TeacherMade is a platform for creating online, interactive assignments for your students. I first covered it in the fall of 2020 and since then it has rapidly grown in popularity. One reason for that growth is that TeacherMade lets you take your existing favorite documents and turn them into automatically graded online assignments. You can even use it to add audio to your document-based assignments.

As any good edtech tool should, TeacherMade has continuously made improvements and added features since its inception. The latest round of updates to TeacherMade include some great enhancements to the way that you can provide feedback to your students and the ways that students can complete assignments.

Updates for Teachers!
TeacherMade now offers you the ability to record individualized audio feedback on your students’ assignment submissions. You can also now draw and highlight on your students’ submitted assignments. Doing that should make it a lot easier for students to understand exactly what you’re giving them feedback on. That could be particularly handy when giving feedback on an assignment that has large blocks of text in it. Finally, you can now reward your students with fun stickers and emojis that you add to their submitted assignments.

Updates for Students!
Updates to the feedback tools aren't the only things new in TeacherMade in January. Right after the start of the year TeacherMade introduced new options for assignment creation and assignment completion. Those new options include the ability to let students add math expressions to any assignment even those that don’t specifically list a math problem for students. That option could be useful for STEM assignments that contain open-ended questions or prompts.

One of the other early-January updates to the student experience in TeacherMade is an option to enable students to use special characters when completing assignments. This new option supports diacritical marks and special characters found in French, German, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese.

Updates and Resources for Everyone!
TeacherMade is a company that I’ve seen listen to teachers’ feedback and implement as fast as possible. One of the places they get that feedback is in the TeacherMade Community message board. It’s there that you can connect and share ideas with other teachers who are using TeacherMade. It’s also there that you’ll find activities developed by TeacherMade staff and other teachers that you can copy, modify, and use in your classroom. For example, take a look at this collection of activities for teaching about Martin Luther King, Jr. and this collection of shared holiday activities.

The biggest TeacherMade news by far is that TeacherMade Pro is going to be free for all teachers for the next 60 days! This will give all teachers access to all of TeacherMade’s features including syncing Google Classroom rosters with your TeacherMade account. Syncing the two accounts makes it very easy to post TeacherMade activities as assignments in Google Classroom.

To access TeacherMade Pro you don’t need to do anything more than sign into your existing, free TeacherMade account and follow the prompts for accessing the pro version. If you don’t already have a free TeacherMade account, now is the time to get one.

A Cool Combination With TeacherMade
Canva and TeacherMade is a great combination for folks who would like to make great-looking activities but don’t have either the eye for design or the time to make them. You can utilize any of the more than 2,000 worksheet templates offered by Canva and then import them into your TeacherMade account to create interactive, online activities. Watch this video to learn how easy that process is.


Disclosure: TeacherMade is curently an advertiser on FreeTech4Teachers.com

Yesterday I answered an email from a reader who was looking for a little help with her students' Google Slides projects. The students were creating slideshows about birds and wanted to add some audio to the slides. Using Mote wasn't an option for her students. So my suggestion was to find or record audio outside of Google Slides then upload it to Google Drive before inserting it into the slides. I then created the following video to further explain my solution. 

In this new video I demonstrate two options for adding audio to Google Slides. The first option was to use an audio file that I found on Archive.org. The second option was to use audio that I recorded using Vocaroo. 

Tomorrow at 4pm ET/ 1pm PT Rushton Hurley from Next Vista for Learning and I are hosting the next episode of the second season of Two Ed Tech Guys Take Questions and Share Cool Stuff! We'd love to have you join us! You can register for the session right here

In every episode we answer questions from readers and viewers like you. We also share some cool and interesting things that we've found around the Web. Rushton tends to share cool videos and pictures while I tend to share cool tech tools. And we both try our best to give helpful answers to your questions about all things educational technology. 

Please join us! And feel free to email me in advance with your questions or send them in live during the webinar. 

Recordings and resources from our previous episodes are available on this Next Vista for Learning page

Last week I introduced you to the basics of creating your own educational games with TinyTap’s web-based educational game creation tool. In case you missed it, in that post I outlined how you can create an educational game in which students hear you reading questions aloud and then have to identify objects on the screen. This week we’re going to dive into more of TinyTap’s educational game creation tools including how to use some great drawing and design tools.

