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Friday, December 9, 2011

Nobel Prize Games for Learning About Science & Literature

This afternoon I Stumbled Upon an old blog post of mine that I wrote when President Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize. That post got me to take another look at some of the education aspects of the Nobel Prize website.

The Nobel Prize website has an educational games site designed to help students learn about subjects in the areas of Physics, Chemistry, Medicine, Literature, Peace, and Economics. In all there are twenty-nine interactive games for students to play. Each of the science-related games and the economics game is based upon the research of Nobel Prize winners. The literature and peace games are based upon concepts central to the work of Nobel Prize winners in those fields.

Applications for Education
The Nobel Prize games could be useful for students to use to review some of the concepts developed and used by Nobel Prize winners. Have students try the games after one of your lessons on those concepts.

Guest Post - Education Technology's Hidden Ticking Time Bomb

This is a guest post from Rafael Corrales, CEO of LearnBoost. LearnBoost has been an advertiser on Free Technology for Teachers for the last ten months. Prior to them becoming an advertiser, I had written about LearnBoost a couple of times including this post that Rafael references below.

Freemium looks like the future for education technology companies. Yet there’s another side of free education apps and there’s a big, overlooked trend in this space that I want to shine a spotlight on.

With the proliferation of freemium services, educators aren’t fully realizing how their data is completely locked up. Richard emailed me over a year ago and he mentioned how some free services have shut down without warning to their users.

In fact, that awful free/paid back and forth situation with Ning is going to happen more frequently unless educators become aware of this ticking time bomb, get realistic about their data, and demand that education companies start unlocking their data from the very beginning.

If you only take away one thing from this post, it would be this helpful rule of thumb – if you aren’t paying with dollars for a service, then you’re paying with your data.

Look, even really well-funded companies can fail educators. Ning raised $119 million dollars, was started by the co-founder of Netscape, and had support from top institutional investors. Ning had everything going for it, including initial breakout growth around the world. But they didn’t have export or download functionality, so educators suffered when Ning made sudden changes. If a company in education is pointing exclusively to their investors, amount raised, or initial traction, you can’t bank on that - the inevitable truth is that they’re still locking your data. Plus even paid services shut down all the time in education, so you should at least rest assured that you are able to get your data out.

I’d like to see every education company open up and make data freely available. That means some export functionality, data download functionality, and future “open” related innovations. In fact, if data were truly free then education companies would have to compete on product-quality, instead of how much they can lock-in teachers, administrators, and so on.

Making data more freely available happens to be good for business. When we released our export feature and our data download feature, both times we saw a clear uptick in user adoption – and I believe other companies are starting to realize this. But hopefully educators themselves can drive a spotlight on this issue so that they force all education companies to be accountable for building the best possible products, instead of the best possible lock-in (which causes stagnation on product development, total control over users, and more).

If data could become more freely available then all education companies, whether they offer free or paid products, would be fully accountable for building the best possible products. This would be a huge win for everyone in education and ultimately benefit the most important stakeholders - students.

Try Google Docs Presentations Without Registering

Today, a post on the Google Docs Blog reminded me that it is possible to try out Google Docs features without having to register for a Google account. Through Google Docs Demos you can try out the presentation, spreadsheet, drawing, and document tools of Google Docs without signing into a Google Account.

Applications for Education
I've introduced a lot of people to Google Docs over the last few years. Some of those people almost instantly become devoted Google Docs users while others do not. Either way, one thing that remains the same is that getting everyone in a group signed-up for an account can be time-consuming. If you're trying to introduce new users to Google Docs, Google Docs Demos could be a good way to get everyone trying the tools as quickly as possible.

Apps 4 Kids - An Android App Discovery Tool

Searching the Android Market for apps appropriate for your students and children can be a discouraging experience. Enter a search in the Android Market using the terms "math games" will yield more than 1000 results. If you're like most of us, you'll probably go through a few pages before abandoning that quest. Apps 4 Kids aims to make discovering new apps for your kids an easy process.

Apps 4 Kids is a free app that helps you and your children find new apps to use on your Android phone or Android tablet. You can browse Apps 4 Kids according to age of the child or the purpose of the app. For example, you can search for apps appropriate for children under four years old and for learning the alphabet. Apps 4 Kids is a free app, but not all of the apps they recommend are free.

