Digital Storytelling Without Word Processing Part 2: Edtech Apps

Decorative image with educational technology logos

In Part 1, of this post, I shared some Google apps students and teachers can use for non-narrative storytelling. In this post, I will share some edtech apps that I have found to be powerful tools for storytelling without word processing.

Please keep in mind, this is one educator’s take on digital storytelling with edtech. These are just some apps for this purpose. There are many more out there.


Serial ushered in the golden age of ubiquitous podcasting. Podcasting and sound recording are perfect for student storytelling. For example, students could interview a historic figure or even a concept, “We’re here today talking all things geology with Plate Tectonics…”

For fast no-frills recording, try Online Voice Recorder. For a great sound editor with music integration, use Soundtrap. Available in web and mobile (Google Play Store) (Apple App Store) versions, Soundtrap and was designed for making music digitally. It is perfect for voice recording because that is the first option when creating a track.

Voice & microphones is the first option when adding a track in Soundtrap.

The music options in Soundtrap make it perfect for adding intro and outro music or background music accompanying speech.

Soundtrap is freemium. Users get 5 free projects. I have used Soundtrap alot. I just delete an old project when I get to the cap. One last awesome thing about Soundtrap – students can collaboratively edit!

Soundcloud is the best option for hosting sound and podcasts. It has the best embedded player for websites. For example, when I told my story for the pilot episode of my podcast, I used Soundcloud. Have a look at this professional-looking embed:

Soundcloud is freemium so users can hit their free limit. I did with my podcast so I paid for premium. Despite that drawback, Soundcloud is the best option for embedding sound in digital portfolios.

One last note about audio: For an app dedicated exclusively to bite-sized classroom podcasting, have a look at Synth.


There was a time when I thought video creation was an impossible, daunting task for someone like me with a Chromebook and nothing resembling professional video equipment. Now I have a YouTube channel with hundreds of videos. How did that happen? The Screencastify Google Chrome extension, that’s how. I was so enamored with Screencastify that I blogged about it shortly after I started using it in 2015. Here is a Screencastify basics video I made after they updated their interface in 2018:

Screencastify videos save to Google Drive and are shareable with one click.

Despite the name, this tool is for more than screencasting. One of the best things about Screencastify is that it integrates with device webcams to enable vlogging. If you think vlogging has no real-world possibilities for our students, Google, “Vloggers monetizing YouTube.”

For web-based video editing, try WeVideo. It is user-friendly and fun to use. The WeVideo YouTube channel has great resources to help you get started.

Users need to pay for the premium version of these tools to remove their watermarks from videos. For me, paying for these subscriptions and sticking with my 2017 ASUS Chromebook Flip C302 has been much cheaper than buying a Mac with iMovie and still having to pay for a screencasting tool.

One last note about video: For an app dedicated exclusively to bite-sized classroom video, have a look at Flipgrid.

Curation with ThingLink

Students and teachers can use simple curation to tell a story. There is no better tool for curation than ThingLink which lets users add interactive content on top of an image. I’ve long loved ThingLink for many reasons including its perfect integrations with Google Slides, Google Forms, and YouTube that allow users to view these without opening new tabs!

Here is an example of a ThingLink I made for a World War I digital breakout. This ThingLink tells stories about the war and US propaganda:

One last benefit to ThingLink: Its mobile app (Google Play Store) (Apple App Store) will record sound. So that is another option for hosting sound on web sites such as digital portfolios.

Infographics – Canva and Piktochart

In Part 1 of this post, I shared Google Data Studio, an advanced Google app for telling stories with data. In this post, let’s explore two easy apps for this purpose: Canva and Piktochart.

Canva is a great graphic design tool that I have long admired. It is useful for making charts out of data. Have a look at what I made with Canva using the Bernie Sanders favorable/unfavorable data referenced in Part 1 of this post:

Bernie Sanders favorable/unfavorable ratings by group. Infographic made with Canva.

