Sunday, January 31, 2010

The History and the Purpose of the US Census

This year a census of the United States is being taken. The CBS Fast Draw team has produced a short video that outlines the history and the purpose of census taking in the United States. The CBS video goes well with Say It Visually's video on the same topic.

Watch CBS News Videos Online

Mark Your Calendars - Google Apps Webinar

If your school has been considering switching over to Google Apps for Education, on February 10 Google is hosting a webinar you should consider attending. The webinar will feature the case study of the Clarkstown (NY) Central School District's use of Google Apps for Education to create a collaborative curriculum portal for teachers throughout the district. You can register for the webinar here and submit questions for the webinar here.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Time to Update the Browsers on School Computers

"We can't do that because we're not allowed to update the browsers or install anything."

This is a comment I hear from teachers more often than I would like. For various reasons, some well-intended, technology administrators insist on locking down computers so that staff cannot install updates. Unfortunately, by prohibiting updates those administrators are preventing staff from accessing modern web resources. This is particularly true in the case of schools that are still using Internet Explorer 5 and 6 as their web browsers. If you're working in one of these schools and you use Google Docs and Google Sites, you should share the following information with your technology administrators. Beginning on March 1st Google will begin phasing out support for Internet Explorer 6 (and previous iterations of IE). You can read more about this news on the Official Google Enterprise Blog.

Three Places to Find Country Profiles

Comparing countries is a common assignment given to elementary, middle, and high school social studies students. Obviously, the required depth of analysis differs as the students get older, but there is some baseline data commonly used in all grades. The following are three good places for students to start their research for country comparison assignments.

The CIA's World Factbook is probably the most well-known collection of information for every country in the world. The World Factbook offers an interactive map that students can use to find information by clicking on a region or country. Students can also locate data by choosing a country from a drop-down menu.

The BBC offers a resource similar to the CIA's World Factbook. The BBC's Country Profiles offers data, but also includes some narrative paragraphs about each country. The BBC furnishes a short history of each country and has a timeline of key events for each country.

Wolfram Alpha can also be a good place to find data about countries. Simply enter a country's name into the search box on Wolfram Alpha and it will generate a list of data commonly used in comparing countries.

Week in Review - New Page View Records!

Every weekend I like to publish a list of the most popular items of the week. I also like to take this time to say thank you to everyone that has subscribed to Free Technology for Teachers, Tweeted about it, become a Facebook fan, or otherwise helped to spread the word about Free Technology for Teachers. This week, because of all of you, Free Technology for Teachers reached new highs for weekly page views and has exceeded the record of monthly pageviews with two days still left this month.

Here are the seven most popular items of the last week:
1. Audio Owl - Hundreds of Free Audio Books
2. Google Apps for Education - Security Whitepaper
3. Seven Places to Find Free Ebooks
4. Prezi Announces New Free Education Licenses
5. MOOM - Museum of Online Museums
6. State of the Union - Video, Transcript, and Wordle
7. Digital Directors Guild - Digital Storytelling Lessons

If you're new to Free Technology for Teachers, welcome, I'm glad you've found this blog. If you like what you see in the links above, please consider subscribing to the blog via RSS or email.
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Friday, January 29, 2010

How to Publish a Quiz Using Google Docs

This is a post born out of a few conversations that I had this week with a few of my colleagues. All of the conversations centered around the time-consuming task of grading quizzes. In each conversation I mentioned that I've been using Google Forms for giving short multiple choice quizzes. I create the quizzes in Google Forms, post them on my classroom blog, students take the quiz on my blog, and their answers appear in an easy-to-grade spreadsheet. Below I've embedded a slideshow with directions for creating and embedding quizzes using Google Forms, but here are a few points that should be emphasized.

1. Make sure the first question is "student name." Otherwise you won't know who submitted which answers.
2. You can mix question types (multiple choice, short answer, paragraph) but if you have too many types and too many students, the spreadsheet can become difficult to navigate.
3. When embedding the form into a blog, make sure you edit the width to fit within your blog's main column. You can use the same principles of editing the size of a YouTube video for editing the width of a spreadsheet.

Follow EduCon 2.2 In Elluminate

EduCon is an education conference being held for the third year in a row, this weekend, at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia. I have never been to EduCon, but it seems that everyone who has been to it raves about it. Some of the leading personalities in education technology will be leading conversations all weekend at EduCon 2.2. If you're interested in virtually attending any of these sessions you can do so through Elluminate. To participate simply visit the schedule of conversations, pick one, and at the scheduled time click on the conversation title to enter the Elluminate room set up for that conversation. You can read more about virtually attending here.

