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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Get Your JayCut Videos Before They're Gone

Last July one of my favorite online video creation tools, JayCut, was bought out by RIM (BlackBerry). At the time JayCut stopped accepting new users but did allow existing users to continue to use the service. Today, I got an email informing me that as of January 31, 2012 JayCut will cease to support free user accounts. If you have been using JayCut for video projects, download your videos before January 31, 2012 or you will lose them. Click here to find directions for downloading your videos from JayCut.

A couple of alternatives to JayCut that I like are WeVideo.com and Creaza Education.

Does Cell Phone Use Lead to More Time Spent Studying?

StudyBlue, a mobile flashcard/ studying app that I've reviewed in the past, has released an infographic based on data about student use of mobile devices for studying. There isn't a lot of information on the infographic, but one thing that I did find interesting is that according to StudyBlue's data (based on more than 4000 cell phone users) students who use their cell phones for studying spend 40 minutes more studying each week than those who do not use cell phones for that purpose.

Applications for Education
While this infographic clearly isn't the most comprehensive study of cell phone use among students, it does give us one example of how cell phones can be useful for students. One reason why students who study on their cell phones spend more time studying is that they always have access to review materials. Instead of spending time telling students not to use their cell phones in school perhaps we should be spending time teaching students about apps like StudyBlue that they can use to study.

Jimmy V Week - Laugh, Think, Cry

Tonight, Jimmy V Week started on ESPN. This annual event celebrates the life of Jim Valvano and raises money for the Jimmy V Foundation for Cancer Research.

Tonight ESPN is replaying Jim Valvano's now famous (amongst basketball fans) 1993 ESPY speech given just eight weeks before he died of cancer. You don't need to know anymore about Jimmy V in order to appreciate his speech in which he encourages everyone to laugh, think, and cry everyday. The video has nothing to do with technology in education, but the speech is encouraging and inspiring so as I did last year I encourage you to take some time to watch it.

Bay Files - A Quick Way to Move Large Files

In my never-ending quest to reduce email inbox clutter, I like to try out various file transfer services. One that I recently tried with a colleague is Bay Files. Bay Files, like many similar services, allows you to upload a file for quick and easy sharing. When you upload a file to Bay Files, Bay Files generates a series of download links that you can give to the people you want to access your files. So instead of sending an email with a big file attachment you can just direct people to the download link associated with your file. You can use Bay Files without registering, but if you do choose to register you can share larger files than can unregistered users.

My Apologies

Yesterday, I wrote a short post about a video on John Locke that I had watched the previous night. In my haste to write and publish the post before going to a school commitment last night, I did not include the disclaimer that some in appropriate language used in the video. I've since taken the post down. I offer my sincerest apologies to those offended by the video. I will do better in the future.

Richard

11 Infographics and Videos for Teaching Economics

One of the current trends in the blog-o-sphere is the use of infographics for sharing general information about a topic (infographics also seem to be an SEO tactic). Over the last couple of years I've come across more than twenty infographics dealing with topics in economics. Today, I've assembled a list of some of the better infographics and videos for teaching topics in economics.

Mint, the free money management service, regularly posts interesting infographics on its blog Mint Life.  One of the better infographics they've featured is What Is a Stock? What Is a Stock? uses clear graphics and plain terms to explain what a stock is, offer a brief history of stock markets, and give a brief explanation of why people buy stocks.


Personal Finance Software - Mint.com
(click here to view in full size)

Curious About George: What is the Lifespan of the Dollar Bill? is an interesting an informative infographic from CreditLoan.com. The infographic offers provides flow charts of the production, distribution, and eventual removal from circulation of currency. Some statistics about the quantity of dollar bills produced every year is also included in the infographic.

Through the Cool Infographics blog I discovered a neat infographic about the ten most expensive cities to live in in 2010. The infographic has three parts; a map, a set of explanations of the costs associated with living in each city, and a comparison chart. The comparison chart at the bottom of the infographic does a nice job of putting cost comparisons into terms that students can relate to. Included in the comparison chart are the costs of fast food meals, the cost of a cup of coffee, and the labor hours required to earn an iPod Nano.

Your Wealth Puzzle offers a neat infographic that could be useful in a consumer education course. The infographic uses a board game format to demonstrate the steps a person needs to take in order to build and maintain a good credit rating.
credit report improve credit score
Credit Report Information Graphic

Visual Economics designs infographics to educate people about various topics in economics. One of their infographics that I like is How Do Americans Save Money? The infographic explains the differences between saving and savings and what disposable income is. The infographic also defines consumer confidence the sentiment index.

The New York Times offers an interactive infographic designed to help people determine when it makes financial sense to buy a home rather than rent a home. Users of the interactive infographic can enter variable data such as home price, interest rates, rent prices, rental rate increases, and housing market changes to determine when it's best to buy a home rather than rent. Users can also account for information like insurance rates, condo fees, and opportunity costs.

On Man vs. Debt I found the Student Loan Scheme infographic about student loans. Produced by CollegeScholarships.org the infographic features a flowchart that explains how student loans can burden people for years. As someone who, after ten years, relatively recently paid off his relatively modest student loans, I can tell you that I am happy my student loans were not any bigger. This infographic presents some good information for students and parents to consider before signing-on for tens of thousands of dollars in debt.

