Teacher Tools – Day 3

htmlToday my picks for useful teacher tools are both related. HTML stands for Hyper-text Markup Language. It is the code used to create web pages, among other things. The code allows us to present text and other visible features through an HTML aware browser and allows us to create links to other documents using the anchor tag.

Every teacher should be able to write basic HTML and know the common tags.  Teachers should also be familiar with creating and uploading web documents to a site.  HTML is becoming the most common way to present content to students both in the classroom and remotely.  LMS systems like Canvas or Moodle all use HTML to present content and they allow you to edit HTML tags in order to more accurately control the material that you present in your classroom pages.  Being able to control the placement of text around an image, for example, is important to the presentation of your material.  If your pages are difficult or uncomfortable to read, it is likely that students will not read them.  You owe it to yourself and your students to learn the basics of HTML and web design and to use those tools as you create your materials.

The other part of this partnership is the use of Cascading Style Sheets to format and control the appearance of your material.  It is an established design principle that content and formatting should be separate.  Having the information in a different document from the formatting instructions allows you to change the appearance of your material without having to modify, or even touch, your material.  You can also edit your content without having to wade through presentation markup.  The current web model uses a markup technology called Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) to accomplish this feat.  The content is stored in an HTML document as basically paragraphs of text with no formatting.  The paragraphs are tagged with class and id names that allow the author to assign presentation information even down to a single letter of a word or sentence.  CSS allows us to separate and update presentation and appearance for an HTML document without having to disturb the content and without having to search through the content for formatting tags.  To become a better teacher in the 21st century classroom you should commit right now to learning at least the basics of HTML and CSS and then establishing an online presence.  Build an educational philosophy page, a curriculum vitae, or a blog site to discuss the things that are important to you.

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Useful Skills in Canvas

w3c_logoI am going to start a series aimed primarily at teachers who use the Canvas Learning Management System.  I have found, over the course of the last three years, some tips and tricks that can make your experience with Canvas easier, or possibly more effective.  The first trick I will offer is the use of HTML to control how your embedded images relate to the text you place them with in pages, quiz questions.  Most people ignore the HTML editor portion of Canvas and just use the Rich Content Editor.  I think this is a mistake because the HTML editor allows you much more control and functionality.  All you need is a cursory knowledge of in-line style commands and CSS.

Let’s say you wish to add a picture to the top of an informational page.  Ordinarily you would upload the file to Canvas, use the Embedded Image button in the page editor tool bar to place the picture, and then put your cursor where you want the text to appear and start typing.  The problem here is that if you wish the text to appear on one side or the other of the image and/or to wrap the image, it is difficult do do in the Rich Text Editor.  Often you end up with a single line of text next to the image and the rest of your text below the image, like this…

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With the addition of a tiny html snippet into the HTML editor you can go from this to what appears in the image below.

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To accomplish this task we only need open the HTML editor and find the code that embeds the image into the page.  We are looking for the following structure:

chrome_2017-03-08_11-12-51We see the line img src=”https://whitesboro…  This line tells us the source for the picture we have embedded into our page.  We need to edit that html slightly with the addition of the following snippet of html code.

“style=”float: left; padding-right: 15px;”

Everything, including the quotation marks, must be included.  Essentially this line of code tells the HTML browser to float or move the picture always to the left of the text and to give us a 15 pixel space between the right margin of the image and the start of our text.  Entered correctly, the code will now look like this…

chrome_2017-03-08_12-18-23This is the same bit of html with the code snippet above pasted in.  We placed the line of code between the “img” and the “src” and now our text politely starts at the top of our image, wraps nicely around our image, and gives us a 15 pixel buffer space between the right margin of the image and the left margin of the text.  This particular bit of html can be pasted anywhere that you are allowed to edit a page with html.  In fact, I used it on the smaller images on this page at WordPress to allow me to wrap the text around the images.  This is just one example of the power that simple HTML and in-line CSS style commands provide.  The link above will take you to the W3C page on style sheets and you can begin your journey from there.

If information like this is useful to you, please leave a like and share on social media.  If there is some topic you would like covered, please leave a comment below.

