Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Google Maps Becomes a Better Research Tool

Today, the Google LatLong Blog announced a new feature that should make Google Maps a better research tool than it already is. Now when users examine a town or city on Google Maps a new exploration option called "Explore this area" will appear on the left hand side of the screen. Click the "Explore this area" link to find more photos, videos, and user created maps related to the area.

Applications for Education
The new "Explore this area" option is a great tool for students researching towns and cities around the world. Students can find videos related to significant events or cultural aspects of a city. For example, when I clicked the "Explore this area" on the Portland, ME map I found a video about steam engine in action on a boat in Portland. Clicking "explore this area" on a map of London returned numerous videos and images related to the city. Overall, the "explore this area" option provides great supplements to virtual tours of cities in addition to being a great stand alone resource for student research.

Here is a short video explaining the new "explore this area" feature of Google Maps.

Author Stream - Convert Powerpoint to Flash Presentations

Author Stream is a newer service similar to Slide Share which converts your PowerPoint slide shows to flash media files. Just like Slide Share, Author Stream can be used to host and share your slide shows publicly or privately directly on the Author Stream website. In addition to sharing on the Author Stream website the slide shows you upload can also be shared via Youtube, iTunes, or embedded into a blog or website.

A free companion tool to Author Stream is Author Point Lite. Author Point Lite is a desktop application that converts Power Point files to flash files. Files converted with Author Point Lite retain all of the transitions, timings, and narration created in your original file. Author Point Lite is a free download.

Applications for Education
Author Stream provides
teachers with a free method for sharing notes and presentations with students without sending large email files. The Author Point Lite desktop client is a free download that teachers and students can use to enhance their presentations beyond the typical Power Point presentation. Last month using an online slide show host saved my lesson plan, you can read that blog post here.

Earth Calendar - Every Day is a Holiday Somewhere

Earth Calendar is a small demonstration of cultures and traditions from around the world. Earth Calendar is built on the idea that every day is a holiday for someone somewhere. Earth Calendar has three simple search options, holidays by date, holidays by country, or holidays by religion. I used the holidays by country option to find out that May 1 is Labor Day in Macedonia.

Applications for Education
Earth Calendar is a simple to use resource for students to use to get a little flavor of cultures and traditions from around the world. I've always found that adding just a little bit of lesser known information (dare I say trivia) about a country's culture helps to engage students in lessons about world news and world studies.

Microsoft's World Wide Telescope - History and Demonstrations

Microsoft's World Wide Telescope was made available to the general public yesterday. I've only been able to use it a few times since I installed it on my Windows machine (not available for Mac). The World Wide Telescope makes very detailed, high resolution images (scientific quality) from space available to anyone with access to a Windows based computer.

Applications for Education
The World Wide Telescope is a free download that science teachers should insist on having installed on the computers that their students use. The World Wide Telescope allows students to explore space on their own in a way never possible before yesterday. As Curtis Wong points out in his interview with Robert Scoble, the World Wide Telescope will bring space and show the Milky Way to students growing up in cities who may have never been able to see the Milky Way before. (Watch Mr. Wong's interview with Robert Scoble in the video below).

This video from Rich White demonstrates the use of the World Wide Telescope with an interactive whiteboard.

This video from Robert Scoble is an interview with two developers of the World Wide Telescope.

This is the presentation of the World Wide Telescope at the TED Conference from February 2008.

DailyLit - Read Books in Chunks via Email or RSS

Daily Lit is a neat service that delivers books in small readable chunks (3-5 minutes to read) to your inbox or RSS reader on a schedule that you choose. There are more than 700 free books available from Daily Lit. In addition to the book offerings, Daily Lit hosts discussion forums categorized by book, author, and genre.

Application for Education
Services like Daily Lit make many books available to students for free. Daily Lit could be used to by teachers to make long or difficult books easier for students to tackle. Teachers could set aside five to ten minutes a day for students to read a portion of a book during class. If your school doesn't have enough copies of a book or any copies of book you'd like students to read, reading it in chunks through Daily Lit is a free solution. The discussion forums on Daily Lit allows students to read what other people around the world think about the books they're reading.
(Note: Daily Lit's terms of service state that users must be 18 or have parent/guardian permission. My guess is this is probably a legality to remove their liability for students reading books someone might someday find objectionable).

New Zoho Feature - Sign-in with Google or Yahoo ID

Zoho, a superb online productivity suite that I've discussed a number of times, has added a new sign-in feature. As announced today on Zoho's product blog, Zoho users can now sign-in using their Google or Yahoo ID.

Applications for Education
One of the problems of having students use online services is making sure they all remember their passwords and usernames. Zoho's integration of Google and Yahoo ID means that students have one less set of usernames and passwords to remember. This means that students will be able to use Google's productivity suite and Zoho's productivity suite with the same username and password. My students are currently working on an assignment in which they are writing a travel narrative and creating an accompanying slide show. Some of my students have found that they prefer Google Docs for writing and Zoho Show for presentations. Now they can toggle between the two applications easier than before. (For my students' sake I just wish Zoho had done this about a month earlier).