Friday Tech Focus Archive 2014-15

Friday June 13

 World Digital Library is a joint project of the U.S. Library of Congress and UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization) and provides primary materials from all over the world free on the Internet.  Students and teachers can discover and study these documents in a number of ways.  Some of the types of materials available are:  books, manuscripts, maps, newspapers, journals, prints and photographs, sound recordings, and films.  They can be searched by place, time, topic, type of item, language and contributing institution.  Detailed descriptions of each explain their significance and historical context.  Some of the other features available on this site include timelines and interactive maps.  All items are described in 7 languages and also can be listened to in a text-to-voice conversion, also available in seven languages.   The mission of gooru is to “make high-quality educational resources free and accessible.”  There are thousands of K – 12 resources searchable by grade level, discipline and standard.  They aim to “make the web work for your classroom to personalize learning for your students.” How do they do this?  By providing a way for educators to remix and uses over 16 million interactive websites, videos and resources that have been teacher vetted. Teachers create collections that can be shared with students in a very user friendly interface. As we move toward computers in every classroom, gooru looks like it will be a very valuable tool to deliver content to students and provide them with online lessons and activities.  

Friday May 29

 PBS Learning Media  is a resource for teachers, similar to Discovery Education, but FREE! There are thousands of digital resource for grades Pre-K through high school , all aligned to the Common Core standards and ready to use in the classroom. 

Teachers need to create an account and can then assign content to their students and can save “favorites” for easy reference. The site is searchable by grade level, standard and subject. Contributors to the site are 80 PBS stations and other sources such as the National Archives, Jim Henson Company, Annenberg Media and the Library of Congress.

Two new features are of special interest: StoryBoard and Lesson Builder. The StoryBoard allows teachers to create collections of videos, text and images organized around a topic or standard and share with students. The Lesson Builder allows teachers to include assessment questions in the activities.

Friday May 15

 Canva is a free Web 2.0 tool that allows you or your students to create attractive presentations, posters, infographics, etc. using templates and free graphics.  (Yes, there are some that cost $1.00 but SO many that are free that you don't need them. Plus you can upload and use your own.)

It's so easy to use and you can then save as a PDF for printing and distributing, if you choose.  Here is a great website describing how you might use Canva with your students:

7 Creative Student Design Projects to Try with Canva 

Friday, May 8

 The Smithsonian Tween Tribune

I can’t believe this site is FREE! There are so many sites like this that baffle me – because of how great they are and the fact that they are free.

I guess I should not be so skeptical about this one because it is sponsored by one of our national treasures: the Smithsonian.

If you are familiar with Newsela, this site is very similar but ALL free.

Here’s what it is and does, taken right from the FAQ:

Tween Tribune is a free online educational service offered by the Smithsonian for use by K-12 grade Teachers and students. TTribune consists of daily news sites for kids, tweens, and teens, and includes text, photos, graphics, and audio and/or video materials prepared by the Smithsonian and others about current events, history, art, culture and science. TTribune also includes lessons, instructional and assessment tools, and opportunities for the registered users to communicate with other participants. TTribune is a moderated comment sharing community where registered teachers can assign educational content (like news stories) to students and the students using a screen name have the ability to create comments which, if approved by their teacher, are then published either to the other students within the Teacher’s TTribune classroom page, or publicly on TTribune.

Oh, did I forget to mention that there is a section in Spanish???

Use the menu bar at the top to find articles for your grade level range.

Friday, April 24


This site allows you and your students to tell stories with images. It can be used in just about any grade level or curricular area. Find an image (give appropriate credit, of course) and “tag” it with text boxes, links to websites, other images and even videos. Here is an example found on the site about the Hubble Telescope at 25:

Make sure that you join the site as an educator; you will get 100 student accounts that you can monitor and link to and the students will not need email addresses to participate. They will just get a “join” code from you as their teacher.

This is also a great teacher tool to focus your students’ learning. Find an image, tag and and post it on your webpage or show on your SMART Board. Here is an example of a thinglink created by a teacher for students. Note also that this example is integrated with google docs (something you can learn about this summer!)


Today’s second site was suggested by Scott Staub at Lakeland High School. It is a presentation tool that allows you as a teacher to share out to the students the content that you are showing in class. If you are aware of the tool Nearpod, it is very similar to that. It requires each student to have a device (which could be a Smartphone). The teacher controls the presentation and students can respond to the  planned or spontaneous questions on their own device. You, as the teacher, collect that data. Students can answer all types of questions. And those responses can be shared anonymously with the rest of the class in real time. The free version has some limitations, but it’s always good to start with the free version to see if the tool fits the need. If you try it out, I’d love to hear how it goes. We’ll be looking at similar tools as we move forward with our technology planning. There are a number of similar tools that do things that peardeck does. Certainly, it makes for an interactive classroom environment.