Applications for Education
Apps 4 Kids could be a great tool for discovering new apps to use on the Android tablets in your classroom.

Urtak - Find Out What Your Audience is Thinking

Urtak is a free and simple polling service that can be used on any blog or website. The polls you create can have multiple questions, but they must be "yes or no" questions. But Urtak isn't that limited because visitors to your poll also have the option of writing in their own questions. Try it out for yourself in the poll I've embedded below.

Practice Poll

You can get started using Urtak in seconds by registering with your Twitter or Facebook account. You can also use your email address to create an account with Urtak. As you can see above, Urtak polls can be embedded into your blog or you can direct people to your poll by sharing the unique url Urtak assigns to your poll.

Learn more about Urtak in this Building 43 video in which Robert Scoble interviews Urtak's CEO.


Applications for Education
Urtak could be a useful tool for quickly collecting informal feedback from students.
I like to run polls on my course blog about a week before a test. I use these polls to gauge how my students are feeling about the course content and what we may need to spend more time studying.

5 Free Tools for Quickly Hosting Online Brainstorming Sessions

There are a lot of great tools online that can be used for collaborating on documents, developing sketches, or constructing outlines. Many of those services require all users to register and keep track of their user names and passwords. There's nothing wrong with that. However, sometimes you just want to get online and start collaborating as quickly as possible. In those cases you might want to try one of the following five services that don't require users to register.

Primary Wall is designed with elementary school students in mind. To use it students just have to go to the url for the wall you've created and click "add a note" or double click on the wall to start writing notes. Students can title their notes and attach their names (first name only please) to a note. Sticky note walls like Primary Wall can be useful for hosting collaborative brainstorming sessions, asking questions, and sorting ideas.

Sync.in provides a place for anyone to start a collaborative document without registering for the service. Once you've started your document it is assigned a unique url that you can share with anyone you want to collaborate with. Sync.in gives each person his or her own text color so that you can keep track of who wrote what. If you want to go back in time to see how the document developed, you can do that with the time slider on Sync.in. Documents on Sync.in can be exported and downloaded to your local computer.

Aww App is a super simple browser-based application for creating drawings. To get started just go to AwwApp.com and click on "start drawing."  To invite people to collaborate on your drawing just send them the link assigned to your drawing board and they can join in the drawing fun. If you would like to use Aww App on your classroom or school website and you have familiarity with editing the code of your site, you can install Aww App for free.

Draw It Live is a nice little website that 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.

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. You can embed your FlockDraw drawings into a website. When embedded anyone visiting your website will be able to draw with you. To test FlockDraw, you're welcome to play with the drawing I started here.

If you're looking for some brainstorming activity ideas, check out the SlideShare presentation below.
Wake Up Brain!
View more presentations from Ethos3

EasyBib Student Writing Guides & Google Apps Integration

I recently learned that the popular bibliography creation tool EasyBib offers a student writing guide. The writing guide is well written and easy to navigate. The guide walks students through each step of the research and writing process from locating credible websites to formatting and constructing an APA or MLA bibliography. Many teacher-librarians will be happy to see that the research section of EasyBib's student writing guide is not limited to Google search. The research section includes a list of databases and explanation as to why database research can be better than a Google/ Bing/ Yahoo search.

I also just realized this week that EasyBib has a Google Apps Marketplace application. This app allows you to add EasyBib services to your Google Apps for Education domain (you do have to be a domain manager to add it). The video below has a short overview of the EasyBib Google Apps application.


Applications for Education
EasyBib's student writing guide is one of the better ones that I've seen, but it still won't replace actual instruction by a teacher or teacher-librarian. You should also note that a couple of the guide's screen images need updating as they include a couple of Google search options like Wonder Wheel that are no longer available.

Adding EasyBib to your Google Apps for Education domain could be helpful to students when they're constructing bibliographies. With EasyBib adding to your Google Apps for Education domain your students will be able to access EasyBib and save their work using the same log-in credentials that they use for all other Google Apps for Education services like Google Docs.

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