Through Michael Smith's Principals Page blog I discovered The Cost of Dropping Out produced by Teacher Certification Map and MAT@USC | Master’s of Arts in Teaching. The infographic shows the costs to individuals and to the community of dropping out of high school. I've dropped the infographic into Zoom.it to make it fit below.


Follow the Money is a video that summarizes the data collected on Where's George? Where's George? is a website that was established for the purpose of tracking the travels of one dollar bills. Watch the video below.


China Widens Its Reach is an interactive infographic produced by Forbes. The purpose of the infographic is to allow visitors to view the investments China has made in other countries. Click on any transaction in the infographic to view the details of each investment. (The image below is a screen capture of the infographic, clicking it will take you to the real infographic on Forbes.com)















The Food Price Rollercoaster is an infographic produced by the World Food Programme to illustrate fluctuations in food prices over the last three and one-half years. The infographic highlights some major world events that happened at the same time as some large food price fluctuations. The infographic also illustrates the disparity between what families in rich countries spend on food and what those in poorer countries spend on food. You can view the infographic here or below.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Museum of Obsolete Objects - Videos of Changes in Technology

Do remember making mix tapes in high school? If you still have one kicking around, good luck finding a cassette player to listen to it on. I think there might be one at my mother's house. Hurry over before she throws it out.

The Museum of Obsolete Objects is a neat YouTube channel featuring videos about objects like cassette tapes that at one point represented cutting edge technology and are now obsolete. The MOOO isn't limited to 20th Century objects. The list includes things like quill pens and the telegraph. I've embedded the telegraph video below.


Applications for Education
As I watched a handful of these videos this afternoon I thought that it would be neat to build some research assignments off of these videos. Have students pick an obsolete object then research that object's influence on  communication and culture in its time. Then have students pick a currently ubiquitous object like the iPod and ask them to make predictions as to how long that object will be relevant before becoming obsolete.

Monday, November 28, 2011

More Free and Open Stanford Courses

Eleven days ago I mentioned a free and open Computer Science 101 course being offered through Stanford University. Today, through Open Culture, I learned that Stanford is offering thirteen other free and open online courses during the spring semester. One of the courses that might be appropriate for high school juniors and seniors interested in pursuing college programs in healthcare is an introductory anatomy course. The course description promises quizzes that students can use for self-assessment and self-pacing through the course. You can watch an introduction to the course in the video below.

Applications for Education
Open courses like the above mentioned Stanford courses can be a good way for high school students to further their education before leaving high school and moving on to college. If you're interested in discovering more free and open courses, Open Culture has a list of more than 400 courses organized by content area.

Four Years Ago Today...

Four years ago today I wrote my first blog post on Free Technology for Teachers. This is what I wrote on November 28, 2007. I really wasn't sure what I was doing and I certainly didn't expect to accidentally start a small business with my keyboard. Along the way I've written more than 5,200 blog posts and learned a lot through that process. Someone sent me a Tweet this evening and said that she was just starting a blog and hoped to have the same longevity I have had. I am flattered by that and have some advice for those just starting their own blogs. But really, I'm still very new at this compared to folks like Vicki Davis, David Warlick, Wes Fryer, Gary Stager, Larry Ferlazzo, Kevin Jarrett and many others that I've learned so much from since I started this little blogging habit.

I hope I can keep this blog going for another four years. What would you like to see me write more about during the next four years?

New Blogger Tutorial Videos

Earlier this evening I was Tweeting with a student who needed some help creating a new blog. In an effort to help her out I directed her to the Blogger Help channel on YouTube. When I went there, much to my surprise and delight I discovered that the Blogger team had just uploaded four new short tutorials. Two of those cover topics, comment moderation and viewing permissions, that I'm always asked about when I lead workshops on blogging for teachers and students. I've embedded both of those videos below and I will also add them to my page on creating blogs and websites.





Applications for Education
No matter which blogging platform you choose to use with your students, I always recommend turning on comment moderation. I make that recommendation because it's the best way to snag inappropriate comments before they appear on your class blog. It's also the best way to snag any spammy links that random visitors might leave on your blog. For further comment protection you can also require that visitors register before commenting.

A Nice Google Search Tips Poster

One of last week's most popular posts on Free Technology for Teachers was Ten Search Tools and Tactics Teachers and Students Need to Know. This morning on David Andrade's blog I found a nice poster to go along with my post on search tools and tactics.

Get More Out of Google is a poster displaying some useful reminders about searching the web. The poster could make a good addition to the walls of your classroom, computer lab, or school library. I've dropped the poster into Zoom.it to make it fit below, but you can view the full size image here as well.


If you don't have a printer that supports paper large enough for this poster, you could try GD Software's Easy Poster Printer 4.0 software. The software is not free, but it is cheap at $9.95.

Documentary Tube - A Good Place to Find Documentaries

Last month I published a short list of good places to find and watch documentaries online. Today, I learned about another good place to find and watch full-length documentaries online.