Piktochart is very similar to Canva with more of a focus on info-graphics. I am not as enamored with what I created using the same data with Piktochart though it has a very useful capability for digital portfolios.

Bernie Sanders favorable/unfavorable ratings by group. Infographic made with Piktochart.

Piktochart can generate a chart that embeds on websites and shows values when scrolled over. Unfortunately, the embed does not work in WordPress but you can see it in action on this Google Site. How great is this for digital portfolios?

Don’t know how to import data into Canva and Piktochart? I made a quick video demonstrating how to do it for each app:

Even More Tools – The Adobe Suite

I have enjoyed using Abobe’s artistic tools such as Illustrator Draw, Photoshop Sketch, and Photoshop Mix on my Chromebook. But Adobe also apps for storytelling under their Spark umbrella. Spark Post is a graphic tool similar to Canva and Piktochart. Spark Pages is good for telling stories on the web. Spark Video is a video creator. It’s home screen has story templates.

Adobe Spark Video home screen

I have only dipped my toe into the Adobe Spark pool but have been impressed with what I have seen others do with these tools. Have a look and see if they can help you and your students tell stories.

I hope these edtech apps are helpful as you create stories for your students and help them become storytellers. What edtech apps do you use in your classroom? Please comment below or tweet me, @TomEMullaney. Thanks for reading.



Digital Storytelling Without Word Processing Part 1: Google Apps

We want students to be storytellers. We also want teachers to tell engaging stories that help students connect to content. However, both pen-and-paper and word processing can be daunting. Further, storytelling in classroom contexts can happen in many different ways beyond the traditional narrative. In this post, I will tell the story of using Google tools to tell engaging stories without word processing.

Brainstorming and Storyboarding with Google Jamboard

Storytelling starts with brainstorming ideas. There is no better app for brainstorming than Google Jamboard (on the web) (Play Store) (Apple App Store). Jamboard is invaluable for saving and revisiting brainstorms because Jams save to Google Drive. The app can also import content from Google Drive and connects to Google Classroom!

Students can add images, web content, and AutoDraw graphics in Jamboard which makes it perfect for storyboarding.

Telling Stories with Geography – MyMaps and Tour Creator

As students are progressing through a unit ask them about the locations that are relevant to what they are learning. For example:

  • In English Language Arts, “What are the locations in this novel?”
  • In Science, “What locations on Earth illustrate the concept we are learning?”
  • In Social Studies, ” What are the important locations in this unit of history?”

These prompts will help students process what they learned and send them down a rabbit hole of research to tell stories. Further, teachers can use geography to tell the stories of content. Fortunately, there are two great Google geography tools for storytelling.

Google My Maps turns maps into stories. For instance, have a look at these two maps – one about Civil War battles in North Carolina, the other about just a few of the New Deal’s lasting impacts in San Francisco.

A pro-tip for making the most of Google My Maps for storytelling is to include images in points added to the map. Landscape-oriented images work best. Also, get creative with custom icons.

In the Google My Maps editor, click a point interest. Click the paint bucket. Then click "More icons" to choose a custom icon.
Click the paint bucket to change the icon for a point on the map.

For more information on using Google My Maps, please read my Google My Maps Tips and Tricks blog post.

Google Tour Creator allows both students and teachers to make their own 360° tours using Google Street View imagery. Bring your students beyond the walls of your classroom! Tours can be viewed in the Google Expeditions Android app or simply on the web. For example, here is an animated GIF of Frederick Douglass Before Publishing His Biography, a tour I created.

Animated GIF of a Google Tour Creator tour of Frederick Douglass's life.
Note the point of interest: Storytellers can add images, text, and sound to tell their story.

The most powerful tool for storytelling in Tour Creator is points of interest. Here is a quick tutorial on adding points adding points of interest to Tour Creator tours.

