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Thursday, January 26, 2012

New Google+ Safety Center for Teens, Parents, and Educators

Today, Google+ opened to students 13 years old or older. As ZDNet reported, in conjunction with opening Google+ to teenagers Google opened a new Google+ Safety Center. The Google+ Safety Center features a couple of guides to Google+ settings and functions for teens and their parents. The section for teens isn't much more than a basic introduction to Google+ settings, but the section for parents provides some solid advice and answers to common concerns that parents have about their teens use of social media.

In addition to information about Google+, the Google+ Safety Center offers resources from Common Sense Media about anti-bullying practices and digital reputation management.

Applications for Education
If you're considering using Google+ with your teenage students, you might have some parents with concerns about having their children using the service. The materials provided in the Google+ Safety Center could help ease their minds.

Some of the features of Google+ that could be of use to students are screen sharing and document sharing in Hangouts. Those two services could be helpful for peer editing and or peer tutoring. You and your students could also use the Concept Board app in Google+ Hangouts for collaborative brainstorming sessions.

Five Resources for Visual Fractions Lessons

This is a list that I created in response to a request that I recently received as direct message on Twitter. A couple of these resources I found through a search in the Diigo community. If you don't have a Diigo account or if you do but you have never searched the community bookmarks, I recommend giving it a try.

Who Wants Pizza? is a fun online activity for learning about fractions. Who Wants Pizza was developed by Cynthia Lanius at Rice University. The activity has five parts plus practice activities for students to explore. Teachers will find notes about using this activities in the classroom.

Visual Fractions has eight categories of visualizations, lessons, and games for students to explore and learn the functions of fractions.

The National Library of Virtual Manipulatives has a lot of interactive activities for students learning the use of fractions, addition and subtraction, and the multiplication of fractions.

Thinking Blocks is a nice site for elementary and middle school mathematics teachers. Thinking Blocks provides interactive templates in which students use brightly colored blocks to model and solve problems. As students work through the problems they are provided with feedback as to whether or not they are using the correct sequence to solve each problem. There are templates and problems for addition, multiplication, fractions, and ratios. You can also develop your own problems using the modeling tool.

Conceptua Math is a provider of interactive visual mathematics lessons. One of Conceptua Math's primary focuses is on the development of tools to aid teachers in the instruction of lessons on fractions. Conceptua Math's offerings are a mix of free and premium (paid) tools. There are a total of fifteen free interactive tools for teachers and students. Each of the free tools has an introductory video and a sample lesson plan.

Econ Ed Link - Economics Lessons and Games

Produced by the Council for Economic Education, Econ Ed Link hosts hundreds of lesson plans and interactive games for teaching students about a wide range of topics in economics. Teachers can search the lesson plan index by grade level, concept, standard, or length of lesson (one class period vs. multiple class periods). Most of the lessons attempt to provide "real world" context.

The interactive section of Econ Ed Link offers four pages of videos and games. The videos and games can be used as stand-alone activities or as part of lesson plan. I tested out the interactive game on developing good credit habits. Developing Good Credit Habits is a game appropriate for middle school and high school students. Students earn money by correctly answering questions about credit scores, interest rates, and spending practices. The purpose of the game is to purchase items and pay expenses without damaging your credit score.

Applications for Education
Econ Ed Link offers lesson plans appropriate for all K-12 students. Many of the lessons are designed for use not only in the classroom but in the home as well. The parent section of Econ Ed Link offers good material that you can send home with your students to get parents involved in students' learning about personal economics.

Check This - Quickly Build and Publish Webpages

Check This is a new service for quickly building and publishing webpages. As Robin Wauters wrote this week, Check This falls somewhere between nothing and a blog. Check This isn't designed to replace your favorite blog or website creation platform, rather it is designed to fill the niche for people who desire to publish a simple announcement page. Without registering you can add text, images, and videos to your Check This page in a matter of seconds. And after you have published your page you can go back and edit it by using the unique edit link sent to the email address you provide in the step between creation and publishing.

In the video below I provide a short walk-through on creating a webpage with Check This.


Applications for Education
Check This could be a good tool for club advisers, PTAs, and other school-related organizations to publish a simple webpage that announces and provides details about a school activity. I'm thinking that Check This could be used by a PTA to provide details about upcoming fundraiser activities.

If you're looking for an easy-to-use tool for your students to use to publish their essays, images, or videos without using a full-fledged blogging platform, Check This might be the tool for you. If you don't need video and image support, you might also consider one of these five tools for students to publish their writings in under a minute.

