5 Ways Ed-tech Can Enhance Social Studies Lessons

As is my habit, I spend a lot of time exploring new ways to teach old subjects. Lately, I’ve concentrated on social studies. I chatted with my PLN, browsed forums where I knew efriends hung out, and taught a slew of online grad school classes to teachers who always are willing the discuss their newest favorite social studies tech tool. I picked everyone’s brains and came up with a list of five webtools you definitely must look at:


Some call Classcraft a classroom management tool but really, it’s more about injecting excitement in your teaching and touching on the important social-emotional learning that sometimes gets forgotten. Here’s a great quote I heard in a sponsored video:

“It might sound crazy to you and me but the kids love it.” — Sarah Murphy

The more I dug into Classcraft, the more I understood why Sarah Murphy said what she did. It’s pretty simple. Kids have a passion for learning and playing games. You incorporate that into your passion for teaching by gamifying your middle- or high school classroom. When students and teachers work together, toward the same goals, everyone wins.

The free (fee for Premium) Classcraft doesn’t teach standards or curricula for academic subjects. Instead, it focuses on core SEL (social-emotional learning) skills fundamental to the fullness of the education journey. That means it’s easy to apply to your social studies class. It uses tools already popular in your school — Google Classroom or MS Office 365, a browser, and an app (iOS or Android). You set up different tasks and customize rules to fit class needs.  Students work individually or in teams, becoming accountable for their behavior to themselves and their teams. When they achieve goals and/or abide by rules, they earn stuff they want (that you’ve organized beforehand). You can blend Classcraft activities into your existing lesson plans or use those available on the website. Robust analytics (included in the Premium package) allow you to track student behavior over time and compare it with the class average.

Also available: a timer, a class volume meter, and parent features — great basic tools for every class.


ClassroomScreen is probably one of the most robust, versatile, and useful classroom tools to cross education’s “free” landscape in a long time. It will make your social studies lessons run smoother, make them more responsive to needs, and keep students focused on the lesson. When you click on ClassroomScreen.com, it opens a blank screen that is a digital board ready to be displayed on your class smart screen. You personalize it with the most popular tools desired in classroom, all lined up at the bottom of the screen. These include preferred language (you pick from about a hundred languages), customized background, sound level, QR code (for the classroom screen; students scan it in and it displays on any mobile device — isn’t that cool?), a whiteboard, a text tool, a start-stop traffic light, a timer, a clock, a random name picker (for teams), an exit poll, Work Symbols (four options for collaborative student work — work together, ask a neighbor, whisper, and silence), and more.  There’s no download, no login, no registration. Simply click the link and get started.

Commonsense Media calls it:

“…the Swiss Army Knife of the classroom…”

I agree. Here’s a video that decodes this already-simple class tool.


Tech Tip #105: Create Shortkeys for Windows Tools

tech tipsIn these 169 tech-centric situations, you get an overview of pedagogy—the tech topics most important to your teaching—as well as practical strategies to address most classroom tech situations, how to scaffold these to learning, and where they provide the subtext to daily tech-infused education.

Today’s tip: Create Shortkeys for Windows Tools

Category: Keyboarding

Q: I love the Windows snipping tool, but it takes too long to activate. Is there a shortkey?

A: Oddly, there isn’t, which is why I didn’t use it for a long time. I want a screen capture that’s instantaneous. I discovered how to create a shortkey for Snipping Tool—or any Windows program:

  • Right click on the program icon.
  • Select ‘properties’.
  • Select the ‘shortcut’ tab.
  • In the ‘Shortcut key’ field, push the key combination you want to invoke this program. In my case, for the Snipping Tool, I used Ctrl+Alt+X.
  • Click OK


Here’s a video on how to create the shortkey. Now all I have to do is remember the shortkey!

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–Comments are closed but feel free to contact me via Twitter (@askatechteacher).


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What You Might Have Missed in February

Here are the most-read posts for the month of February

  1. 100th Day of School — Make it about Learning
  2. #WorldReadAloudDay February 5
  3. 5 (free) Tech Problem Solving Posters
  4. Why Kindergartners Must Learn Technology
  5. Math Word Problems
  6. Random Acts of Kindness Day. How Will You Celebrate?
  7. Inspire Kids to Pursue an IT Degree
  8. How Fast Should Kids Type
  9. Tech Tip #31: 10 Best Keyboarding Hints

Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-18 technology for 30 years. She is the editor/author of over a hundred tech ed resources including a K-12 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum. She is an adjunct professor in tech ed, Master Teacher, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice, CSTA presentation reviewer, freelance journalist on tech ed topics, contributor to NEA Today, and author of the tech thrillers, To Hunt a Sub and Twenty-four Days. You can find her resources at Structured Learning.