One of the things that I look for in any creation tool is the ability to help me, a person who doesn’t have an eye for design, make things that do look good. That’s why I use Canva for presentation design and why I like TinyTap’s Creation Packs and other integrated design tools for making educational games.

Styles and Layouts
When you start the process of creating an educational game with TinyTap you can apply any of the many premade styles and layouts to your game. You can apply these styles and layouts to the whole game or to just one scene within your game. You can even mix and match styles and layouts throughout the game.

Some of the many styles that you’ll find in TinyTap include solid color backgrounds, backgrounds that have gradients and patterns, and frames that you can apply to the background of your game. These are great for matching the look and feel of your game to the content of your game. For example, if I was creating a geography game I would probably pick one of the styles that includes a map in the background.

After selecting a style for your game or section of your game you can then choose a layout for your game or section of it. The default is a blank layout and there are dozens of different layouts that you can choose to use to replace the default layout. Some of those layout options are columns of different widths and frequency (two columns, three columns), grids of different sizes, and grids with circles in place of traditional box shapes. You can mix and match layouts throughout your game.

By using a variety of layout options you can create a game that gets progressively more challenging for players. In the case of building my geography game I might start with a slide that has a grid of four boxes for matching flags to the capitals of the countries they represent. Then as the game progresses I might use a layout that has a grid of six boxes to match flags, capitals, and regions of the world.

Images and Animations
The visuals are a critical component of any good educational game. TinyTap provides easy ways to add visuals to the educational games that you design.

One easy option for adding visuals to your TinyTap game is to upload an image that you have stored on your computer. This could be a photograph, drawing, or animated GIF that you created or one that you have the rights to use. Once you’ve uploaded an image you can resize it by simply clicking and dragging the edges of it. Likewise, you can reposition the image by clicking and dragging it on your screen. There are a few image editing tools available as well. You can use those to remove whitespace and to flip the orientation of your uploaded images.

Using your own images in TinyTap is a good way to create a game in which students learn about their school building, school personnel, or the neighborhood around the school. You could upload images of school personnel to create a game in which elementary school students practice identifying the principal, secretary, guidance counselor, librarian, and nurse.

TinyTap offers an integrated image, drawing, and animation search tool. Through this search tool you can locate royalty-free images, drawings, and animations to use in your games. Simply enter a search term then choose whether you want to find photographs, clip art, line art, or animations. When you find something you like, just click on it to add it to the game scene you’re working on.

Just like with uploaded images, you can use the editing tools with images you find through TinyTap’s integrated image, drawing, and animation search. And one of my favorite parts of the integrated search is that you can specify that you only want background-free images so that you don’t have to worry about images that have distracting backgrounds or that simply don’t match with the general aesthetic of your game.

The integrated search option in TinyTap is useful for creating games about things that you might have a hard time drawing or photographing yourself. Games about animal tracks come to mind when thinking about making a game about things that are difficult to draw well or photograph.

Creation Packs
If you need some inspiration for a game or you went through the image search process above and didn’t find exactly what you were looking for, take a look at the Creation Packs in TinyTap.

Creation Packs are found in the same place as the styles and layouts in TinyTap’s game editor. Creation Packs feature thematically organized premade game styles and artwork to use in your games. Some of the many Creation Packs that you’ll find include “Back to School,” “Feelings,” and “Seasons.” You’ll also find Creation Packs that contain sets of animated icons, animated diagrams, cartoon faces, and cartoon animals. Harkening back to my days of teaching geography, I’m a big fan of the “Flags of the World” Creation Pack. Finally, if there’s a holiday coming up that you’d like to build a game about, there are Creation Packs that can help you do that. I might use the Halloween Creation Pack to build a game about Trick o’ Treating safety for my kids to play next fall.

It’s important to note that you can use all or just some of the elements from a Creation Pack in TinyTap. Furthermore, you can mix and match elements from multiple Creation Packs into one game. In other words, it’s possible to pick a couple of the flags from the “Flags of the World” Creation Pack and use them with content from the “Travel Puzzle” Creation Pack to create a game in which students match the flag to the corresponding country on a map.

Make Your Text Stand Out
As you might expect, TinyTap includes some text editing tools for you to use on every element of the games that you create. The text editing tools solve two problems for me. First, they allow me to create a game in which my students don’t have to rely on audio prompts. Second, the text editing tools let me create text that is easy to see. By using the text editing tools in TinyTap I can adjust the color, size, style, and placement of my text until I’m certain that it’s easy to see and read when students play my game.

