I haven't had to use it for a few years, but I do remember Infinite Campus' gradebook being infinitely frustrating. This morning, thanks to Larry Ferlazzo, I learned that the Infinite Campus gradebook is still frustrating to set-up. Larry shared a new Infinite Campus gradebook tutorial video created by a teacher named Ed Maltbie. Ed also published written directions for setting-up your Infinite Campus gradebook, but you'll have to visit Larry's blog post to get those.

Thanks to Ed for making the video and thanks to Larry for sharing.

In a post earlier today I shared an explanation of the Mystery Skype game and some places to find partners to play the game. But if you're not sure how to get started, Microsoft offers a detailed overview in the form of Become a Mystery Skype Master.

Become a Mystery Skype Master is a nine part course that walks you through almost everything you need to know to conduct Mystery Skype activities. The only thing it doesn't teach you is how to install Skype. (There are lots of YouTube videos about how to do that). The course includes ideas for variations on the "traditional" Mystery Skype activity,  how to use Mystery Skype if students speak different languages, and how to find Mystery Skype partners. In the course you will also find some practical classroom management tips for making your Mystery Skype activities run smoothly. You can watch the following video to learn those tips.

Last week I reTweeted someone's request to find a partner for a Mystery Skype activity. That generated some new connections, but it also generated a few questions from people who wanted to know what Mystery Skype is and what it entails.

What is Mystery Skype?

Mystery Skype is an activity in which you connect your classroom to another classroom somewhere in the world via Skype. The focus of the activity is to have students guess where in the world the classroom is located based on their knowledge of geography and culture. When the classes connect students aren't allowed to simply ask "where are you?" Instead, they have to ask questions like "are you north or south of 45N?" The students answering should only give "yes" or "no" answers. Watch the following video to see Mystery Skype activities in action.

Where to Find Mystery Skype Partners

Members of Microsoft's free educators community can complete their profiles to indicate that they are interested in participating in Mystery Skype activities. You can also find a list of potential Mystery Skype partners here.

If you're not a member of Microsoft's educators community you can try to find Mystery Skype partners through one of the many Facebook groups about Mystery Skype. And if you're on Twitter, try Tweeting with the hashtag #mysteryskype to find potential Mystery Skype partners.

Vocabulary.com is an excellent vocabulary study service offering thousands of vocabulary practice lists and activities for students in elementary school through graduate school. In addition to lists of SAT, GRE, and other test prep words, you can find vocabulary lists that are attached to novels, historical documents, famous speeches, and current news articles.

When you sign up for Vocabulary.com you will be given an assessment quiz in order to give you suggested lists with which to start your practice. After completing the assessment you can use the practice lists suggested by Vocabulary.com or choose your own lists from the huge gallery of vocabulary lists.

Applications for Education

One of the aspects of the Vocabulary.com activities that I like is the instant feedback for every practice question a student attempts. As you can see in the image above, if a student answers incorrectly on his first attempt, he will see the definition and the word in context.

The Digital Scholarship Lab at the University of Richmond hosts the Atlas of the Historical Geography of the United States. This online atlas contains more than 700 historical maps of the United States. The maps within the atlas are arranged into eighteen sections. As a student and teacher of history I was drawn to the sections devoted to population, territorial expansion, political parties and elections, and military history.

Many of the maps within the Atlas of the Historical Geography of the United States can be animated to show changes over time. For example, in the section on States, Territories, and Cities you can view individual maps for each decade from 1790 to 1930 or you can click the "animate" button to see the maps put together in a time lapse animation. All of the historical maps in the Atlas of the Historical Geography of the United States are displayed on top of a contemporary outline of the United States.

Many of the maps have interactive elements. For example, in the section on Political Parties and Opinions you can click on a county or state to see how people voted in that area.

To help students understand what they are seeing on each map, the Atlas of  the Historical Geography of the United States includes a text option that can be selected while viewing a map. Clicking the "text" box will display relevant information in the sidebar of the map.

Applications for Education

The Atlas of the Historical Geography of the United States is a treasure trove of resources for teachers and students of U.S. History. In looking through the maps I could see a number of activities in which students compare maps from two categories and try to develop correlations between them. For example, I might ask students to compare maps from the section on Transportation with maps from the section on Boundaries.