Documentary Tube, like similar services, is a catalog of full-length documentaries found on the web. Documentary Tube doesn't actually host the videos rather it catalogs them and displays them through embedding. Documentary Tube videos come from places like Daily Motion, YouTube, and Google Video. The catalog is arranged thematically. If you find a lot of documentaries on Documentary Tube you create and save playlists of your favorites.

Applications for Education
Snag Films and Snag Learning are still my go-to places for free documentaries, but Documentary Tube may have some documentaries that aren't available on those two sites. Even if you have a DVD or VHS copy of a documentary, you still might want to search online for a copy of it to embed in your course blog or website. By embedding the documentary into your course blog you enable students who are absent from your class on the day you show it to see the same content without lending out your DVD or VHS.

Stop and Watch This - Hard Times Generation

The leading segment on last night's edition of 60 Minutes was Hard Times Generation. The story features the children of homeless families, the choices they make, and what daily life is like when you live in a car or truck. I watched the story with three other people last night. The house was silent as everyone watched. This is a story that everyone should watch.

This segment made me think again about the need to balance school reform initiatives with the realities of teaching in many public schools. The next time you're wondering why a student hasn't completed an assignment, it just might be that she was more worried about making sure her family was safe than she was about completing a list of math problems or memorizing new vocabulary words.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Stop, Think, Connect - Web Safety Resources from Microsoft

Thanks to Lee Kolbert I learned about Microsoft's Safety and Security Center. The Safety and Security Center contains many videos, PDFs, and PowerPoint presentations for learning about and teaching computer and web safety. The PDFs in are intended to printed as brochures for distribution. The videos can be embedded into your blog or website. The video section is organized into three sections; family safety, data protection, and computer protection. Below I've embedded the video, Stop, Think, Connect.

Video - How to Sit at Your Computer

Here's a short video reminder of something that I'm guilty of forgetting, how to properly sit in front of a computer. If you're just watching a couple of video clips, curling up on your couch with your laptop is probably fine. But if you're doing some serious work you should definitely heed the advice offered in the video below. I know from experience that posture makes a big difference in how I feel after a couple of hours of writing on my laptop.



H/T to Dominiqu De Guchtenaere for sharing this on Google+.

Applications for Education
If you can get past the background music, this video provides some useful reminders for students. Consider posting it on the website for your school library or computer lab.

Read Cube - A Desktop Tool for Organizing Research

Read Cube is a desktop application, for Windows and Mac, that is designed to help students organize their research. Read Cube provides a place for students to save and annotate scholarly documents. Through Read Cube students can search Google Scholar and Pub Med. Students can also import to Read Cube PDFs that they find elsewhere. The video below offers a short overview of what Read Cube can do.


ReadCube Intro from R3 on Vimeo.

Applications for Education
When you download Read Cube, it will ask you for your university email. Don't be discouraged by that, I was able to register using my K-12 school email account. But the fact they ask for your university email account is an indication that Read Cube is clearly targeted to a higher ed audience. Still, Read Cube could be useful for some high school students working on long-term research assignments. You might also consider using it yourself for your next continuing education course.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

National Geographic Big Cats Education

One of the features in this month's issue of National Geographic is Big Cats in Danger. Next month the National Geographic Channel is running a series that they're calling Big Cats Week. To accompany the television and print features, National Geographic Education has a number of lesson activities, videos, and interactive maps.

National Geographic Education's Big Cats section contains nine lesson activities. There are two lessons for K-2 students, two lessons for grades 3-5, and five lessons for students in grades 6-12. Each lesson is designed to promote thinking about the threats to big cat populations and conservation efforts. Each of the lessons includes the use of images, videos, and other multimedia resources like this map and timeline that shows the decline of lion  habitat from the 19th Century through today.

Applications for Education
Perhaps it's just my own predisposition, but I remember being fascinated by lions and tigers when I was a little kid. If your students are also fascinated by the big cats, these lessons from National Geographic could be a good way to get your students thinking about habitat, adaptation, and conservation.

Week in Review - The Thanksgiving Edition

Good morning from Maine. I hope all of my friends that celebrated Thanksgiving this week have recovered from their turkey overdoses. If you're looking to catch up on this week's ed tech news, here are the most popular posts of the week on Free Technology for Teachers.

1. Map Fast - Find Books About Places via Google Maps
2. iStoryBooks - A Great Storybook App for Tablets
3. Planes Overhead and Other Cool Wolfram Alpha Things
4. Vizlingo - A Fun Little Vocabulary Exercise
5. Ten Search Tools and Tactics Teachers and Students Need to Know
6. Free Music from Moby for Amateur Filmmakers
7. The Great Energy Challenge - Interactive Posters and Quizzes

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Edublogs provides blog hosting for teachers and students.
ABCya.com is a provider of free educational games for K-5.
Lesley University offers quality online graduate programs for teachers.
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Friday, November 25, 2011

Create Choose Your Own Adventure Videos

Last summer my colleague at Ed Tech Teacher, Greg Kulowiec, introduced me to creating choose your own adventure videos in YouTube. Back then I posted some annotated screen captures illustrating the process. Today, Greg directed me to a new blog post of his own in which he uses a choose your own adventure video to demonstrate the process. I've embedded the video below, but I encourage you to visit Greg's blog to view and download the flow chart he uses with his students when they create choose your own adventure videos.



