Tech Talk: Discover, Create, & Share with Smithsonian Learning Lab

Do you dream of spending endless hours explore a museum? Now you can with Smithsonian Learning Lab. Explore content and create and share your own collections.

I don’t know about you but I image paradise as a never-ending museum that I can wander and explore for days, having adventures amongst the archives. Maybe I read the From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler a few too many times as a kid.

As an adult, I know that my chances of getting lost in backroom stacks of a museum are pretty slim. However, the Smithsonian Learning Lab gets me pretty close.

The Smithsonian Learning Lab lets you explore the digital artifacts and content across 19 museums, 9 research centers, and 1 national zoo. Not only do you get to explore the content, you can take on the role of a museum curator and create your own personal collections and share them with the world. Dream. Come. True.

Explore Content

Exploration of the Smithsonian Learning Lab starts with a simple keyword. You can search through the Smithsonian’s digital content as well as collections created by other Smithsonian Learning Lab members.

A search gives you a list of images, weblinks, videos, and other digital content that matches your search. Select an individual artifact to get detailed information about each item.

More info
Detailed information about museum items.

You can also search for collections. These are created by other members of the community. Below is an example of a collection created by  STEM in 30 at National Air and Space Museum. You can add this to your favorites, share it through social media and Google Classroom, or copy it into your own set of collections.

Mars collection
Learn about Mars with this collection created by STEM in 30 at National Air and Space Museum.

I will warn you, be prepared to lose hours here. I intended to spend a few minutes casually perusing the content, just to check in out. I emerged about an hour later. There is a lot of amazing stuff to see.

Creating Collections

I would have been perfectly happy just knowing that I could explore Smithsonian content in the comfort of my own home. Image my delight when I started creating my own personalized collections! This is the powerhouse feature of the Smithsonian Learning Lab. Any registered member can assemble and share their own collections.

Learning Lab Collection
My Futurist Collection (work in progress)

Every collection created can be tagged with useful information including, description of the collection, subject areas, age level, educational features, and standards. Yes, you can tag your collection by standard!

Classroom Connections

It’s clear that Smithsonian designed the Learning lab with educators in mind. There are so many different ways an educator could use this in their classroom. All ages, all subjects.

  • The teacher could create a collection containing artifacts related to the historic period they are studying.
  • Students could create collections as part of a research project. They would write about their collection and how each piece is connected to their collection theme.
  • Teachers and students could create collection related to the fiction books they are reading. For example, if students are reading a piece of historical fiction, they could curate a collection of artifacts, images, or information that connects the story to the actual events or time period.
  • Have students create a collection of artwork based on a color or a different art principle. Or, what about a collection of art based on a mathematical concept.

The possibilities are endless. I love the idea of letting students create content. This gets them thinking critically about content. As curators, they have to explain the theme of their collection and how their chosen pieces relate to that theme. Thus building critical thinking and information literacy skills!

Learn more about how to use Smithsonian Learning Lab in your classroom with their Getting Started Guide for Teachers.  The guide answers your questions about classroom use including how to create students rosters and assigning collections to students. If student privacy is a concern (and it always should be), check out the Smithsonian Kids Online Privacy Statement

Smithsonian Learning Lab is a fantastic site for all ages. Whether you are an educator, student, or curious mind who just loves to explore new information, you need to set aside some time to explore.

Are you using Smithsonian Learning Lab? Tell us how in the comments!


Oh, what the first week of 2018 had to offer!

We are only seven days into 2018 and I’m already overwhelmed by ideas, resources, lists of lists, and new people to follow. So exciting!

Here is a quick rundown of my favorite finds from the first week of 2018. 

2018 – Off to a Great Start!

We are only seven days into 2018 and I’m already overwhelmed by ideas, resources, lists of lists, and new people to follow. So exciting!

Here is a quick rundown of my favorite finds from the first week of 2018.

Classroom Ideas

Classroom Resources

List of Lists

New (to me) Folks to Follow

Whew! If that’s what the first week of 2018 had to offer, I can’t wait to see what the rest of the year brings!

Create Interactive Stories with Sutori

Sutori is an online tool for creating interactive visual stories.