Find Great Children's Literature

The Database of Award-Winning Children's Literature is a searchable database of more than 7,000 award-winning books for children. DAWCL was developed and is maintained by reference librarian Lisa Bartle. There are many ways to search the database to locate books which will appeal to your students and will meet your instructional needs. In addition to the typical search options of keyword, author, and title you will find search options like the age of the reader, historical period, genre, setting, and gender of protagonist.

Applications for Education
DAWCL could be a great resource for elementary school teachers that need to compile lists of books that will appeal to a wide range of students. After locating titles you might want to put them into a "bookshelf" in Google Books where parents and other teachers can browse through them.

Shift Your Perceptions

Every weekday the TED Blog features a new video from their catalog. Today's video features Derek Sivers, founder of CD Baby, reminding us that there is more than one way to look at most problems. Through a clever use of Google Maps, Sivers reminds us that our students don't always see the world the same way that we do.

Here are some related items that may be of interest to you:
15 TED Talks for Teachers to Watch Before 2010
The Web Runs on Kindness

Support ISTE Newbie 2010 by Buying a Book

Last year because of the efforts of many of you, Beth Still, and VoiceThread I was able to attend the NECC/ ISTE conference for the first time. It was an awesome learning experience that I would have missed out on if Beth Still had not organized the fundraising effort. One of her co-conspirators (and I mean that in the nicest way) in organizing the effort was Jason Shrage who is a social studies teacher in New York. Jason has never been to ISTE/ NECC and, like me, his district can't or won't foot the bill. Therefore, Beth organized ISTE Newbie 2010 to send Jason to the ISTE conference in Denver. The fundraising has gone well so far the goal is in sight, but they could use a little more help in getting there. This is where you and I come in.

From now through Sunday night I'll donate any and all comissions generated through my Amazon Affiliate account. I'll also match all book revenues. I typically receive 6% of revenue generated through the Amazon links or widgets that I use. For example if someone buys a $20 book, I earn $1.20. This applies to everything sold through the Amazon widgets and links. So if you were thinking of buying a new book, DVD, netbook, or anything else Amazon sells and you would like to help out the ISTE 2010 Newbie this weekend is a great time to do it. Buy something for yourself, like Larry Ferlazzo'sBuilding Parent Engagement in Schools,and help out a good cause at the same time. (Just make sure you click one of the links or widgets here first).

Here are some more places to read out the ISTE 2010 Newbie.
Jeff Utecht's The Thinking Stick
Beth Still's blog

Thursday, January 28, 2010

JD Salinger Resources

J.D. Salinger, author of The Catcher in the Rye, passed away today at the age of 91. The AP released a short video about his life. The BBC also has a good piece about his life and work. If you're looking for more detailed resources for teaching about Salinger, Shmoop has a student accessible biography.

Google Books Adds Shelving Options

Google recently announced two new enhancement to Google Books. You can now browse through many of the Google Books categories using a horizontally scrolling interface. This same horizontally scrolling interface is also applied to the collections of books that you build within your Google Books account. Now you can create your own public and private "bookshelves" in your Google Books account. Users of Shelfari will probably note some similarities in the two interfaces.

Building your virtual bookshelves in Google Books is a simple process that I've outlined below.

Step 1: After logging into your Google Books account click create new shelf.

Step 2: Name your new shelf and select private or public view. Public view shelves can be seen by anyone. You can have a mix of private and public shelves within your library.

Step 3: Locate a book and select "add to bookshelves."

Step 4: Select the shelf you wish to add a book to.

Applications for Education
Creating public bookshelves could be a great way for teachers to organize collections of book titles to share with students and parents. For example if I taught reading I might organize a shelf of books that appeals to young male readers and a shelf that appeals to young female readers. I might also organize shelves by reading levels. Then when students need to search for a book they will have a good place to start their searches.

Win a Free Video Capture System from Simple K12

Simple K12 is holding a blog contest to give away two of their video capture and presentation systems. The systems, known as Simple Workshop, are valued at $4000 a piece. To enter the contest all you need to do is comment on this video post made by Simple K12. Watch the following video to learn about the Simple Workshop system.

Welcome to Simple. SimpleWorkshop from InfoSource Learning on Vimeo.

State of the Union - Video, Transcript, and Wordle

Last night President Obama gave his State of the Union Address. (Did you submit your questions to him?) For those of you who would like to show it to your students, have them analyze the transcript, or have them analyze the Republican response, I have posted resources for doing those things.

Here is the video.

The Republican response.

