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Saturday, December 13, 2008

Middlespot

Middlespot.com is a websearch interface that is specifically designed to help you manage your online research. The site doesn't require a login nor are there any plugins that need to be downloaded. This is a benefit on the one hand especially if you are planning on using it with k-12 students but there are some potential drawbacks to this that I will get back to in a moment. Let me explain the basic features of Middlespot first.

Users can conduct keyword searches with Middlespot and view their results both as text, similar to what you would see in a Google search, and as a series of thumbnails. You can then save different sites to your workpad and add annotations to each site you save. The workpads can be e-mailed to friends to share your research. These workpads are also saved for you and available the next time you visit the Middlespot site. This is where using a tool like this on a public computer, such as the computers in your school lab, becomes problematic and I would rather have the option of signing students up for their own accounts so that they could create and access their workpads individually. To learn more about the tool you can go through the slideshow included below, which comes from the help section on their website.

Middlespot Tutorial
View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: engine search)

Playing for Change

"Playing for Change is a multimedia movement created to inspire, connect, and bring peace to the world through music." They say it so nicely on their website I figured I would just quote them instead of trying to come up with my own description. This movement is a perfect example of the power of multimedia and Web 2.0 technology. Check out the Stand by Me video I've included below and you will see what I mean. There are some other videos on the site but this one is by far my favorite. It is a masterful job of editing and audio mixing and the concept is just sheer brilliance. They recorded street musicians across the globe and mixed them together into one song as if they were all laying down tracks together in a single recording studio.



Now you may be wondering how this site fits into your k-12 classroom. I think it has a variety of potential applications. First of all, it is a great way to introduce students to a variety of cultures and help them develop an appreciation of different musical styles. I think it is also a powerful way to expose them to a social movement that could directly benefit them by promoting music education around the world and even in their own community. Finally, it demonstrates how the web can give a voice to anyone longing to be heard. If nothing else, you could show it to students as part of a lesson on the importance of being and having friends.

Wikipedia for Schools

To say I have been a bit delinquent in my posting to this blog would be an understatement but rather than making excuses for my absence, I'll just get to the posting. I recently read about the Wikipedia Selection for Schools on Kelly Tenkely's exceptional blog, iLearn Technology. This selection of resources from Wikipedia has been pre-screened for accuracy and appropriateness with k-12 students in mind. They boast on the site that the amount of information is equivalent to "a 20 volume encyclopedia". When I first read that I was a little confused and I had to look up the word encyclopedia. Turns out, an encyclopedia is a book and people used to use them to look up information and learn things. Can you imagine that! Alright, enough of my weak attempt at humor.

Along with over 5500 articles the collection of resources has some 34,000 images for students to view. You can browse the content either by a picture-based index (handy for younger students) or a word index. But I haven't even gotten to the best part yet. You can download the entire collection and put it on a DVD so that students can use the site offline if needed. How cool is that? What I really love about this is that students can still get the practice of parsing information from a larger collection of resources, analyzing the various articles and drawing conclusions based on the information they collect but do so in a safe environment tailor made for them. This seems like a great option for those research projects you have planned for your students.

Friday, November 21, 2008

xtranormal

xtranormal is an amazingly easy tool to pick up and start using to create fairly detailed animated movies. They advertise the tool by saying "if you can type, you can make movies" and it really is that simple yet the range of options is quite extensive. You can pick your own characters, setting, camera angles, emotions, hand gestures and voices. Then, whatever you type in for a script the characters you select will say, so you can make your movies as complex or as simple as you want. I've included a sample below that is an interesting lesson on the letter B. While this particular example may not be the best representation of how you could use this with k-12 students, I think this tool has a lot of potential as far as a creative way for students to express their understanding of different concepts and subjects. As with many other Web 2.0 tools you can share your creations by giving people the URL or embedding it.


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Shidonni

If you have, or work with, kids that are in the 6-10 year old range than you probably already know about WebKinz and the virtual world associated with these furry little critters. If your not familiar with this ingenious marketing ploy it basically consists of the kids buying a stuffed animal that comes with a code they can use to register it in the WebKinz virtual world where the owner (your child) can then earn WebKinz money by playing games and doing different jobs. This money can be spent on buying a house for the virtual pet (the online representation of the stuffed animal they bought) as well as other highly necessary items like a four-wheeler (what pink bunny can survive without one) clothes, jewelry and a wide range of furniture.

At this point you may be wondering why I'm spending so much time talking about WebKinz since it would be a stretch to call it an example of educational technology. Well, stick with me here. The reason is because Shidonni is a lot like WebKinz except you don't have to buy a stuffed animal and you get to create (draw) your animal yourself. Not only can you draw your animal but you can animate it and have it run or fly all over the place. You can also create a world for your animal to live in and then feed it and take care of it. In fact, you can create multiple worlds and multiple animals so students could use this tool to learn more about the different types of animals by creating relevant habitats and populating them with their animals. You can also share your animals with other users if you like. I am going to suggest using this in my daughters' classrooms (they are in first and third grade) as they learn about the classification of animals. It does require a log in so you would need to create accounts for kids but that's easy enough to do. They have a basic introductory video you can watch to learn more about the range of features within this tool.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Glogster

I first learned about Glogster a while ago but didn't share it because it is one of those sites with a great tool but also a lot of user generated content that would not be appropriate for k-12 students to see or read. Thankfully, like so many other Web 2.0 tools, Glogster has come out with an education version of their tool that filters through the content more effectively and provides a safer learning environment for students.

