3 Organizational Apps to Start the School Year

Whether you teach science or PE, there are hundreds of apps to help you do it better. The response to this tidal wave of information has been confusion. As each teacher downloads their favorites, students spend as much time learning the app as applying it academically.

There’s a move afoot to pick five that are cross-curricular, train faculty, and then use them throughout the school year. This is the way it used to be when MS Office ruled the computer and everyone understood it. If this is your school, here are three apps to start the school year:


When looking for an app to curate classroom reading, consider these requirements:

  • works well with your current LMS
  • includes a wide variety of reading formats
  • displays books quickly, allowing you to open multiple books, add annotations, and take notes
  • displays class textbooks

Lots of apps do the first three; none the last. Why? Many class texts use formats that only display on the publisher website. What became apparent as I researched was that GoodReader was one of several considered Best in Class because of its broad-based ability to read, manage, organize, access, and annotate a wide variety of file formats. Where it has long been considered a leader in reading and annotating PDFs, new releases accommodate almost any type of file including .docx, mp3, jpeg, ppt, xlx, audio, and videos. With its tabbed interface, users can open multiple documents and click through them as needed.

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Tech Tip 117: How to Use an Internet Start Page

As a working technology teacher, I get hundreds of questions from parents and teachers about their 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: My students get distracted immediately when they go on the internet–by all the adds, bling, and websites they might like but I know are not age-appropriate.

When students open the internet, it should kick start their browsing experience, not leave them searching for a bookmark. As a teacher, you make this happen with what’s called an internet start page. It’s also your first line of defense in protecting students from the inherent dangers of using the internet because it focuses them on safe, age-appropriate sites that you have personally approved.

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CanaryFlow: Everything You Need to Manage Classroom Workflow

canary flowCanaryFlow is a classroom workflow platform that makes it easy for K-12 teachers to create lessons, add and grade assignments, upload resources, comment on student work or class activities, and schedule events.  Class set-up is intuitive, with guided instructions as needed. Users (students and teachers) can access materials and submit work using the camera, Google Drive, or Dropbox. All account activity is quickly synced across all devices.

Features for teachers include:

  • ability to collect, grade, distribute and collect assignments and materials
  • a list of students who have not submitted assignments–including percentages
  • ability to send a message to one person or a class
  • ability to access and import over 53 different file types (such as MS Office, Google Docs, images, PDFs, and more) from the digital device’s camera, Google Drive, Dropbox and other cloud locations
  • ability to sign in with an existing Google Classroom account and get access to one or more of your Google drives.
  • basic lesson planning with new assignments, resources, and assessments that can be curated either on the class calendar and/or as current/future activities
  • ability to move lessons forward for use the next year

Here’s how you start:

Teacher creates an account on CanaryFlow, then sets up her/his class including assignments, due dates, homework, lessons, and more. Students sign on to iPads, desktops, Chromebooks, or laptops with a Link code provided by the teacher which gets them with the right teacher, the right class.

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Tech Tip #116: How to Take Screenshots

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 week, I’ll share one of those with you. They’re always brief and always focused. Enjoy!

Q: I need to take a screenshot with my Chromebook.

Here’s the shortkey: Hold down the Ctrl key and press the Window Switcher key. The screenshot is placed on the clipboard and in the download folder. If you have trouble finding the Download file, click Alt+Shift+M to open the File Manager. Download will be one of the options on the left sidebar.