Sutori: Visual Storytelling

Are you looking for a new tool for creating interactive stories or visual presentations? Give Sutori a try.

Sutori is a web-based tool for creative timelines or storylines using your own content and online content or media. You can add quizzes and discussion forums to make your stories interactive.


There are multiple tiers of pricing. The free version allows you to create simple stories using text and images. For $99 a year, you add a lot of functionality such as embedded content, interactive quizzes, and data collection.

Sample Story

Below is a sample I created in about 15 minutes. I’m using the free 30-day trial of the Unlimited version. Once you use the Unlimted version, it might be hard to lose the functionality once the trial is over.

My sample story should be embedded below. However, it might show up as just a link. (This could be an embed issue on my end.)

Classroom Ideas

Sutori has many classroom uses for both you and your students. If you or your students are creating timelines, Sutori is definitely a tool to check out. However, this is more than a timeline tool and has other classroom applications.

Paid Version

  • Create guided units or lessons. Curate all your content onto one storyline. Students can move through at their own pace.
  • Have students create Sutori stories instead of a typical presentation or report. Have them incorporate found or self-created media such as videos or infographics.
  • Create a collaborative storyline as part of a teacher book study. Curate additional resources that relate to the book content.

Free Version

If you are not ready for the paid version, you can still use this unique storytelling tool.

  • Use instead of traditional presentation tools.
  • Create a Year-at-a-Glance timeline for Open House or Curriculum Night.
  • Create a Year-in-Review Story to share with your parents. Include images and student quotes.
  • Have students create story summaries.
  • Have students create their own stories using their own images. Either individually or collaboratively.
  • Explore the user-created content by subject. Search for content on this page.

Find more info on their Teacher Page.


As with all web-based tools you use with students, be sure to read through the privacy statements. You can keep your stories private or you can share them using multiple methods.

Pros and Cons


  • Easy to use.
  • Embed content from your other favorite tools such as EdPuzzle, Thinglink, Quizlet, Google Maps, Flipgrid and more.
  • Add interactive elements including quiz questions and discussion questions.
  • Integrate with Google Classroom or you create your own classes with student rosters.
  • Monitor student data and engagement.
  • Gallery of user-created content.
  • Extensive support resources on the Help Page.


  • Limited features on the free version (but $99/year is not bad for the amount of functionality it adds).

Sutori is a powerful storytelling tool that has a lot of classroom potential. Give the free 30-day trial a try and see what you think.

Are you already using Sutori?  How are you using it? Share in the comments.

30 Tools in 30 Days: Day 30 Lightbot

Get ready for CSED week and Hour of Code with LightBot.

Day 30: Lightbot

First off, Day 30! Whoo Hoo!

Ok, now that that is out of the way, let’s talk coding. Computer Science Education Week and Hour of Code are just around the corner (December 4 – 10). Next week, people all over the world will play games, create games, program robots, and engage in a whole host of activities as they explore the world of computer science, computational thinking, and coding. There are many, many different websites and apps out there that will help you and your students join in the Hour of Code fun. One such app is LightBot.

Use the symbols to move the robot and light the tiles.
Use the symbols to move the robot and light the tiles.

LightBot is a puzzle game where you help a cute little robot light all the blue tiles on the screen. The game teaches you how to program as you use icons to create sequences that will move your robot around the puzzle board. Seems simple enough, right? The gameplay is easy but the puzzles do take some careful thinking. I’ll admit, it took me a couple tries to get past level three. Yes, I use to write code. No, don’t judge me.

As you solve the puzzles, you are learning programming logic and terms such as sequences, procedures, and loops. Your little robot friend is there to help you along the way with just-in-time support and guidance. Program your solution by touching the symbols and creating your sequence. Press play to run your solution.

Little robot introduces new vocabulary as you move through the game levels.
Little robot introduces new vocabulary as you move through the game levels.


It is available for Windows and Macs as well as pretty much every mobile platform. The app costs $2.99 or $4.99 depending on your platform. LightBox is geared for ages 9 and up. There is also a LightBot Jr app for the younger coders. For those of you not ready to commit to that type of cash, check out the FREE LightBox: Code Hour version.