Use Google Sites to Make Digital Breakouts

Digital Breakouts, using response validation in Google Forms and hosted in Google Sites, are a great way to bring gaming to content. But they are also a powerful tool for telling stories. Here are three digital breakouts I have created that tell stories:

  • Cuban Missile Crisis tells the story of the last four days of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
  • Shirley Chisholm: Unbought, Unbossed, & Unlocked tells the story of Shirley Chisholm’s run for president in 1972 as the first black woman to seek that office.
  • Defeat Barry Goldwater! tells the stories of the very eventful Summer of 1964 and the Democratic National Convention in August. Please note: this breakout is very difficult. It is perfect for a whole-class collaboration, a 90-minute block, or any students that excel at digital breakouts and need a challenge.

Here are some tips for using Google Sites for storytelling with Digital Breakouts or otherwise:

Animation – Toontastic 3D

Toontastic 3D (Google Play Store) (Apple App Store) is a very useful animation mobile app from Google. It lets students quickly create animated short stories and science reports. The basic story prompts students to include:

  • Setup
  • Conflict
  • Challenge
  • Climax
  • Resolution

The science report option prompts students to include:

  • Question
  • Hypothesis
  • Experiment
  • Results
  • Conclusion

The app has prefabricated characters and settings. The characters are customizable. Users can create new characters and scenes from scratch. All told, this is a very user-friendly and fun way to digitally tell a story. For more information on how Toontastic 3D works, please watch this video of me using the app:

Advanced Challenge – Tell Stories with Numbers Using Google Data Studio and Data GIF Maker

Google Data Studio is like Google Sheets merged with Google Drawings. It is a very advanced program, perfect for going deeper with students who need a challenge. Data Studio connects to Google Analytics, Google Ads, YouTube Analytics, and plenty of third-party advertising analytics platforms. This means students are using a product real-world professionals use in their everyday lives. Data Studio also connects to Google Sheets, so students can access it as well.

Data Studio is a somewhat advanced tool. Part 2 of this post will include two apps that make telling stories with data very easy. However, Data Studio’s connection to Google Sheets and real-world relevance make it worth exploring. And look what I created with it:

Graphic of Bernie Sanders's approval ratings by group created by Tom Mullaney using Google Data Studio
Look at what I created with Google Data Studio!

I started with Data Studio by going to and playing around. Google has a product overview and a YouTube playlist that are very helpful.

Update (3/7/19): Google has announced changes to Data GIF Maker, a tool I was not familiar with. If you are reading this post, check it out now! Thank you, Larry Ferlazzo for spotting this and sharing!

I hope these Google apps are helpful as you create stories for your students and help them become storytellers. Our story continues in Part 2 of this blog post, Digital Storytelling without Word Processing – Edtech Apps. In the meantime, if you have any questions or thoughts to share about storytelling with Google apps, please comment below or tweet me, @TomEMullaney. Thanks for reading.

Expeditions and Tour Creator – Perfect Together

As Google updates its apps to reflect its material design, this new look has arrived in an unexpected place – the Google Expeditions Android app. Check out the new home screen, the Discover tab:

A screen capture of the Google Expeditions home screen.
The new home screen.

The new look is beautiful but more importantly, click the “Library” tab for a special surprise:

A screen capture of the Google Expeditions Library tab. "My Tours" is circled.
You’re seeing that right. “My Tours” is now an option!

Notice “My Tours”? Tap that to see tours created you have created in Google Tour Creator!

A screen capture of My Tours in the Google Expeditions Library tab.
Tour Creator tours available in Google Expeditions!

Now, teachers can lead students on tours they have created in Tour Creator. There is even a message in the Tour Creator editor reminding creators of the ability to view tours in Google Expeditions.

Screen capture of the Tour Creator creation screen. It includes the message, "Using this tour in Google Expeditions?

To guide this tour, make sure you're signed in with the same Google account that you use for Google Expeditions."

Additionally, this Expeditions-Tour Creator integration works in reverse. When viewing a Tour Creator tour on the web, the share button has a Google Expeditions icon. This applies to any publicly published Tour Creator tour. Published tours are available at Google’s Poly Tour page.