In case you use a different digital device, here are the screenshot shortkeys for other platforms:

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6 Tech Best Practices for New Teachers

A study released last year by the National Council on Teacher Quality found that nearly half of the nation’s teacher training programs failed to insure that their candidates were STEM-capable. That means new teachers must learn how to teach science, technology, engineering and math on-the-job. Knowing that, there are six Best Practices teachers in the trenches suggest for integrating technology into classroom instruction:

digital citizenDigital Citizenship

Many schools now provide digital devices for students, often a Chromebook or an iPad. Both are great devices, but represent a sea change from the Macs and PCs that have traditionally been the device-of-choice in education. While I could spend this entire article on that topic, one seminal difference stands out: Where PCs and Macs could be used as a closed system via software, materials saved to the local drive, and native tools, Chromebooks and iPads access the internet for everything (with a few exceptions) be it learning, publishing, sharing, collaborating, or grading. There’s no longer an option to hide students from the online world, what is considered by many parents a dangerous place their children should avoid. In  cyberspace, students are confronted often–if not daily–with questions regarding cyberbullying, digital privacy, digital footprints, plagiarism, and more.

The question is: Who’s teaching students how to thrive in this brave new world? Before you move on to the next paragraph, think about that in your circumstance. Can you point to the person responsible for turning your students into good digital citizens? When third grade students use the internet to research a topic, do they know how to do that safely and legally?

When asked, most educators shrug and point at someone else. But it turns out too often, no one is tasked with providing that knowledge.

The answer to who’s responsible: Everyone’s responsible, starting with you, the New Teacher. Adopt this topic as your own, blend it into your teaching. Don’t assume students know until they provide evidence of that.

If you’re looking for a curriculum on digital citizenship for K-8, click the link.

Problem Solving

oopsLots of new teachers are intimidated by technology in their classrooms. Besides so many digital tools–how does anyone stay up to date on them–there’s a worse problem: What happens when something doesn’t work? Waiting for the school’s IT folks can quickly derail a tech-infused lesson.

New teachers need to learn rudimentary tech troubleshooting like these 25 common problems, and then teach them to students. It shouldn’t be a stand-alone lesson, rather teach it organically as it arises in class. When a student’s headphones don’t work, figure out how to solve it as a class. When a website freezes, show how to unfreeze and then move on with the lesson. Once a problem is solved, ask students to retain that knowledge, transfer it to other classes, and teach their friends. Surprisingly quickly, students will no longer be slowed down by tech problems. Sure, they’ll happen, but everyone will know the solution.

If you’d like a more complete list, here’s a collection of 98


PARCC and SBAC may have convinced many educators that keyboarding is a critical, granular skill, but it can’t be taught by a once-a-week tech lab session of 10-15 minutes. Think how often keyboarding is part of student work–entering website addresses, adding comments to blogs, typing docs into GAFE, and taking online assessments. All of these require keyboarding skills, yet no one is responsible for teaching them. Students who can keyboard well blossom. Those who can’t–well, you know. Teaching keyboarding requires two steps: 1) an overarching curriculum map of what to teach when, and 2) reinforcement every time students sit at the computer. No matter the class, that teacher–be s/he history, literacy, social studies, math, reading, writing, or tech–reminds students of the right way to keyboard. It adds minutes to her teaching and saves students hours as practice and skill eventually (by about 4th grade) allows their typing fingers to keep pace with their thinking brain.

As the New Teacher, set the example. Blend keyboarding training into your lesson plans.

If you’re looking for a keyboarding curriculum for K-8, click the link.

part of body vocabulary in illustrationVocabulary

An important part of succeeding in core classes is understanding the language. Common Core has three levels of vocabulary:

  • basic
  • academic
  • domain-specific

Current best practices embrace students learning by using. This isn’t accomplished with memorized word lists. Instead, when students uncover unknown words, they decode them and then use them throughout the lesson. This is accomplished by addressing basic and academic vocabulary across all subjects, whether students are in history, science, math, or reading. Every digital device should be preloaded with instantly-available age-appropriate dictionaries that allow students to quickly research a word almost without leaving the academic topic.vector image of a girl using laptop


Try, fail, try again. A lot of learning is accomplished by failure. Make this a strategy in the classroom. No longer have students submit a final project and get a grade. Instead, recognize Common Core’s plan-revise-edit-rewrite as a flexible learning path that is both practical and transformative. This isn’t just for writing, though. Use it for all projects–a science poster, a history magazine, and math homework. Always give students the opportunity to edit and resubmit work that’s granular to their learning.

multiple intelligenceStudent Choice

You teach the Big Idea; let students pick how they share their learning. You make an effort to teach using as many of the multiple intelligences as possible–audio, visual, tactile, kinesthetic, logical, or linguistic. Let students pick which approach best serves them in conveying what they’ve learned. They might write a report, share a movie, add music and color, draw a picture, or build an infographic. Introduce this wide variety of options early in the school year and make them available for as many assessments as possible.