So what does Glogster allow you to do? Basically, you can create your own online "poster" using images, text, video clips and audio files. They refer to these creations as "glogs", which I'm guessing is a take-off on blogs (maybe graphical blogs?) but that's just a guess. In a sense, a glog is like a single webpage but I think it also helps to imagine it as an electronic or online multimedia poster. There is a social networking element to this site in that users can create a profile and share their creations with others. I've included a sample glog below to give you an idea of what one of these might look like. Glogster has all the capabilities that you would expect as far as being able to embed your finished product and share it with others. The possibilities are endless with this and it would be very easy to incorporate into an existing website or Wiki.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Zotero: The Researchers Best Friend

If you are involved in research of any kind, or if you have students who are required to work on research projects, you may want to check out Zotero. This Firefox extension is an incredibly powerful tool that helps facilitate the process of collecting research online, cataloging articles and other resources, adding notes and annotations to those sources and creating accurately formatted bibliographies that can be inserted directly into your writing. They have a great introductory tutorial you can watch to learn more about this amazing tool.

It is a bit like Google Notebook but Zotero takes things a step further by scaffolding the researcher in the process of organizing information and resources. You can quickly save articles that you find online into different folders based on their content and concentration. A single article can be associated with multiple folders in case it has relevance across different areas. You can add notes, summaries and other information for each resource you save much like in Google Notebook and desktop based tools such as Endnote. When you are all finished with your research you can export a bibliography in any of the major formats/styles and put that directly into your Word document or even Google Docs.

Currently it isn't possible to share or sync your Zotero library across computers so you are limited to working on the same computer but they are piloting Zotero 1.5 Sync, which purports to allow you to sync your data in this fashion and that will definitely make this tool even more user friendly. There are many other interesting upgrades in the works for Zotero 2.0 that include the ability to share your data and collaborate with others and the option to create a RSS feed from your bibliography.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Science Up Close

I was reading about Science Up Close on Paul Hamilton's blog and thought I'd share it here on my blog. Science Up Close is produced by the textbook company Harcourt but you don't need to have the textbook to use the site. In fact, you don't need to login or create any kind of account either. The site provides interactive science content for grades 1st-6th. The content is tied to the chapters of a specific science textbook but that doesn't really matter since the topics are very common and would be covered in most any elementary science textbook.

I decided to check out the module on the Water Cycle for third grade since this is something my daughter's class is going to be covering soon. I liked that I could have the text read to me if necessary but also turn it off if I wanted to. There was also an option to display the keyboard shortcuts for different parts of the screen for students who might have trouble using a mouse. In many ways this is a talking textbook with interactive images and illustrations. Some of the modules have video segments for the students to watch and I must admit I haven't been able to review every single resource on this site to know what else might be available within individual modules, but it is a nice collection of resources that are closely tied to the various science topics taught in elementary school.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Lulu

Lulu is one of the many online publishing tools that are out there on the net, but unlike tools like Tikatok and Big Universe, Lulu allows you to publish your writing and sell it either as a hard copy book or for download by prospective buyers. You can publish hard cover and soft cover books as well as calendars and even CDs. Lulu sets a publication price based on a variety of factors (i.e. length of book, color or black and white photos, hard/soft cover, binding type) and you get to decide how much above that price you want to charge. Lulu takes it's costs out of the price and you get the rest. That's right, you can actually make money off your writing! The beauty of this model is that they don't print any copies until they are ordered so you don't have huge inventory costs to worry about. You can still share your writing in the usual ways by allowing people to link to it or embed it and they even allow you to create your own storefront within Lulu to help sell your great ideas. Browsing through the site you will find a wide range of quality and styles ranging from professional grade chapter books to short picture books with hand drawn illustrations. They have a nice introductory demo video that you can watch to learn more about this great tool. Check it out, tell your story and become a published author!

Tribbit

I have used Tribbit before but I was reminded of it today when my daughter's 3rd grade teacher asked me for an idea on how the class could create something for a classmate's father who is serving in Iraq. Tribbit is a basic (free, of course) tool that you can use to create a tribute to someone as a way to say thank you or otherwise honor them. They describe themselves as "the online card that everyone signs." You can pick out a layout and add a picture and description to your Tribbit. Then you can invite others to leave text or audio comments, photos and other embedded files for the person you are paying tribute to. You can make the Tribbit private and only available to the people you invite, or you can leave it public. You also have the option to put a deadline on your Tribbit at which point people will no longer be able to contribute to it. Once your Tribbit is created, you can send a link to the person you are honoring so that they get to see all the nice things people are saying about them. I have included the demo video they provide on the site so that you can get a better idea of what is possible with this tool.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Google Lit Trips

I'm still here at the ILC 2008 and I just attended a great session on Google Lit Trips. I was tempted to write about the session as it happened but I just couldn't bring myself to be quite that instantaneous. Jerome Burg gave the presentation and his website has a nice collection of lit trips that you can download and journey through with Google Earth. I was quite impressed with the huge variety of ways you can go with this type of learning experience. As you would expect, you can plot the different stops in your trip as well as add pictures, video, text, links, maps, overlays and much more. It has the power to truly bring your trip, and the book, to life. This same technology could be used to create a trip of a historical journey, migration patterns, travel logs and anything else you can imagine. In order to use these trips you need to have Google Earth (a free download) and then download the actual file for the trip you want to use. This file would need to be loaded on any machine where you want the trip used. Of course, once you become more familiar with the process of creating a trip, a topic that would take more than a single blog posting, you could create your own or, better yet, have your students collaborate on their own trips.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

myWebspiration

I'm out in San Jose at the Innovative Learning Conference and I attended a session today where myWebspiration was used. myWebspiration is the online version of the popular Inspiration software. It is currently in beta and the word on the street (or the web) is that it will only be free until March so check it out now. You can do everything that you can do in the desktop version but also, as expected with a web-based tool, you can collaborate on maps. Better yet, your students can work collaboratively on maps.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Fun Physics Tools

This post will focus on a couple of cool tools geared towards helping kids explore different physics concepts.