See all of these game design tools in action!
I made a video to provide an overview of all of the game design tools mentioned in this blog post. You can watch the video right here. Or if you’re like me and the best way to learn is to just dive in and try things, you can do so by creating a free TinyTap account right here.

Disclosure: TinyTap is an advertiser on FreeTech4Teachers.com

At the end of 2021 I released a new ebook for tech coaches, media specialists, and anyone else who is responsible for delivering short professional development sessions in their schools. The ebook is called 50 Tech Tuesday Tips. It was curated from more than 400 editions of The Practical Ed Tech Newsletter

On January 31st at 4pm ET I'm going to host a webinar just for those who have purchased a copy of 50 Tech Tuesday Tips. If you've already purchased a copy, thank you! You'll be getting an email with webinar information later today. If you haven't yet purchased a copy, get one by January 30th and you'll be able to join us. 

In the webinar, A Framework for Technology Integration, I'll share my framework for helping teachers use technology in meaningful ways in their classrooms. I'll also provide some examples of how I've done it in the past and how you can replicate them in your school.  

About the eBook:

50 Tech Tuesday Tips provides you with ideas for lots of helpful things that you can teach to your colleagues and to students. Throughout the eBook you'll find tutorials and handouts that you can pass along in your school. 

Some of the many things you'll find in 50 Tech Tuesday Tips include:

  • What to do when a web app isn't working as you expect.
  • Building your own search engine.
  • How to create green screen videos.
  • Improving instructional videos. 
  • Streamlining email management.
  • Creating educational games. 
  • DIY app creation.
  • Podcasting tips for teachers and students. 

Get your copy of 50 Tech Tuesday Tips right here!

No, this ebook isn't free but the tools that feature within it is free to use. Creating something like this takes many, many hours but reading it can save you many, many hours. Purchases of 50 Tech Tuesday Tips make it possible for me to create other free resources like The Practical Ed Tech Handbook that I update and give away to thousands of teachers every year.

While standing around watching my daughters' ski lesson on Sunday I ended up chatting with another parent. The conversation inevitably turned to "what do you do?" When she found out what I do she excited, and with a tinge of relief, asked if I had any suggestions for science activities she can do at home with her elementary school age students. My immediate suggestions were to take a look at Exploratorium's Science Snacks and Microsoft's Hacking STEM. 

Exploratorium's Science Snacks website has dozens and dozens of hands-on science and engineering projects for students of all ages. There is a subsection of the site called Family-Friendly Snacks that offers activities specifically designed for parents to do at home with their kids. The vast majority of the projects can be done with common household items. And in response to the COVID-19 outbreak Exploratorium has a selection of activities and videos about viruses.

Hacking STEM is a Microsoft website that offers a couple dozen hands-on science and engineering lessons. The activities are a mix of things that students can probably do on their own and some that probably can't be done without the supervision of a teacher or parent with working knowledge of the concept(s) being taught. For example, the mini solar house project that I've done with ninth grade students was done safely without my direct supervision (I removed the hot glue gun component and had them use tape). But the "party lights" activity on the same page is not something I'd have students do on their own without direct supervision. 

Over the weekend I shared a neat QR code generator called QRToon that lets you create a QR code that includes a cartoon version of yourself in it. Writing that post got me thinking about how far QR codes have come since I first saw them while working for Roadway Package Systems (now called FedEx Ground) in the late 90's. As a package handler and later as a dock coordinator, I hated QR codes because the tiniest smudge and made the code nearly impossible to scan with the big, clunky scanners we had. And generating the QR code labels seemed to take forever. Fast-forward a quarter century and QR codes are easy to make and easy to scan on mobile phones. 