Teacher Resources

Not quite sure how LightBot puzzles connect to learning how to code? They have a quick guide that explains how their games introduce students to programming logic. They also have additional resources covering topics like how to use LightBox for Hour of Code and some lesson plans. It’s not a huge number of resources but there is good information about teaching programming in the classroom.

LightBot and the free LightBot Code Hour are cute and fun little games that cover some complex programming concepts. You and your students will enjoy this game. It is a great addition to your Hour of Code toolbox.

30 Tools in 30 Days: Day 29 Pixlr

Pixlr – a family of free photo editing tools to meet all of your creative needs.

Day 29: Pixlr

Everyone is a photographer nowadays. We all walk around with little cameras in our pockets. Sometimes I even use mine to call or text my family. Personally, I take hundreds of pictures a year. I love to capture the world around me and share what I see on my media channels. I have even more fun with creative post-processing and editing. Back when I did it for a living, my tool of choice was (and still is) Adobe Photoshop. You just can’t beat this powerhouse. However, for those who dabble, the price tag may be a bit too steep to justify. Even for me, I have a license for my personal use but I do not have one at work. So, where do you go when you need the editing capability of Photoshop without the price? Pixlr is my choice every time.

Pixlr is a suite of free photo editing tools that you can use as web-based or mobile apps. The web apps are great for anyone who is using a work or school computer because you do not need to download anything. Just open one of the apps and edit away.

Pixlr has three different apps designed to meet the needs of the beginner, the dabbler, and the more serious photo editor. Each one can be found as both a web app and a mobile app.

Add filters, Frames, and Effects with Pixlr-omatic.
Add filters, frames, and effects with Pixlr-omatic.


Pixlr-omatic is a fun way to add retro filters, frames, and effects to your images. The screen looks like an old camera. There are tons of effects and filters to choose from to create a unique image. The interface is very easy to use. Final images can be saved to your computer or device and shared on social meida. Because really, why else would you over filter your image?

Pixlr Express

Pixlr Express is the photo editing app for everyone. Easy to use for the beginner but also has lots of editing options for those who want to do more with their photos. With Pixlr Express, you can still add the filters, effects, and frames that you used with Omatic, however, you can also do some advanced image correction, editing, and manipulation. You can even add text and stickers and create photo collages. Again, the controls are easy to use so it does not take long to learn and start editing your images. For most of you, Pixlr Express will meet your photo editing needs.

Edit and correct or images with Pixlr Express.
Edit and correct or images with Pixlr Express.

Pixlr Editor

Pixlr Editor is a robust photo editing tool. If you are a Photoshop user, Pixlr Editor will not disappoint. With Pixlr Editor, you have many of the same tools you would find in Photoshop, including layers, filters, and selection tools. When I need to do some heavy duty editing at work (where I don’t have Photoshop) Pixlr is the tool I always turn to.

Edit your images like a pro with Pixlr Editor.
Edit your images like a pro with Pixlr Editor.

In the Classroom

The Pixlr family of apps are great for classroom use. Pixlr-omatic and Express are easy to use even for your youngest students. Pixlr Editor gives you the power of a robust editing tool as well as the ability to create digital works of art.

The best part of all three of the apps is that they are free, web-based (for those working on a desktop or laptop), and require no sign-in. One thing to note – since they are free apps, you will have to deal with embedded adds. They need to pay the bills, right? For the most part, the adds are not intrusive. I’ve noticed that the adds are tailored to me and are usually for products I buy or sites I visit. (Thank you creepy internet and big data!)

If you are doing any type of photography or digital media production with your students (and you should be) the Pixlr suite of apps are tools you must check out.

It looks like they also have a vector editing tool called Vectr. I have not used it yet myself but I am excited to give it a try.

Happy editing!

30 Tools in 30 Days:Day 28 Storyboard That

Create comics, digital stories, and storyboards with Storyboard That.

