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