Friday, September 23, 2022

The Descent of the Serpent - A New Google Arts and Culture Game

This week Google Arts and Culture released a new game for students. The game is called The Descent of the Serpent and it's available to play in your web browser or in the Google Arts and Culture apps for Android and iOS. 

The Descent of the Serpent is a game through which students can learn about civilizations of ancient Mesoamerica. Students play the game from the perspective of one of four characters representative of mythological figures in Mesoamerican culture. Students then navigate through four levels of the game in a quest to find and recover twenty lost objects and return them to Chichen Itza before the solar equinox. 

The game play of The Descent of the Serpent is a little reminiscent of Legend of Zelda (yes, I realize that's a reference point that dates me as a late Gen-Xer). Players navigate through scenes while trying to dodge obstacles and objects in their quest to find the missing artifacts. When players find an artifact they are shown a little bit of information about its history and significance. 

The Descent of the Serpent can be played in story mode or in challenge mode. The story mode allows players to keep playing regardless of how many times they hit a dead-end or get hit by an object. The challenge mode gives players just five "lives" before they lose the game and have to start over. 


Applications for Education

I played The Descent of the Serpent for about 15 minutes this morning then had to force myself to stop because I could have easily gone down a rabbit hole of playing it for much longer (note, I'm not skillful when it comes playing video games in general). I found the little pop-ups of information after finding each artifact interesting. That said, I look at the game as a fun way to introduce students to ancient Mesoamerican history and not as a replacement for complete lessons.


A Helpful Sheet of Google Search Modifiers

A few days ago I highlighted five Google search products that students often overlook. While it is important for students to know about those tools, they first need to know some basics like how to modify their search terms to get different results. 

Years ago Vicki Davis tipped me off to a search modifiers poster published by Google. Yesterday, I checked to see if it is still available online and found that anyone can still download it and print it. This Google Search Modifiers Poster (link opens a PDF) could be a great resource to print and hang in your classroom or library.

Applications for Education
This infographic that I published years ago and the search modifiers poster together make a good set of reminders for students. Print them out and post them in your library, computer lab, or classroom. It should be noted that many of the modifiers featured in the poster can also be found by opening the advanced search menu in Google.  

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Three Ways Focusable is Helping Me Be More Productive

Disclosure: Focusable is currently an advertiser on my websites.

In the past I’ve used browser extensions to block websites that distract me from getting work done during my day, but eventually I would still find a way to distract myself. Recently, I started using a different approach thanks to the help of Focusable. Focusable is not a browser extension. Focusable is a tool to train yourself to focus on the work that you need to do. So far, it has been quite helpful whenever there is something that I need to do, but just can’t seem to get started doing.

I’ve been using Focusable for almost two weeks now. Here are the ways that it has helped me use my time a bit better during my work day.

I can do anything for five minutes!
I can do anything for five minutes. I can use those five minutes to mindlessly scroll Instagram looking for a quick dopamine hit or I can start working on a task that you need to get done. Focusable has helped me use those five minutes to get things done.

In Focusable you create something called “progressions” which is another way of saying goals or tasks that you need to complete. Each progression begins with a five minute block of time. Often, the first step in getting something done is just starting to work on it. Whenever I’ve started a progression in the last two weeks, once I complete the first five minute block I’m ready to keep working on the task at hand. In other words, working for just five minutes is enough to get me in a flow to keep going.

No more “I’m just going to look for a minute” breaks.
Focusable progressions have time blocks of five, ten, and twenty minutes (you can adjust the times, but those are the default recommendations). The goal is to work on your task nonstop during those time blocks. Between each block Focusable prompts you to reflect and breathe. I’ve found it to be a fun exercise to not look away from what I’m working on until I hear the chime from Focusable telling me to stop. Previously, I would just stop and take a break whenever I felt like it, which could mean a break after writing one sentence or after two hours of picking my way through a difficult problem.

Resetting With a Focused Break
For the last month I’ve been working on a particularly vexing problem with one of my websites. I’ve had moments when I wanted to chuck my laptop like a frisbee! It’s in those moments that I need to walk away and reset, but not walk away for too long because then I’ll lose momentum. Focusable has been helpful in not only getting me started when I don’t want to work on the problem and it has also been helpful in reminding me to take a break after thirty-five minutes of working on the problem. At the end of every set of three time blocks, Focusable prompts you to take a break away from your screen for ten minutes.

These focused breaks have also been helpful when I feel like I’m getting annoyed or frustrated while working through my inbox or replying to social media posts. Rather than continuing down a frustrating path that leads to me venting, I have the reminder from Focusable to walk away from my screen.

Learn More About Focusable
Focusable was featured in this week’s Practical Ed Tech Newsletter. In that newsletter I also included this video that provides an overview of how Focusable works from a teacher’s perspective and from a student’s perspective.



By the way, I used Focusable to help me focus on writing this blog post.

Two Ways to Add an Image Search Tool to Your Website

In yesterday's blog post about finding free images for school projects I mentioned that Photos for Class offers a free tool for adding their image search tool to your website. You can do a similar thing if you use Google's Programmable Search tool to create your own image search engine. Both options enable you to add an image search box directly into any page on your Google Site or any other website builder that allows you to embed third-party content. 

In this new video I demonstrate how to add an image search tool to your Google Site by using Photos for Class and Google Programmable Search


Applications for Education
Adding an image search tool into your classroom or library website can be a helpful time-saver to your students. Rather than having to keep track of websites that offer free images or going to Google Images and using the search filters there, students can just go to your website to start their search for free images for their projects. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Expedition Insects - An Interactive Book from the Smithsonian

Expedition Insects is a neat interactive book from the Smithsonian Science Education Center. The book was written to helps students in third through fifth grade learn about insects from all over the world. The book is full of pictures and videos to complement the text. Throughout the book students can click or tap on underlined words to quickly access their definitions.

Expedition Insects was created for the Apple Books (formerly known as iBooks) platform. It is interactive if you read it on a Mac or on an iPad. A non-interactive version of the book is available to read as a PDF.

Applications for Education
By reading and watching the content in Expedition Insects elementary school students can learn about how the insects survive in their respective environments. Students can also learn about the role that insects play in ecosystems.