Day 28: Storyboard That

Using comics in the classroom is a fantastic way for students to express their creativity while demonstrating their understanding. From summarizing a book chapter to creating their own original story, comics are a valuable form of storytelling. However, creating comics might be intimidating to those students who don’t see themselves as artists. Don’t let that be a barrier. Get your students creating their own comics with Storyboard That, a web-based tool for creating comics and telling digital stories.

Screenshot of Storyboard That creation screen.
My first comic strip. In progress of course.

Creating a story with Storyboard That is simple. I created a free account using my Google credentials. With the free account, I was able to create a 1×1, 2×1 or 3×1 celled story.

Customize your elements.
Customize all the elements. From the color of the sky to the pose of the characters. Yes, I could have a pink unicorn with a purple mane and blue eyes.

There are hundreds of backgrounds, characters, shapes, and textures to choose from. Drag and drop your element into your cell and customize as you choose. The level of customization for each element is impressive. You can change colors, resize, add filters, and even change the pose of your characters. The amount of customization combined with all of the characters, background, and textures available allows for unlimited creativity in your storytelling.

When your story is complete, you can save it, edit it, or copy it. You have several options for downloading your storyboards as images or slides. You can also embed them into your website.


You can get started for free like I did or choose from one of their many pricing options. Educational packages start with individual teacher accounts for $8.99 per month for up to 10 students and go up from there based on the number of students you want on your roster. There are many different pricing options to best meet your personal, departmental, school or district needs including a  district-wide license for $2.99 per student.

I do love the free version and for the most part, I was able to create some fun comics. However, there are a few drawbacks to the free version that might make you consider going for the paid version.

Privacy – With the free version, all your creations are public and can be found through a Google search. With the educational version, all storyboards are private and secure. The teacher can see all the storyboards using a class roster and control privacy settings so students can view each others work. This alone would make me consider paying for a license if I was going to use it with students on a regular basis.

Other cons for the free version include:

  • You can only save two comics a month with the free version.
  • Using your own images or graphics is only available with the paid versions.
  • You have limited layout options with the free version. The paid version allows for creating large comic grids up to 100 cells. The paid version also has custom templates for creating posters and other visuals.

Teacher Resources

I was very impressed with the resources and lesson plans available on the Storyboard That site. If you scroll to the bottom of the home page, you see the list of resources for teachers, business folks, and filmmakers. The list of lesson plans and teacher resources is huge!! I mean really huge! They have ideas and lesson plans for all subjects and grade levels. I also really liked the resources for filmmakers. If you are doing film production in your classroom, take a look. You and your students will learn a lot about the process of movie making.

The free version of Storyboard That is an easy way to create short comics, as long as you are OK with sharing them publically. If you currently use or want to start using comics in your classroom regularly, then I would consider a paid account.

Even if you are not going to use Storyboard That, the extensive resource library is a gold mine of ideas, lesson plans, and information. Bookmark it so you don’t forget it.

30 Tools in 30 Days: Day 27 Incredibox

Day 27: Incredibox

Is the music in you? Do you need to drop a beat and get your groove on? Me too! Head over to Incredibox and let the music flow.

Incredibox is a flash-based website and app that allows you and your students mix up an original tune with the help of some animated beatboxers. (They are kind of loveable, yet kind of creepy.) There are five different versions to choose from each with its own set of beats, effects, voices, and melodies. Creating a custom tune is simple. Just drag an accessory on to a beatboxer and he starts a loop. Layer on more sounds to create a track that is one of a kind.

Incredibox screenshot
My crew of beatboxers playing my jam.

Incredibox lets you record your track and download it as a wave file. You can also share your it through a link or social media. Listen to my original jam Sunrise. Your mixes are public so others can listen to your musical masterpiece. The ones with the most likes make it into the Top 50. You can search the library for mixes by title or email. Listen, like, and share.

Classroom Ideas

Incredibox a fun and easy way to get your students creating their own music. The controls are simple and don’t get in the way of their creative genius. Just drag and drop.

Here are some ideas for how to use it with your students.

  • Create their own mixes for a student-created dance party mix.
  • Mix up soundtracks for their favorite books and stories. Or their own stories.
  • Generate music for their multimedia productions.
  • Create a theme song for their podcast or video show.

