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Thursday, July 4, 2013

How Fireworks Work - Video

Happy Independence Day to all of my fellow Americans. Probably many of you will be enjoying fireworks displays this evening. If you or or children are wondering how the fireworks actually work, National Geographic has a short video for you. In I Didn't Know That - Fireworks we learn how fireworks get their shapes and colors. The video is embedded below.


Don't try this at home.

Happy 4th of July!

Best of 2013 So Far... Six Free Alternatives to PowerPoint and Keynote

We're half-way through 2013. Like I've done in years past, this week I'll be featuring some of the best new tech tools of 2013 as well as some of the most popular posts of the year.

Twice in the last week I've been asked for a list of free alternatives to either PowerPoint or Keynote. I've written a couple of these lists over the last five years, but some of the alternatives I've shared in the past have either gone out of business or started charging a fee. Here's my updated list of free alternatives to PowerPoint and Keynote.

Empressr is a fully functional, high quality, online slide show presentation creation and sharing service. Empressr has a couple of features differentiating it from its competitors. The first feature of note is the option of embedding video from multiple sources into your slide show. The second feature of note is Empressr's editor which allows users to draw, create, or edit images inside their slides. Empressr slideshows can be embedded anywhere.

Slide Rocket is a web based presentation creator similar to Empressr. Slide Rocket has some very nice features like 3D transitions and a collaboration feature for sharing the creation process with other users. Slide Rocket's interface is user friendly making it easy to include videos, pictures, or third party plug-ins. Slide Rocket also has a Google Drive app.

Prezi is a popular online tool for creating slideshows that don't have to appear in the linear format typically used in slideshows. This week Prezi introduced the option to include sound in your presentations. Check out the Prezi embedded below to learn about the new audio option.


Until Google Slides came along the slideshow tool in Open Office was the slideshow creation tool that I used instead of PowerPoint. Open Office's Impress's development is still supported and available to download for free.

Google Slides is the slideshow creation tool that I use to create roughly half of all of my slideshows (the other half I make in Keynote). I like using Google Slides for collaborating with colleagues and for commenting on students' slideshows. The publishing tool in Google Slides makes it very easy to embed your slideshows into your blog or website.

If your students have iPads, you have to try Haiku Deck. Haiku Deck is a fantastic free alternative to Keynote. The key feature of Haiku Deck that stands out is the integrated image search tool. When students type a word into Haiku Deck a set of Creative Commons licensed images will be shown to the students to use in their presentations.

Best of 2013 So Far... Studies of iPad Use In Education

We're half-way through 2013. Like I've done in years past, this week I'll be featuring some of the best new tech tools of 2013 as well as some of the most popular posts of the year.

This week I got the itch to go beyond anecdotal stories about iPads in the classroom and look for some more substantial research and writing on the topic. Below are some of the reports that I’ve been reading through this week.

The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development for Victoria, Australia iPads for Learning – In Their Hands field trial studied the use of iPads in nine schools. One of the observations to note here is that greater success was reported at primary and special schools than in secondary schools.

The iPad as a Tool for Education is a study based on iPad use at Longfield Academy, Kent, England . There is strong emphasis on interpreting the data generated by surveying students and faculty. It’s interesting to note the differences in how students perceived the impact of iPad use on their achievement and how teachers perceived the impact of students use of iPads on student achievement.

Reading With iPads – The Difference Makes a Difference studied the impact on the reading comprehension, knowledge of content, and analysis skills of boys aged 11 to 13 who read using iPads.

Promoting Student Engagement by Integrating New Technology into Tertiary Education: The Role of the iPad studied the use of iPads by teachers and students in distance learning and in-person learning environments. The report includes some quotes from students who seem to have benefitted from the use of iPads. I would like to see the rest of the survey data that was used in the formation of this report.

The Impact of the iPad and iPhone on Education was published in 2010 and is speculative in nature as the students surveyed had not yet been given iPads. The study was gauging student and instructor interest in iPads and potential uses. I would like to see the follow up report if there is one available.

Best of 2013 So Far... A Short Guide to Blogging Terminology

We're half-way through 2013. Like I've done in years past, this week I'll be featuring some of the best new tech tools of 2013 as well as some of the most popular posts of the year.

I'm currently in the process of developing new digital handouts for my blogging workshops. One of the items that I'm adding to my handouts is a list of terminology and definitions for terms that I frequently use while talking about building blogs. My preliminary list is posted below. Are there terms that you think should be added to the list?

Theme: WordPress and many other blogging platforms use “themes” to describe the look of a blog. The theme can include the color scheme and the layout of elements on the blog. Changing the theme does not change the content of your blog posts.

Template: Blogger and some other blogging platforms use the term “template” to describe the look of a blog. The template can include the color scheme and the layout of elements on the blog. Changing your template does not change the content of your blog posts.

Tag: Tags are applied to WordPress (Kidblog, Edublogs) blog posts to identify the key ideas or purpose of a post. Tags make it easier for people to search and find older posts on your blog. For example, if you write a post about your Revolutionary War lesson, tag it with “revolution” or “revolutionary war” so that at the end of the school year when you have 150 posts on your blog your students can quickly click on the “revolution” tag and jump to the post that have that label. It’s a lot easier to locate older posts by tag than it is to click through archives by date.

Label: Labels are applied to Blogger blog posts to identify the key ideas or purpose of a post. For example, if you write a blog post about your Revolutionary War lesson plan, label it with “revolution” or “revolutionary war” so that at the end of the school year when you have 150 posts on your blog your students can quickly click on the “revolution” label and jump to the posts that have that label. It’s a lot easier to locate older posts by label than it is to click through archives by date.