The Fantastic Contraption is a web-based tool that presents a variety of different puzzles for students to solve by building different contraptions. Each puzzle essentially consists of having to move a given object across a given distance. You can work through the 21 initial levels without even signing in or creating an account. Upgrading to the "full" account for $10 gets you access to other levels and puzzles created by other users. It also allows you to create your own levels. For most teachers, access to the free levels will be adequate.

Physics Phun is similar to the Fantastic Contraption but it is a desktop application that needs to be downloaded. Versions are available for Windows, Mac and Linux. Phun has quite a few more possibilities than the Fantastic Contraption because it allows you to create your own puzzles from scratch and the possibilities are nearly endless. You can create spacecraft, vehicles, bikes and all sorts of other forms of transportation and then test them out over different terrains and in different situations. There are a variety of videos showing Phun in use and some of them are included below. These videos will help give you an idea of the kinds of things you can do with this software.

A basic tutorial (a little slow but a good overview).


A tutorial showing how to create a rocket (I only included this because of the interesting musical accompaniment).


A sample video showing that you can even create a mountain bike and test it out.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Vodpod

Vodpod is a great little tool for creating collections of videos that you find online. It works much like Furl or other social bookmarking sites except that instead of saving individual websites you are saving videos to your archive. You can have different "pods" for your videos and share your collections by placing widgets on your blog or website. I have my Vodpod widget along the righthand side of this blog if you want to check it out. There is a browser extension that you can install so that when you come across a video you like you just click on the Vodpod icon in your browser's toolbar and a window is opened that allows you to pick which pod you want to add the video to and even lets you add comments about the video.

TerraClues

Yesterday I was creating a TerraClues hunt with my 8 year old daughter and I realized that I hadn't written about this tool yet in my blog. TerraClues allows you to create a geographically based hunt with a series of clues. Each clue is tagged to a location on the globe (the location is decided by you as you create the clue). You also get to decide at what zoom level the clue will be found so if you want to focus on specific cities or landmarks you can or if you want to hunt for larger things like oceans and continents, which is what our hunt focused on, then you can zoom out for a wider view. For each clue you enter an answer and even some accompanying text where you can provide more information about the subject. Here is a clue and answer we created in our hunt.

Clue: This is the only continent that is also a country.
Answer/Location: Australia
Answer Additional Text: Australia is home to the Great Barrier Reef, Ayers Rock and the Sydney Opera House.

You can add a photo for each clue, which could become part of the clue, as well as a hyperlink to additional information if you want. To answer the clues, students type into a search box and then either search the map or conduct a basic Google search to get more information. Once they search the map they may also have to zoom in or out to find the correct location. If they search correctly, they are provided with the answer and additional answer text that is provided for that clue. It may sound confusing but I think it will make sense once you try out a hunt. Click here to see the hunt that my daughter and I made for her third grade class so they could review for their continents and oceans test.

I made my hunt public but you could also create private hunts that are available only to your students. This is possible because teachers can set up their own classrooms and provide access to different hunts to their students through these classrooms. You can search the list of public hunts on the site and add any publicly available hunt to your classroom as well. Students can complete public hunts without logging in but their progress through different hunts is tracked by the site if they are logged in so that is another reason for taking the time to set up accounts and create your own class. When you create a class you get to pick a class name and password, both of which will need to be provided to your students so that they can access your classroom. Students will then need to create a nickname and password (or you could assign them nicknames and passwords) so that they can log in. No e-mail address is required for students to create an account and log in to your classroom. You can choose to allow students to be able to create their own hunts if you want, which would also be added to your classroom once they are completed.

This is a very easy tool to manage as far as creating a classroom, getting students logged in and tracking student progress through different hunts. I think the applications in geography are obvious but you could also use it to create a hunt for the major locations of a novel, historical events, migration patterns, animal habitats and more.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Flowgram

I recently read about Flowgram on one of the many blogs I follow and have put it to use for an online class I teach. Flowgram is a tutorial application that allows you to share and highlight websites, photos, videos and static text documents. You can add audio comments and callouts as well in order to draw attention to certain content or provide guidance. In addition, you can highlight text and add sticky note type comments to each element you add. The tutorials are interactive in that if you are sharing a webpage the user can scroll around the page as they listen to your audio comments and even click on different links on the page. Check out the Flowgram I created for my class below.



You may also want to watch the introduction video on the Flowgram homepage to learn more about this cool tool.

CDs for iPods!

I first read about iPodmeister.com in Newsweek and couldn't quite figure out the business plan. After looking over their website I still don't see how they are making money. They will except your old CDs and DVDs and give you an iPod, iTouch or even an iPhone in return. They even digitize your music and load it on your iPod (if it all fits) for you. I haven't tried it out and can't quite convince myself that it is legit but I certainly do have a lot of old CDs laying around collecting dust so...

Friday, September 19, 2008

Automated Reminders

A student of mine recently mentioned that she wished there was a free service that would make calls to her cellphone to remind her of upcoming events or commitments and even serve as a wake-up call service for her. This prompted me to look around the Internet to see what I could find. Here is what I turned up in my quick searching.

Telepixie will call you with reminders for free as long as you are willing to listen to a brief commercial. If you pay a "small" fee they will remove the commercials and just call with the reminder. They say that they will call your "regular" phone so I don't know if that means they don't call mobile phones. It would be worth checking on before you got to far with this particular service.

