jump to page” I could then choose which of the slides I wanted students to see when they tapped on a base. A GIF of this process is included below.
As with all of the activity types in TinyTap, there are many ways to use the combination of soundboards and “jump to page” to develop engaging activities for your students. Here are some other ideas for using soundboards to create interactive lessons for your students.
Create a Multiple Answers Soundboard Game
The third way that you can use soundboards in TinyTap is to create a multiple answer game. Once again I’ll use the image of a baseball field in my example of creating a multiple answer game with TinyTap’s soundboard option. In this game I’m going to ask the question, “which bases do players touch when they hit a triple?”

To create my multiple answer game I add an image of a baseball field to a slide in my TinyTap game. Then I selected the soundboard activity type and traced each base that I want to have jump out with confetti when tapped. So in this case I traced first, second, and third base. Then I used the options menu for the activity type and recorded myself asking the following question, “which bases do players touch when they hit a triple?” If students tap or click on home plate, nothing happens. If they tap first, second, and third bases then confetti appears to indicate that they got it right.
Throughout this post I’ve used the example of a baseball field because I think sometimes physical education gets overlooked on educational technology blogs. (I’m also staring out at three feet of snow on my lawn and daydreaming about summer). There are other examples of using the multiple answer format for games in TinyTap. Here’s a few ideas to consider:
Sharing TinyTap activities
Soundboard activities, like all TinyTap activities, can be shared in a variety of ways. As is highlighted in the screenshot below, TinyTap activities can be shared to Google Classroom, embedded into web pages and blog posts, or posted anywhere that you would typically share URLs for your students to access (Microsoft Teams, Canvas, Schoology for example).

Get Started!
It’s free and easy to get started making your own soundboard activities on TinyTap. Register for a free account and then click the “create game” button to get started. There are helpful tutorials embedded throughout the process and you can also watch my video tutorial to see the whole process of making a soundboard activity.

Learn More About TinyTap
As I mentioned at the start of this post, I've highlighted a bunch of TinyTap features over the last four weeks. If you missed those posts, take a look at the list below:

Try Tract to Find Inspiration for Fun Lessons

Disclosure: Tract is an advertiser on FreeTech4Teachers.com

Last fall I introduced many of you to Tract as a platform for Genius Hour activities, for PBL, and for remote learning. Many of you have reported that it has been great for all of those things. Now I’d like to suggest another way to think about using Tract. That is to use it as a source of inspiration for updating some of your favorite old lesson plans or replacing them entirely with a new approach inspired by Tract users.

What is Tract?

If you didn’t see my previous blog posts about Tract, in short it’s a platform for peer-to-peer project-based learning. What that means in practice is that Tract provides a place for students to learn about a wide variety of things like budgeting and saving money, photography, mythology, video game design, and all kinds of other interesting things. All of the lessons are taught via a series of short videos created by students for students. A complete overview of how Tract works can be seen in this video.

Tract is free for teachers who sign-up at teach.tract.app using access code BYRNE. Students, of course, get free access through your classroom account.

Observe Student Use of Tract to Find Inspiration

Tract definitely lets students be in charge of their own learning, but that doesn’t mean teachers aren’t involved in the process of using Tract. Within your Tract account you can see the learning paths your students have chosen and the missions (activities) they have completed. You can also review the submissions students made to complete missions and moderate those submissions if necessary. For example, if a student is working on the nature photography path but uploads pictures that aren’t aligned to the mission, you can remove those pictures and they will have to try the mission again.

Observing the learning paths that your students choose and the missions they complete in Tract can be a good way to learn about the topics that your students are truly interested in. You could then use those observations to plan your next Genius Hour or enrichment activity.

Another way to think about using Tract as a teacher is to observe the learning paths and missions that your students complete then challenge them to continue their learning by creating their own learning paths for classmates to follow. Back in November I published a detailed overview of the process for students to create learning paths. The short version of that is students need to develop an outline of their lessons, a challenge activity, and then record a short series of instructional videos.


The Winter Olympic Games are going on right now. To coincide with that Tract has launched the Tractlympics contest. The contest asks classrooms to collectively publish five learning paths covering five categories. Those categories are technology, sports, food, art, and world culture. Every class that collectively publishes a learning path from all five categories and “passes the torch” to another classroom automatically enters the drawing to win a $100 gift card for classroom supplies, an ice cream party, and + 200 Coins for every student in the class! “Passing the Torch” means referring another teacher to Tract.

Participating in the Tractlympics contest could be a great way for students to work together in small groups to develop a series of lessons about a topic they’re passionate about. Students will need to make videos for their learning paths. Group video projects can be a little tricky which is why I put together this little guide to planning group video projects. And for more guidance on creating a Tract learning path, there’s a learning path about that.

Tractify Your Lessons!

Esther Wojcicki is one of the co-founders of Tract and she has published some tips on how to use Tract in your classroom. Those tips are great and here is also a vibrant teacher’s lounge on Tract where you can get even more ideas about how other teachers are utilizing Tract.

As a Tract member, you can share your lesson plans with the Tract team and get ideas on how to “Tractify” them into an engaging video lesson and project-based challenge on Tract. Again, this is an area where you could also enlist the help of your students. Ask them for their ideas on how they’d like to see a topic presented in video form and challenge them to make a learning path about it.

Finally, it’s important to note that Tract works with all major learning management systems including Google Classroom, Canvas, and Seesaw. Through your LMS you can assign a specific path, a specific challenge, or a collection of learning paths. A complete guide to that process is available right here in Tract’s educator help center.

How I’d Tractify a Lesson

Let’s say I have a topic that I have to teach despite a lot of kids saying “it’s boring.” How federal laws are made is a good example of that. Rather than just talking students through a flowchart and throwing in a couple examples of my choosing, I’ll have students use that same flowchart as the basis for creating a learning path in Tract. Then they can create short videos to explain with their own examples each stop along the flowchart.

Try Tract Today!

As I mentioned above, Tract is free for life for teachers who sign-up at teach.tract.app using the code BYRNE. Go through a path or two on your own and see for yourself the kinds of lessons that kids are making and getting excited about sharing with their peers.

Math, Science, and Philosophy Lessons for Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day is next Monday. My daughters' preschool is having a little celebration during which little cards will be exchanged. They are very excited about it! I used Canva to make some cards for them to write their names and their classmates' names on. If you're looking to incorporate Valentine's Day into some lessons this week or next Monday, here are some resources to check out. 

Making edible glass hearts is the topic of a SciShow Kids video. The video begins by explaining how glass is made before moving into an explanation of how sugar, like sand, can be melted. The video then explains why isomalt is used to make edible glass hearts (melting point) and how it can be done at home with the supervision of a parent. Like all SciShow Kids videos the description includes lots of links to additional resources including this one that has written directions

Why Do We Love? is a TED-Ed lesson that explores some philosophies on why people love. The lesson won't provide you with any clear answers, but it will make you think. And isn't that what philosophers want you to do?

The following video from It's Okay To Be Smart (produced by PBS Digital Studios) explains why humans kiss, the history of symbols associated with kissing, and some cultural views of kissing. When I saw this video I immediately thought of my friends who teach middle school and high school health classes.

The following fun video, also from It's Okay to Smart, attempts to use math to determine the odds of a 25 year old woman finding love in New York. (Remember, the video is just for fun).