Friday, April 10, 2015
 Crash Course and Crash Course Kids

 If you are a middle or high school teacher, you probably know aboutCrash Course, the collection of videos on YouTube that are funny, informative, educational and engaging. These videos are very fast-paced and may need to be viewed a couple of times by students in order to take in all of the information, but they are funny while being fact-filled.  The topics are far-reaching: Biology, World History, U.S. History, Chemistry, Psychology, Astronomy, Ecology, Anatomy and even Literature. The videos are available on YouTube but also linked from sites such as PBS Learning Media and the Khan Academy.

Here is a link to the page on the PBS site:

(I highly recommend using the PBS site rather than the YouTube site because it has additional resources related to the content.)

Now, there is a Crash Course site for elementary students as well!

Crash Course Kids uses the same format Crash Course but in language and with content suitable for younger students.  These are also quite fast-paced, but are entertaining and engaging for the younger students.  Currently the Crash Course Kidssite only has science content, but I expect that to change soon.

Check these out!!  Using a tool like Zaption (see information below) is perfect for sites like these.

March 21, 2015

 How many times have you wanted to find websites for your students that were age appropriate and that were suitable for their reading levels? It’s a big challenge for educators!

On its home page Choosito asks, “What if it were possible to read every site on the web and pick the best for your students?”

“Choosito! is an internet search assistant that filters content based on quality and subject matter and optimizes it for student's reading level.” ( April 2014)

Students can use Choosito for their internet searches in a specific subject area and will see only those sites tailored to their reading level. Apparently, the site can analyze the complexity of the reading material and will then categorize into four levels: elementary, elementary+, middle school+ and high school+.

Teachers can use the functions available to customize search filters for their students AND they can create custom libraries that are only accessible to their own classroom and school. 

Choosito includes two basic sections: 

  • Choosito Web - a safe environment for Internet searching that is curated by the Choosito staff and filters out inappropriate content and sites that are opinion-based or user generated.
  • Choosito Library - The Library is “curated” by educators. In other words, teachers can add resources to the general Library but they must be moderated and approved before they become part of this Library.

Where to start? Probably with Choosito Library.

Your feedback on this site will be greatly appreciated! It looks promising, but until enough of you try it out, the jury is out. Of course, the more teachers who use it and add to it, the better it will be. Be sure to sign up for your free account so that you can take full advantage of the potential it offers.

March 14, 2015

 If you are not familiar with, it’s a site that many teachers will find useful, from Kindergarten through high school.  There are so many different “gadgets” to explore and use for free.  The simplest are classroom timers and QR Code Treasure Hunt Generators, but you can also design more complex games to use with your students. The site is free (there is an ad-free version to purchase for about $30 a year). 

There are so many tools here to describe, so I’ll just focus on one in this week’s Tech Focus.  It’s the Fake Text Message Exchange Generator. Create fake text message exchanges between historical figures, characters in a book, scientists, etc. These can be saved and shared.  Here’s one I did for today, Pi Day: 

If you know how, you can embed these in a webpage, like this:

Students can create these exchanges and save them to present and share. No log in is required for the free version (but the ads bother me of course.) At the lower grades, these can be done as a large group activity.

Here’s a How To video created by Richard Byrne

March 6, 2015

 You all probably know that we have a subscription to Discovery Education but what you probably don't know is HOW MUCH IS AVAILABLE through that service. It's not just about videos!!!

If I included everything in this email, you wouldn't bother reading would be too long!

I just attended a workshop this week that introduced me to some new content that I was not aware of, so I will share a bit of that with you - and encourage you to explore the site and find so much good material for your classroom.

And remember, ALL students have been entered into the system as well, and can access the content as well. You can set up your classes using the student information that has been uploaded and share this information with them. You can assign them projects to do (like Board Builder).

In the workshop, the presenter handed out to us an SOS ("Spotlight on Strategies") and each of us looked it over and we discussed with the group. I have attached one for you here.  These help you take content from Discovery Education and integrate it with other tools and strategies for engaging lessons that can be modified, tweaked, etc.  In a lot of cases, the SOS will be a springboard for your own ideas.

How do you find these? In the Search box at the top, in the "Enter Keyword(s)" area, type in Spotlight on Strategies."  You will get about 75 different documents.

Another thing to try is to leave Keywords blank and in the menu that pops up enter your grade level and then in the Media type box, choose the heading "Teach" and then "activities."

This is just a start to what you can find and do with this wonderful resource.  We could easily do a 15 hour course on Discovery Education alone!

If you need some help navigating or exploring the site, please don't hesitate to call upon me.

February 27, 2015 At the high school Technology Committee meeting, we talked about online collaboration. One of the science teachers was mentioning how it would be nice to have each student see materials that a teacher or other student shared from a device, with the ability to comment, contribute, etc. There are some tools that do this. I found one last week, called Stoodle, which seems to have some potential.