The transcript of President Obama's speech.

Below is an image of a Wordle generated from the transcript of President Obama's State of the Union Address. (Click to enlarge)

Applications for Education
CNN Student News has a short overview of President Obama's speech and the Republican response. I did not post that segment in the list above because I think it is important for students to learn how to interpret and fact check the speeches of both parties. To get started on this process students can use Wordle to figure out which words or phrases appear most frequently in the transcript of President Obama's speech. They can then explore why those words were so frequently used.

Howard Zinn Resources

Noted author and historian Howard Zinn passed away yesterday. Democracy Now has produced a tribute video about Zinn. One of my students suggested this morning that we should watch "that" video again. The video my student was referrring to is A People's History of American Empire which I had shown to one of my classes at the beginning of the year to introduce the idea that there is more to history than what they find in their textbooks. For those who have not seen the video, I've embedded it below.

Here are a couple of other educational resources related to the work produced by Howard Zinn:
Teaching US History With Howard Zinn
Howard Zinn's A People's History in a Free Digital Form

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Thinklinkr - Collaborative Outline Creator

Thinklinkr is a free service for collaboratively creating outlines. Users can invite collaborators to join into the outlining process at any point in the process. When you're done creating your outline you can embed it into your blog or website. People who have used NoteShare will notice that Thinklinkr has some interface similarities. As far as outlining programs go it's good, but it doesn't do anything other than outlines.

Applications for Education
As the video below demonstrates, Thinklinkr could be used for teaching outlining skills.

Free Prezi Templates

On Sunday Prezi announced new free accounts for teachers and students. Judging by the traffic to that post and a previous post about using Prezi, many people are interested in using Prezi. For those people interested in giving Prezi a try, here is a collection of free templates that you can use and adapt for your needs.

Read Write Think - Profile Publisher

A couple of years ago one of my colleagues developed a lesson for The Great Gatsby in which he had students create fake Facebook profiles. His students developed profiles as if they were characters from The Great Gatsby. It was a great lesson except creating those fake profiles was a violation of the Facebook terms of service. But now, thanks to Read Write Think, my colleague can conduct the same lesson without violating the Facebook terms of service.

Read Write Think offers a free program called the Profile Publisher. Profile Publisher allows students to create and print mock-ups of social network profiles. Students can create profiles for themselves of for fictional characters. Profile Publisher includes fields for "about me," "blog posts," "interests," and all of the other profile fields typically found on a social network. Completed profiles can be printed.

Applications for Education
Read Write Think's Profile Publisher could be used in a manner similar to what my colleague did in The Great Gatsby example at the beginning of this post. The Profile Publisher could also be used by history teachers to have students create profiles of historical characters. In fact, now that I think about, I just might have some of my US History students do that.

Create an RSS Feed for Any Website

Earlier this week Google announced an enhancement to Google Reader that allows you to subscribe to updates to any website regardless of whether or not that site offers an RSS feed. I finally got a chance to give it a try this afternoon and found it very easy to add a subscription to some of my favorite sites that don't offer RSS feeds. I did this in three quick steps that I've outlined below.

Step 1. Click the "Add a Subscription" button in your Google Reader account.

Step 2. Enter the url of the website you wish to subscribe to.

Step 3. Confirm the new subscription.

NBC News Time Capsule

One of the features of Hulu is a collection of old news segments and entire news programs from NBC. Hulu calls this collection of segments and programs the NBC News Time Capsule. In the widget below you will find thirteen of these segments and programs. Included in the line-up are Kennedy's inauguration, the first Today Show, and the first Apollo 11 Moon Special.

Applications for Education
Teachers of US History may find the videos in the NBC News Time Capsule to be helpful in teaching lessons on 20th century US History. Teachers of media studies may also find the videos useful for lessons on changes in reporting and improvements in broadcast production over the last fifty years.

Here are some related items that may be of interest to you:
The Decade in Magazine Covers
Videos and Lessons About Pearl Harbor

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Vocab Ahead Adds Self-Assessment Quizzes

Vocab Ahead, formerly Word Ahead, announced a new study feature today. Now students can use the Vocab Ahead study rooms to take practice vocabulary quizzes. The quizzes provide instant feedback on each question as well as summary information at the end of the quiz. While taking the quiz if a student is stuck on an item he or she can click on the hint tab.

If you've never tried Vocab Ahead, it's definitely worthy of your time. Vocab Ahead offers video demonstrations of SAT vocabulary words. Teachers can create their own custom video playlists and place them into playlist widgets.