Applications for Education
Creating a series of informative videos and linking them together in a choose your own adventure format could be a great collaborative multimedia project for your students. You could also use the process with entertaining  videos that you link up in a Mad Libs-like format.

For more YouTube video editing tools please see 12 Useful YouTube Accessories and More Ways to Edit Videos in YouTube.

Make Your Blog or Website Printer Friendly

Although I might like to see the whole world go paperless, I also know that my blog posts are often printed by readers to give to their colleagues who might not be as tech-savvy as they are. If you are one of those people who has printed a blog post to give to your colleagues, thank you. I appreciate your willingness to share. Today, I made it easier to print blog posts by installing the Print Friendly widget below each blog post.

Print Friendly offers a free widget that you can add to your Blogger or Wordpress blog. With the widget installed, visitors can print an ad-free, sidebar-free version of any blog post. Printing with Print Friendly should save you paper and ink. Clicking the Print Friendly button also gives you the option to download a PDF of each blog post.

Installing the Blogger and WordPress Print Friendly widget is very easy if you follow the directions provided. You can add the widget to blogs and websites hosted on other platforms, but you have to be willing to edit the HTML of your site on your own.

Applications for Education
If you have a classroom blog or website that students often print articles from, consider installing the Print Friendly widget to save your school paper and ink. Print Friendly also offers a browser bookmarklet that will allow you to print an ad-free, sidebar-free version of any webpage even if it doesn't have a printer friendly option built in.

Tag My Doc - Assign QR Codes to Your Documents

One of the things that I really like about QR codes is that they make it very easy to put useful information on your phone or tablet. Rather than trying to type a long address into your mobile browser's url bar (which can take me forever on a virtual keyboard) you can simply scan a code and open a website or file. There are a lot of tools out there for creating QR codes for webpages (including public Google Docs) but if you want to assign a QR code to a document that isn't online, that can be a little trickier unless you use Tag My Doc.

Tag My Doc is a new service that allows you to assign and print a QR code on your documents. The process is very simple. Just upload your document and let Tag My Doc generate a QR code for it. You can then print out your document with a QR code on it. The free version of the service allows you to store up to 1GB of documents on your Tag My Doc account, password protect your documents, and choose the placement of the QR code on your document.

Watch the video below to learn more about Tag My Doc.


Applications for Education
As I mentioned above, I think that one of the big benefits of QR codes is the ease with which you can put important content on your phone or tablet. Use Tag My Doc to put QR codes on the paper documents you distribute in your classroom. Then students can scan them to save them to their phones and tablets thereby eliminating the need for you to give out extra copies when if your students lose the paper documents you gave them.

If you're looking for a QR reader here are some that you can try:
Android - QR Droid
iPhone - QR Scanner
Windows & Blackberry - BeeTagg

Podio - Task Management, Collaboration, and More for Higher Ed

Podio is a service designed for businesses to use as a company intranet. Recently, Podio announced that they are making their services available for free to any college/ university student who registers with a school email account.

Podio provides an intranet framework that can be customized by users to suit their specific needs. Podio offers tools for task management, collaborative workspaces, file sharing, and messaging. Students can also choose to use survey tools and note sharing tools on Podio. Podio can be used on your computer or on your mobile device. Watch the introductory video below to learn more about Podio.


Applications for Education
My original title for this post was Podio - Edmodo for Higher Ed because I think that they both provide students with fundamental tools for private collaboration. The difference is that Podio groups can be created by students without instructors. Podio could be a great tool for university students to collaborate on both simple tasks like sharing notes or more in-depth tasks like collaborating on a research effort.

Update Your Browser and Browse Happy

As I wrote last spring, it is important to update your web browser when new versions become available. Using an outdated browser can not only slow your online experience, it can also make your computer more vulnerable to viruses and other dangers. A simple way to check if your browser is up to date is to visit Browse Happy. Browse Happy lists the five most commonly used browsers, the latest version of each, and links you to the download for the latest version.

There is another simple way to determine what browser you're using; visit WhatBrowser.orgWhat Browser is a Google site that detects what browser you're using and displays that information right on the page in front of you.

Especially if you're doing some online Black Friday shopping today, please make sure your browser is up to date.

H/T to Doug Peterson for the Browse Happy link. 

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Hydro to Home - A Story of Electricity

Hydro to Home is an interactive story of hydro-electric power from raindrops to homes. The story walks visitors through each step of the process of generating hydro-electric power and delivering to consumers' homes. The story is narrated and along the way there are interactive images that visitors can click on to learn even more information about hydro-electric power.

Applications for Education
Hydro to Home is produced by BC Hydro so it does tell the story from that perspective, but overall it is a good way for students to learn about the process of getting electricity from reservoirs to homes. When you start the story you will be asked for an address. If you don't have an address in British Columbia just start typing in a number an auto-generated list will appear for you to pick from. That's how I was able to access the story of Hydro to Home.

