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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Every Trail, The Grand Canyon, and National Parks

I first looked at Every Trail last winter as it caught my attention as a resource for exploring hiking trails. Then last night I saw it mentioned as a layer for Google Earth. I thought that was cool, but I still wasn't going to write about it until Larry Ferlazzo wrote a blog post about a Grand Canyon Interactive map. Every Trail features user generated content of pictures and text from hiking trips posted on a Google Map. After reading Larry's post I jumped on Every Trail and looked for Grand Canyon content. Sure enough, Every Trail has some great user generated content about the Grand Canyon. Every Trail's Grand Canyon content is a good complement to National Geographic's Grand Canyon Interactive Map.

If your students find exploring the Grand Canyon enjoyable, consider having them explore National Geographic's Insider's Guide to the Great Parks. Inside the Insider's Guide, students will find more interactive maps, pictures, and short quizzes about the national parks of the United States.

Refine Google Searches With Cloudlet

Cloudlet is a free Firefox extension that helps users refine Google search results through the use of a tag cloud. Cloudlet takes just a minute to install. Cloudlet doesn't clutter your browser bar, as it only appears when you use Google.

What Cloudlet does is produce a tag cloud related to your search terms. Once you have installed Cloudlet simply enter search terms in Google as you would normally. To refine your search simply click on any of the tags in the cloud generated by Cloudlet. The screen captures below show the difference between searching with Cloudlet and searching without Cloudlet. Click here to watch a video demonstration of Cloudlet.

With Cloudlet.

















Without Cloudlet.














Applications for Education
Cloudlet is a handy Firefox extension for students to have when they are struggling to find relevant search results or are struggling to refine search terms.

A couple of related resources can be found here and here.

Choosing a Blogging Platform and Why I Stayed With Blogger

If you're a teacher just beginning to explore the use of technology in the classroom, one of the most useful first steps you can take is to create a blog. Your blog can be used for any number of things including posting assignments for your students and sharing information with parents. Once you've decided that you want to write a blog for classroom use or for your personal use, the next step is to choose a blogging platform. There many good, free, blogging platforms available to teachers. The three most popular blogging platforms I see used by educators are EduBlogs, WordPress, and Blogger. Each platform has it's pros and cons which are outlined below.

Edublogs, as the name implies, is designed with teachers and students in mind. Edublogs currently hosts more than 260,000 blogs. Edublogs offers a wide variety templates, plug-ins for podcasts, and great video tutorials to get you started on the road to blogging. Another benefit of Edublogs, that should be noted if you're district has a strict filtering policy, is that Edublogs have .org urls in addition to the "edu" name. This might be helpful when trying to convince an administrator to unblock a site. The downside to using the Edublogs free platform is Edublogs is advertising is inserted into your blog. Until recently this was not the case. For $40/USD you can have a blog that is advertising free.

WordPress has the most flexibility, templates, extensions, and plug-ins of the three blogging platforms I've listed. If you see yourself developing a large student/ classroom blog the myriad of options available through WordPress are good to have. WordPress.com offers free, reliable hosting for bloggers. WordPress is a very popular platform which means that there are a lot of tutorials and help discussions available on the Internet if you need them. For what it's worth, if I was going to start a new blog like Free Technology for Teachers I would use WordPress.
Update: it was just pointed out to me, by Sue Waters, that another difference between Edublogs and Wordpress is the acceptance of embed codes. I should have mentioned that WordPress.com doesn't always accept embed codes as easily as Edublogs or Blogger. In fact, now that I think about it, on TeacherTube a separate embed code is offered for Wordpress.com blogs.


Blogger is the platform that I use for this blog. Until this fall, I also used Blogger for my classroom blogs (I now use a combination of Edublogs and Drop.io). Blogger is powered by Google so if you have a Google account, starting a blog only takes a minute. Blogger blogs are free and free of advertising unless you choose to insert advertising. The drawback to using Blogger for a classroom blog is that a lot of school filters block Blogger. Blogger has "followers" option which in some school district policies qualifies it as a social network.

When I recently purchased the domain freetech4teachers.com I considered moving all of the Free Technology for Teachers content onto a WordPress blog, but in the end I stayed with Blogger. It was cheap ($10/yr) and easy to buy the domain and have all traffic from freetech4teachers.blogspot.com automatically redirected to freetech4teachers.com. A short video from Blogger explained it and made it simple.

More than 100 Links for Music Teachers

This morning through my Twitter network, specifically Sloane Wood, I came across more than 100 links that Music teachers should explore. Sloane Wood shared a link to Amy Burns's blog for elementary music educators. Amy has a list of 100 music education bloggers. One of Amy's blog posts linked to a blog carnival for music educators. The blog carnival was hosted by Discover, Learn, Play. In the blog carnival for music educators there are twelve links to articles about music education. If you're a music educator, make sure you visit both lists soon.

It's Awards Season

The Shorty Awards were designed by four Twitter users to recognize Twitter users for best use of Twitter in a wide range of categories. I was nominated by three people in the education category. Thank you @jackilugg @wadlington and @debwhite for the nominations.

I am nominating Angela Maiers for a shorty award in education. If you don't follow Angela Maiers on Twitter, you should.

On a related note, the voting for the 2008 Edublog Awards closes in four days. This blog was nominated in the category of Best Resource Sharing Blog. I was nominated by Larry Ferlazzo who is also up for the same award. To vote and see the full list of nominations, click here.

Old School Meets New School on iTunes U

This morning while reading Open Culture I was reminded of some free resources that are great for personal learning. Open Culture pointed out that the University of Cambridge and the University of Oxford offer good collections of free audio and video podcasts. The episodes can be found on each university's website or on iTunes U. In total there are 136 colleges and universities that offer audio and video podcasts on iTunes U.

Another place to find universities sharing lectures and courses online is through YouTube's education channels. Finding educational material from universities on YouTube does require sifting through some garbage, but if you're willing to do that you can find some good stuff like the Penn State, Harvard, and Stanford YouTube channels.

Applications for Education
iTunes U and YouTube's university channels offer some good resources for personal learning both for you and for your students. If you're a high school teacher and have students that are interested in learning more about a particular topic, consider referring them to iTunes U. Most students are familiar with iTunes, but they might not know about iTunes U. And remember, you don't have to have an iPod to access podcasts.

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