Friday, January 9, 2009

The Week in Review - 5 Most Popular Items

I've been back at work for only a week, but it already feels like vacation was a month ago. The blog was busy this week as each day saw a new record for number of visits. Thank you to everyone that has shared Free Technology for Teachers with your friends and colleagues. Knowing that people like this blog enough to subscribe to it and to share it with others is a great feeling. I really appreciate all of the comments, emails, and Twitter messages.

Here are the five most popular items of the last week.
1. The History of the Internet
2. Saving Money in Plain English and Other Economics Lessons
3. Stinto - Quickly Create a Free Chat Room
4. Five Fun Spelling Games
5. Send a Twitter Message from Your URL Toolbar

What is RSS?

This week I have noticed that this blog has received a lot more direct visits, almost twice the amount from the week before holiday break, so I thought this might be a good time to share an explanation of RSS and what reading blogs in an RSS reader can do for you.

Here are some questions commonly asked about RSS:

1.What do the initials RSS mean? RSS is typically defined as "Rich Site Summary" or "Really Simple Syndication." However you define it, RSS does the same thing, so don't worry about what the letters mean.

2. What does RSS do? RSS brings website/ blog content to you in one centralized location, often without the advertising or sidebar content found on most blogs and websites. In order to read content found in an RSS feed, you need to have an RSS reader.

3. What is an RSS reader and where do I get one? An RSS reader, sometimes referred to as an RSS aggregator, is a centralized location on the web where all of the information from the RSS feeds you're subscribed to is sent. One easy-to-use RSS reader is Google Reader. Yahoo and Bloglines are also popular RSS readers. I have embedded a short video introduction to Google Reader below the question four.

4. How can I tell if a website offers an RSS feed? Almost every website or blog that updates regularly, prominently displays an icon or a "subscribe" link. The one for this blog is posted in the upper right corner of the page. If an icon or subscribe link is not offered, you still may be able to subscribe to a feed, in Firefox if you see a small RSS icon appear in the url bar, click it to subscribe. Below is an image of the most common type of RSS icon.

The video from Common Craft embedded below explains how RSS works.

This video, also from Common Craft, provides a short introduction to Google Reader.

Applications for Education
As a teacher, using an RSS reader can help you stay informed and up to date on new information related to your content area and practice. People often ask me how I find so much information about new technology resources, the answer is simple, I scan roughly 600 updates in my RSS reader every day. Obviously you don't have to subscribe to as many websites as I do to stay informed, but my RSS addiction does demonstrate how much time a person can save and how much information a person can find by using an RSS reader. If I didn't use an RSS reader there is no way that I could find so much information in a couple of hours each day. (As a side note, I'm going camping for six days without Internet access when I get back, I'll have thousands of items to scan through).

If you maintain a blog or website for your classroom, having your students use RSS readers is a good way to keep them informed of new information you've posted. For teachers that address current events in their curriculum, having students use RSS readers is a good way for them to track developments in news stories.

If you found this information or anything else on this blog useful, please consider subscribing to the RSS feed by using this link.

More Than 250 Free Audio Books

Open Culture, which I've written about numerous times in the past, has updated their collection of free audio books. The collection now includes more than 250 fiction and non-fiction books. The contents of the collection is quite impressive as it includes works by, among others, Austen, Dickens, Melville, Poe, Voltaire, and Rousseau. All of the audio books can be played on your computer or mp3 player.

Applications for Education
This audio book collection has a lot of material that is suitable for high school students. The audio books could be a useful supplement to the reading your students are doing. Audio books can also be a helpful aid for struggling readers.

Here are some other useful resources from Open Culture that I've shared in the past.
Hemingway Animated
Old School Meets New School on iTunes U
Challenge Your Students With One of These...

A Great Guide for Substitute / Relief Teachers

I worked as a substitute teacher for a year before getting a full-time teaching position. Overall, it was a great experience as I was able to see a wide variety of classrooms and discover that I really did want to teach full-time. There were some days though that I wondered what I had gotten myself into with a class full of rowdy students or class where there were no plans for left for me. On those days, I found myself improvising and doing the best I could with the hand I was dealt. Back then it would have been good to read the substitute teaching guide that is posted on the Learning Curve blog. If you're a substitute teacher or know a substitute teacher looking for advice, check out Relief for Relief Teachers. The article provides a wealth of tips and information that is useful for all covering all grade levels and content areas.