Shout Out to Tech Curriculum Folks–Freebie!

For those of you following the SL Technology Curriculum, you get free weekly videos–for each grade level K-5. Some of you haven’t signed up, but I don’t know who you are (because of the privacy-protecting handles used on Wikispaces).

Here’s one of the videos we did so far this week.

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8 Tech Tools to Get to Know Your Students

The first day of class can be daunting. Students are curious about the new faces around them, intimidated–even frightened by the prospect of so many people they know nothing about. As a teacher, you might feel the same way. You knew everything about last year’s students, got excited when their baseball team won the playoffs, cried with them when a favorite pet passed away, cheered when they got an A  in math. Those details–that intimate knowledge–helped you understand what motivated them so you could differentiate  instruction to reach each of them where they were.

Now, you’re starting over. It would be easy to go around the room and have everyone introduce themselves, but you want the first-day ice-breaker to be more–enriching but fun, to set the tone for the rest of the year. You want students to quickly get comfortable with each other, bond as a group, without turning the classroom into a party room. And, you want an activity they haven’t done so many times in the past it’s boring.

One truth never changes: Students love using ‘I’. There’s no better ice breaker than one where students share about themselves. There’s no better way to discover new friends than have a classmate understand perfectly what you’re saying about a tough soccer game because s/he too plays soccer.

Another truth: Kids love technology. This year, try a get-to-know-you that uses one of the many free online tech tools. How about these ideas:

  • Have students upload a favorite picture of themselves into Thinglink, then add hotlinks (the yellow and red ‘dots’ on the image below) that take visitors to websites, videos, more pictures, or text that share details about the student.


  • Use one of the many free infographic creators (,, or a mindmap like Pearltrees or iMindMap to create a story of the student’s life, summer, or goals. This can include videos, text, images, website links–even the Thinglink above. As students work, they learn how to use programs they aren’t familiar with or refresh tech  knowledge from last year.


  • Create a bright and bold poster using Canva, Smore, Tackk–much simpler than an infographic:

Who am I

  • For a quick project, use an image editor like Lunapic, BigHugeLabs, or PicMonkey to spice up a picture. No text, audio, video–all the information is communicated with a picture and how the student formats it:

tech infused

  • Share an audio story using Voki or Tellagami. Be creative with backgrounds and character details. These take minutes to set up, and not much longer to tape, but can be played from the internet or embedded into student digital portfolios or blogs.


  • Create a collaborative class timeline in Google spreadsheet or Google Draw (or Office365 if you have a class account). Display the project on the smartscreen as students access their student account and add their birthday or an important event in their lives to the joint timeline. They’ll love watching as the timeline is filled out over the class period. When done, embed it to the class blog or website. This introduces students to each other while reviewing/introducing the online tool.

google sheets

  • Have students share information about themselves through Google Forms. Embed the form into the class blog or website, or share the link with students through their GAFE account. As they complete it, populate the results on the class smartscreen for all to see.

class ice breakers

  • Have students play an Excel game with a partner. Spreadsheets become important as students develop the need to analyze, compare and contrast, and find evidence to support conclusions. Turning a spreadsheet into a game makes that daunting six syllable phrase (data analysis) just one syllable–fun. Here’s a link to six of them, everything from Monopoly to a maze to an arena (Image credit: Andrew Warner)

monoply in excel

For the picture-intensive projects above, older students can access their Flikr or FB accounts while youngers use pictures from Google Images or another safe public domain location of your choice. Use this opportunity to teach or review safe search skills.

Once the projects are done, upload or embed them to the class website or student blogs to share with others. Give the students class time to add comments and/or questions to the work of new friends. Not only is this a great ice breaker, it’s a fun introduction to web-based tools students will enjoy incorporating into class projects throughout the school year.

For ice breakers that use mobile devices, check out Jackie Gerstein’s article. For other greater school starters, see Catlin Tucker’s article.

More back-to-school articles:

Do Your Children Need Computers for School?