Snoozeter is similar but is a fee-based system only. It seems a bit more focused on the wake-up call aspect of things and even allows you to snooze with your cellphone so you can get a few extra minutes of shut eye. I'm not sure why you couldn't just use an alarm clock for this.

If you use Outlook to maintain a calendar you can download the free Outlook Reminder plugin to automate calls to your cellphone with reminders of events from your calendar. You can get reminders e-mailed to your phone from iCal if you are on a Mac and use that calendar tool. Google Calendar also allows for reminders to be sent to your phone but neither Google Calendar nor iCal actually call your phone.

I'm curious to know what other tools people use for this type of thing.

Google Election Tools

Just in case you can't get enough of the Presidential election there are a new set of tools by Google that you can use with your students to help them better understand the whole election process. The Google Election Tools are a great set of tools and resources that students can use to learn more about the electoral college and the various candidates and their positions. If you teach social studies or are just interested in bringing this type of learning to your students then check it out. If you are sick of the whole election process then just skip right on by.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Living Room Candidate

I heard about the Living Room Candidate while I listened to NPR on my way home the other day. This site is a collection of political campaign commercials dating back to 1952. Check out the commercial for Dwight Eisenhower that I have included below.

Now compare that to the commercials for John McCain and Barack Obama from this year's campaign.




Imagine the conversations you could have with students about the similarities and differences in style, technology, issues, focus and so much more represented by these commercials. It would also be interesting to see how the use of negative ads has evolved over the years and to look at the issues that seem to appear over and over again with each campaign.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Bringing Video into your Classroom

If a picture is worth a thousand words then a video must be good for at least a million. That's why I'm devoting this posting to sharing a variety of sources of video that you may find useful in your own classrooms. I have to admit, I'm a bit partial to video as an instructional and inspirational medium and that bias may cloud my writing so beware.

YouTube
It may be hard to believe but there is a lot of worthwhile content on YouTube that you could use with your students. Unfortunately, there is also a lot of junk and chances are pretty good that YouTube is blocked by most schools. One solution to this is to use Zamzar to convert the videos to actual video files and download those files to your computer so that you can share them with your students. This negates the need to go through the Internet (and associated filters) in order to share the videos.

When it comes to video quality it's hard to beat the content on United Streaming. Not only do they have great video segments, but they also have lesson plan ideas and many other resources for teachers. The videos are broken down into smaller segments so they are more manageable file sizes and this allows you to show just certain parts of a longer video rather than having to show the entire thing. A subscription is required but many states and districts have purchased licenses so check around to see if your school has access to this great resource.

Another option for video is TeacherTube, which is intended for more educational content and does more policing of content to ensure that videos are appropriate for a k-12 audience. TeacherTube is very similar to YouTube in that you can upload your own content, embed videos and search based on different keywords. Users are encouraged to flag inappropriate content in order to help keep things "clean". Chances are pretty good that this site will be blocked as well but it will be an easier sell to get this unblocked over something like YouTube.

SchoolTube is specifically designed for use in k-12 education. It provides media sharing capabilities and requires that all student created video be moderated by registered teachers and adhere to accepted school guidelines. This site is full of student created videos and provides a safe way for your students to share their masterpieces. They even have a variety of video related contests that students can enter.

Studio 4 Learning is a great collection of professionally produced videos designed to help students learn about different subject areas as well as get help with homework, college prep and even career planning. As teachers, you can even become part of the Tutor Corp and share your knowledge on different subjects to help others. It doesn't appear that you can upload your own video to this particular site.

AFI ScreenNation is still fairly new but it is designed to help students share their videos online. They have a variety of contests that students can enter with their different videos. It isn't clear if they are moderating content of the videos or not and the library of current videos is a bit limited at this point.

If you have some other resources you would like to share I would love to hear about them.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Sites for Emerging Readers

Since I have a first grader that is blossoming into a reader I have decided to reach back into my Furl Archive and pull out a variety of sites designed to help emergent readers. Some of these sites I have already written about on this blog but they are definitely worth a repeat visit.

BookPALS StoryLine Online is a site where kids can have popular picture books read to them by different celebrities including Hillary Duff, Elijah Wood and even Al Gore! The stories are presented as short videos with the celebrity doing a brief intro before the book. They have a decent collection of books already and I hope they continue to add to the site. Each story has different activities that you can download and do with your students.

Big Universe allows students to read popular picture books but without any celebrity accompanyment. The resolution and print size can be a bit small at times, making it hard to see the words on the page/screen but this is a nice way to expand your library without having to purchase more books. Students can also use Big Universe to write and illustrate their own books but this is probably more appropriate for students in the mid to upper elementary grades. LookyBook is similar to Big Universe in that your students can read picture books online. Again, the print size of the text can be small depending on the story.

Roy the Zebra is a great site for teaching interactive lessons on different reading strategies and also has some read along activities. This site would work well with an interactive whiteboard or just a computer connected to a projector where you could lead a lesson with the entire class. There are also several interactive games that young readers can play to help reinforce different reading and language skills.

Into the Book is a great tool for helping kids learn the basic strategies of reading including visualizing, summmarizing, using prior knowledge and inferring. Students can work through different sections at their own pace or focus on specific strategies that you are stressing in class. There is a seperate teacher resource section with activity and lesson ideas and you can even track student progress through the different sections.

SillyBooks is a site where you can upload your own stories and read the stories of other users. They pick one story each month to animate so it's possible that one of your students could have their own story featured in this way. The site layout needs some work, there are no previews with the books so you just have to click the picture and see what each story is all about, but it's a neat way to showcase the stories of student writers.

