Monday, July 25, 2022

Double Rainbow Lessons!

My daughters love rainbows. They have rainbow dresses, rainbow bracelets, rainbow stickers, and anything else that can have a rainbow on it. So they were super excited last week when we saw a double rainbow from our front porch! (You can look on my Instagram for better pictures of it than the one in this post). Their excitement and later questions about how rainbows are made prompted this post. If you have children in your life who are curious about how rainbows are made, the following two videos are for you. 

How to Make a Rainbow is a SciShow Kids video that I featured when it was released about six years ago. The video gives directions for a little activity in which kids can make rainbows appear on white paper by properly positioning a glass of water in front of ray of sunlight. The video then goes on to explain what makes rainbows appear outside. 

How Rainbows Form is a Physics Girl video that goes a bit beyond the basics that the SciShow Kids video covered. How Rainbows Form explains dispersion and refraction of light. The video also explains what causes the colors of the rainbow to appear in the order we see them. Finally, at the end of the video viewers learn what causes the appearance of a double rainbow.

Five Ways TARA Can Help You Save Time This Fall

Disclosure: TARA is currently an advertiser on

At the end of the last school year I spent some time exploring a new edtech tool called TARA. It’s a service that solves problems for new teachers and veteran teachers. Those problems are having more time to do the parts of your job that you love and finding new resources and ideas to bring into your lesson plans. As the new school year approaches TARA is adding more features for teachers and coaches that could prove to be tremendously helpful this fall.

#1 -TARA Helps You Quickly Find New Strategies
The resource bank is probably my favorite feature of TARA. That’s because the resource bank contains more than six dozen instructional strategies that you can incorporate into your lesson plans that you create in TARA (more on that in the video at the end of this post). The strategies include templates for handouts that you can use in your lesson plan. Most importantly, the strategies in TARA’s resource bank include tips on how to use the strategies and additional readings about strategy implementation. For example, the close reading strategy tips include a link to this helpful guide from the Harvard College Writing Center.
The resource bank is obviously a good resource for new teachers but it shouldn’t be overlooked by experienced teachers. When you feel like you’re stuck in a rut or your “old reliable” lesson plan isn’t clicking with kids anymore, browse through TARA’s resource bank for some inspiration for a new strategy to try.

#2 - Faster Lesson Planning and Modification
TARA is designed to be a complete lesson planning tool. To that end, you can write your lesson plans inside of your free TARA dashboard and add supporting resources like handouts from the resource bank to your lesson plans. Once your lesson plan is assembled it’s automatically added to your planning calendar. The best feature of that calendar is that if you’ve created a multiple day lesson plan that you later need to shift (because there was a surprise fire drill that interrupted your day), when you move one part of the lesson plan the rest will shift with it.
Another helpful component of TARA’s free lesson planning tool is that you can tag all of your lesson plans with standards. Currently TARA supports Common Core standards and most state standards (all states will be available this fall).

Finally, if you’ve created a lesson plan that worked well and you want to use the same framework for a future lesson, you can do that in your free TARA account. To do that simply click “create new template” in the lesson planner then paste in the information from the lesson that you want to use as a template. Instructional coaches or administrators using TARA can use the lesson planning tool to create templates to share with teachers.

#3 - Create Shortcuts to Your Frequently Used Resources
In your free TARA account you have a homepage called HQ that you can customize. On your HQ you can place shortcuts to your most frequently used online resources like Infinite Campus, Google Classroom, and Kahoot. You also include shortcuts to resources that are in PDF or Word format. Shortcuts to frequently used resources is only one half of your HQ page. The other half contains your to-do list, a notepad, the resource bank mentioned earlier, and a progress monitoring tab.
#4 - To-do Lists With Attachments and Sharing
Take a look at my screenshot above and you’ll see that my to-do list has a place for attachments, due dates, and sharing. Just the act of writing a to-do list can give you a bit of focus for the day. Beyond that, having attachments to the tasks on your to-do list can be a time-saver when you actually start the task. TARA does have a collaboration component for teaching teams which means that you can share your to-do list to divide and conquer tasks with your team.

#5 - Streamlined Progress Monitoring for Teachers and Administrators
The first four items in this post focused on streamlining lesson planning and task management in TARA. There’s another aspect to TARA that’s equally valuable. That aspect is progress monitoring and coaching.

Teachers can use TARA to keep track of individual students’ progress toward specific goals or objectives. This aspect of TARA was designed for students who have IEPs, but it could be used for any student. In the HQ of your TARA teacher account you can click on the “progress” tab to record observations about their students. Watch this short video to learn more about progress monitoring in TARA.