Online College Credit Classes Forming

Through the Midwest Teachers Institute, I offer four college-credit classes that teach how to blend technology with traditional lesson plans. They include all the ebooks, videos, and other resources required so you don’t spend any more than what is required to register for the class. Once you’re signed up, you prepare weekly material, chat with classmates, respond to class Discussion Boards and quizzes, and participate in a weekly video meeting. Everything is online.

Questions? Email me at askatechteacher@gmail.com

Here are the the ones I’m currently offering:

The Tech-infused Teacher: The 21st Century Digitally-infused Teacher

MTI 562

March 1, 2021, June 28, 2021

The 21st Century lesson blends technology with teaching to build a collaborative, differentiated, and shared learning environment. In this course, teachers will use a suite of digital tools to make that possible while addressing overarching concepts like digital citizenship, internet search and research, authentic assessment, critical thinking, and immersive keyboarding. Teachers will actively collaborate, share knowledge, provide constructive feedback to classmates, and publish digitally. Classmates will become the core of the teacher’s ongoing Personal Learning Network. Assessment is project-based so participants should be prepared to be fully-involved and eager risk-takers.

At the completion of this course, the learner will be able to:

  1. Integrate and adapt blogs, wikis, Twitter, and Google Hangouts to collaborate and share. INTASC 2, 3, 5, 6, 8, 10
  2. Research ways to safely and effectively search and research on the internet, including how to be a good digital citizen. INTASC 1
  3. Appraise technology to support teaching and achieve Common Core Standards. INTASC 1, 7
  4. Integrate keyboarding skills into classroom activities and prepare for yearly assessments. INTASC 8
  5. Assess student technology use organically. INTASC 1, 8
  6. Develop digital portfolios to store, share, and curate classwork and justify their inclusion. INTASC 8, 9
  7. Develop and employ a Personal Learning Network. INTASC 2, 5, 10
  8. Solve common tech problems that arise in the classroom.  INTASC 4

Assessment is based on involvement, interaction with classmates, and completion of projects, so be prepared to be fully-involved and an eager risk-taker. Price includes course registration, college credit, and all necessary materials. To enroll, click the link, search for MTI 562, and sign up. Classes start in May!


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Differentiation: How Technology Makes Differentiation Fast and Easy

MTI 563

March 29, 2021, July 5, 2021

Differentiation in the classroom means meeting students where they are most capable of learning. It is not an extra layer of work, rather a habit of mind for both teacher and student. Learn granular approaches to infusing differentiation into all of your lesson plans, whether Common Core or other standards, with this hands-on, interactive class. Ideas include visual, audio, podcasts, movies, mindmaps, infographics, graphic organizers, charts and tables, screenshots, screencasts, images, games and simulations, webtools, and hybrid assessments.

At the completion of this course, the learner will be able to:

  1. Analyze and critique the technology used to differentiate for student learning styles.  INTASC 1
  2. Explain how differentiating content and presentation engages a greater proportion of learners. INTASC 3
  3. Construct and implement measures that ensure the outcome of student learning demonstrates understanding.  INTASC 1, 6
  4. Devise a variety of assignments to address all learners’ needs.  INTASC 6
  5. Create an inclusive learning environment in the classroom.  INTASC 3
  6. Integrate and adapt blogs, wikis, Twitter, and Google Hangouts to collaborate and share.  INTASC 2, 3, 5, 6, 8, 10

Assessment is based on involvement, interaction with classmates, and completion of projects, so be prepared to be fully-involved and an eager risk-taker. Price includes course registration, college credit, and all necessary materials.


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Building Digital Citizens

MTI 557

Starts June 14, 2021

If students use the internet, they must be familiar with the rights and responsibilities required to be good digital citizens.  In this class, you’ll learn what topics to introduce, how to unpack them, and how to make them authentic to student lives.

Topics include:

  1. copyrights, fair use, public domain
  2. cyberbullying
  3. digital commerce
  4. digital communications
  5. digital footprint, digital privacy
  6. digital rights and responsibilities
  7. digital search/research
  8. image—how to use them legally
  9. internet safety
  10. netiquette
  11. passwords
  12. plagiarism
  13. social media

At the completion of this course, you will be able to:

  1. Know how to blend digital citizenship into lesson plans that require the Internet
  2. Be comfortable in your knowledge of all facets of digital citizenship
  3. Become an advocate of safe, legal, and responsible use of online resources
  4. Exhibit a positive attitude toward technology that supports learning
  5. Exhibit leadership in teaching and living as a digital citizen

Assessment is based on involvement, interaction with classmates, and completion of projects so be prepared to be fully-involved and an eager risk-taker. Price includes course registration, college credit, and all necessary materials. To enroll, click the link above, search for MTI 557 and sign up.


Tech Tip #31: 10 Best Keyboarding Hints

tech tipsIn these 169 tech-centric situations, you get an overview of pedagogy—the tech topics most important to your teaching—as well as practical strategies to address most classroom tech situations, how to scaffold these to learning, and where they provide the subtext to daily tech-infused education.