These six topics integrate technology–a tool students want to use–into everything, making your teaching authentic, scalable, motivating, and rigorous.

More on new teachers:

9 Mistakes Teachers Make Using Tech in the Classroom

Should Tech Teachers be in the Classroom or the Lab

Humor that Inspires–for Teachers! Part II

Definition of ‘Teacher’

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: Digital Citizenship, Keyboarding, Problem solving, Teaching, Word study/Vocabulary | Tags: | 2 Comments

5 Image Apps for your Classroom

Any child knows that a picture communicates differently than text. It’s not just quicker, it shares more detail more effectively. In seconds, our brain grasps a wide selection of data from the picture’s color, layout, design and draws conclusions. To do that with text requires lots of words, re-reading, extreme concentration, and scratching the head.

It’s no surprise research indicates the majority of students learn better if they see information. This includes graphic organizers, diagrams, mind maps, outlines–even pictures and art work.

Here are five image apps. One (or more) of these will be perfect for your classroom:



1.8 million users have created over 15 million designs using Canva’s one million+ design templates (including font schemes, stock photographs, backgrounds, and illustrations–some free/some fee) to create cards, fliers, posters, newsletters, infographics, and more. Drag and drop project parts to personalize the design (see my Canva-created poster below). Edit photos using preset filters or advanced photo editing tools like brightness, contrast, saturation, tint, and blur. Save as a high-quality image or a printable PDF. Canva provides lots of graphic design video tutorials for even the most basic skill level. These are great for mature elementary age, Middle School, and High School students, as well as teachers.

Canva for education features 17+ lesson plans from some of the leaders in tech-in-ed. You can even sign in through Google Apps for Education. Canva not only works on iPads, but desktops and laptops.

puppy with a message - cavalier king charles spaniel puppy with sign around neck - 7 weeks ols



Chatterpix is an intuitive, fun mashup of audio and visual communication. It’s easy for youngers and appealing to all ages. Simply take any photo, draw a line to make a mouth, and record your voice. This can be a butterfly talking about its life cycle, a colonist discussing life in the New World, or a chimpanzee bemoaning the demise of his homeland. Students can even use a picture of themselves with their own voice.

Chatterpix requires no log-in. Students have 30 seconds to record their message, which encourages them to concentrate on the important elements they wish to communicate.



Use photos, stickers, frames, videos, funky fonts, and cutouts to create personalized greetings. Pictures can be imported from your photo library, Instagram, Facebook or the web. A wide variety of templates are available for cards, projects, and photo collections. Using the frame layout option, students can create a collage of photos for sequencing activities or digital portfolios. For youngers, PicCollage has a setting to disable social media, website images, and ads.

The only downside with this app is it’s not available on desktops and laptops.  For those digital devices, students will need a different tool.




Skitch (part of the Evernote family) is an easy-to-use image annotator  that loads quickly, works well with other student digital tools (like Google Drive), and can also be used as a whiteboard. Take a photo or upload an image from a variety of collections (web searches can be turned off in the School Mode). Next, mark it up with simple tools like shapes, arrows, sketches and text annotation.  When you’re done, email it, upload it to Google Drive, save it to an Evernote school account, save it the clipboard or camera roll, or a wide variety of other save/share options. Images don’t have to be pictures: You can mark up an internet site or even start with a blank whiteboard.