Applications for Education
The new self-assessment quizzes from Vocab Ahead could be helpful for students preparing for SATs. The videos can be helpful to students who learn better when they have a visual reference or clue for remembering information.

Add Real-time Search Results to Your Blog

Real-time search engine Collecta has just released a customizable widget for putting real-time search results on your blog or website. Creating your custom widget is an easy process of specifying search terms, choosing dimensions, and giving your widget a name. After making those three specifications simply copy the code and paste it into your blog's template. I've already placed my custom widget into the right hand column of Free Technology for Teachers.

Applications for Education
Collecta's real-time search widgets are very easy to create and edit. They're so easy to edit that you could alter them to adjust to the trends in the news. This could be helpful if you teach current events. Creat a widget to give your students a place to keep up with developments in big stories like the earthquake in Haiti.

Here are some related items that may be of interest to you:
Collecta, Real-time Search, and Professional Learning
Google Real-Time Search: Here Comes Everything!

The Decade Ahead In Jobs

NPR has an interesting infographic predicting the growth and decline of various industries in the United States over the next decade. The Decade Ahead In Jobs uses 2008 statistics as the baseline for measuring growth or decline. One of the statistics of note from infographic is that, with the exception of pharmaceuticals, the manufacturing sector is expected to decline. Another interesting statistic is that the education sector is predicted to grow by 12%.

Applications for Education
The Decade Ahead In Jobs struck me as having a couple of applications for educators. First, on a theoretical level the predictions of this infographic and others like it should influence how we're preparing students for life after school. Second, The Decade Ahead In Jobs should be shared with students as a representation of the need for further education provides greater flexibility to adjust to future changes in workforce demands.

YouTube Offers "Ask President Obama"

Tomorrow night President Obama will be giving his State of the Union address. YouTube will be broadcasting the address live through its Citizentube channel. For the first time citizens viewing the State of the Union address will be able to ask questions of the President during the speech. Then next week the most popular questions, as determined by voting, will be addressed by the President in a separate YouTube interview from the White House. You can read more about this unique opportunity on the YouTube blog.

Applications for Education
I'm not sure if all of the questions generated by YouTube viewers will be visible or not, but if they are this could be a good opportunity to discuss with students the public reaction to President Obama's State of the Union address.

How I Pick Blog Topics

This post is in part a follow-up to some of things I discussed on the Seedlings podcast a couple of weeks ago and is in part a response to a common email question. I understand that because of the frequency with which I post it might appear that I blog about everything I see. In fact, I blog about less than a quarter of the "educational resources" that I see in a given day. How I choose what to blog about is the purpose of this post. Back in My Seven Edublogging Secrets I shared the importance of focusing your blog's content, consider this a follow-up to that blog post.

The first question I ask myself before writing about a new website or service is, "does this have real relevance to a classroom and is it universally accessibly?" There are a lot of neat things that I see every day, but a lot of them don't have relevance to education. Similarly, until last week, I've refrained from writing about iPhone and Android apps because they're not as universally accessible as a purely web-based service.

The second question I ask is, "can the average teacher access this in five minutes?" If the answer is "no," I probably won't write about it. If something isn't easily accessible to a teacher, he or she isn't likely to spend 30 frustrating minutes trying to figure it out. There are exceptions to this rule, but in general my first concern is accessibility.

Another question I ask myself is, "can students access this quickly and is the advertising classroom-safe?" In general, I believe that if a teacher can access a service quickly, students will be able to as well. Questionable advertising has kept a lot websites off of Free Technology for Teachers. If the advertising I see is inappropriate or intrusive, I don't blog about that site.

In a typical week I'll receive between 35 and 50 email pitches from public relations people. In almost every case those emails are unsolicited and I don't respond to them. Occasionally, I get an email that actually informs me of a free resource that's worth sharing with you, but that is the exception to the rule. Why? Because there are only a couple of PR people that have actually approached me politely and have taken the time to understand that this blog is about free things teachers can use. A lot of the email pitches I get are for paid services and the sender is hoping I'll make an exception. For the record, the only paid products I've ever endorsed are a few books, my netbook, and Common Craft videos. None of those people pitched me.

Finally, I see a lot of things each week on Twitter and on great blogs like Larry Ferlazzo's, Kelly Tenkely's, and Kevin Jarrett's. If I see something on Twitter that has already been reTweeted hundreds of times, in a lot of cases I'll simply reTweet it myself. Things that I see on other's blogs I'll often just Tweet about. Sometimes I blog about those things later, but I generally think that there is so much great stuff on the web that I don't need to repeat what someone else in the niche has already said that day.