Kerpoof is a fully featured site where kids can write their own animated picture books, create short animated movies and share/collaborate on their writing with others. You can set-up a group where your students can only interact with other members of the class if you are concerned about privacy and safety issues. This is the kind of site where kids could definitely get carried away playing with the different images, animations and sounds and forget all about the writing process so having them write their story offline first before sitting down at the computer might be a good idea. Then again, maybe you just want them to become inspired by the Kerpoof environment.

This is by no means an exhaustive list and I welcome your ideas and suggestions for tools/sites in this area.

MACUL Spring Conference

This is more for the folks living in Michigan, although all are invited, but I wanted to remind folks about the MACUL annual conference that will be held in Detroit, MI on March 18-20th, 2009 (it is never too early to start planning). I just got a postcard in the mail and thought I should pass along the information on the conference. You can read more about it at www.macul.org and even submit a proposal to present if you are interested. The conference theme will be "Teaching and Learning in a Digital World: Best Practices". I have been to, and presented at, this conference in past years and always found it to be full of sessions with practical applications and great examples of technology use in real classrooms.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Ultimate Keynote Speaker

For those of you who have endured a less than inspirational back-to-school keynote speaker, and for those of you who surely will in the future, here is a speech that should get you excited and energized to teach. After watching this video I found out that the district wrote the speech for this young man and provided him coaching on his presentation and diction, but that doesn't change the fact that he pulled off an awesome performance. Find 9 minutes in your day and watch this.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Jam Legend

For those of you who like to rock out with games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band you can now take your music making madness online with Jam Legend. Jam Legend lets you play along using your keyboard rather than other conventional instruments, which meant that I was even more terrible at playing this than I was playing Guitar Hero. You can even challenge others to play you online and sign up as an artist and add your songs to the site for others to play. I think they are really counting this since the list of available songs is quite short at this point. Jam Legend is currently in private Beta but you can get a preview by watching the video below.
JamLegend Trailer from JamLegend on Vimeo.

Answers.com

Answers.com is a great reference tool that can add functionality to your website or blog in three easy steps.
  1. pick a Answers.com badge
  2. enter your name, e-mail and URL
  3. grab the code
That's all it takes to add Answers.com to your site or blog. But what, exactly, does that do for you? More importantly is what it does for visitors to your site or blog. Answers.com allows people to double click on any word to get a definition/description complete with links, examples and access to more information on that particular word or topic. It turns your site into a powerful reference tool and lets your users find helpful information without ever having to leave the site. I have Answers.com enabled on this blog as well as my Wiki if you want to see how it works. I see this as being a great tool for teachers to add to their websites and blogs to help students find the information they need easily and quickly.

WiZiQ

WiZiQ is a great new virtual classroom tool that you can use to host online learning sessions. You can upload files such as PDFs and Power Point presentations to share or search through their growing library of presentations to use and share with others. You can host private (or public) sessions in a virtual classroom complete with an online whiteboard and audio/video chat capabilities. They have a calendar feature so that you can schedule sessions with specific users, send out invitations and even reminders about upcoming sessions. Each session is recorded and saved so you can always refer back to it when necessary. You can even earn money as a teacher by hosting sessions and teaching different topics. I plan to try this out with an online class I'm teaching this fall so I'll let you know what I think of it once I get to use it more extensively.

Blabberize

I have been a delinquent blogger but a full-scale kitchen remodeling project has kept me occupied for the past month. The plumber is here as I type and I hope to have running water in the kitchen sink by the end of the day. Enough about my remodeling tales of misery...let's get on to Blabberize.

Blabberize is one of those tools that could be categorized as mostly made for fun but with some educational potential. The concept is very basic. You pick a picture of a person, animal, robot or any other organism with a mouth, record a message and then Blabberize makes the mouth move in your picture to say your recorded message. It's similar to Voki but you are able to upload a picture of yourself rather than just creating an animated avatar. They don't have an education only version yet so you can run in to some less than appropriate content on the site so beware. I have included a sample that hits home and seemed perfect for a blog about educational technology.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Mapness!

Mapness is a travel journal tool that allows you to map out a trip and post pictures, video and text-based comments/descriptions along your route. Obviously, one way to use this would be to map out a trip that you have taken complete with pictures and videos you collected along the way. But for the k-12 classroom that particular application might not work so well since most teachers aren't taking too many trips with their students. However, you could use Mapness to map out trips of historical figures (Lewis and Clark come immediately to mind), historical events (the movement of the Union or Confederate army during the Civil War) or even the travels of fictional characters from a book your students might be reading. At this point, Mapness is still in beta so I'm guessing there may be some more features coming down the road, such as the ability to embed your travel map, but for now it seems to be fairly handy. It's a lot like using Google Maps with Picasa Web Album to plot out things on a map but the interface is more structured and geared towards mapping out a particular route rather than just geotagging images, videos and text on a map. You can share your travel map by giving others the link and it is currently free to sign-up and use.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Lego Universe

I'm breaking just about every one of my rules in regards to what resources I choose to share on this blog by writing about Lego Universe. First of all, it isn't free (or at least it won't be once it is out of Beta testing). They are planning on providing it on a subscription basis. It is billed as a game rather than an educational tool. They are classifying it as a MMOG (Massively Multiplayer Online Game). And the icing on the cake is that it will run on PCs only and I'm a Mac man. Why then, you may be asking yourself, am I sharing this with all of you? Because I am a Lego maniac and have been ever since I was 5 years old and received my first Lego set from my grandparents for Christmas. I have gotten a set of Legos for Christmas every year since then, I'm 38 now, and I still enjoy playing, building and creating. My daughters are particularly happy when I share with them. Keep an eye on the Lego Universe. It may just be one of those tools that you can utilize that allows you to take advantage of your students' motivation and engagement to achieve some curricular goals.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Capzles