We Are the Solution - An Anti-bullying Pledge

We Are the Solution is an anti-bullying campaign and pledge started by students at Edward Town Middle School in Sanborn, NY. I was contacted this week by John Mikulski with a request to help get the word out about this important anti-bullying message. I am more than happy to share We Are the Solution with all of you. After watching the campaign video embedded below, I encourage you to share it with your students and have them digitally sign the pledge too.

11 Free Online Drawing Tools

As long as there has been a mouse connected to a computer there have been tools for making drawings on a computer. Here are five drawing tools that you might consider the next time you or your students need a free and easy drawing tool.

Sketchpad is a free, feature-rich, online drawing tablet that I recently came across in my stumbling around the Internet. Sketchpad offers users the ability to quickly create drawings. Sketchpad doesn't require you to create an account in order to create and save your drawings. All of the drawing tools that you would expect to find like brushes, pencils, and a large range of colors are offered by Sketchpad. Additionally, Sketchpad offers some unique tools for creating patterns, swatches, and blends of colors.














Art Pad and Sketch Pad (different from the Sketch Pad above) are both blank slate drawing utilities. Art Pad and Sketch Pad allow users to select from a variety of drawing tools and painting tools. Art Pad has a neat playback feature that shows you the steps you took in creating your images. Both Art Pad and Sketch Pad allow you to share your drawings via email or in a public gallery.

Graffiti Creator is best described not as a drawing tool, but a text editor. Users type select a font style, enter a word, then edit the look of the word to make it look like graffiti. This would be useful for students that are looking for a way to customize the font of words that they use in a slide show presentation.

Bomomo is an interesting drawing utility that creates images out of controlled chaos. Users select a drawing utility then the Bomomo program begins randomly drawing. Users can determine where the drawing starts with their computer's mouse. Users can also select general shapes and patterns to be drawn.


Crayola's online drawing canvas provides students with a blank canvas on which they can draw using virtual markers, crayons, pencils, and paints. Drawings cannot be saved online, but they can be printed. Pre-K Teachers looking for coloring pages can create their own or have students create their own using Crayola's Create & Color tool. Create & Color provides templates for creating custom coloring pages. You can pick a background template and modify it by adding speech bubbles and pictures. Coloring pages cannot be saved online, but they can be printed.

Odosketch is a free online sketchpad that, like many similar sites, provides a blank canvas on which you can create drawings from scratch. You can save your work to a free Odosketch account, share it online, or download it. Odosketch's niche appears to be creating drawings with "charcoal pencil" effects. Odosketch is well suited to use on touch screen computers and interactive whiteboards.

Draw It Live is a nice little website and Chrome Web App that I discovered in the Chrome Web Store. Draw It Live offers a free space for you to instantly create a collaborative whiteboard to use with anyone you like. To use Draw It Live just go to the site, click the "collaborative whiteboard" link, enter any nickname you want, then start drawing. You can invite people to draw with you by sending them the url assigned to your whiteboard. Draw It Live provides a chat box that you can use to talk to your collaborators about what each of you is doing on the screen. Draw It Live offers a Chrome Web App called Simple Whiteboard that can be used offline. Of course, when you're using it offline you cannot collaborate with anyone.


Coloring 4 All offers free printable coloring pages, online puzzles, and an online drawing board. The online drawing board can be used as a blank slate or children can select a picture to color. If puzzles are what you're after, Coloring 4 All offers customizable online jigsaw puzzles. To use the puzzles just select a picture then select the number of pieces you want the picture divided into. For the webmasters out there, Coloring 4 All makes many of their coloring pages and puzzles available for free re-use.

Draw Island is a free online tool for creating drawings and simple GIF animations. Draw Island offers you your choice of four canvas sizes on which you can draw. Draw Island offers two canvas sizes for creating simple GIF animations. To use Draw Island just head to the site and select a drawing tool. You can draw free hand (or should I say free mouse?) or select pre-defined shapes to use in your images. When you're done drawing just click the save button to download your drawing or animation.

FlockDraw is a simple service that allows people to quickly and easily collaborate on the creation of a drawing. To use FlockDraw simply visit the site, click the "start drawing" button, and start drawing. To invite other people to draw with you, just send them the url assigned to your drawing board. What's really neat is that anyone who visits the url after the drawing has started will see all of the drawing motions they missed unfold in front of them. In the future you will be able to embed your drawing board into your blog or website.

Happy Thanksgiving!

It all started two Thanksgivings ago...

Happy Thanksgiving friends.





And if you're wondering about the story behind the song and why some Americans consider listening to it to be a Thanksgiving tradition, click here or here.

A Visual History of Macy's Thanksgiving Parade

If you're one of the millions of Americans who is tuning-in to watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade this morning, this photo essay may be of interest to you. The History of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, produced by Time, takes us through the 85 year history of the parade in sixteen photos. After going through the photos you might also want to read How They Make Those Thanksgiving Day Floats.

I found this photo essay through Larry Ferlazzo who has amassed a huge list of Thanksgiving resources.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Simple Drawing Lessons on Your Android Device

Here's a nice little app for the aspiring artist in your life. How to Draw Cartoons Animals is a free Android app that offers seventy simple step-by-step directions for drawing cartoon animals. Despite the name, the app also offers directions for drawing objects like cups and houses and directions for drawing people. To be clear, you don't draw the cartoons on the app. The app only provides the directions for you to follow while you draw on paper.

