Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Making the NY Times Accessible to Students

Robert Scoble has posted on his blog a video of a conversation he had with a New York Times developer working on a project called the Times Machine. The Times Machine is not publicly available yet, but it looks like it could be a great web resource for history teachers and history students by the time school starts again in September. I've embedded the video a little lower in this blog entry.

The New York Times Learning Network has been around for a number of years now, but it's worth mentioning in case some hasn't looked at it before or hasn't heard of it. The New York Times Learning Network is constantly updated with new lesson plans designed for students in grades 3 through 12. Everyday there is a new lesson plan available. Each new lesson plan is based on a current news story. The New York Times Learning Network lesson plans can be searched by subject (every content area is covered), grade level, or news story.

Applications for Education
The lesson plans available from The New York Times Learning Network are accompanied by news stories written on a reading level to match the lesson plan's intended audience.

In addition to lesson plans, The New York Times Learning Network furnishes a selection of quizzes and learning activities that students can complete independently. Students will find daily quizzes about the news, a word of the day, and a test prep question of the day among other resources. The web navigator link on The New York Times Learning Network will lead students to a series of links categorized by academic content area.

Here is Robert Scoble's video taken at the NY Times about the Times Machine.

Spanish and German Learning Activities

Vocabulix provides numerous free tools for learning Spanish, German, or English. On Vocabulix can be used to create quizzes or take quizzes online. Vocabulix provides dozens of drills and activities designed to help students learn Spanish, German, or English. The verb conjugation chart can be used on the Vocabulix website. The verb conjugator code is freely available for use in third party blogs, wikis, or websites. As most new language learning websites do, Vocabulix has a social networking option that helps match native speakers with learners.

Applications for Education
Vocabulix is a great tool for independent study or practice of a foreign language. The activities are short and sweet and give students instant feedback. The pre-made Vocabulix exercises are flexible enough for use with a wide range of students from beginners to advanced language learners. Students can select the type of response, multiple choice or written response, the level of difficulty, and choice of having or not having visual clues.
The verb conjugator widget is a nice tool to include on your class blog, wiki, or website to support student learning outside of the classroom.

Books vs. Internet - What Influences Student Choice?

On Monday evening after a bad car shopping experience (read more here) I went to the local Border's bookstore to browse and decompress for a few minutes. As I was wandering through the computer and business sections I came across a young man (13ish, I'd guess) and his mother looking for a book about writing html code. The young man had in his hand a print out of a book title and isbn for book he had located on the Border's website. That short observation made me wonder what makes today's student choose a book over the Internet when looking for reference information? I put this question to my study hall students yesterday. What follows is a summation of my students' responses.

About half of my students believe that books are generally more credible than the Internet. When asked why, most said because that's what their teachers and parents tell them. A few students mentioned that they have teachers who do not allow Wikipedia to be used for any research. Some of the students said they use books for research because they do not have Internet access at home. Another response was that books are useful for having a hard-copy that they can look at while writing or creating a presentation without having to toggle between browser windows or applications. The one response that seemed universal was that books help them remember things. When I asked one student to clarify, she said that if she can put her hands on something she's more likely to remember it. I thought this was a telling statement about our attention economy.

My students responses to the question of why they would choose a reference book over the Internet got me thinking about my own attention span and the attention of adults in general. Just last week I was reminded by Mark Spahr of how quickly we forget things in our attention economy. I had forgotten the name of a blogger who had stirred a little discussion a while back. I thought the discussion had been months ago, but when I sent out a Twitter asking for help to locate the name, Mark sent me the link I needed which was from April. How quickly had I forgotten? In four weeks what was a raging a discussion became a distant memory. Is this the same for our students? I think so. If nothing else, having a physical document may help students remember things just a little bit longer than they would without them.

OLPC Second Generation Laptop

According to the TED Blog the second generation of the OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) XO laptop is slated for release in the next 18-24 months. This second generation laptop will be called the XO-2 and feature two touch screen displays that can be used independently or together as one flat panel. The new XO-2 is significantly smaller and lighter than the current XO laptop. Visit the TED Blog or Laptop Magazine for more pictures and a short video about the XO-2.

OLPC has not mentioned what type of operating system the XO-2 will have. Given the announcement last week that Windows XP will soon be available for the XO laptop, I won't be surprised if Microsoft technology is incorporated into the XO-2.

Later this week I'll be posting an in-depth review, including video comments from students, of the XO Laptop.