Win Technology Prizes for Your School

Full disclosure: the sponsor of this contest is an advertiser on Free Technology for Teachers. Even if they weren't an advertiser there is still a good chance that I'd mention this contest.


The Worth Ave Group is currently sponsoring a contest through which schools in the United States can win technology prizes worth up to $25,000. Here's how it works: a teacher is nominated by a community member and is then placed on the contest's list of eligible nominees. The teacher who receives the most votes will win a $25,000 technology prize package for his or her school. The contest will also award smaller prizes to five runners-up. Voters will also be entered into a random drawing for iPads. The voting is open now through the end of March, 2012. You can read the full contest rules here (link is to a PDF).

Seven Tools for Creating Data Visualizations

This morning I received an email asking me for some tools for creating data visualizations. Here are seven tools that students can use to build data visualizations.

Better World Flux is a free data visualization development tool that was created for the World Bank's Apps for Development Challenge. The purpose of the challenge was to encourage app developers to create products that could be used to highlight the development data hosted by the World BankBetter World Flux allows users to create animated visualizations of development data. To use Better World Flux (no registration required) all you have to do is select a data set from the menu provided and select a country or countries from the menu provided. From there Better World Flux creates an animated data visualization for you. The visualization will change as the years on the timeline at the bottom of the visualization change. This way users can see growth and recession of a statistic over time.
Learn more about Better World Flux in the video below.


Target Map is a service that allows anyone to create mapped displays of data sets. Users of Target Map can importa and map their own data sets, use data sets from other users, use data sets found online, or manually input data onto a map. When I created my sample map, I choose to manually input data. Target Map allows you to map data for a country, a region, or for the whole world. You can customize the display to make borders appear faint or bold and alter the look of data points. Although at first glance Target Map's user interface might not appear to be terribly intuitive, it is actually quite easy to use if you follow the directions. Target Map is free to use if you agree to publish your maps to the public gallery. If you want to keep your maps private you can do so for a small fee. The first time you create a map on Target Map it is reviewed for quality before it is added to the public gallery.

Many Eyes is an online data visualization tool developed by IBM. Many Eyes provides tools for creating a wide variety of data visualizations using your data sets or data sets hosted by IBM. If you're not interested in creating visualizations but just want to explore the visualizations created by others, you can do that on Many Eyes too. The video below offers an overview of creating data visualizations with Many Eyes.



Gapminder is a great tool for creating data visualizations. Gapminder gives users the ability to create graphs of hundreds of demographic and economic indicators. I like Gapminder because it provides a good way for visual learners to see data sets in a context that is significantly different from standard data sets. Gapminder has a page for educators on which they can find thematic animations, graphs, quizzes, model lessons, and a PDF guide to using Gapminder. For teachers working in schools with slow Internet connections or very strict filtering, Gapminder has a desktop application that you can download and install for Mac or Windows computers. The video below demonstrates Gapminder desktop.


Google's Public Data Explorer draws on data sets from the World Bank, the US CDC, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, and other sources of public data. In all there are eighty data sets. The Public Data Explorer makes it possible to quickly create visual representations and visual comparisons of the data sets. Each visualization you create has a unique url that you can direct people to or you can embed the visualization in a blog or website. You can use your own data in the Public Data Explorer but to do this you need to use the Data Set Publishing Language (DSPL) developed by Google. The process of upload data in the DSPL format isn't something you'll learn in minutes, but if you're really interested in doing it Google does have a step-by-step tutorial for you to follow.


Map a List is a free tool that you can use to turn Google Spreadsheet information into Google Maps placemarks. To create a map from your spreadsheets you need to register for a Map a List account and give it access to your Google Docs account. Map a List then walks you through each step of selecting a spreadsheet, defining the parameters for your map, and choosing placemarks. Within Google Spreadsheets there are many "Gadgets" that can be used to create visualizations of data. To explore the gadgets that will work with your data, go to the "insert" drop-down menu then select "gadgets."

World Map is a free program developed by the Center for Geographic Analysis at Harvard University. World Map is designed to enable creation, visualization, and exploration of geographically referenced information. In other words, you can build some great mapped data visualizations on the service.

To create a map on World Map you can use the more than 1800 data sets that are stored in the service or you can upload your own data sets. The majority of the data sets in the World Map library have abstracts explaining a bit about the purpose and scope of the data. There are five default base maps that you can choose to build upon. Alternatively, you can choose to create your map completely from scratch and upload your own base layer to build upon. Maps that you create on World Map can be embedded into a website, printed, or viewed in Google Earth.