5 Tech Ed Tools to Use this Fall

163 Websites for Teachers to Integrate Tech into Your Classroom

New Tech Teacher? I Understand You

Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-8 technology for 15 years. She is the editor of a K-8 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum, and author/editor of dozens of technology training books that integrate technology into education. She is webmaster for six blogs, CSG Master Teacher, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, CAEP reviewer, CSTA presentation reviewer, freelance journalist on tech ed topics, a tech ed columnist for, and a weekly contributor to TeachHUB.

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Tech Tip #98: Speed up MS Office with Quick Access Toolbar

tech edAs a working technology teacher, I get hundreds of questions from parents about their home computers, how to do stuff, how to solve problems. Each Tuesday, I’ll share one of those with you. They’re always brief and always focused. Enjoy!

Q: I tend to do the same actions over and over on my MS Office software. How do I create a customized tool bar with my favorite tools?

A: This one is going to improve the quality of your life immediately. It’s so simple, you’ll wish you’d known it months ago.

First, you need Office 2007 or later because earlier versions don’t include the Quick Access toolbar. It looks like this:

quick access toolbar

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How to Set up a Class Internet Start Page–the Movie

I’ve talked a lot of about class internet start pages–where you collect links in one place for student access.  Here’s an article, but for many that’s not enough. They want visual–so I created a movie. Let me know if this answers all your questions:

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Mind-n-Mettle–Great Assessment Tool

Mind-n-Mettle LogoEvery year, I end classes with a game designed to assess student scaffolded knowledge. It’s a game I mash up using ideas from Hollywood Squares and Jeopardy with a touch of Survivor thrown in. Every year, I wish I could find something fresh but easy enough to use that I wouldn’t have to spend hours preparing and then teaching students. But I end up doing it in the time-consuming way I’ve done it every year.

I think I found the solution. It came out of the blue, a contact from the folks at Mind-n-Mettle, asking if I was interested in reviewing their website. The more I looked, the more excited I got. In a nutshell, Mind-n-Mettle is an interactive, quiz-show style game that can be played with individuals or groups on PCs and Mac.  The teacher inputs questions, selects a few settings, and then students play.The game is still in the planning stages, but here are a few images that show the ease with which you can set up and play the game:

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Keyboarding and the Homeschooler

keyboardingHere’s another great article from Catherine Ross on homeschooling and keyboard skills. Catherine Ross is a full-time stay-at-home-mum who believes learning should be enjoyable for young minds. An erstwhile elementary school teacher, Catherine loves coming up with creative ways through which kids can grasp the seemingly difficult concepts of learning easily. She believes that a ‘fun factor’ can go a long way in enhancing kids’ understanding and blogs at

It is nothing short of a struggle to make my 8-year-old daughter sit down at her desk and write a couple of lines at a stretch, without getting up a dozen times in between.But ask her to type out the lines on the computer and she’s happily done with it in less than half the time!

There’s something about ‘working’ on a computer which appeals to all kids; they just don’t seem to comprehend the fact that studies can be related to a computer as well. And this is something I realized early on when I took up homeschooling full-time. If I could use this to my advantage and incorporate some constructive online ‘computer-time’ into my kids’ curriculum, it would probably do them good in the long run and they would enjoy it too.

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How to Prepare Students for PARCC Tests

prepare for parccThis is a reprint of an article I posted last Spring. By starting these tasks in Fall, you’ll be ready when the yearly assessments arrive in April-May:

As part of my online tech teacher persona, I get lots of questions from readers about how to make technology work in an educational environment. This one from Terry is probably on the minds of thousands of teachers:

Any help for identifying and re-enforcing tech skills needed to take the online PARCC tests (coming in 2014-15)? Even a list of computer terms would help; copy, cut, paste, highlight, select; use of keys like tab, delete, insert; alt, ctrl and shift. There does not seem to be any guidelines as to prepping students on the “how to’s” of taking an online test and reading and understanding the directions. It would be great to take advantage of the time we have before the PARCC’s become a reality. Thanks!