Applications for Education
If you have students who would like to practice drawing some simple cartoons, this free app is a nice little addition to your Android phone or tablet.

Reading Bear - Online Reading Lessons for Kids

From the same people that brought us Watch Know Learn comes a new website designed to help kids learn to read. Reading Bear is a free service that offers narrated lessons on recognizing and pronouncing letters and words. There are also some lessons on prefixes and suffixes. Students can control the pace of each lesson to match their needs.

After each lesson on Reading Bear students can take quizzes to test their skills. The quizzes present a picture and a set of words. Students have to match the correct word to the picture that they see. Through the narrator, students receive instant feedback on each question in the quiz.

Here is a five minute video overview of Reading Bear.



Applications for Education
Reading Bear could be a good independent activity or an activity that children work through with the assistance of a parent or tutor. Like most websites like it, Reading Bear isn't a replacement for in-person reading lessons, but it could be a great support and practice resource.

H/T to Paul Hamilton who seems to have started blogging more regularly again. Good to see you're blogging more Paul. 

Ed Tech Crew Podcast

Last week I joined Darrel Branson and Tony Richards for a chat on their podcast, The Ed Tech Crew. We had a nice chat about trends in ed tech and discovery of new ed tech resources. Of course, there was also the obligatory bio section about me and the origins of Free Technology for Teachers. You can listen to the show here.

If you're interested in creating your own podcasts, check out these five free tools for creating podcasts.

Google Announces the Shut-down of Seven Services

As part of their efforts to streamline their services, yesterday Google announced plans to shut-down seven services. The two services being shut-down of the most interest to me and readers of this blog are Timeline search and Bookmarks lists.

To be clear, Google Bookmarks will continue to exist. Google Bookmarks lists, which to me was one of its best features, will stop functioning on December 19. The bookmarks that are in your lists will continue to be accessible, but you will not be able to create new lists or share lists anymore. I will probably continue to use Google Bookmarks, but will probably spend more time on my lightly-used Diigo, Catch.com, and Evernote accounts.

Google Search Timeline is one of my favorite search tools that unfortunately is going the way of Wonder Wheel. You will still have the option to refine searches by date by entering dates in the refinement tool on the left-hand side of the search results page. You can also continue to use Google Trends and Search Insights.

Explore the American Revolution on an iPad

For the iPad-using US History teachers and students out there, here is an excellent app that I learned about through the US History Teacher's Blog. The Revolution: Interactive Guide is an interactive textbook about the American Revolution. The video embedded below provides a detailed overview of the app.

Here are a few of the highlights of the app:
Narration of text.
Quizzes after each section.
Interactive images.
Flashcards
Comparisons to other revolutions.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Balancing Reform with Reality

Image Credit: John Webber
This morning I had a conversation on Twitter that led me to writing a Google+ post about the need to balance our ideal education reforms with the realities of teaching in public schools. You can read my full post here. I've included the first paragraph below. In my opinion the first paragraph is the most succinct of the three I wrote. I also encourage you to read the comments and add your own on Google+


My chief complaint about many education "reformers" is that they forget to balance the realities of teaching in a public school with their ideal school situations. You can't tell a teacher to completely buck the system without recognizing that bucking the system could cost that teacher a job. Rather than telling teachers to completely buck the system, I prefer to encourage a systematic series of small changes that will add up to big change over time. Read the rest of the post and add your comments here. 


For the first time visitor: This is not indicative of my typical post, I generally prefer to stick to covering how-to topics and new developments in educational technology. 

Ten Search Tools and Tactics Teachers and Students Need to Know

I often find myself in conversations with teachers and students about Internet search strategies. Often times the conversation reminds me that what's obvious to me is amazing to someone else. Last week I had that very experience as I taught a couple of teachers some search techniques that they are going to pass along to their students. As a follow-up to that experience, I've crafted the following list of search tools and tactics that every teacher and student should know.

1. Stop Googling "What" questions. Googling "what were the causes of x,y,z?" or "why did Mr. X do x,y,z?" or Googling any similarly phrased question yields results that start with that phrasing. Often the results of searching with those terms leads to poorly written, inaccurate content on question and answer services like Yahoo Answers and Wiki Answers. I have watched students who search using those terms quickly grow frustrated before ultimately saying, "Google doesn't have anything about this." One solution to this problem is to teach students to search for the subject of question, not the question itself. The better solution is in item #2 below.

2. Stop assigning research questions that can be quickly answered with a Google/ Bing/ Yahoo search.

3. Use the overlooked Google "advanced search" page. Previously located at the top of the page, the link to the advanced search page recently moved to the bottom of the Google results page. The slideshow below outlines ten advanced Google search options. (Some of these options are also available in Bing and Yahoo search).

Expand the slides to full screen to see the details better.

4. Create Google Alerts. If there is topic that you or your students frequently search for, consider creating a Google Alert for that topic. You can create a Google Alert using any combination of search terms. Each time new content matching those search terms is indexed, the content or link (depending on your selection), is delivered to your choice of email or RSS reader. For step-by-step directions on creating Google Alerts please see page 24 of my free ebook Google for Teachers II.

