3 Favorite Classroom Apps

Here’s an excellent collection of great apps for your classroom — to cover writing, research, and assessment. You can even use all three on one project:

storyboard thatStoryboard That

Free; fee for education accounts 

Storyboard That is a leader among online digital storytelling tools thanks to its comic-based themes, clean layout, vast collection of story pieces, varied strip layouts, and intuitive drag-and-drop interface. Students map out ideas using a huge library of backgrounds, characters, text boxes, shapes, and images (with over 325 characters, 225 scenes, and 45,000 images).  With an education account, teachers also get teacher guides and lesson plans. 

Here’s how it works: Log into your account and Storyboard That automatically adapts to your device (whether it’s a desktop, Chromebook, or iPad). Select the layout you’d like, then add a background, characters, one or more props, and speech bubbles from Storyboard That’s collections. Each element can be resized, rotated, and repositioned to exactly suit your needs. Characters can also be adjusted for appearance, emotion, and action. You can even upload images and record a voice overlay (premium only) to narrate the story. Once finished, storyboards can be saved as PDFs, PowerPoints, and/or emailed out.

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Categories: Images, Reviews, Writing | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Dear Otto: How Do Students Access Twitter in the Classroom

tech questions

Dear Otto is an occasional column where I answer questions I get from readers about teaching tech. If you have a question, please contact me at askatechteacher at gmail dot com and I’ll answer it here. For your privacy, I use only first names.

Here’s a great question I got from Paul:

We are considering the appropriate role for Twitter in schools and as part of my research I read your article “13 Reasons to Use Twitter in the Classroom.” While I understand the points that you are making in the article, one question I didn’t see answered is how students access Twitter — is this done on their personal devices; or is this something that is allowed on district equipment?

If schools are allowing twitter on district-/school-owned equipment, how do they deal with the risks involved with a completely open environment in which students could share anything (pornography, threats, etc.) with little ability of the school or district to monitor direct messages, etc.

I appreciate your perspectives and we continue to consider the best way to reach our digital native students.

Twitter can be a revolutionary tool for students, used correctly. It meets students where they wish to learn and energizes pretty much any activity that takes place on the stream.

Most schools do not let students set up or access Twitter accounts at school earlier than high school. I’ve seen Middle School, but this is for unique student groups, certainly with parent approval and administration knowledge and support. Younger, accounts are usually set up as private class accounts.

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Tech Tip #123: Quick Search for Plagiarized Images

As 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’m teaching a class on internet forensics–to drive home the point that the internet is a scary place for the uninformed. I know people who use facial recognition tools to search FB, Instagram and those sorts of picture curatators. Most of the programs I’ve found are expensive and complicated. Is there an easy one to share with my students:

There sure is–Google’s Image Search. Go to:


Upload an image you want to search for (or drag-drop it into the field), like this one:

child drawing

Google will find all the places it appears:

google image search


I use student work where possible. There always seems to be one child who’s already created a website and uploaded their original drawings or photography to share with friends.

This is a great way to warn students about misusing online images: It’s just too easy for the original creators to track them down.

Click to subscribe to tech tips.

More on images:

5 Image Apps for your Classroom

Dear Otto: What Online Images are Free?

Tech Tip #82: My Picture’s a TIFF and the Program Needs a JPG

Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-8 technology for 15 years. She is the editor/author of over a hundred tech ed resources including a K-8 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum. She is an adjunct professor in tech ed, CSG Master Teacher, webmaster for six blogs, 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, and a weekly contributor to TeachHUB. You can find her resources at Structured Learning.

Categories: Images, Tech tips | Leave a comment

Subscriber Special: February

Every month, subscribers to Ask a Tech Teacher get a free/discounted resource to help their tech teaching.sale

This month:

If you donate to my blog drive, I’ll send you FREE

The 57-page K-8 Hour of Code Bundle–everything you need to kickstart coding with your students.

We could sell ads, but we don’t want to clutter the pages. That’s distracting as you search out resources for your classroom. We rely on donations. Any amount you can contribute–$5… $10… using the PayPal Donate button below or in the sidebar, would be appreciated.

Here’s the one-time donation button, or you can find it in the Ask a Tech Teacher sidebar:

Here’s the button for a monthly donation–the price of a cup of coffee and a donut:


BTW, we’re always open to sponsors, too. We love sponsors!  If you’re an edtech company interested in helping spread Ask a Tech Teacher resources to everyone, contact us at askatechteacher@gmail.com. We can add you to the sidebar, review your product, or another sponsor sort of activity.

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3 Apps Disguised as Games to Help Bolster Learning

Education has changed. Teachers don’t lecture from the front of the classroom. Work isn’t an individual effort. Drills no longer hold pride of place in lesson plans. Now, teachers expect students to engage: be part of the solution, not a passive recipient of the process.

Does this sound boring? Not if you’re a kid. Then, you call it ‘games’ and choose it for free time, as a study break, and with friends. Look at Minecraft where millions of kids voluntarily learn geology, work in virtual groups, and seek out knowledge to build a virtual world.

Here are three apps that gamify education:

kahoot reviewKahoot

Kahoot is a response system that has taken over classrooms all over the country to assess student learning. Using a gameshow format, students compete against classmates, themselves (in Ghost Mode), or any student group around the world, to answer questions based on a specific theme. It is fast-paced, energetic, with scintillating music and a real-time scoreboard that shows student progress. It’s more like the games students love than the tests and quizzes traditionally taken at school.