Tag Cloud and Label Cloud: Tag and Label clouds can be added to your blog’s homepage to make it easy for visitors to see the tags or labels that you use, click on one of them, and jump to a list of all of the posts that have that particular label.

Categories: In WordPress-powered blogs you can use categories for broad descriptions of posts in addition to using tags. For example, on iPadApps4School.com I use the categories “pre-K,” “elementary school,” “middle school,” and “high school.” I assign each post to a category and use tags for describing the academic topic of the post. This way if someone visits my blog looking for math apps appropriate for elementary school he or she can click on the “math” tag then click on the “elementary school” category to find all of my posts meeting that search criteria.

Embed: To display a video, slideshow, audio recording, Google Calendar, Google Map, game, and many other multimedia elements in a blog post you will use an embed code provided by service hosting that media. Embedding media into a blog post does not make you the owner of it and as long as you follow the guidelines set forth by the hosting service you are not violating copyright by embedding something you didn’t create. For example, when you find a video on YouTube that you want your students to watch you can embed it into a blog post and ask students to comment on the blog post. If the owner of that video decides to take it offline the video will no longer play through your blog post.

Embed Codes: An embed code is a piece of code, often HTML, that media hosting services like YouTube provide so that you can easily display the media that they host in your own blog posts. On some services like SlideShare.net an embed code will be clearly labeled as such next to the media you’re viewing. On other services the embed code will be one of the options that appears when you click on the “share” option. YouTube, for example, currently requires you to open the “share” menu before you see the embed code option.

Widget: A widget is a small application that you can include in the posts and or pages of your blog. A widget could be a game, a display of Tweets, a display of RSS feeds, a tag cloud, a calendar, or any other application that offers an embed code.

Gadget: Gadget is the term that Blogger uses for a widget. A gadget and a widget do the same things.

Plug-in: A plug-in (sometimes plugin) is a small application that you can add to the software that powers your blog. Unlike widgets and gadgets plug-ins operate in the background and visitors to your blog will not see them working. A plug-in can add functions to your blog such as suggesting related posts to your visitors or detecting the type of device a visitor is using to view your blog then automatically displaying the mobile or desktop version of your blog’s layout.

Post: “Post” can refer to an entry on your blog as in “a blog post.” “Post” can also be used as a verb as in “I am going to post a new entry on my blog.”

Page: A page on a blog is different than a post because a page is designed for static content. Pages are good for posting information that you want visitors to your blog to be able to quickly access. For example, my classroom blog had pages for curriculum outlines and review guides.

Permalink: Each blog post is assigned its own separate URL this is known as a permalink (permanent link). This URL is the one that you would share if you wanted someone to directly access a post rather than going to your blog’s homepage then searching for the post.

Best of 2013 So Far...Tips for Managing Academic Blogs

We're half-way through 2013. Like I've done in years past, this week I'll be featuring some of the best new tech tools of 2013 as well as some of the most popular posts of the year.

In the course of a year I get to run a lot of workshops about blogging. One of the questions that frequently comes up in those workshops goes something like this, “do you recommend that I have just one blog or should all of my students have their own blogs?” There is not a clear cut answer to this question because the answer depends upon how you envision using blogs in your teaching practice.

If your use of blogging is going to be limited to just distributing information about your class(es) to students and their parents, one blog is all that you need. Even if you teach multiple courses, one blog is sufficient if you’re only using it to distribute information. Simply label each new blog post with the name or section of the course for whom the information is intended. From a management standpoint it is far easier to label each blog post on one blog than it is to maintain a different blog for each course that you teach. That is a lesson that took me one semester to learn.

In the fall of 2005 I was teaching five sections of the same ninth grade social studies course and even though the content was the same each class always seemed to be in a different place than the others so I tried to maintain five different blogs. Before long I found myself either posting to the wrong blog or my students were going to the wrong blog because they had forgotten the blog’s URL and asked a classmate from a different section of the course for the blog’s URL. After that semester I decided to create one blog to use as the central online hub for all of my students. All students who took a course with me would have the URL for my blog and go there whenever they needed an update about their courses. I found it very easy to say to students, “go to my blog and click on the label for your class.” Even when I started to have students contribute to group blogs they started out by going to my blog and clicking the link to their group blogs.

If you envision having all of your students write blog posts, proper planning of the blogging process is critical to being able to keep track of your students’ work. Teachers who have twenty-five or fewer students might be able to have each student maintain his or her own blog and keep track of all of them, but even twenty-five blogs is a lot to keep track of. The solution that I recommend is to create a group blog for each class that you teach. Create the blog using whichever platform you like then make each student an author on the blog. To track who wrote what on the blog make sure that the author’s name (first names only or use pen names with young students). Alternatively, you can have students label or tag posts with their names or pen names to sort out who wrote what. As the creator and owner of the group blog you will be able to see who wrote what from your administrative panel, but that doesn’t help parents who want to check the blog to see what their children have been sharing.

Teachers who want students to use blogs to experiment with web design and coding will have to allow each student to maintain his or her own blog. Likewise, if the goal is to have each student showcase work for college or internship applications then each student will need to be the sole author on that blog. Keeping track of all of those blogs is a challenge, but a manageable challenge. One quick management method is to create a spreadsheet of all of your students’ blogs. Another quick management strategy is to create a list of links to the blogs then post that list in a side column on your own blog so that you or anyone else visiting your blog can quickly jump to a student’s blog.

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