Thinking, Blurring, and Coloring – The Week in Review

Good morning from Maine where the humidity is making everything feel wet. That’s okay because I’m going fishing and will get wet anyway. It’s the last weekend of the fishing season on my favorite river and I’m hoping to catch a few landlocked salmon to end the year. I hope that you have something fun planned for your weekend as well. 

This week I co-hosted the latest installment of Two Ed Tech Guys Take Questions and Share Cool Stuff. Thanks to everyone who joined us for the live session. If you missed it, you can catch the replay right here and register for the next session on that same page. 

These were the week’s most popular posts:
1. A Critical Thinking Quiz
2. Five Fun Breakout Games for Online and In-person Classrooms
3. Ziplet – A Good Way to Share Digital Exit Tickets
4. Tract – Project-based, Peer-to-Peer Learning
5. Two Easy Ways to Blur Faces and Objects in Your Videos
6. How to Create Custom Coloring Maps
7. Free Presidential Timeline Poster for Your Classroom Courtesy of C-SPAN

On-demand Professional Development

Other Places to Follow Me:
  • The Practical Ed Tech Newsletter comes out every Sunday evening/ Monday morning. It features my favorite tip of the week and the week’s most popular posts from Free Technology for Teachers.
  • My YouTube channel has more than 37,000 subscribers watching my short tutorial videos on a wide array of educational technology tools. 
  • I’ve been Tweeting as @rmbyrne for fourteen years. 
  • The Free Technology for Teachers Facebook page features new and old posts from this blog throughout the week. 
  • If you’re curious about my life outside of education, you can follow me on Instagram or Strava.

This post originally appeared on If you see it elsewhere, it has been used without permission. Sites that steal my (Richard Byrne’s) work include CloudComputin and WayBetterSite. Featured image captured by Richard Byrne.

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Questions from My Daughters – Why Do We Sneeze?

My daughters ask me lots of questions that I haven’t thought about since I was their age (4 and 5). Many of those questions I write in a list titled Questions from My Daughters that I have saved on my phone via Google Keep. “Why do we sneeze?” is one of the questions that my youngest daughter recently asked me. My answer was “because something tickles the hair inside your nose.” Of course, I then had to do a little more research about her question. That brought me to SciShow and SciShow Kids which both tackled the question. 

Why Do We Sneeze? is a SciShow video that dives into some research that was done by scientists who created a simulated nose to determine why humans sneeze. 

All About Sneezes! is a SciShow Kids video that takes a little less scientific approach to answering the question “why do we sneeze?” while also reminding kids why it is important to cover their nose and mouth when they sneeze. 

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Five Helpful YouTube Features for Teachers

YouTube offers a bunch of features that are sometimes overlooked or under-utilized despite being quite helpful when sharing videos in your classroom. In this new video I demonstrate five of those features. Playlists

By default your Google/ YouTube account has a playlist titled “watch later.” That’s a private playlist to which you can save any video. You can also create custom playlists to share or to keep private. In the video below I demonstrate how to create an unlisted playlist. 
YouTube will automatically generate a transcript for almost all videos that have spoken narration. You can copy the transcript and save it in a Google Document. 
Caption display settings
Any video can have subtitles or captions displayed. You can adjust the size and color of the font used in the caption display. Adjusting the size and color scheme can make it easier for some students to see the captions. 
Sharing sections
Rather than sharing a video and telling students to fast forward to specific section, you can share the video so that it automatically starts at a specific timestamp of your choosing. 
Searching within channels
When you’ve found a video producer that you like take a look at their channel and search within it for more helpful videos they’ve produced. 

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WriteReader Adds New Features for Teachers and Students

WriteReader, one of my favorite tools for telling stories with pictures, recently launched four new features for teachers and students. One of the new features improves the usability of WriteReader while the other three enhance the overall experience for teachers using WriteReader in their classrooms. Phone-friendly Interface
WriteReader was originally built to be used on laptops and tablets. While it could be used on mobile phones it was a little tricky to use on small screens. That’s changed now that WriteReader has optimized the user interface to work equally well on phones, tablets, and laptop computers. Students can now add pictures to their books, write, and record on phones just like they can on tablets and laptops. Teachers can also now use their phones to give students feedback on their WriteReader books. Learn more about this update right here.

Standards and Resource Center
WriteReader offers a great resource center for teachers. In that resource center you will find book template, writing prompts, lesson plans, and more. All of the writing prompts are now aligned to Common Core Standards and the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for English Language Arts and Reading standards (that’s a mouthful of a title). Learn more about the standards alignment here.