What is your criteria for choosing blog topics?

Stimulus Spending in Historical Context

Today's episode of CNN Student News contains two segments about US stimulus spending. The first segment outlines the intent of the stimulus spending and it's potential impact on middle class students. The second segment puts the stimulus spending into a historical context by comparing it to past spending for projects like the New Deal and the Marshall Plan.

Applications for Education
These segments could be useful for history teachers that are trying to help students make the connection between past US spending practices and current spending practices.

Here are some related items that may be of interest to you:
Economics Lessons Using Planet Money Podcasts
Yale Open Course - Financial Markets

Monday, January 25, 2010

MOOM - Museum of Online Museums

MOOM, the Museum of Online Museums, is a list of museums that offer online exhibitions. In some cases the museums include virtual tours and in other cases the museums online exhibits are simple photo galleries. Some of the notable museums featured in the Museum of Online Museums include the Smithsonian, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Applications for Education
Art teachers looking for examples of all manner of art work to share with their students would do well to start their searches at the Museum of Online Museums.

Here are some related items that may be of interest to you:
ArtsEdge - Podcasts and Lesson Plans
Blogs for Art Teachers

Scribble Maps Adds More Map Editing Features

Scribble Maps, a great tool for editing maps, has recently added some excellent features that they're calling Scribble Maps Pro. Usually the "pro" label means a company is charging for the extra features but I was able to register and use the new features for free.

As I noted in my original review of Scribble Maps it is still very easy to draw on your Google Maps and add placemarks to your maps. The new Scribble Maps Pro allows you to import KML files, import spreadsheets, and import SHP files. Importing KML files allows you to add free hand drawing on top of files that you may have already created for Google Maps or Google Earth. Importing spreadsheets makes it easy to quickly add placemarks to a large number of places. SHP file importation allows you to add custom shapes to your maps. Watch the following video to see all of these new options in action.

Applications for Education
One advantage of using Scribble Maps over standard Google Maps in the classroom is the ease with which students can get started. Drawing on a Scribble Map is a very intuitive task. If you want to get students quickly marking-up maps, Scribble Maps is a good choice.
Using Scribble Maps students could create a map on which they highlight various sites and include short text descriptions of those places. Scribble Maps could also be used to quickly draw a simple timeline on a map.

Here are some related items that may be of interest to you:
101 Ways to Teach Geography
Google Earth and Google Maps Help
QuikMaps - Quickly Customize a Google Map

Recent Earthquake Teachable Moments

IRIS, Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology, has compiled some good resources for teaching about the science of the earthquake in Haiti and earthquakes in general. Included in their list are videos, slideshows, and links to lesson plans. The videos are animated and narrated explanations of the science of earthquakes. All of the videos can be viewed on YouTube or downloaded as a Quicktime file. You can see a sample of these videos below.

Applications for Education
The visualizations found in this list are accessible for most middle school and high school students. For those of you that work with ESL/ ELL students, IRIS provides a list of resource that are accessible for Spanish speaking students.

Here are some related items that may be of interest to you:
Five Resources for Teaching About Earthquakes
Earthquake in Haiti - CNN Student News and Other Resources
Photosynth - Devastation in Haiti

Pay Attention! - Teaching Digital Learners

I watched this video twice over the weekend and although, like most of you, I've seen many like it, this one still captivated my attention and inspired me to alter a project I had planned (more on that in another post). No matter how many times we've seen videos like this, I think it's important to take a few minutes every once in a while to remind ourselves of what today's students need from us. The video is a little long for watching during a busy Monday at school. Therefore, I encourage you bookmark it and watch it at home when you have some time to really absorb it.

For those that can't view YouTube at school, here's the direct video link.

A Great Wiki - How to Make a VoiceThread

Over the weekend I stumbled across a great wiki dedicated to the use of VoiceThread in education. The wiki is appropriately titled, How to Make a VoiceThread. On How to Make a VoiceThread you will not only find directions for using VoiceThread, but also examples of VoiceThread being used in education. The only thing I wish this wiki had was a link to the creator of the wiki so that I could give that person the recognition he or she deserves for creating such a useful resource.

Applications for Education
If you've been wanting to try VoiceThread but you weren't sure how to get started, How to Make a VoiceThread is a great resource. Similarly, if you're looking for ideas about implementing the use of VoiceThread, How to Make a VoiceThread has many great ideas for you.