Trying to schedule a meeting with just one other party can sometimes be challenge. Throw in a second, third, or fourth party as often happens with IEP meetings and picking a meeting time can feel like an impossible task. Fortunately, there are some tools that can make scheduling meeting times a little bit easier than exchanging volleys of email messages.

Choice Eliminator

Choice Eliminator is a Google Forms Add-on that lets you create a Form on which choices disappear after they have been used. For example, if I create a Google Form that has ten meeting times listed on it, once a meeting time has been selected it will disappear from the options available to subsequent visitors. Using Choice Eliminator is a good option for teachers who have personal Google Accounts, but don't have G Suite for Education accounts. Watch the following video to learn how to use Choice Eliminator.


Doodle is a free tool for scheduling group meetings with the input of all group members. Doodle is essentially a polling platform. To use Doodle you create a meeting title, select a series of dates and times for a possible meeting, then invite people to choose the dates and times that work best for them. As the administrator of a scheduling poll you can set the final meeting time based on the most commonly selected date and time. Watch the video below for complete directions on how to use Doodle.


Calendly is a tool that integrates with your Google Calendar and makes it easy to create appointment slots with just a click or two. More importantly, people who want to schedule an appointment with you just have to click a time on your calendar and enter their names in order to reserve an appointment. Visitors do not have to have a Google Account to view or enter information into an appointment slot. Visitors who make appointments with you through Calendly can sync the appointment to their own Google Calendars, iCal, or Outlook calendars.

Good evening from Maine where it is a crisp, cool early fall evening. The change of seasons is one of my favorite things about living in northern New England. Yesterday afternoon I had a great time walking in the woods with my dogs. Today, we had fun taking our kids for a walk along a river. I hope that wherever you are having a great weekend too. If part of your weekend includes catching up on some tech reading, take a look at the following list of the most popular posts of the week on Free Technology for Teachers.

These were the week's most popular posts:

1. Two New Google Classroom Features That Everyone Has Been Asking For!

2. ReadWorks Now Integrates With Google Classroom

3. Poetry 180 - A Poem for Every Day of the School Year

4. 250 Google Tools Tutorials for Teachers

5. 5 Multimedia Projects for Social Studies Classes

6. Twine - Write Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Stories

7. How to Use Yo Teach! to Create a Classroom Backchannel

I'll Come to Your School This Year!

If you would like to have me lead a professional development day at your school during this school year, please send me an email at richardbyrne (at) freetech4teachers.com - or click here for more information about my professional development services.

Book Me for Your Conference

I’ve given keynotes at conferences from Australia to Alaska for groups of all sizes from 50 to 2,000+. My keynotes focus on providing teachers and school administrators with practical ways to use technology to create better learning experiences for all students. I like to shine the light on others and so I often share examples of great work done by others as well as my own. Send an email to richardbyrne (at) freetech4teachers.com book me today.

Please visit the official advertisers that help keep this blog going.

Practical Ed Tech is the brand through which I offer PD webinars.

TypingClub offers more than 600 typing lessons for kids. 
Storyboard That is my go-to tool for creating storyboards.

Book Creator is a great tool for creating multimedia books.

Kami is a great tool for annotating and collaborating on PDFs. 
University of Maryland Baltimore County offers a great program on instructional design.

Instagram recently released published a fairly comprehensive guide for parents. A Parent's Guide to Instagram, available to read online as well as download as a PDF, is intended to help parents understand how kids are using Instagram and how they can help their children use Instagram in a responsible manner. To that end the guide include a glossary of terms and discussion questions for talking with kids about their Instagram use. The guide also includes directions on how to use adjust privacy settings, how to block users, how to manage comments, and how to monitor time spent using the Instagram app.

The online version of A Parent's Guide to Instagram includes a video of parents who work at Instagram talking about how their kids use Instagram. The online version of the guide includes interactive modules through which parents can see how to access important settings in the Instagram app. One setting that even experienced Instagram parents might be surprised to find is the setting for monitoring how much time is spent using the app and the setting to have a reminder sent when a set daily limit of time on the app has been reached.