TARA offers accounts for administrators and instructional coaches to use to give teachers feedback on lesson plans. Administrator accounts also include a place to record notes during observations and then share those observations. The flow of teachers sharing lesson plans and administrators giving feedback is just as quick and more structured than using a collaborative document like Google Docs or Word online.

Get Started Using TARA Today!
Teachers can sign up for free to use TARA right now. After you register I’d start by adding some shortcuts to things like your LMS and most-used resources onto your TARA HQ page. Once that’s done you’ll want to create some classes and start writing lessons. Have a favorite lesson plan already in Google Docs, Word, or PDF? If so, you can import that into your TARA account. Finally, dig around in the resources tab in TARA and look at some of the strategies you might want to use in a new or updated lesson this fall.

Watch the following short demo video to see how TARA works for teachers.

Sunday, July 24, 2022

Two More Tools That Can Help Students Stay Focused on Online Tasks

On Friday morning I shared a browser extension called BeTimeful that limits your access to social media sites during your working hours. As I wrote in that blog post, there are similar tools worth noting. Here's a short overview of some tools that can help students remove distractions and stay focused while working online.

StayFocusd is a Chrome extension that I've used for years whenever I feel like I'm falling into the bad habit of chasing rabbit holes on the internet. StayFocusd lets me specify the sites that I want to block from myself or limit my time spent viewing them. After specifying the sites and the amount of time I'll allow myself on them, a countdown timer appears whenever I view those sites. The timer resets every 24 hours.

Pomofocus is a task timer that is based on the Pomodoro method of getting things done. On Pomofocus I create a list of tasks then start the timer. Each task is allotted 25 minutes (you can adjust that). After 25 minutes there is a five minute break timer that automatically appears. After the break the next task timer appears.

Saturday, July 23, 2022

Math, Sounds, and Baseball - The Week in Review

Good evening from Cooperstown, NY where my brother and I are attending David Ortiz's induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame tomorrow. We spent some of today attending a parade of Hall of Famers and earlier in the day I explored the area on my bike. Check out my Twitter or Instagram accounts for some pictures from the day. Wherever you are this weekend, I hope you're also doing something fun. 

These were the week's most popular posts:
1. Pictures as Math Problem Prompts
2. A Great Place to Find Free Sound Effects
3. Custom Tables in Google Docs
4. New Text Formatting Options in Google Forms
5. Try the Fact Check Explorer
6. Create and Share Collections in Bing Maps
7. Arts, Culture, and Geography Games to Share in Google Classroom

50 Tech Tuesday Tips!
50 Tech Tuesday Tips is an eBook that I created with busy tech coaches, tech integrators, and media specialists in mind. In it you'll find 50 ideas and tutorials that you can use as the basis of your own short PD sessions. Get a copy today!

July and August Webinars!
This summer I'm hosting a series of Practical Ed Tech webinars. There are three left in the series. You learn more and register through the links below.
Other Places to Follow Me:
  • The Practical Ed Tech Newsletter comes out every Sunday evening/ Monday morning. It features my favorite tip of the week and the week's most popular posts from Free Technology for Teachers.
  • My YouTube channel has more than 42,000 subscribers watching my short tutorial videos on a wide array of educational technology tools. 
  • I've been Tweeting as @rmbyrne for fifteen years. 
  • The Free Technology for Teachers Facebook page features new and old posts from this blog throughout the week. 
  • If you're curious about my life outside of education, you can follow me on Instagram or Strava.
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 Icons Daily and Daily Dose. Featured image captured by Richard Byrne.

PhET Virtual Workshops for Teachers

PhET is one of my top resource recommendations for math and science teachers. PhET offers more than one hundred online, interactive simulations for teaching concepts in mathematics, physics, chemistry, earth science, and biology. Those simulations can be used on PhET's website and they can be embedded into your website for your students to use

If you're a math or science teacher who wants to take a deep dive into how to best utilize PhET's interactive simulations in your classroom, you may want to work through PhET's virtual workshops. The workshops include videos recorded at in-person PhET workshops along with practice activities and resource handouts for teachers. 

PhET offers a workshop specifically for math teachers who have computers for every student in their classroom. That workshop is roughly five hours long. There is another workshop that provides a comprehensive overview of everything that PhET offers and the ways in which the simulations can be used in your classroom. That workshop is roughly twenty-one hours long.

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