Here's an idea that I've previously shared about using VoiceThread in a history classroom:
VoiceThread could be used as a great tool for students, parents, and teachers to collaborate on a local history project. Local historical societies are always looking for people willing to share information and knowledge. Creating a VoiceThread to share with a local historical society would be a great way for students to learn about their local history and perform a community service at the same time. Students and teachers could invite their parents and grandparents to share their knowledge of local history in the VoiceThread conversation.

Full disclosure to please the FTC: VoiceThread paid for part of my trip to the NECC 2009 conference.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

A Must-See Timeline for US History Teachers

Over the weekend, through Larry Ferlazzo's blog, I learned about a great resource that every US History teacher should bookmark. The American Revolution Center has a fantastic interactive timeline about the American Revolution. The timeline features an easily navigated combination of text and images. Click on any event in the timeline to view a short paragraph about that event. Click on an image of an artifact in the timeline and a you will see an enlarged image of that artifact. The page hosting the enlarged artifact image also hosts a description of the artifact and, in some cases, a video podcast about the artifact. It really is one of the best US History timelines that I've come across.

Applications for Education
The American Revolution Center's timeline could be used as a primer for a study of the American Revolution or as a review of the Revolution. You might try challenging students to locate, online, images of artifacts representing each event on the timeline. In addition to a great timeline, the American Revolution Center offers a twenty question quiz and a lesson plan search engine.

Here are some related items that may be of interest to you:
American Memory Historical Maps
US History Animated
A Video Overview of the American Revolution

Prezi Announces New, Free Education Licenses

Prezi, a great service for taking presentations beyond bullets and pictures, has just announced that they're offering a free education license for teachers and students. Prior to this announcement the free version of Prezi did not allow for making content private. The new education license will allow teachers and students to keep their content private. The education license also offers five times the storage space of the previous free Prezi license. To get an education license you need to register using your school's email address.

In the announcement of the new, free education licenses Prezi cites this blog post as one of the reasons for the change. It's great to see a company respond to the education community. It's also a good example of what can be accomplished with an online campaign.

If you've never tried Prezi, I encourage to read this post and or watch the following video.

Google Apps for Education - Security Whitepaper

Security and protection from lawsuits are two of the most common concerns that school administrators have regarding student use of cloud-based web services. I've heard from more than one school district network administrator that "Google will steal your data" and "we can't use Google because then we can't archive email." Both of those statements are false. Google has a short whitepaper designed to address the security concerns of schools. The next time you're trying to convince someone that Google Apps for Education is safe, refer to this whitepaper. It doesn't provide every answer, but it's appropriate for addressing the "email archiving" and "data stealing" concerns.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Digital Directors Guild - Digital Storytelling Lessons

The Digital Directors Guild is a project designed to help teachers develop digital storytelling projects for their classrooms. The Digital Directors Guild offers sample projects and teaching resources for all grade levels. The resources page of the Digital Directors Guild contains information regarding all stages of digital storytelling project development.

If you've never tried digital storytelling, the Digital Directors Guild offers good advice on getting started. The getting started advice includes directions for using free video editing software. The Digital Directors Guild also provides samples of finished projects.

Applications for Education
Digital storytelling is a great way to get kids excited about a topic. Through the creation of a digital story they become the directors of what can be consumed by their peers. Digital storytelling gives every student a chance to be active participants in their own learning and the learning experience of their peers.

Audio Owl - Hundreds of Free Audio Books

Audio Owl is a great service for locating and listening to free audio books. Audio Owl catalogs public domain recordings of books that are in the public domain. Because the recordings are in the public domain anyone is free to download, listen to, and share the recordings. Audio Owl has arranged hundreds of recordings into an easy-to-browse collection. You can browse the collection by genre or search by title, author, or keyword. If you choose to browse by genre, Audio Owl presents all of the titles in a visually appealing display of book covers.

Applications for Education
Quite a few of the literature and reading teachers that I work with use audio recordings to support struggling readers. Often they are searching all over the web for audio recordings. Now, when they ask, I'll direct them to Audio Owl as the first place to look for free audio books.

Here are some related items that may be of interest to you:
Seven Places to Find Free eBooks
Guys Read - Getting Boys to Read
AdLit - Strategies for Teaching Adolescent Literature

Friday, January 22, 2010

Week in Review - The Most Popular Items

It's Friday evening in Maine which means I'm ready to watch the Celtics, but first I'll share this week in review post.

Here are the seven most popular items of the last seven days:
1. Youblisher - Publish PDFs as Online Magazines
2. Google Earth Across the Curriculum
3. Google Earth Layer About the Earthquake in Haiti
4. Active Science - Interactive Periodic Table
5. Two Lesser Known Google Docs Options
6. Placefy: A Picture-Based Geography Game
7. Washington Post's Best Education Blogs for 2010

If you're new to Free Technology for Teachers, welcome, I'm glad you've found this blog. If you like what you see in the links above, please consider subscribing to the blog via RSS or email.
To subscribe via RSS, please click here.
To subscribe via email, please click here.