Between March 24 and June 6 (2014), more than 4 million students in 36 states and the District of Columbia took near-final versions of the PARCC and Smarter Balanced efforts to test Common Core State Standards learning in the areas of mathematics and English/language arts. Tests were administered via digital devices (though there are options for paper-and-pencil). The tests weren’t intended to produce detailed scores of student performance (that starts next year), but field-testing was crucial to finding out what worked and didn’t in this comprehensive assessment tool, including the human factors like techphobia and sweaty palms (from both students and teachers).

After I got Terry’s email, I polled my PLN to find specific tech areas students needed help with in preparing for the Assessments. I got answers like these:

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Tech Tip #97: How to Add Zip to Your Slow Computer

tech edAs a working technology teacher, I get hundreds of questions from parents about their home computers, how to do stuff, how to solve problems. Each week, I’ll share one of those with you. They’re always brief and always focused. Enjoy!

Q: I have a small netbook which is incredibly slow at starting up. My son seemed to think I could go to the start up menu. Not sure where that is or what to do when I get there! Can you help please?

A: I got this post from an efriend over at my writer’s blog. Here’s what I told her:

There are several potential levels to this fix. Here is the first. If it doesn’t work, let me know and we’ll go to the next level:

  1. Run defrag. Here’s how: Go to the start button (lower left corner), type ‘defrag’ into the search bar. It’ll come up with a ‘defrag’ program. Run it. This helps put your ducks back in a row.
  2. Run malware programs like Spybot and Adaware. If you don’t have those two free programs, download them from
  3. Uninstall unnecessary programs. Here’s how: Go to Start button>Control Panel>Programs and Features. Uninstall those pesky toolbars and other programs that get on your computer when your virtual back is turned. I usually order by ‘date’ to see what the latest installs are and if I wanted them.

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3rd Grade Websites on Economics

economicsEconomics is an authentic topic that can be intimidating if not presented correctly. Here are 4 websites that do a good job of addressing this topic in 3rd grade terms.

  1. BrainPop—a basic introduction to money, in the user-friendly BrainPop way
  2. Coffeeshop Game–students learn the economic ins and outs of running a coffee shop
  3. Minyanland–Students learn how to thrive in a community as they make and spend money. This is a step up in complexity from Moneyville
  4. Moneyville–Students learn how to thrive in a community as they make and spend money.

You can scale this up or down, depending upon the scaffolding your student group has for understanding this topic.

More discussion on economics:

Websites that Teach Your Kids About Money

Weekend Website #52: 7 Sites About Coin Counting

Weekend Websites: 52 Economics Websites

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18 Pluses, 5 Differences, and 9 Tips about Chromebooks in Your Classroom

Do you have chrome books in your school? They’re those lightweight thin laptops that cost almost nothing and are taking the ed world by storm. When asked, teachers don’t say, ‘I got a set of computers for my classroom’. It’s always, ‘I got Chromebooks’ much as they’d say ‘iPads’ to mean a digital device that’s more exciting, useful, and cutting edge than the boring old desktops.

Before I talk about what’s to like and not like about a Chromebook, let’s look at what it is. In the education world, there used to be a battle betwEducation Post It Note Shows Skills Learning And Improvementeen two types of desktop computers: Macs vs. PCs. They both did the same things, but in hugely different ways. And from that difference grew an avid love/hate among their devotees (especially Mac users).

Today, ‘desktop computers’ are only one of the digital devices in the education toolkit. Consider iPads with their focus on the visual, ease of use, engagement of users. Then Chromebooks arrived–able to do ‘most’ of what ‘most’ students need–but it must be through the Cloud.

That gives educators three options (desktops, iPads, Chromebooks) as they select tools to deliver education. The challenge is to understand the differences between these options and select based on personal criteria. That includes classroom needs, infrastructure, and–yes–money. What gives the most service for the least investment?

In this last, I think the debate is settled: Chromebooks win every measure of value for dollar.

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