A screen capture of a Tour Creator tour that shows Google Expeditions in the Share menu.
Open a tour in Google Expeditions!

Clicking the Expeditions icon will add the tour to your library in the Expeditions app on Android phones and Play Store enabled Chromebooks.

This brings us to an important caveat. As of January 2019, Google’s new material design is only present in the Google Expeditions Android app. The new look and Tour Creator integration are not available in the Apple App Store Google Expeditions app. So this does not apply to Google Expeditions on iPads yet.

UPDATE: Good news! As of March 2019, this also applied to the Google Expeditions iOS app for iPads!

Thank you for reading.  Do you have questions about Google Expeditions and Tour Creator? Please comment below or tweet me, @TomEMullaney. Thanks for reading.

Talking Edtech on the Talking Social Studies Podcast

I am honored to share that I am the Talking Social Studies podcast’s first guest in 2019! I spoke with two of the show’s hosts, Amy Presley and Chris Hitchcock. We spoke at length about Google’s non-core apps such as Expeditions, Earth, My Maps, and Tour Creator for geography and Autodraw, Chrome Canvas, Jamboard, and Keep for drawing.

Questions about our conversation? Please comment below or tweet me @TomEMullaney. Thanks for listening!

Sharing Education Career Ups-and-Downs on the Burned In Teacher Podcast

I recently had the honor and privileged of joining Amber Harper on her great podcast, Burned In Teacher. I shared the risks I have taken in education as well as my experiences with burnout and how I addressed it.

For more information on what we discussed, please read:

Thoughts? Please comment below or tweet me @TomEMullaney. Thanks for listening!

Comparing and Contrasting Google’s Actual Drawing Apps

Google Drawings has real value for teachers and students. And it is glaringly misnamed. The tool has no way to sketch and jot. It would be a real shame if G Suite for Education had no solution for digital drawing. To learn more about the immense benefits of drawing for learning please read the following:

The good news is there are actually four Google apps that draw! Even if Google Drawings is not one of these four, it still has some great benefits that should be noted:

  • Great for tables, charts, and timelines
  • Graphic organizers
  • Hyperlink transparent shapes to make interactive image maps
  • Transparent backgrounds are great for creating logos and website favicons. I created this blog’s “ST” favicon in Google Drawings.
  • Collaboration
  • Full Google Classroom integration
  • Precise dimensions settings under “Page setup…”
  • Add alt text to images for accessibility
  • Insert Google Drawings into Google Docs (coming soon)
  • Extra space is great for notes (see image below)
A screen capture from Google Drawings showing the ability to add notes in the extra space.
The extra space to the side of the canvas in Google Drawings is very useful!
Original image source: Wikimedia Commons.

Having established the non-drawing uses of Google Drawings, let’s discuss Google’s four actual drawing apps:

  • AutoDraw
  • Chrome Canvas
  • Google Jamboard – I will discuss both the web and mobile versions because they are different.
  • Google Keep – Keep has web and mobile versions. The two versions do not differ for sketching and drawing so I will address only the web version.


AutoDraw is Google’s AI experiment that predicts drawings. What a great tool! It also has a free sketch tool and text input. No login required so it is especially easy for students who struggle with signing in and passwords. Autodraw’s big drawback is that it does not save drawings. Users have to download what they create or lose it. For more about Autodraw, please watch this video.

Getting Started with Touchscreen Chromebooks blog post image.
Touchscreen Chromebooks Blog Post Image by Tom Mullaney. Created with AutoDraw.
"Welcome to the NCHS Makerspace" image created by Michelle Luhtala using Autodraw.
Welcome to the NCHS Makerspace by Michelle Luhtala. Created with Autodraw.