5. Google Books. Google Books is a great place to find all kinds of books and magazines that you can preview and or read for free online or on your ereader device. For the last couple of years I've been using Google Books to create lists of free books that my US History students can access for research assignments. I do that by searching for a topic in Google Books, filtering results to show only "free Google eBooks," putting the titles on a Google Bookshelf, then sharing the link to the shelf I created. My students can then visit my bookshelf to see the books that I have recommended to them. The slides below will walk you through how to use Google Books for the purposes of locating free books that can be read online or downloaded, searching within a book, and creating shelves to share with others. The tutorial assumes that you already have a Google account. If you don't have a Google account I recommend creating one before going through this tutorial.

Expand the slides to full screen to see the details of the screen images.

6. Sweet Search is a search engine that searches only the sites that have been reviewed and approved by a team of librarians, teachers, and research experts. In all there are 35,000 websites that have been reviewed and approved by Sweet Search. In addition to the general search engine, Sweet Search offers five niche search engines. The niche search engines are for Social Studies, Biographies, SweetSites (organized by grade and subject area), School Librarians, and Sweet Search 4 Me (for elementary school students).

7. Wolfram Alpha is billed as a computational search engine and this is exactly what it does. If students have any questions involving numbers, Wolfram Alpha is the place to go. Wolfram Alpha can be used for many other search functions too, just remember that it's not an index of the web like Google or Bing, it's an index of information. Here's a recent post in which I outlined some of the many things Wolfram Alpha offers.

8. Twurdy is search tool that automatically displays the readability of your search results for you. Twurdy uses a simple color-coded system to indicate how easy or difficult it is to read a particular website in your search results. There are three types of Twurdy searches; Just Twurdy, Simple Twurdy, and Twurdy with Pop. Here's how Twurdy defines the three search types:


Just Twurdy - searches using Twurdy's basic algorithm with medium speed and medium results. 

Simple Twurdy - searches using Twurdy's simple algorithm for fast speed but less accurate results

Twurdy with Pop - searches using Twurdy's most complex algorithm which includes looking up the popularity of words within the text. It has a slower speed with more accurate results
.

9. Google Scholar is one of Google's lesser-known tools. Google Scholar is a search engine designed to search scholarly journals, Supreme Court records, and patent records. In some cases the results will link to abstracts of books and articles that you will then have to obtain from a library or book retailer. In other cases results will link to fully viewable documents.

10. Google, Bing, and Yahoo haven't indexed everything. There is still a lot of valuable content that is in databases like CQ Researcher that are accessible only to subscribers. Your school library or local public library probably has a subscription to one or more of those services. If you're not sure how to access or use one of those databases, your teacher-librarian is probably more than happy to teach you how.

Monday, November 21, 2011

iStoryBooks - A Great Storybook App for Tablets

iStoryBooks is a free iPad, iPhone, and Android app that offers two dozen free digital storybooks for kids ages two through eight. Most of the stories in the app are adaptations of classic children's tales like The Ugly Duckling. The story that I went through after installing the app on my Motorola Photon(my favorite of the three Android phones I've owned) is The Story of Thanksgiving. The app gives you the option to read each story or to read along with each story while listening to the narrator.

You can find the iOS version of iStorybooks here.
Get the app from the Android Market.
And now you can get iStoryBooks on Kindle Fire

Applications for Education
If you have or teach children under eight, iStoryBooks could be a great app to install on your iPad or Android-powered tablets. Children can practice reading and recognizing words by going through the stories with the narration turned on. Or you can turn the narration off and read the stories with your child or student.

On a personal note, this is one app that I'm sharing with my sister when I see her on Thanksgiving so that she can use it with my two year old niece.

The Great Energy Challenge - Interactive Posters and Quizzes

The Great Energy Challenge is a National Geographic feature that offers some nice interactive posters for evaluating personal and global energy consumption.

Global Electricity Outlook is an interactive display of electricity consumption across the globe. You can view the global picture or click on the map to view regional consumption. The display shows the means of electricity production globally and regionally. To see how shifting production sources would impact the world or a region use the sliders below the map.

The Global Carbon Footprints map provides four ways of looking at carbon footprints created by the largest economies in the world. You can roll over the map to view carbon footprints on a per capita basis, cumulative basis, intensity, and current totals.

The Personal Energy Meter is a tool for evaluating your personal carbon footprint. The meter asks for your location then asks a series of questions about your energy consumption. The result compares you to the average person in your region. I was below average in my footprint until I entered the number of flights I take every year. Wow! Flying leaves a huge carbon footprint.



Applications for Education
The Great Energy Challenge could be a good resource for anyone teaching an introductory lesson on energy production and consumption. The Personal Energy Meter asks questions about utility bills. Therefore, most students will need to ask their parents for help. That could be a good way to get parents involved, even if only for a few minutes, in discussions with their children about what they're studying in school.

My 2011 Edublog Awards Nominations

Last week the 2011 Edublog Awards nomination process opened. Thank you to everyone that has nominated Free Technology for Teachers for awards.