Applications for Education

As you prepare for open house night or the first parent-teacher conferences of the year, consider bookmarking A Parent's Guide to Instagram and referring parents to it if and when they ask you about how manage their students' use of social media. The discussion questions in the guide could be used by you in a classroom setting as well as by parents talking to their kids at home.

H/T to Make Use Of

At the end of yesterday's post about making printable story cubes I mentioned that I'm hosting a free webinar next week. The webinar will go into detail about using the printable story cube and other handout templates that are offered by Storyboard That. Storyboard That is a great tool for those who don't consider themselves to be artistically-inclined because Storyboard That offers more than 40,000 pieces of artwork that you can drag and drop to make great designs. And next Tuesday at 4pm Eastern Time you can learn all about how to make great looking handouts through Storyboard That.

In Making Great Handouts With Storyboard That Templates you will learn how you can use the features of Storyboard That to create great-looking worksheets, story cubes, and instructional templates.

And for the entrepreneurial teacher, this webinar will include ideas on making worksheets and other handouts to sell on places like Teachers Pay Teachers and Gumroad.

Register here for Making Great Handouts With Storyboard That Templates.

The webinar will be recorded for those who cannot attend the live broadcast. Everyone who is registered will be sent a copy of the recording, there is no need to email me to request a copy of the recording.

In the next weeks I'll be spending quite a bit of time working in elementary school classrooms that are equipped with iPads. One of the things that I'll be doing is helping teachers help their students make short videos. These are some of the apps that we'll be using. Teachers will try them with me and then decide which one they want to have their students. (The criteria for selection will be discussed in a future blog post here on Free Technology for Teachers).

Draw and Tell is a free iPad app that students can use to draw scenes on blank pages or to color coloring pages provided in the app. After creating their drawings or coloring a page, students can then record themselves talking about the drawings. That's an easy way for kids to tell a short story and save it in video form.

ChatterPix Kids comes from the same developers as Draw and Tell. ChatterPix Kids is a free iPad app that students can use to turn pictures into talking pictures. To create a talking picture just snap a picture with your iPad or import a picture from your iPad’s camera roll. After taking the picture just draw in a face and tap the record button to make your picture talk. Your recording can be up to thirty seconds in length. Before publishing your talking picture you can add fun stickers, text, and frames to your picture. Using ChatterPix Kids can be a great way to get students to bring simple stories to life.

Shadow Puppet Edu has been one of my go-to apps since its launch nearly five years ago. The free iPad app can be used by students to create audio slideshow videos. The app offers an integrated search tool for finding pictures from the Library of Congress, to search for images from NASA, and to find Creative Commons licensed images from Flickr. You can also import pictures and videos from the camera roll on your iPad. After selecting a set of images students you can arrange them into any sequence by simply dragging and dropping them into order. Then to create a story press the record button and talk while flipping through your images. Like the previous two apps listed in this post, Shadow Puppet Edu does not require students to create accounts or have a log-in ID.

Toontastic 3D is an app for making animated videos. The app provides students with three basic templates to follow and then customize each scene within their chosen templates. Their options are "short story" (a three part story), "classic" (a five part story), or "science report." Once they have selected a story type they will be prompted to craft each part of their stories in order. A short description of what each part of the story should do is included before students start each section. Students can pick from a variety of story setting templates or they can create their own within Toontastic 3D. Once they have established a background setting students then select cartoon characters to use in their stories. Students can choose from a wide array of customizable cartoon characters or they can create their own from scratch. After the characters are placed into the story scenes students can begin recording themselves talking while moving the characters around in each scene. Students can swap characters between scenes, change the appearance of characters between scenes, and move characters from one scene to the next.

Adobe Spark Edu is a relatively new version of Adobe Spark. The education version enables school districts to create accounts and grant students access to Adobe Spark's tools. It is because of the education version that I can recommend Adobe Spark Video for some elementary school classes. Adobe Spark Video is a good app for making audio slideshow style videos. Students assemble a series of pictures then record themselves talking about each slide. The pictures that students use can imported from their iPads or selected from the integrated image search results within the app. Students can also write on each slide. When writing on a slide, the font is automatically adjusted to fit in the space available. This is the app that I often recommend for making things like short history videos or a "highlights" video.