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Google Adds Answer Highlighting

Earlier today Google announced a new enhancement to the way it displays search results. Now when you search using a fact searching phrase such as "height of Mount Everest" Google will highlight the answer at the top of the search results. This is similar in style to the way Wolfram Alpha handles fact searching phrases.

Applications for Education
The new way that Google displays results for fact searching phrases should save you and your students time when looking for basic information. Rather than having to open a link you will be able to see the answer right in the results list.

Here are some related items that may be of interest to you:
Google Wonder Wheel In Action
Google Squared - Better Examination of Search Results
Google Swirl is Like Wonder Wheel for Images

Seven Places to Find Free eBooks

Every year schools around the world spend thousands of dollars on textbooks that are often outdated by the end of their first year in the classroom. Ebooks, many of them free, can represent huge savings for schools over purchasing textbooks. Here are seven places that you can find free ebooks.

1. Planet eBook is a free service where teachers and students can find classic literature titles available as free downloads. Planet eBook adds new titles at regular intervals. Subscribe to the Planet eBook blog or newsletter to keep track of the latest additions to the collection. For browsing purposes, Planet eBook offers previews of titles through the Issuu pdf publishing service. Using the previews students can get an overview of a title without committing to downloading the entire ebook.

2. E-Books Directory contains nearly 1700 titles. The E-Books Directory provides freely downloadable textbooks, documents, and lecture notes. You can search the directory by keyword or browse through hundreds of categories.

3. Science Books Online is a directory of free ebooks for all areas of science. The books range from small PDF pamphlets to full-length texts made available in electronic form for free. Most of the materials have to be downloaded in order to be viewed but there are some materials that you can view directly within your browser.

4. Free Book-s is a search engine that scans many collections of ebooks to find free content that matches your search. I gave Free Book-s a test drive using academic terms like "physics" and terms like "fly fishing" to see what kids of results would be generated. In both cases I found Free Book-s returned very relevant results.

5. BookServer is a search engine for finding, borrowing, downloading, and purchasing books in digital form. A search on BookServer will yield results listing both free ebooks and ebooks for sale.

6. Flat World Knowledge provides free textbooks created by experts in various academic fields. A quick look at the "find my class" section of Flat World Knowledge reveals that these textbooks are being used in few dozen colleges across the United States.

7. Google Books hosts thousands of books that are in the public domain. Many of the public domain books can be viewed and downloaded in their entirety for free. To find public domain books go into the advanced search options and select the "public domain only" and "full text" options to find free full-length books.

Find Free, Local Books on Your iPhone

I've never written about iPhone apps on this blog, in part because in my part of the world an iPhone is about as useful as a cup and string, but I'm sharing one today that I read about because I think some readers will find it useful. Local Books (download link) is a free iPhone application that helps you locate libraries and bookstores in your area that have copies of the books you're searching for. Local Books draws this information from Library Thing. Library Thing is a crowd-sourced catalog of books.

Applications for Education
Local Books could be a useful application for quickly locating available copies of the books you want.

Edit the Size of Videos Embedded in Your Blog

From time to time I'll visit a blog and see an embedded video that spills over the parameters of the blog's main column and or shows only a portion of the video screen. I'm sure you've seen it too. Perhaps you have done this yourself and have wondered how to fix the problem. Fixing that problem is the purpose of this post.

As the vast majority of embedded videos come from YouTube, I'm going to be using a YouTube video in the following directions. The concepts demonstrated can also be used on videos found on TeacherTube, SchoolTube, and many other video sharing sites.

In case you would like to print this or save it for reference, at the end of this post I've included a link for downloading a PDF of these directions.

Step 1 (After locating a video):
Open the embed options.

Step 2:
Select a video size that you think is close to the parameters of your blog's main column. In this step you can also select a border and whether or not related videos should be shown after your video plays. Copy the code provided in the "embed" box.

Step 3:
Paste the video embed code into your blog's post editor. (Depending on your blogging platform, you may have to do this in the "edit html" mode rather than "compose" mode). Now locate the "object width" and "object height" with the code you've copied. Following "object width" you should see a three digit number. That number is an indication of the number of pixels wide your video will be. Reduce the number to make the video player narrower. Now locate "object height" and reduce the number following it by an amount equal to the amount you reduced the width. You're almost done. "Width" and "height" dimensions will appear again at the end of the code you've copied. Alter those dimensions to match the dimensions at the beginning of the code.