Capzles is another timeline tool that has a lot of great multimedia functionality. You can incorporate videos, music, photos and text into a timeline to tell a story, represent a series of events or any number of other things you might want to do with a timeline. The end result feels a bit more like a photo sharing tool in that you are able to view a timeline either from beginning to end or by just scrolling through and clicking on the image or event you want to jump to. At this point there doesn't appear to be more than one viewing option so you can't see the dates and event details until you actually select the event or scroll over it. They are still in Beta with this so more functionality may be added later. For now, it is an easy tool to use and provides a nice looking slideshow type of timeline.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Only2Clicks

Only2Clicks is yet another social bookmarking tool that lets you to create a web archive of your favorite websites. The unique feature of this tool is that it allows you to create a snapshot display of the different sites you bookmark. You can then create tabs around different topics so that you can flip through your bookmarks by topic and see the various snapshots of those sites. The way the sites are displayed reminds me of PageFlakes and other similar personalized start page tools. I think this tool could work well for someone who is really visually oriented and would benefit from seeing websites represented as snapshots. The downside, of course, is that far fewer sites can be represented on a single screen because each individual snapshot takes up so much screen real estate. This may not be an issue for you if you make good use of the tab features and divide up your sites into logical topics so that they can be spread out across a larger array of tabs.

Free File Sharing

There are a variety of different tools out there that allow you to share files that are too large to send as e-mail attachments. One in particular that I have found to be handy is SendSpace. The free account allows you to upload individual files as big as 300 MB in size! The way it works is that you upload the file you want to share and include the e-mail address of the person you want to share it with. The file gets uploaded and your friend gets an e-mail message letting him/her know that there is a file waiting for them to download. They go to SendSpace, download the file and presto, big honking file is shared. They even have a desktop wizard you can download that will allow you to upload multiple files, add descriptions to the files and much more. It isn't clear if this tool allows you to send the files to multiple recipients but that sure would be nice.

Dancing With Matt

Many of you have probably already seen this video since there are nearly 8 million views of it on YouTube but I just had to include it here on the blog because I think it is pure genius on so many levels. First of all, what a great way to represent the world and demonstrate that music and dance can translate across so many cultures. Also, this video is a perfect example of how technology can represent emotions and communicate a message that is hard to replicate in any other medium. The great thing is that the message is communicated in the absence of words. Sure, there are titles showing the locations but the main character speaks only through his fancy footwork. I envy this globe-trekking Fred Astaire and look forward to discovering the next new phenomenon that gets uploaded to the vast collection of online multimedia.


Where the Hell is Matt? (2008) from Matthew Harding on Vimeo.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Google Sky

First off let me apologize for being such an absent blogger. I have been on the road for the past week and a half visiting family and while I brought my computer along with me I didn't find much time to post to the blog. Now that I'm back I wanted to share Google Sky with everyone. Yes, the Google geniuses are back at it again and have created yet another cool tool. Google Sky is a lot like Google Earth except that instead of punching in a location on Earth you can explore the sky and various parts of the galaxy. Another thing that differentiates Google Sky from Google Earth is that it is web-based and doesn't require any kind of download to use. Of course, the images you see on Google Sky are going to reflect the limits of our current technology so don't be surprised if you punch in "Jupiter" in the locator window and don't end up with a crystal clear close-up of the gas giant. If you are really into astronomy, and teach it with your students, you may also want to check out Google Moon and Google Mars.

Friday, June 27, 2008

issuu Online Publishing Tool

issuu is a great little tool that allows you to take a set of PDFs and turn them into a professional looking flipbook that you can either embed or link to on your website, blog or wiki. I have provided several examples featured on the issuu website below. You can see that some print based publications are using this as an easy way to create an electronic representation of their magazines as shown in this first example.
You could also use issuu to create an electronic sketchbook to share drawings, illustrations or other images online as with this example.
This also seems like a great tool to use to create quick and easy electronic versions of student books and writing that you can then embed on your class website, blog or wiki. I couldn't find any such examples on the issuu website, otherwise I would have shared them here.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

PhotoShow

PhotoShow is a wicked easy (I can't believe I just used the phrase "wicked easy") tool to use to create customized slideshows in virtually no time at all. You will most likely spend more time selecting your photos and waiting for them to upload then you will in actually making your slideshow. You can pick from dozens of themes for your show, add captions to each picture and select background music from their huge collection of songs without concerns about copyright infringement. Check out the quick little show I created of my daughter's trip to the farm this past school year.






This slideshow took me about 5 minutes to create and that was largely because I kept wanting to check out the different options, themes and features. You have a couple different options for output format including embedding it as I have done, sharing a link, as long as you set the slideshow as public, purchasing your show on a DVD (at $30 a pop this doesn't seem to be a great bargain) or even broadcasting it on Public Access cable TV where available. You can purchase a version of PhotoShow for Windows that has even more features including the ability to add video but if you are just interested in working with photos and don't have a great need to be able to export your shows the free web-based version is quite adequate.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Rethinking "Computers"

While wrapping up a session with my class the other day I started to go off on a bit of a tangent, as I'm known to do from time to time. The topic of my verbal wandering this time had to do with the mindset that computers and technology is what we do during that 45 minute period each week when we march our students down to the computer lab. With this line of thinking it's hard to imagine a teacher planning an extended series of lessons or activities that would require back-to-back days in the lab since the structure and rigidity of the school schedule wouldn't allow that. I do think we need to have assigned weekly times for computers just like we need it for other areas such as music, PE, art and library since we can't rely on every teacher working technology into their teaching when left to their own devices. But I also think we need to do a better job of making it possible for those teachers who want to incorporate technology in meaningful ways (more than just once a week for 45 minutes) to be able to do so on a regular basis. This means that some teachers may have more time in the lab because they make the conscious choice to use the technology that is available to them. I would be curious to hear how schools are adjusting their schedules or otherwise making technology available to teachers and students for more than just the assigned weekly trip to the lab.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Big Universe Children's Book Collection/Creator

The Big Universe is similar to LookyBook, which I wrote about in my last posting, in that it allows you to view and read a large selection of children's picture books online. These books can be embedded like the one I have included below. In addition to reading published books (without needing to create an account or login) you also get access to blogs by other authors and experts in the field of children's literature.

