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Tuesday, September 30, 2008


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.


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


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 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.

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 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.