Reading Rooms
Reading Rooms is the latest feature added to WriteReader. Reading Rooms are digital showcases of your students’ work. You can select the books that you want to include in the reading room. Once you’ve made your selections you can then share the reading room with parents and other community members by simply sending them a link to it. Parents don’t need WriteReader accounts in order to view books that are shared in WriteReader Reading Rooms. Watch this video to learn more about the Reading Rooms feature in WriteReader.

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What Would We Eat on Mars? And Other Fun Science Questions

Long-time followers of my blog have probably noticed that I really like the videos produced by SciShow Kids. Their videos cover a wide range of science topics and almost all of them answer questions that elementary school students are apt to ask. For example, one of the recent releases from SciShow Kids asks, “what would we eat on Mars?" 

In What Would We Eat on Mars? SciShow Kids explains why plants don’t grow on Mars and waht it would take to try to grow plants and support life on Mars. The video ends with a series of questions for kids to answer with their thoughts about how we might grow plants on Mars and what to grow and eat on Mars. I think it’s a fun video and a fun set of questions to use to get kids thinking about science. 

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Create Your Own Breakout EDU Games

Disclosure: Breakout EDU is currently an advertiser on

A week ago I shared a handful of fun Breakout EDU games for in-person and online classrooms. A couple of those games were actually designed, built, and shared by teachers and not by Breakout EDU staff. In fact, Breakout EDU encourages teachers to create a Breakout EDU games to play online or in-person. To that end Breakout EDU offers an extensive collection of tutorials and materials for designing, building, and publishing your own games. 

Watching the game design tutorial videos is probably the best first step if you’re interested in creating your own Breakout EDU games. Those six videos walk you through the overall concept of game design then the five steps of building and publishing your game. 

After watching the game design tutorial videos you’ll be ready to build your first Breakout EDU game. All of the templates and artwork that you need to get started are available on this Breakout EDU resources page. The templates are in Google Docs format so that you can quickly copy and save them in your Google Workspace account. 

For inspiration for making your own Breakout EDU games take a look at this handful I highlighted last week. 

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Before Kids’ Emotions Run High, Practice These Steps During Calmer Times

As children file back into America’s classrooms, they bring with them “backpacks full of emotion,” says Katie Hurley, a child psychotherapist and author of “The Happy Kid Handbook.”  And they are counting on adults to “work together to help them sort it out.”

During children’s early years, teachers and caregivers have a prime opportunity to focus on emotional skills that support students’ academic achievement, wellness and sense of connectedness. Some of the most effective strategies are also the simplest – which is good, says Hurley, because “we are all running on empty.”

Check-In with Emotions

Many early childhood and elementary classrooms start the day with a date and weather check. This is a good place to also include a “feelings check,” says Hurley. For example, try creating pockets that are labeled with different emotions and asking kids to put a popsicle stick in the pocket that matches their mood. It’s a quick temperature check that allows the teacher to scan the class and see who might need a little extra attention. Families can also check in at dinner or before bed, taking turns sharing two or three words to describe their day.

Breathe In, Breathe Out

When kids’ emotions are running hot – if they are bringing anger or anxiety into the classroom – there are several strategies teachers can use to help them cool down. And while there is no one-size-fits-all method, in Hurley’s experience, “deep breathing is the single best thing you can do to calm down your central nervous system.” 

That said, simply telling kids to “take a deep breath” is rarely effective. Hurley recommends using a memorable, guided strategy such as square breathing, pretending to blow out birthday candles or pretending to blow up a balloon.

The key is practice and adult support, says Hurley. “You have to practice this when they’re calm. When kids are hot, it’s not the time to start saying, ‘Do deep breathing.’ The brain will say, ‘That’ll never work. This is a five-alarm fire – I can’t just breathe my way through it!’ But when we take those deep breaths, the brain starts to say, ‘Oh, wait a minute, it’s not as bad as I thought. I can handle this.’”

When we practice deep breathing regularly, it becomes a habit. Habitual strategies are key because when we are faced with a stressor, we instinctively enter “fight or flight mode.” And then it is harder for our brains to access coping strategies. Hurley urges parents and teachers to start the day with a breathing exercise, take a mid-day breathing break and do it again before bed. “That way our brain internalizes it and says, ‘Oh, hey, you know what? Breathing calms me down. This is something that helps me feel good.’”

Maintain a Balanced Wellness Diet 

Our brains tend to overreact to perceived threats and stressors, says Hurley, sending up false alarms that say to us, “This is bad. Nothing’s working. Everything’s horrible. You’re in trouble.’” 