Or – your students could create a live version of their mix like this creative group.

Head over to the Goodies page for more gems like this one.

Whether you want to get your students creating music for their multi-media projects or live out your secret DJ dream, Incredibox is a fun and easy tool to help you let the music play. Now excuse me while I jam. Hit it you loveable, creepy little beatboxers.

30 Tools in 30 Days: Day 26

Day 26:

If you use videos in your classroom in any way, you need to check out is an open source notetaking tool that integrates into Google Drive. Welcome Screen
To begin, load a video.

Load any online video into and takes notes as you watch. Your video notes are time-stamped and synced to the video.

Time stamped notes synced with the video
Video notes are synced and time-stamped.

Notes are saved into your Google Drive for easy access and sharing. They can also be shared or exported into Evernote.

Key Features

There are several features that make a tool worth exploring for your classroom.

  • Simple video upload. All you need is a URL. (Note when using YouTube –  I first tried to use the URL from Share but it did not load. I had to copy the URL in the navigation bar and then it loaded perfectly.)
  • Adjust the video speed to slow down or speed up the video as you watch.
  • Notes synced with video. If you edit your notes, you automatically jump back to that point in the video.
  • Save notes so you can review, edit, or add later.
  • Easy to use with no training.
  • Share your notes with others. Support Screen
Support Screen

Since is an open source tool, I did not expect much in the way of support. However, they do have a Feedback and Support button that leads you to their Knowledge Base. It contains some good tutorial videos and articles on how to use You can also leave feedback or browse active discussions.

Classroom Connections

There are so many different ways you can use in your classroom.

Teacher Uses
  • Take notes on videos you share with your students to highlight key ideas or draw attention.
  • Write reflection or comprehension questions and sync them to specific points in the video.
  • Use as an assessment tool and share feedback on student-created videos.
Student Uses
  • Turn watching assigned videos from passive “Sit and Get” into active listening. They can share their notes with you so you can assess comprehension.
  • Make it easier to incorporate videos into research. Students select their own videos and take notes that support their research.
  • Support collaborative video editing. If student teams are producing videos, they can watch rough cuts and share production notes.
  •  Promote active questioning. Students watch assigned video and use to capture thoughts, ideas, and questions.

Use anytime you want students to engage with videos on a deeper cognitive level. is an easy to use notetaking tool that can promote active listening skills. Use with your students or for your own video watching needs.

For more video tools check out my past posts on Edpuzzle and Adobe Spark Video.


30 Tools in 30 Days: Day 25 Symbaloo

Day 25: Symbaloo

Webmixes for Organizing Links

Managing links to all your favorite sites is a huge challenge. Especially if you are a self-diagnosed e-hoarder like me. One of the tools I use to organize my many site links is Symbaloo.

Symbaloo lets you create custom grids, called a webmix, of links. See my webmix for Open Educational Resources (OER) and Science, Tech, Engineering, and Math (STEM) links below. (If the embed code doesn’t work, follow the link.)

I created this webmix to use when I do workshops on OER and STEM resources. It is easier to share my webmix instead of a static list of links. With Symbaloo, I can update my list or add links and anyone with access to the webmix sees my updates. With your free account, you can create unlimited webmixes. You can keep them private or share them publically.

If this was all Sybaloo did, it would still be a great tool for organizing. Fortunately for us educators, Symbaloo has expanded into SymbalooEDU


SymbalooEDu is the educator facing version of Symabloo. With SymablooEDU you can create and share webmixes as well as develop Learning Paths for your students and engage in professional development opportunities for you.

Learning Paths

The newest addition to the Symbaloo family is Learning Paths.  Symbaloo Learning Paths allows you to use the grid format of Symbaloo to create interactive lesson plans. Think of it as creating a game board of learning for your students. Below is an example of a learning path. Each symbol on the grid represents an action for your students. As students move through the path, they engage with new information, watch videos, explore websites, and take quizzes to check for understanding. Your paths can branch and loop to provide a personalized learning experience for your students.