Chrome Canvas

Chrome Canvas is Google’s newest sketching tool. There is a lot to like here: sliders for size and opacity similar to those in Adobe Create Cloud apps, the ability to draw on an image, and a unique chalk tool. The pencil tool looks like pencil-on-paper. The marker tool becomes a highlighter when set to a low opacity. Chrome Canvas’s biggest drawback is it does not work in a web browser on iPads. For more about Chrome Canvas, please watch this video.

Richard Nixon image with quick annotations about his elections, Watergate, Vietnam, China, and the EPA.
Richard Nixon Annotated by Tom Mullaney. Created in Chrome Canvas.
Original image source: Wikimedia Commons.

Google Jamboard

The Google Jamboard web app has two big advantages over the other apps: real-time collaborative drawing and multiple pages or “frames” as they are called in the app. The app has a limited color palette compared to the others. The ability to add sticky notes is a nice benefit. The web app does not work well in browsers on the iPad. iPad users should install the Jamboard mobile app. For more on the Jamboard web app, please watch this video.

The Jamboard mobile app has those features and much more including autodraw, shape recognition, handwriting recognition, the ability to add content from Google Drive and the web, and great backgrounds including graph paper and college-ruled lined paper. I made the image for this blog post with the Jamboard app. For more information on this very powerful and fun app, please read my blog post, Bring Collaboration to the Next Level with the Google Jamboard App, or watch this video.

Notes about Shirley Chisholm created in Google Jamboard. They include a campaign poster and sticky notes that show her priorities: Civil Rights, Women's Rights, Peace in Vietnam, and Environmental protection.
Shirley Chisholm Notes by Tom Mullaney. Created in the Google Jamboard mobile app.
Original image source: Wikimedia Commons.

Google Keep

Google Keep‘s advantage over the other apps is the ability to access it inside G Suite Docs, Drawings, Sheets, Slides, and GMail. That makes it a great collaborative tool. Students can collaborate on notes and add multiple drawings to a Keep note but they will not have the real-time collaborative drawing experience found in Jamboard. Drawings can have graph paper and lined backgrounds but they do not save when the image is downloaded. Please note that drawing does not work in the web app on iPads. iPad users should install the Keep mobile app. For more about drawing in Google Keep, please watch this video.

Sketch of a house and car on a sunny day.
Sunny Day by Tom Mullaney. Created with Google Keep.

To help make sense of these drawing options, I created a table in the aforementioned Google Drawings to help compare and contrast the 4 apps. Yes, I appreciate the irony of using Google Drawings for this task.

Do you have questions about Google’s actual drawing apps? Please comment below or tweet me at @TomEMullaney. Thanks for reading.

5 Reasons to Use the Google Classroom Mobile App

5 Reasons to Use the Google Classroom Mobile App

I’ve been a Google Classroom stan for years. I am still impressed by this relatively simple tool as it grows and evolves. This is especially true of the Google Classroom mobile app. 

The Google Classroom mobile app is great on iPads, Play Store enabled Chromebooks, Android or Chrome OS tablets, and phones. Here are 5 reasons to use the Classroom mobile app. Before we get started, be sure to install the app:

January 2019 Update: Google has updated the look of Classroom to match its material design updates. That update has now reached the Classroom Android app.

Screenshot of the updated Google Classroom Stream tab
The updated Google Classroom Stream tab in the Android app on my Chromebook.
Screenshot of the updated Google Classroom Classwork tab
The updated Google Classroom Classwork tab in the Android app on my Chromebook. Notice how the emojis in the topics pop? Use GetEmoji to copy-and-paste emojis into Google Classroom topics. Emojis make the Classwork tab more visually engaging.

Now that we have addressed the updated look, here are 5 reasons to use the Google Classroom mobile app.

☑️ Reason 1: Give Students Video Directions.

As the creator of a few digital breakouts, I can attest that the best place to hide anything is in printed instructions. Kids rarely read them! What better way to conquer this problem than with video!

All teachers should post lesson videos on YouTube but assignment directions don’t belong there. Instead, create the video directions as you create an assignment in the Classroom mobile app!