However, the real benefit of this site is that you can create your own picture book and share it online through the site or embedding it on your own site. This book creation tool is very comprehensive allowing writers to add a large selection of images, animations, backgrounds and other visual elements to their writing. This is a powerful tool to use to help kids bring their writing to life. I have included a user created book below about a gorilla and his adventures at school. The plot is fairly simple but I think it's a great example of how students can use the large library of clipart to visually represent their stories.

Friday, May 30, 2008

LookyBook

LookyBook is a great resource for sharing high quality picture books with students via the Internet. I recently read about this tool on Kevin Jarrett's blog and I agree with him that it would be a great site to use with an interactive Whiteboard. You can access the books and even embed them without signing up for an account, which is a bonus when working with elementary students. Whenever you can utilize a tool without having to sign-up 25, 50, 100 students it is a definite plus. However, in case you are wondering, registering does allow you to comment on books, much like writing a review, as well as create your own bookshelf of books from their collection.

I have embedded a book below to show how this works. If you click on the eyeballs it will show you a larger version of the book. Of course, you could go directly to their site and view the same book but I always like the option of being able to embed content into my own sites such as a Wiki, blog or class homepage because it means my students don't have to learn a new URL just to access the content.




You will notice that there isn't any audio so students don't get any assistance in that regard with reading the book. Obviously, you would have to think about the best way to use this type of tool and take into consideration the reading ability of your students. Considering the cost of pictures books, I like the fact that I can share a broader range of books with my students without having to purchase hardcopies. It's also a nice little break for the environment!

Screencast-O-Matic

If you do any kind of screencasting to create video tutorials or for any other purpose you might want to check out Screencast-O-Matic (great name huh?). This is an unbelievably easy tool to use to capture your onscreen activity. You can record audio via a microphone and have the option to upload and use their server space or save your video as a Quicktime file. It is web-based so you need to be online when you use it but you can record work in offline applications such as Word or anything else you might want to demonstrate. Once you are done recording you can add notes to different portions of the video that will allow your viewers to jump to those sections and read your comments, which will appear as unobtrusive pop-ups at the bottom of the viewing screen. I tried this out and without even signing up for an account I was able to make a simple clip that I then brought into Final Cut Pro (though I imagine it would work in other editors as well) and incorporated into a larger video project I was editing. I didn't need to record audio so I can't comment on that but the video quality was quite good. I'm really not sure what they could do to make this tool any easier to use. It may not have all the features you are used to in a screen capture tool but you can't beat the ease of use and quality for the price (free). You can check out the demo video below to get a better idea of how this tool works.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Dipity and Time Tube

You are probably wondering what a tool named Dipity allows you to do that could be remotely educational. Well, if you are interested in creating timelines with your students then Dipity is a tool you might want to try out. It is web-based and free (isn't everything I write about?) and takes advantage of the many benefits of Web 2.0 functionality, which means you can add images and video from around the web, embed and share your finished timeline and even geographically tag the different events or entries on your timeline. Timelines can be viewed in multiple ways including as a flipbook on a map and, of course, as a traditional timeline. Check out the timeline I have included on JFK to get an idea of the kind of thing you might be able to create. Timelines can have multiple authors as well.

TimeTube is a mashup from Dipity that allows you to type in a keyword and then have a timeline automatically generated that includes a variety of videos that match your specific keyword. I like the concept of this but since there isn't a clear way to filter out videos you can get a lot of oddball stuff included in your timeline. For instance, when I used the search term "JFK" I got news footage and historical video clips along with a clip of a comedian who was talking about JFK and a video of people dunking a basketball to a hip-hop soundtrack. I realize I could have tried to refine my search term but it would be nice if you could edit the timeline once it was created to weed out the videos that don't fit with your educational goals.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Just for Fun

I wanted to share some tools and resources that I have come across in the past few months that are more for fun then for education and since we are fast approaching that time in the school year when achieving educational objectives is becoming increasingly difficult this seemed like a great time for this particular posting.

Face in the Hole
The name of this tool pretty much says it all. The site has a variety of pictures of different celebrities where they have removed the person's face and replaced it with a hole. You get to upload a picture of yourself and put your face in the hole, thus replacing the celebrities face with yours. I have included a sample picture showing myself as Lance Armstrong after winning one of his many Tour de France titles.

Play My Game
Play My Game is similar to Face in the Hole in that you get to add your image to something, but in this case you are adding your image to one of their pre-made games. The games are rather simple and fairly limited but as I said at the beginning, this stuff is more about fun then learning. I tried to upload my own picture to a game but kept getting an error message telling me my picture couldn't be uploaded so I decided to share one of the games on the site that featured our Commander in Chief instead.