For those that haven't seen it before, here's the video I used in the images above.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Volunteer Spot - Schedule Volunteers

Volunteer Spot is a free scheduling service that teachers, coaches, and others and use to coordinate volunteers. Volunteer Spot gives you the ability to post calendars and sign-up sheets online. When potential volunteers visitor your calendar they can see the days and times at which volunteers are needed. When the quota for volunteers for a particular time or day is reached, Volunteer Spot won't allow any more sign-ups.

Applications for Education

Volunteer Spot could be a significant improvement over trying to keep track of emails from parents. You could also coordinate sign-ups with a wiki or similar tool, but getting parents to use Volunteer Spot is probably much easier than trying to convince a whole class worth of parents to join a wiki.

If Volunteer Spot is more than you need in a sign-up application, you may want to look at SignApp Now.

Update: Just received this great news via a comment from Michael Walter.
After using it for only 3 days, parents in my school are raving about it. It made scheduling a diverse group of volunteers incredibly easy, mostly because they scheduled themselves. Parents were in love with the easy interface, and the email reminders, the only thing I was worried about, were a BIG hit. Going to try and get this expanded beyond just my library helpers, and bring it to my next collegiate circle to share.
Michael, thanks for sharing your experience with us!

I originally learned about Volunteer Spot on iLearn Technology which is a fantastic blog to visit if you're looking for resources for elementary school settings.

Skribit - Gather Suggestions and Questions

Skribit is a neat little blog widget that allows your visitors to make suggestions and ask questions. The main purpose of Skribit is to ask your readers what they would like to you write about.

Getting started with Skribit is easy, just create an account, customize the look of your widget, and copy the embed code into your blog's template. You can select the option to allow anonymous input from visitors or require users to register. You can also choose how many suggestions of questions to have displayed in your widget. Your Skribit account gives you place to keep track of suggestions from your readers.

The video below provides a nice introduction to Skribit.

Skribit was featured on Mashable earlier today and you can read more about the analytics features of Skribit in that article.

Applications for Education
I've just embedded Skribit into my course blog as a place for my students to ask questions. I'll try using Skribit as a tool for collecting informal feedback from students. The feedback I gather may be useful for determining which topics I might need to spend more class time on.

Here's what Skribit looks like in my course blog.

Using Screen Captures to Enhance Instructions

The other day I was helping a colleague set-up a blog to use with her class. She wanted to be sure that kids knew how to comment on posts so she was writing out step-by-step directions. Watching her gave me an opportunity to show her Jing. Jing is a free tool that anyone can use to create notated screen captures as well as video screencasts. Jing enables you to take a picture of part of your screen or all of your screen. Once you've captured the area you want in your picture, you can type on it, draw arrows on it, and highlight sections of text within it.

To use Jing you must download and install the free software for your Mac or PC. Once it's installed, launch it and it runs in the background until you need it. You'll know that Jing is ready for you to use because you will notice an orange ball in one of the top corners of your screen. It takes up very little screen real estate and is ready to use whenever you need it. The image below is an example of a screen capture I created with Jing.

You can also use Jing to record a video of your screen. Simply select the area of your screen that you would like to show, click the record button and begin talking. Jing will capture everything you say and do for up to five minutes. A free Jing account allows you to store your videos and screen captures. For $15/year you can upgrade to a "pro" version which will allow you to resize videos and share them directly to YouTube.

Although Jing is good for creating video screencasts, I actually prefer ScreenToaster for making video screencasts. ScreenToaster is a free, web-based, service for recording your voice and the actions on your screen. Just as with Jing, you can specify how much your screen you want to capture. I prefer ScreenToaster for making video screencasts because I can instantly upload to YouTube as well as have immediate access to the embed code for my videos which I then place in my blog.

Applications for Education
Jing, ScreenToaster, and products like them are very useful for enhancing written instructions that may have to give to students to show them how to do something like comment on your blog. Words work well for giving directions, but just as in any how-to manual, images can make all of the difference between confusion and clarity. This is particularly true if you have some struggling readers who might otherwise be confused by trying to follow written directions.

I've found Jing to be very useful when I'm giving directions in a professional development workshop. Posting annotated screenshots to a wiki gives every participant a reference for later use. I've especially found this to be true when teaching about Google Earth because there are some many things for first time users to explore that they sometimes get confused and need a reference of the basics. That is why I used Jing to create all of screen images found in Google Earth Across the Curriculum.