Top 10 Tech Skills Every Teacher Needs – Day 2

Tech560Welcome back to day 2 of the top tech skills that every teacher needs to provide a relevant and engaging learning environment in the digital world.  Last time we listed “Search Engine Skills”, “Office Mastery”, and “Social Media”.  Tonight we present three more skills that most teachers will find indispensable.  Remember, these are in NO particular order..

4.  Teachers should be bloggers.  Blogging is a skill that every teacher should posses.  News from your classroom, important current events, and information like assignment instructions can be presented easily to a large audience via a blog site.  Blogging is also a great way to communicate with peers and keep parents informed.  At the very least, blogging is an exercise in discipline.  In order to develop a following, fresh content must be added daily (or at least more than once a week).  Reading blogs allows a teacher to keep abreast of what others are doing.  It is a great way to find useful items for use in your own class.

5.  Creating video content is a vital skill.  Teachers should be familiar with the production and distribution of digital video.  Once upon a time, video creation was reserved to professionals.  Given the abundance of video editing tools, inexpensive cameras, and the ease with which material can be posted to YouTube, Facebook, and other social media sites, there is no reason for any teacher to fall behind the video curve.  Case in point,  your humble author built a highlights video for a chemistry class that I taught in 2010 over combustion chemistry.  The effects were done in Adobe After Effects and the final edit was in Premiere Pro.


It’s not about talent, it is about providing information and generating interest in your students.

6.  Teachers should be able to build a web presence.  Using Notepad to code up and ASP or PHP site and posting it via an FTP server is not really necessary (it IS good to know how) but all teachers should have some type of an online presence.  There are many hosting solutions available today with templates already in place that allow a potential webmaster to fill in information and present a fairly professional looking site to the Internet at large.  Your schedule, contact information, a fairly recent picture, and a minimum of biographical information should be available to parents, administrators, students, and, probably most importantly, potential employers.  A web site today is more like a virtual business card/biography.  It should be indexed and easily searchable.  If you keep current and accurate information available on the web, you won’t have to worry about what others post.

Well, that is surely enough for tonight.  I will try to finish up tomorrow.  Meanwhile, have a great evening.

Tools for Teachers

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I am starting a new series of blog entries aimed at providing reviews for some of my favorite teacher technology tools.  Hopefully it will be useful to others of my profession.  If nothing else, it might save you some time by showing you what you don’t want to use.

Tonight our first entry will concern a tool that I have used for several years now to create online content and evaluations. Quia.com is a web site that allows the user to import class rosters, build games, activities, and quizzes, and then compile the results into a grade book.  Students are provided a unique user name and password and must log in for the activities to be credited to them.  This is a paid application that I cover out of my own pocket.  The cost is only about $40 per year.  It is well worth the price.  Using this site it is possible to create engaging review games like Hangman, “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire”, virtual flash cards, Battleship, Concentration, and many others.  The games are all content based and provide and thorough and engaging review.  It is also possible to create online quizzes and formal evaluations involving true/false, multiple choice, matching, short answer, and essay questions.  The quizzes and activities with absolute answers (eg. multiple choice or matching questions) grade themselves.  The written questions (eg. short answer or essay) may then be graded by the instructor.  It is possible to embed video, PowerPoint, Flash, and other interactive content directly into the activities to provide a guided learning environment.  For all you flippers out there, this is an excellent tool to provide guided instruction outside of the classroom.  Images, sounds, and other files may be embedded into the activities as instructional material or feedback.

There is an extensive online community to provide support and ideas for the new user.  It is possible to share activities between instructors so if you need inspiration for building a lesson, something is always available and people are willing to help.  Questions may be imported via text files and stored as question banks for year to year continuity.  Every part of the quiz or activity is HTML and LaTex enabled to add a personal touch or emphasis to the questions.  Grading of the questions that require review is simple and different point values may be assigned to each question to provide emphasis.  Students may work the assignments multiple times or be limited to one time only for testing purposes.  Of all the online assignment environments I have used, this is the most complete and the easiest to get started and become adept at.

Free evaluation memberships are available and the cost for a full membership is very reasonable.  I have used quia.com for the past 4 years and I will continue to use it for the foreseeable future.  It has allowed me to convert to an almost completely paperless classroom environment, and is well worth the time to evaluate.  I would highly recommend this site to any educator in almost any grade level.  High school students are engaged by the more complex games and younger students will find activities to match their level of development.  All in all, and excellent educational tool.