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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 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!


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


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.