Of course, it requires that each student have a device, and it seems like any type will work.  (I didn’t try on my phone, however.)

Here’s what the site claims you get:

  • Real-time collaboration on a virtual whiteboard with infinite pages 
  • Real-time communication through voice conferencing and text chat (have not tried)
  • Permanent storage of all classrooms for later access 
  • Support for image uploading 
  • Access to basic drawing tools and colors

How can you use this?

  • Teachers can upload images for students to see and interact with
  • Students can work together from home and have study sessions
  • Teachers can have “office hours” after school

So the best way to see how this works is to invite you to my Stoodle that I set up. No need for an account – just go to this url and put in your name and contribute! It will be a true test of how this tool works

There’s a video on Youtube from Richard Byrne that I tried to link and/or upload, but you’ll see that I couldn’t get it to work. Here is a link to that video

I also could not test the microphone because I had no one else online when I created the Stoodle.

February 20, 2015

 Annenberg Learner Interactive

Annenberg Learner is a wonderful site that has been around for quite some time and is continually expanding with excellent resources. The section “Interactives” has something for just about everyone!

You can filter by grade level, discipline and audience (teacher or student). For example, when I filtered for grades 3 – 5 Literature and Language Arts, 29 activities came up, ranging from “Assessing Comprehension” using fables to “Evaluating Websites.”

Filtering by 9 - 12 Foreign Language yielded 13 activities.

Some require you to log in and your work is saved on the site for a limited time. Read the instructions.

The interactivities include lesson ideas, worksheets, detailed instructions and ways for teachers and students to fill out forms online while completing the interactive elements.


February 7, 2015


 CK-12 is a nonprofit foundation that creates and aggregates STEM content. Teachers and students set up a free account and can then access over 15,000 free resources ranging from texts, video, audio, images and interactive materials. Topics range from algebra to life science and engineering. For the most part, these resources are geared toward middle and high school.

Of interest to elementary teachers, however, is a new collection of resources for use in the elementary math classroom.

My favorite part of this site is called “Explore Modalities.” Here you will find simulations and “PLIX,” which are interactivities for the science and math classrooms. Here’s one I had fun with: Vision Bricks, Vision and the Eye.

January 30, 2015

 Sometimes I get  really jealous ......when I find great stuff that other people have put together. I say to myself, "Why didn't I do that!?" And then I say to myself, "I didn't have to! Someone already did it!"

Here's a case of something that stirs up that jealousy, and gratitude that it's been done:

The Ultimate SMART Survival Guide by Lorrie Moore (of the North East Independent School District in San Antonio, TX) is a website with an amazing number of resources to help you integrate SMART Board technology into your curriculum. There are videos, lessons, a slew of PDF's to download, information about free widgets that can be used with SMART Notebook, and LOTS more.

One caveat....some of the materials are available only to subscribers of Atomic Learning* and some materials require you to log into Google Drive and request access to the documents.

Overall, however, there is so much available that is easily accessible, down-loadable and yours to use.

January 23, 2015

What to do on a snowy weekend day?  If you are up for exploring some resources for your classroom, try the OER Commons (Open Educational Resources)

 Here is a description of the OER, taken from the site:

"Open Education Resources (OER) are teaching and learning materials freely available for everyone to use, whether you are a teacher or a learner. This includes full courses, modules, syllabi, lectures, homework assignments, quizzes, lab activities, pedagogical materials, games, simulations, and many more resources contained in digital media collections from around the world."

You will want to register and create a log in for this site so that as you find resources you can save them for future reference.

You can browse the site for materials, or do an advanced search wherein you can filter by subject, grade level, material type (lecture, case study, lesson plan, interactive, reading, image, etc.), audience for the resource (for use by students or by teachers), and educational use (prof. development, assessment, curriculum/instruction).

 If you want to explore another similar resource, try Curriki (, a repository for free open resources on the web, categorized so that you can find materials specific to your grade level, discipline, learning goal, etc.

Again, you will want to register so that you can easily return and located resources you have previously found. 

January 16, 2015

Zaption allows you to use a video (from You Tube or other sources or even your OWN video), clip it, trim it, and insert your own questions, images, notations, etc. right into the video.  For example, you can insert a slide at the beginning of the video with an essential question or focus questions to help students focus on certain aspects of the video. After any segment, you can pause and insert comments or questions (both multiple choice and higher order questions for discussion). You can circle important concepts or ideas, or part of an image or diagram.

And probably most valuable, you can get student feedback and answers delivered to your account. Those analytics tell you how much time each student spent viewing the video, how many answers they got correct, etc. 

It's REALLY easy to use.....drag and drop technology at its best. 
Here's a handout for those who like step-by-step instructions: How to Use Zaption.