Today’s tip: 10 Best Keyboarding Hints

Category: Keyboarding

This poster has ten keyboarding hints that cover the most common mistakes students make that prevent them from excelling at keyboarding:

  1. Tuck your elbows against the sides of your body. This keeps your hands in the right spot—home row—at the right angle (parallel to the rows).
  2. Use your right thumb for the space bar. That leaves your hands ready, on home row.
  3. Curl fingers over home row—they’re cat paws, not dog paws.
  4. Use inside fingers for inside keys, outside fingers for outside keys. This is a great rule of thumb until students start touch typing.
  5. Use the finger closest to the key you need. Sounds simple, but this isn’t what usually happens with beginners.
  6. Keep your pointers anchored to f and j. Notice the tactile bump on those keys so you don’t have to look at the keyboard to find homerow.
  7. Play your keyboard like you do a piano (or violin, or guitar, or recorder). You’d never use your pointer for all keys. Don’t do it on a keyboard either.
  8. Fingers move, not your hands. Hands stay anchored to the f and j keys
  9. Add a barrier between the sides of the keyboards. I fashioned one from cover stock. That’ll remind students to stay on the correct side of the keyboard
  10. Don’t use caps lock for capitals! Use shift.

There’s an eleventh in the poster. Can you tell which one that is?

Buy the entire 169 Real-world Ways to Put Tech into Your Classroom.


How Fast Should Kids Type

I get this question a lot from readers and purchasers of my technology curriculum: How fast should kids type? What about Kindergartners? When are their brains mature enough to understand speed and accuracy?

When I reviewed the literature on this subject, it is all over the place. Some say third grade, some leave it until sixth. I say–decide based on your own set of students. Me, I’ve come to conclusions that fit my particular K-8 students. Their demographics include:

  • private school
  • parents support emphasis on keyboarding
  • most have computers at home; actually, most have their own computer at home
  • students are willing to practice keyboarding in class and submit homework that is oriented to keyboarding

Based on this set of students, here’s what I require:

Kindergarten (more…)

Inspire Kids to Pursue an IT Degree

This is such an important topic! Often kids–and parents–see tech as complicated, daunting, all-math-and-science. Kids think they’re not ‘smart’ enough and maybe, parents think that too! Here are great suggestions for encouraging young participation in a field that is probably the top choice for jobs:

4 Ways to Inspire Kids to Pursue a Degree In Information Technology

In this tech-centric day and age, the demand for science, technology, math, and engineering skills has spiked significantly, and it only seems to increase. This is evident in how an increasing number of schools offer information technology degrees. There isn’t a single day that we don’t interact with technology. However, while the vast majority of people understand how to use technology, far too few want to understand how technology works.

It’s intimidating to delve into the finer details on the functionality of tech. Most people know how to use a social media platform, but show no interest in understanding the coding behind it. How then, can we spark such an interest in our children?

Start With Toys

Playtime eventually evolves into work time, and toys have a powerful influence on a child’s interests, thinking, behavior, and creative expression. Educational toy manufacturers such as Sphero, Kiwi Co., and Sparkfun create toys that help children learn about coding, circuitry, engineering, and many other STEM fields.

Celebrate With Tech

Introduce your child into the culture of science by holding their next birthday at a science center or a discovery museum. Sure, many schools organize field trips to these places, but if you want your child to gain a genuine interest in these things, you need to try to introduce it on a more personal level. It’s much easier to pique a child’s interest when an element of fun is introduced.


Opportunities prisoners have to study

Education is a passion, both teaching and learning. For those of us who consider ourselves lifelong learners, we understand how learning can make everything feel right even when it’s wrong. What I didn’t think about until Ask a Tech Teacher contributor, Claire Ward, submitted this article was how true this is even for those in prison. She’s written a thoughtful article about the availability of education, books, and learning even for those without access to where you and I typically fulfill our need for knowledge:

What opportunities do prisoners have to study?

The main asset that all prisoners have is time, and while there are only a limited number of options for how they can spend it, studying is one of them.

So what opportunities do inmates have when it comes to training and education, and how does this vary depending on their circumstances and the facility where they are incarcerated?

Historical complexities

While the rehabilitative purpose of being jailed is a comparatively modern idea, prisoners were offered basic forms of education from the 19th century onwards, with campaigners arguing that expanding the horizons of inmates through education was the best way to allow them to successfully re-enter society after release.

It was not until the mid-20th century that college-equivalent courses were provided, and this blossomed in the US until a change in legislation in the 1990s meant that the funding for such schemes was significantly reduced.

Efforts to reinstate Pell Grants for prisoners and allow them to study in a more structured way began in 2015, and it currently seems likely that programs will be reintroduced nationally, thanks to the bipartisan support this initiative has received.