Popular uses of Skitch include sharing a diagram (say, of the human body) for students to fill in, sending a map to parents with event directions, or annotating a website with use instructions.


Fee ($1.99)

Add images from your photo library or snap new ones with your camera. Arrange them however you would like. Record a voice-over narrating images as you swipe through them. The finished project is a video file you can share with friends. and classmates. This is a great differentiation tool for students who don’t communicate well with writing, but know the material.

Teachers can use this as a formative or summative assessment by sharing a group of pictures and having students add voice-overs explaining what they see. For older students, it might include characters or scenes in a novel.

sonic pics

Whichever image editor you use, use one. Images are catnip to students–almost irresistible and why not? Drawing and art have their roots tens of thousands of years ago. Nothing’s changed. Mankind still loves talking with pictures.

More about online images:

My Picture’s a TIFF and the Program Needs a JPG

What Online Images are Free?

Drawing in Photoshop

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.

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129 Digital Citizenship Links on 22 Topics

digital citizenshipHere’s a long list of websites to address Digital Citizenship topics you teach in your classroom:


to promote digital privacy

  1. Avatar 1–a monster
  2. Avatar 2–Lego you
  3. Avatar 3–animal
  4. MadMen yourself
  5. Tellagami–a video avatar
  6. Vokis
  7. With comics, via Pixton — fee-based

Copyrights and Digital Law

  1. Copyrights–BrainPop video
  2. Copyright and Fair Use–Common Sense Media video
  3. Copyright Law Explained (fun video, informative, thorough)
  4. Copyright law curriculum
  5. Creative Commons
  6. Take the mystery out of copyrights–by the Library of Congress
  7. Videos on licensing, copyrights, more (from Creative Commons)

digital image of laptop with human hands and eyesCurriculum

  1. Common Sense media
  2. Ask a Tech Teacher


  1. Bullying—Watch this (videos)
  2. Cyberbullying video
  3. Cyber-bullying–5th grade
  4. Cyber-bullying—BrainPop
  5. Cyberbullying—what is it
  6. Think Time: How Does Cyberbullying Affect You

DigCit (General)

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Subscriber Special: October

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

This month:

25% Discount off Tech Curriculum Upgrade

If you want to upgrade from an earlier digital version of the SL Technology Curriculum, you are eligible for 25% off that upgrade. Email Zeke.Rowe at structuredlearning.net with the name you purchased under. He’ll verify it and send you a coupon code worth 25% off your upgrade purchase.

Digital only, for all of these devices:

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3 Apps to Keep Parents in The Loop

parents and childrenI’ve taught Preschool-8th grade for thirty years. Throughout, one factor stood out as the most reliable barometer of student achievement: Parent involvement. It didn’t mean parents as tutors, homework helpers, or classroom volunteers–although it could be those. It meant parents showing they cared about their child’s success.

Today’s education model is catching up with the fundamental part parents play in student achievement. In Massachusetts, for example, family and community engagement is one of four standards within its teacher-evaluation rubric.

If you’re looking for a way to involve parents more granularly in your classroom, try these three ideas:

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Office Hours–Questions? Let’s Talk

tech ed helpIf you are using the SL K-5 Technology Curriculum, you’ll love this new free service. Starting Sunday, Structured Learning will offer online, virtual Office Hours. Any questions you have about how to unpack lessons, teach a skill, or tie into class inquiry can be asked at this weekly real-time Google Hangout:

Sundays, 2pm PDT

Just like your college professor, doors are open to whoever shows up. Here’s how it works:

  • Sign up for one of our Companion Wikis (for grades K-5) to get notification. Do that first. If you don’t know how, email me at askatechteacher@gmail.com
  • Sundays, you’ll get a notification through the wiki with a link to the Google Hangout. Click it. If you aren’t familiar with Google Hangouts, check the Skills tab on the wiki, under ‘Google Hangouts’ for guidance
  • Join in!

Interested? Here’s the sign-up sheet:

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