Five Uses for QR Codes in School Settings

Now that QR codes are easy to make and easy to scan with mobile phones and tablets, they can be helpful in accomplishing a lot things in school settings. Here's a short list of ways to consider using QR codes in your school. 
  • Share sign-in/sign-out sheets via QR code. If you're using Google Forms or Microsoft Forms to maintain sign-in/sign-out sheets, post a QR code on the wall of the room to be signed into or out of to make it easy for students or colleagues to access those forms. Here's a demonstration of using QR Code Monkey for that purpose. 
  • Share links to important and frequently updated webpages like the school lunch menu. Last year the daily lunch menu was plastered all over my school in the form of a QR code that students could scan to get the day's menu and place orders in advance. One of the easiest ways to make a QR code for that purpose is to use the QR code generator that is built into Google Chrome. Here's a demo how that works
  • Create QR codes to access voice messages. With the Mote Chrome extension installed you can simply click the Mote icon to record voice notes. When you're done speaking simply click the share button and you'll have an option to view and download a QR code. Anyone who scans your QR code will be able to listen to your voice recording. Watch this short video to learn how you can share voice notes via Mote QR codes.  
  • QR codes can be useful for distributing important contact information to parents and students. QR Code Monkey lets you not only create QR codes for URLs, but also create QR codes to distribute contact information like phone numbers and email addresses. 
  • I forget which school I that I first saw it in, but a handful of years ago I visited a school library in which there was a selection of books that had QR codes inside the dust jacket. The QR codes linked to book trailer videos that students had made about those books. 

How to Make QR Codes
I've linked to a few tutorials above. I'm also listing them below for easier access.

Create QR Codes With QR Code Monkey

Create QR Codes With QRToon

Create QR Codes With Google Chrome

QR codes are handy for making long URLs easy to access on mobile devices. Last year I used QR codes to make my classroom sign-in/sign-out forms easy for students to access on their phones. I typically use either QRCode Monkey or the QR code generator built into Chrome. Recently, I discovered another neat QR code generator called QRToon

Like all QR code generators, QRToon will create a QR code for any URL that you specify. The difference between QRToon and other QR code creators that you might have tried is that QRToon will let you upload a picture to use in your QR code. That picture is then turned into a cartoon version. The QR code in this post includes a cartoon version of a headshot of myself that I uploaded to QRToon. 

Using QRToon is easy and it does not require registration. Simply head to the site, enter the URL that you want to turn into a QR code, and then upload a picture. QRToon will generate the QR code with your cartoonized portrait in it. You can download your QR code as PNG file to print and use wherever you like. 

It's worth noting that QRToon will only work with pictures that have just one human face in them. It didn't work when I tried to use it with pictures that had me and my kids in it. It also didn't work when I tried to use pictures of my dogs and cats.

Applications for Education
Does the world need another QR code generator? Probably not. Is it nice to have a personalized QR code that includes your likeness? Sure. The utility of QRToon is probably in just being able to personalize your QR codes to include your likeness in them for your students to recognize.

By the way, the QR code in this post will direct you to my eBook, 50 Tech Tuesday Tips

Last night one of my daughters asked, "what are freckles?" I did my best to explain that freckles are spots of melanin in our skin. Of course, I then had to try to explain to my five-year-old what melanin is. She then asked why she has freckles and one of her classmates doesn't. That was an answer I couldn't give beyond, "everyone's bodies are a little different." This all led to her trying to count the freckles on my arm. 

After my freckle discussion with my daughter, I turned to my favorite source of kid-friendly science explanations, SciShow Kids. There I found Why Do I Have Freckles? which does a good job of explaining what freckles are, what makes them appear, and why some people don't have any and why some people have lots of them. Should you find yourself trying to explain freckles to children, Why Do I Have Freckles? is a good resource to consult as is the SciShow video Why Do We Get Freckles?
Applications for Education
Besides answering the question of "what are freckles?" both of these videos could be good for introducing some biology concepts to older students. At just three minutes long, both videos are a good length for making online lessons in tools like EDpuzzle or Vialogues.  

PhET is a great resource that I've shared a bunch of times over the years. Recently, I was looking through the site when I noticed that its activity search tool now includes a filter for remote activities. Through this search tool you can locate lesson plans designed for remote instruction and learning. You can combine the remote search filter with any of the other subject, level, and language search filters. Watch this short video to see how it works. 

More About PhET
In the following video I demonstrate how to include PhET's science and math simulations in your Google Site. Those of you who watch the video will also notice that the simulations can also be shared via a direct Google Classroom integration.

Dozens of the PhET simulations are available to insert into PowerPoint presentations through the use of PhET's free PowerPoint Add-in. With the Add-in installed you can browse the available simulations and insert them into your slides. The simulations work in your slide just as they do on the PhET website.