Kahoot is simple to use. The teacher creates a quiz or survey on the Kahoot website. S/he invites students to join with a game pin, which they enter into pretty much any digital device used in the classroom (smart phones, Chromebooks, iPads, or another). They read the questions off the class screen and answer on their device. Points are earned not only for right answers, but speed of play.


Kahoot works on any device with an internet connection. The learning curve is negligible: no player accounts, no set-up, just the join code.

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Categories: Education reform, Games/Simulations | Leave a comment

What’s Groundhog Day??

Groundhog Day is February 2nd. Watch this Youtube and come away in the know:

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Categories: Holidays | 7 Comments

Tech Tip #122: Chromebook Delete Key

As 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: Not only does my Chromebook not have Caps Lock (which I’ve now fixed), but there’s no ‘delete’ key. 

Use the shortkey, Alt+Backspace.

More on Chromebooks:

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Categories: Tech tips | Tags: | 2 Comments

What are Good Tech Goals for Students?

technology goalsA frequent question from readers revolves around technology goals for students. It’s tempting to phrase goals like:

4th graders can create a chart in a spreadsheet 


80% of 5th graders can complete ten skills in MS Word (or Google Docs)

But that’s not what technology is about. Technology supports a curriculum. It’s the pencils and books of our digital world. It scaffolds learning, making it blended, normative, rigorous, and granular. The metric for measuring technology skills isn’t a rubric with a list of skills (i.e., add a border, include a hyperlink, and changed the font color). Rather, it’s evidence of the transfer of knowledge: Did the student use technology to further his/her educational journey?

Here are seven authentic technology goals that are scalable to your needs and can be spiraled up or down as required:

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Categories: Computer skills | Tags: | 4 Comments

Keyboarding and the Scientific Method

scientific methodConvincing students–and teachers–of the importance of keyboarding can be daunting. Youngers find it painful (trying to find those 26 alphabet keys) and olders think their hunt-and-peck approach is just fine. Explaining why keyboarding is critical to their long-range goals is often an exercise in futility if they haven’t yet experienced it authentically so I’ve resorted to showing–let them see for themselves why they want to become fast and accurate typists. To do this, I rely on a system they already know (or will be learning): the Scientific Method.

Let me stop here and point out that there are many versions of the scientific method. Use the one popular at your school. The upcoming steps easily adapt to the pedagogy your science teacher recommends.

I start with a general discussion of this well-accepted approach to decision making and problem-solving. If students have discussed it in class, I have them share their thoughts. We will use it to address the question:

Is handwriting or keyboarding faster?

I post each step on the Smartscreen or whiteboard and show students how our experiment will work:

  • Ask a question: Is handwriting or keyboarding faster?
  • Do background research: Discuss why students think they handwrite faster/slower than they type. Curious students might even research the topic by Googling, Is keyboarding faster than handwriting?
  • Construct a hypothesis: Following the research, student states her/his informed conclusion: i.e.: Fifth graders in Mr. X’s class handwrite faster than they type.
  • Test hypothesis: Do an experiment to see if handwriting or typing is faster. Pass out a printed page from a book students are reading in class. Have them 1) handwrite it for three minutes, and then 2) type it for the same length of time. Each time, calculate the speed in words-per-minute.
  • Analyze data: Compare student personal handwriting speed to their typing speed. Which is faster? Discuss data. Why do some students type faster than they write and others slower? Or the reverse? What problems were faced in handwriting for three-five minutes:
    • pencil lead broke
    • eraser was missing
    • hand got tired
    • it got boring

Each student compares their results to classmates and to other grade levels. What was different? Or the same?

  • Draw conclusions: Each student determines what can be decided based on their personal test results. Did they type faster or slower? Did this change from last year’s results? Did some classmates type faster than they handwrote? Did most students by a certain grade level type faster than they write?
  • Communicate results: Share results with other classes and other grade levels. At what grade level do students consistently type faster than they handwrite? In my classes, fourth graders write and type at about the same speed (22-28 wpm) and fifth graders generally type faster than they write. Are students surprised by the answer?

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Categories: Critical thinking, Keyboarding, Science | 2 Comments

Dear Otto: I need to convert from PDF to Doc–Does that work?

tech questions

Dear Otto is an occasional column where I answer questions I get from readers about teaching tech. If you have a question, please contact me at askatechteacher at gmail dot com and I’ll answer it here. For your privacy, I use only first names.

Here’s a great question I got from a reader:

I have a lesson plan I created in MS Word and then converted to PDF so I could share with my grade level team (everyone doesn’t have Word). It took us a while to go through it–lots of changes–and when I tried to find the original document, it was nowhere to be found. I tried a few PDF converters, but they didn’t work well and I’d have to retype most of the lesson plan. Can you help?

This is an all-too-common problem for teachers. Much of our work is shared with others or updated year-to-year, but when we try to find that original document, it’s either misfiled, corrupted, or just plain lost. All we have left is the uneditable PDF which means a lot of retyping if we want to update it for the new school year. Converting from DOC to PDF format is easy and often native to the word processing program used so you’d think the reverse would be easy also, but that’s not true. Docs.Zone is a great solution for this problem. It’s intuitive, user-friendly, with a clean uncluttered interface and no download required. Their Optical Character Recognition programming will convert PDF to an OCR Word document quickly and effectively.

Here’s how it works:

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Categories: Classroom management, Dear Otto, Reviews | Tags: | Leave a comment