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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Zoho Challenge

I've been using the various online office tools from Zoho for the past year with my graduate and undergraduate classes and also to facilitate presentations at different conferences. Zoho Writer has been a great way to create a collaborative set of notes for my classes while the Zoho Show tool makes it easy to embed a presentation in a Wiki, blog or other website. These tools, and the many other tools by Zoho, weren't created specifically for educators. However, the folks at Zoho have come up with a new tool called Zoho Challenge that has been created with teachers in mind and it definitely looks like it's worth checking out. Zoho Challenge is an online test creation tool that allows you to create, administer and take tests online. Teachers can view results and student progress as well as set time limits, send test invites through e-mail and much more. I'm not a big advocate for testing kids at every turn but I do acknowledge that tests and quizzes can serve a purpose if they are well constructed and this seems like a tool that is designed to streamline the process for both teachers and students.

Monday, April 28, 2008

ePals Launches In2Books PenPal Program

I just got an e-mail from ePals informing me of a program they call In2Books that is planned to launch in the Fall. The program is targeted towards 3rd-5th graders and is designed to connect students with "caring adult pen pals" so that they can read and discuss books through the exchange of online letters. For Title I schools, ePals will provide the books and the pen pals. Schools that don't qualify for Title I funds can still participate and use the online service for free but they will be responsible for providing books for their students and for signing up their own pen pals. This seems like a great way to get kids talking about books and a perfect opportunity to include adult members of the community in the education process. I can imagine senior citizens, retired educators, preservice teachers and even responsible high school students participating as pen pals. What a great way to tap into a population of volunteers that might not be able to come into the classroom to help out but could be very helpful as "virtual volunteers".


I first read about the online world known as Minyanland on Kevin Jarrett's great blog. I encourage you to check him out for a plethora of awesome resources and ideas. As described in his posting Minyanland is a virtual world designed for young kids where they can learn about running a business, managing money, owning property, investing and much more. I decided to check it out with my 8 year old daughter this morning before she headed off to school and so far we are both pretty impressed.

The registration process didn't require her to enter an e-mail but it was optional for me to enter a "parent e-mail". I decided to do that and immediately received a message with a password that allowed me to login and see basic information about my daughter's account. It appears that all players start with $50,000 in savings and they get a condo worth another $50,000. That's not too shabby although I'm not sure my daughter played long enough to even realize she had a place to live.

From a parents standpoint, or the standpoint of a teacher, I wasn't able to do much unless I was willing to sign up for my own "critter". It would be nice to be able to monitor student/child accounts a bit more but maybe that is a bit too big brotherish. Either way, I'm interested in exploring this world a bit more and seeing what my daughter thinks of it. I may even have her post a comment or two explaining her impressions of Minyanland since I'm sure she will learn about the various features of this virtual world much more quickly then I will.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Upcoming Conferences

This particular post will be more relevant to those of you who live in the state of Michigan as it highlights the upcoming technology related conferences, workshops and seminars in the Great Lake State. The conferences are listed chronologically and this is certainly not an all-inclusive list so if you have a favorite that you want to tell us about please feel free share.
I'm sure there are many more that will be taking place over the next several months so please share the ones you are familiar with and have participated in previously.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

NASA to Create Educational Games

NASA recently announced that it is moving into the realm of educational gaming by developing a massively multiplayer online gaming environment that will focus on teaching kids STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) skills. You can read more about the initiative on their site but it certainly sounds promising. They are seeking to harness the power and engaging aspects of virtual worlds and combine it with their vast array of high quality content to create and educational gaming environment. Unfortunately, I don't have anything concrete to share in the way of the actual game but stay tuned and I'll try to keep you posted of any developments.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Animoto and VoiceThreads Education

Two great online tools have recently unveiled education versions of their respective products. Animoto education edition provides teachers with a classroom code they can give to all their students. The code allows students to sign up for full access for free. Better yet, student videos can be downloaded so that you don't have to rely on an Internet connection when you want to watch the finished products with your class. This is a great service being offered by an awesome video creation tool and I encourage you to check it out. Here is a short Animoto video I created some time ago and included in my initial post back in September of 2007.

Voicethreads has also recently announced an education version of their great product. Their education edition is called Ed.VoiceThread and it allows teachers or schools to sign up for a classroom account, which costs $60 for an entire year. Students get their own accounts only after they are created by a teacher or school administrator. Students are not required to have an e-mail and they can only see content (other VoiceThreads) that are part of the Ed.VoiceThread community. In addition, they can only communicate with individuals from within that same community. This is a ridiculously low price for a great service. If you haven't checked out VoiceThreads yet here is a thread I created with my EDT 511 class at the University of Michigan-Dearborn to demonstrate how my students (all practicing k-12 teachers) might use this tool in their own classrooms.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Earth Day Ideas

It has been a while since I last posted but I'm going to try to be more diligent and consistent in my postings from now on. I realize that Earth Day 2008 is coming to an end but I still wanted to share some resources that could be used on every day of the year to help remind us about how we can take care of the Earth.

First of all, there are a variety of Green search engines that you can use to be more environmentally conscious. Ecocho works to offset Carbon emissions by planting 2 trees for every 1,000 searches conducted. The trees are paid for by ads on the site. Blackle is essentially Google but with a black background, which requires less energy on the part of your monitor.

is a SimCity type game where kids get to be the mayor of their own town. In order for their town to grow they need to make decisions about how to supply power and attract more citizens. Mayors are graded on their impact on the environment, population growth and other factors. The game is free and doesn't require any registration.

The final tool I want to share is the Planet Green Game, which provides students with different tasks to complete as they learn about the environment and what they can do to have less of an impact on it. The tasks range between very easy and more complicated so it's hard to tell exactly what age this tool was geared towards but it's worth taking a look at either way.