Screenshot of a sample symbaloo learning path
Sample Learning Path

Finding and Creating Learning Paths

With Symbaloo Learning Paths, you can create your own path from scratch or you can search through the Learning Path Marketplace to find a standards-aligned path created by the Symbaloo community of educators. If you find a path you want to use, copy it into your library. From your library, you can assign it to your students or modify the path to make it your own.

Monitoring Student Learning

When your Learning Path is ready, assign it to your students using the assignment code or push it out through Google Classroom, a QR code, or social media channels. Once the path has been assigned, you can track students’ progress. See where each student is on the path and how much time they have spent engaged in the assignments. You can also see the average score for your class and individual student results.

Professional Learning

Symbaloo has created resources to help you learn how to use Learning Paths in your classroom. First off, I have to say that the Learning Path creator and Marketplace are very easy to use. You can log in and get started with little training or support. However, if you are interested in adding some certifications to your professional toolbelt, SymbalooEDU has a certification program. The basic certification program is only $10 and you learn how to make the most out of the SymbalooEDU tools. There is also the PD level of certification that adds a few more perks including being eligible for the PD pro program.

If certification is not for you, you can still participate in Symabloo’s webinars to learn how to use the tools. You can even connect with the community of educators by joining the Edmodo Group.

Symbaloo and SymablooEDU have a lot to offer educators. From getting organized to creating a personalized learning environment for your students, the Symbaloo tools are an excellent addition to your ed tech toolbox.


30 Tools in 30 Days: Day 24 Classcraft

Day 24: Classcraft

Learning is an adventure. As educators, we want all of our learners to have an adventure that is truly epic. All seasoned adventurers know that success greatly depends on having the right gear in your inventory. Classcraft is definitely one of those tools you should not leave behind as you and your learners embark on your quest. If you have not yet heard of Classcraft, then you must have spent the past few years living in the Misty Mountains of Isolation. Classcraft is an online platform that helps you gamify your classroom and engage your learners in their learning adventure. Why gamification? Read their informative article to learn more about the theory behind the design. Why Gamification Article.Classcraft Demo class class list

With Classcraft, your students take on the role of Warrior, Healer, or Mage and work together in teams to increase their stats through quests, random events, boss battles (formative assessments), assignments, and IRL challenges and behaviors. Learners can customize their avatars and earn gear as they collaborate with their teams to learn in your classroom. Classcraft lets you, the teacher and game master, control the game by setting up game rules and custom attributes for each character and designing engaging learning quests. You can even invite parents along for the adventure. They can follow along or play an active role in the classroom by awarding points at home.

Classcraft has a free version and a subscription-based version for $8/month or $1500 per year per district. The free version has enough features for you to gamify classroom management and get your students working together in teams. The subscription-based version, however, adds a whole new dimension to your classroom. With your subscription, you can access Classcraft’s newest features. Such as:

Send your learners on a learning quest with custom interactive learning maps. They face new tasks as they move through the map.
  • Unlimted gear for your students.
  • Gamify your curriculum with custom quests and boss battles.
  • Monitor student achievement with learning analytics.

The district version adds additional administrative resources and dashboards to help you manage district-level initiatives and set up district-wide game rules.

Normally, I go for the free version of the tools. I’m just kind of cheap that way. However, if you want to redesign your classroom into a choose-your-own learning adventure for your students, the paid version has some amazing elements. See the pricing comparison here for a list of all the free and paid features. $1500 a year for a district is not too bad. Also, the Classcraft team has info on how to crowdfund your subscription.

For all you novice game masters out there, Classcraft has developed an extensive knowledge center where you can find support resoruces such as tutorial videos, professional development opportunities, and a teacher forum so you can connect with other game masters. Additional resources on the site include a downloadable guide on bullying prevention and a PBIS Handbook.

I love the fantasy-themed environment the Classcraft team has developed. (Granted, this is coming from a girl who has had a long time crush on a certain honorable Drow with an astral panther companion.) However, the fantasy theme might not be everyone’s cup of mead. I would love to see if there are other platforms out there with a more sci-fi Starcrafty theme or some other genre. In short, the Classcraft team has created an excellent immersive platform to help you level up your classroom. Register for your free account and get your game on today!