To do so, create an assignment. Add an attachment. Click “Take photo” on a Chromebook or “Use camera” on an iPad. Here is an animated GIF from my Chromebook:

Animated GIF demonstrating how to add a video to a Google Classroom assignment.

☑️ Reason 2: Give Students Written Feedback.

If a student works on a Google Drive file attached using “Make a copy for each student” or if they add a file to their assignment, teachers can annotate the file. What an easy way to give written feedback! The file becomes a PDF added to the assignment. Please note: At present (December 2018) the PDF saves to My Drive, not the assignment’s Google Drive folder. Please send Google feedback in the Google Classroom app. 

Watch as I demonstrate creating a PDF for student feedback:

☑️ Reason 3: Students Can Write on Assignments Too!

The ability to write on files in assignments extends to students too. The PDF generated is simply added to the assignment.

Want to have students digitally annotate? The Classroom mobile app makes it possible. Watch as I write on an attached Google Doc as a student:

A great application for this is students using emojis as they mark up documents. 

Animated GIF showing a student adding an emoji to a document using the Chromebook onscreen keyboard.
A student adding an emoji to a document using the Chromebook onscreen keyboard.

Watch as I demonstrate how to do this with a convertible Chromebook’s onscreen keyboard:

☑️ Reason 4: Rearrange Assignments and Topics by Grabbing and Dragging.

Need to rearrange assignments in the Classwork tab? Open the mobile app. and have at it! Check this out:

Animated GIF demonstrating how to rearrange assignments in the Google Classroom mobile app.

Better yet, change an assignment’s topic using this method:

Animated GIF demonstrating how to grab and drag to change an assignment's topic in the Google Classroom mobile app.

Please note: Topics can also be rearranged using this method.

☑️ Reason 5: Randomly Select a Student.

Need to randomly select students to group them, choose team captains, or any other reason? Look for this icon in the upper-right corner of the People tab: 

Watch as I use the student selector app:

What questions do you have about the Google Classroom mobile app? Comment below or tweet me @TomEMullaney. Thanks for reading.

Join Me for Transform Your Learning Space with Jamboard

I was honored to participate in Transform Your Learning Space with Jamboard, a Google for Education EDU on Air event on November 28, 2018.

I was joined by fellow educators and Googlers. We discussed both the Jamboard device and the Jamboard app. Please note the app is free! I shared how students and teachers are using the Jamboard app on iPads at my school.

Enjoy this EDU on Air event:

Do you have questions about how students and teachers can use the Jamboard app for collaboration and brainstorming? Comment below or tweet me @TomEMullaney? Thank you for reading and watching.

Congratulations! It’s Your First Day of Google Jamboard!

First Day of Google Jamboard

The Google Jamboard mobile app is a game-changing tool for collaboration on Play Store enabled Chromebooks and iPads. Additionally, there is now a streamlined Google Jamboard web app (2:43 explainer video).  

Please note: The Google Jamboard app is 100% FREE. No Jamboard device required.

Ever since I discovered the Jamboard app in June 2017, I have wanted to see it used in classrooms as a collaboration tool. I am excited to share that Google for Education has created a First Day of Google Jamboard resource in their Google Teacher Center to help teachers get started. Additionally, I am honored that five of my videos are part of this resource. 

Check out First Day of Jamboard to get started using this awesome app. Share your thoughts and questions in the comments below or with me on Twitter, @TomEMullaney.

Ask These Questions About Time to Evaluate Classroom Technology Integration

Devices in classrooms can empower students if used effectively. But how do teachers know if they are integrating technology effectively? In my BAMRadio Network EdWords blog post, Ask These Questions About Time to Evaluate Classroom Technology Integration, I suggest six questions teachers can ask about time and technology integration in their classrooms. Please share your thoughts these questions and technology integration in the comments below or tweet me at @TomEMullaney. Thanks for reading.