And this internal alarm system is extra-sensitive when basic needs are not being met including sleep, exercise, hydration and nutrition. Hurley emphasizes the following basics with parents and teachers: kids need 10 to 12 hours of sleep at night; they need to drink water; they need to move their bodies; and they need to eat healthy foods. 

“It’s all interrelated. When these needs aren’t being met, children’s coping skills are compromised and one little stressor, like a timed math test, can send their brains into overload.”  That’s why a system-wide commitment to healthy school lunches, movement breaks and recess supports students’ physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.

“Let’s Do This Together”

When children are emotionally hot, adults often send them away to deal with their feelings on their own – such as out into the hallway or up to their room. 

Some of that comes from our own anxiety, says Hurley. “When our kids yell at us or throw a tantrum, it triggers us. We might think, ‘Oh no, I don’t know how to handle this.’” But this strategy also makes logical sense to us: “When adults get overwhelmed with emotion, we want to be alone. We say, ‘I just need five minutes to myself to collect my thoughts.’” 

But most kids don’t want that. “When kids are feeling their worst is when they want the most connection,” says Hurley. When they lose control, what they are really saying is “‘I need you – I don’t know how to do this.’ But we send them away to be alone with all their negative, scary, intrusive thoughts.” 

Instead, says Hurley, “we have to learn how to meet their storm with our calm.” That starts with empathy, says Hurley. Alternatively, she suggests saying, “’This is really hard,’ or ‘I can see that you are really upset/angry/scared.’” Then follow it with “I’m going to help you through it. Now sounds like a good time to take a nice deep breath. Let’s do this together. Do you want to do square breathing or blow up a balloon?” 

For those everyday emotional fluctuations, Hurley recommends that teachers and parents create a “calm corner” in the house or classroom: a place where children can self-select to spend a few minutes when they notice their emotional temperature rise. You can stock it with soft squeeze balls, glitter jars or fancy coloring pages – anything that is a tension reliever.

These small interventions not only support emotional health, but they also build adult-child relationships that will pay off over time. “Children need anchors, and we are their anchors,” says Hurley. “That’s our job as parents, as educators and as coaches. We have to practice these things on our own so that when things go wrong – and they will every single day – we will feel ready for it.”

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How to Create Custom Coloring Maps

There are plenty of places on the Internet to find free outline maps of states, provinces, countries, and regions of the world. Finding blank outline maps of cities, small towns, or neighborhoods is a little harder to do. If you’re looking for a blank map of a city, town, or neighborhood for your students to label and or color, Mapbox Studio has the solution for you. 

With a free Mapbox Studio account you can create a custom outline map of any city, town, or neighborhood of your choosing. You can choose how much or how little detail you want to include in the map. Once you’ve made your selections you can save your map as a PNG or JPG file to print and distribute to your students.

In this short video I demonstrate how to use Mapbox Studio to create your own custom coloring maps. 

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An Easy Way to Find Movie Clips to Include in Your Lessons

ClassHook is a service that I’ve been using and recommending for the last few years. It provides a good way to find clips from movies and television shows to use in your lessons. You can search it according Common Core standard, recommended grade level, and subject area. Recently, ClassHook added another search option. ClassHook’s new Movie Recommendation option lets you conduct a broad, general search for movie clips without having to enter a grade or a standard. Watch this short video to see how it works. 

Applications for Education
Once you’ve found a clip through ClassHook you could just play it for your class to watch in your room or link to it in your LMS of choice. Another option is to use ClassHook’s “pause prompts” feature to incorporate discussion questions into the video. Pause Prompts are timestamped questions that you add to video clips in ClassHook. When you’re showing a video to your class, the questions you’ve written as Pause Prompts will automatically pop-up at the timestamp you’ve specified. The video will stop and the question will appear full-screen in its place. You can then have a discussion with your students about the prompt. In this short video I demonstrate how to use ClassHook’s pause prompts feature.

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Free Webinar Tomorrow – Two Ed Tech Guys Take Questions

Tomorrow at 4pm ET/ 1pm PT Rushton Hurley from Next Vista for Learning and I are hosting the second episode of the second season of Two Ed Tech Guys Take Questions and Share Cool Stuff! We’d love to have you join us! You can register for the session right here

In every episode we answer questions from readers and viewers like you. We also share some cool and interesting things that we’ve found around the Web. Rushton tends to share cool videos and pictures while I tend to share cool tech tools. And we both try our best to give helpful answers to your questions about all things educational technology. 

Please join us! And feel free to email me in advance with your questions or send them in live during the webinar. 

Recordings and resources from our previous episodes are available on this Next Vista for Learning page.  

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