I am not making nominations in all of the categories this year. There are three reasons for that. First, I don't feel that I have a wide enough view on some of the categories. Second, some of the categories don't really make sense to me (best Twitter hashtag?). Third, in a couple of categories I fear that my nominations could be construed as conflicts of interest.

Here are my 2011 Edublog Awards nominations:
Best Individual Blog - Moving at the Speed of Creativity - Wes Fryer
Best Open PD/ Unconference - EdCamp (in all of their forms and locations)
Best Resource Sharing Blog - Larry Ferlazzo's Websites of the Day
Best School Administrator's Blog - The Principal's Page
Best Educational Use of Twitter - Steven Anderson
Best New Blog - Hack Education
Lifetime Achievement - Wes Fryer (now Dr. Wesley Fryer, congratulations Wes!)

The K12 Online Conference - Keynote Today

The K12 Online Conference is a great opportunity to experience some excellent, free professional development. The conference was kicked-off this morning with a keynote by Angela Maiers. Angela's presentation is embedded below. This year's K12 Online Conference theme is Purposeful Play. The annual online conference kicks into high gear next week with four new presentations each day.

Math in the News - Will the NBA Play This Year?

Media 4 Math has a nice regular feature called Math in the News. Math in the News offers ideas for short mathematics lessons based on current news stories. The current lesson that grabbed my attention is Will There Be an NBA Season? The lesson focuses on using revenue and expense reports to determine profitability. You can view the lesson in the Slideshare presentation below.


Applications for Education
Media 4 Math's Math in the News lessons could be one way to try to reach students with the idea that math is integrated into much more than might imagine. The NBA lesson could be particularly useful with young people who enjoy sports, but might not enjoy mathematics.

H/T to Jim Lerman.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Planes Overhead and Other Cool Wolfram Alpha Things

Yesterday, I saw a neat demonstration of Wolfram Alpha on Patrick Higgins's blog. The demo, embedded below, shows you what you happens when you enter the term "planes overhead" in Wolfram Alpha. As you'll see, Wolfram Alpha doesn't act like Google, Bing, or any other search engine. I think the video is a great demonstration of what makes Wolfram Alpha neat.


Watching the above video got me to dive into my archives for other Wolfram Alpha posts. Consider this my Wolfram Alpha round-up post.

Wolfram Alpha for Educators is a collection of free lesson plans, examples of, and ideas for using Wolfram Alpha in the classroom. The lesson plans are currently arranged in three categories; mathematics, science, and social studies. All of the lesson plans are available as free pdf downloads. The lesson plans are labeled according to grade level, but you cannot see the grade level label until you download the lesson plan. In addition to the free lesson plans, Wolfram Alpha has a small collection of videos featuring teachers explaining how they are using Wolfram Alpha in their classrooms.

The Wolfram Alpha widget builder allows anyone to create a computational search widget. Once created the widgets can easily be embedded into Blogger, WordPress, iGoogle, and just about any other website or blog service. Published widgets appear in a gallery that is accessible to anyone that registers with Wolfram Alpha. Creating a Wolfram Alpha Widget is a fairly straight-forward process. To get started, enter a search phrase such as "distance from Boston to New York in inches." In the second step you define the variables for your widget. This second step is the crucial step that I had to try a few times before I got it right. After completing step two the rest of the process is a simple matter of selecting the output format, widget theme, and writing a description of the widget.

Goofram is a mash-up of Google Search and Wolfram Alpha search. Enter your search term(s) into Goofram and it will display relevant results drawn from Google and Wolfram Alpha. Goofram really shines when you're searching for information about a topic that could potentially have a lot of numerical information as well as text-based information. For example, when I searched using the phrase, "first person to climb Mount Everest," the result was a column of links, generated by Google, to articles about Mount Everest and a column of statistical information, generated by Wolfram Alpha, about Mount Everest.

Wolfram Alpha is known as a computation and statistics search engine, but Wolfram Alpha offers more than that. Two of examples of this are found in Wolfram's new word widgets. Wolfram now offers a dictionary widget that provides users with definitions, synonyms, and pronunciations.



In July I gave a short live demonstration of the computational search engine Wolfram Alpha. As I was wrapping-up the demonstration someone in the audience reminded me that there are some desktop widgets and browser extensions that put Wolfram Alpha at your fingertips. Acting on that reminder I installed the Wolfram Alpha desktop gadget for Windows 7. The entire collection of gadgets and browser extensions includes gadgets for Windows and Mac desktops, an iGoogle gadget, and browser extensions for Firefox, Chrome, Safari, Internet Explorer, and Opera. Not sure what makes Wolfram Alpha different from Google or Bing? Watch this short video introduction to Wolfram Alpha.

Wolfram Tones uses algorithms, music theory, and sound samples to generate new collections of sounds. Visitors to Wolfram Tones can experiment with sounds and rhythms to make their own sounds. Wolfram Tones allows visitors to choose samples from fifteen different genres of music on which to build their own sounds. Once a genre is selected visitors can then alter the rhythms, instrumentation, and pitch mapping of their sounds. When satisfied with their creations, users can download their sounds or have them sent directly to their cell phones.

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