BeFunky
Once again this is a tool that allows you to work with an image of yourself to create a new customized look. While it can be used for all sorts of fun applications, I do think it has some educational value in the sense that you could take images of students and "cartoonize" them as a way to protect their identities. These images could then be used as profile images on social networks, wikis, blogs and other tools you may have students use in the classroom. I realize students can have a profile without an image, or use an abstract image such as a basketball or lion to represent themselves, but BeFunky does provide another option to consider. Check out my funky look!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

TuxPaint: An Open Source KidPix

I read a review of TuxPaint by Marilyn Western in the Spring/Summer 2008 issue of the MACUL journal that landed on my desk just yesterday and I had to share it with my dedicated legion of readers. As Marilyn mentions in her review, TuxPaint is an open source alternative to KidPix, which means it is free and available for both Mac and Windows. I realize KidPix is available on both platforms as well but of course it isn't free. I encourage you to look over Marilyn's review for some great ideas on how you may use TuxPaint but really, if you have used KidPix you can do essentially everything you have been able to do with that software. If you aren't familiar with KidPix or applications like it, then check out the screenshots I have included to see some of the ways you can use this graphic arts/drawing program.

Students can create their own drawings, design habitats for an assigned animal, visually represent math problems, work with a teacher created template, insert personal pictures in their creations and much more. It is definitely worth a look and the price (free) is certainly right.

Monday, May 12, 2008

iCue

NBC has introduced a new online resource for teachers and students called iCue. Notice how everyone is trying to cash in on the whole iPod revolution by making sure to put an "i" in front of whatever they create? I heard there is even a state out west called iDaho. Where will this stop? Any way, back to iCue.

I didn't sign-up for an account yet but I did sit through the demo, narrated by Tim Russert no less, and it provides a nice overview of the tool. The demo focuses on the presidential campaign for 2008 but this is just one example of the many topics students can learn about with this tool. The main strength of iCue seems to be it's huge library of video clips from the NBC newsroom. Students can access "cue cards" that are video clips pertaining to different topics. The cue cards also have keywords, can be tagged with new keywords and include transcripts and additional information about the featured subject or event. Students can add notes to them, save and categorize them and share them with their network of friends within iCue. In that sense, this is really a social network with a huge collection of topic specific video clips.

There are games for students to play and a forum where they can discuss different issues. The theme of the content is certainly focused on history, politics and current events but it seems like an engaging way to learn about these types of things. Since the site is so dependent on video, many teachers will probably find it necessary to get the site unblocked in order for students to make full use of it.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Crayola Physics

There are two cool and very simple tools I recently came across that are designed to help kids learn basic concepts of physics in a fun and engaging way. The tools are called Crayon Physics (Windows only) and Phun (Windows and Mac) and were recently reviewed on the iLearn Technology blog that I follow. I had seen Crayon Physics before and shared it with my graduate students but this was the first time I had seen Phun. Both programs are very similar in what they allow students to do but Crayon Physics presents a task (moving a ball from one location to another) while Phun doesn't provide a specific task for students to complete. With both programs students are able to create shapes and see immediately what impact gravity and friction has on those shapes. That's a pretty simplified explanation of what can be done with these great tools but the best way to explore their capabilities is to watch the respective demo videos.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

TeachersFirst.com

TeachersFirst is an online resource that provides teachers with lesson plans, learning activities, web reviews and much more. You can sort through their collection of resources by different classifications including subject & grade. They are currently offering a full service membership for free to the first 100 teachers that sign-up. They also have a regular free membership that provides access to a limited range of their resources, which is available regardless of how many people sign-up.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Apture the Experience

I recently learned of a great new tool called Apture from the Weblogg-Ed blog, a fine blog that I follow regularly. I was intrigued by what I read so I decided to look at Apture myself. At first glance it seemed to be quite similar to Snap Shots, which I use on this Blog and a Wiki I maintain. Like Snap Shots, Apture allows you to link to other content and display that content in thumbnail preview windows. Snap Shots, and other services like it, automatically provides a snap shot (thus the name) of any webpage you may link to on your website or blog. Apture takes this process about 15 steps further. You can link to websites, news articles, images, videos, audio and even files such as PDFs. In addition, you can have multiple content sources linked to a single topic.

As I watched the tutorial video on the Apture site I couldn't help but think about how I consumed content and information as a child. We would read books in a very linear fashion. After all, books don't make much sense if you randomly jump around from page to page and paragraph to paragraph. But the nature of the Internet has blown that idea out of the water and Apture is a perfect example of this because it allows you to access content from so many different sources and in so many different formats. I think this has the potential to provide students with a much richer learning and research experience as readers of information but I also think it has huge potential for them as writers of online content. They can have the experience of weeding through content and deciding what they want to link to in order to augment their text and tell the story they are sharing. It's a lot like writing a traditional research paper where you have to find references to support your claims but instead of just citing relevant quotes you can share a huge array of multimedia content and really bring your writing to life.

The way Apture works is that you write your content first and then go back and add your links afterwards. Of course, it is web-based, multiplatform and free to use so I can't think of a single reason why you shouldn't at least try it out. I have put it to use in this posting so you can start to get a sense of what it can do. The list of topics below is simply to give you an idea of the different kinds of links and media that can be added. I want to add this to my UMD EdTech Wiki but that process is still underway at this point.

  • Grand Canyon
  • Civil Rights
  • Global Warming
Now that I've had a chance to work with Apture a bit I thought I'd add a few more comments about this tool. I found it relatively easy to use but it was necessary to refresh my browser on several occasions when adding links. It is still in Beta so there are probably a few kinks to work out but I enjoyed using it. The other thing I noticed was that when I had Snap Shots and Apture enabled it was almost overload with all the pop-up thumbnail windows flying all over the screen so I just turned off Snap Shots.