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Monday, May 26, 2014

Create Interesting KMZ Files on the Thematic Mapping Engine

Thematic Mapping Engine provides users with a very simple way to create Google Earth kmz files. Thematic Mapping draws on data provided by the United Nations to create maps depicting all types of development data and environmental science data. Users select a statistical indicator category, select a year or range of years, and the manner in which they would like the data displayed in Google Earth. If you're using a Windows computer you can preview your files before downloading them. Below is an image of the KMZ file I created using the Thematic Mapping Engine.

Applications for Education
Thematic Mapping could be used in Social Studies, Math, or Environmental Science courses. A map depicting GDP Per Capita would be useful in math if students are studying the differences between mean and median. The same map would also be useful in a Social Studies course where students are studying the distribution of wealth. There are a number of environmental science indicators available from Thematic Mapping one that may be particular useful for Environmental Science students is the CO2 Emissions Per Capita theme.

Thematic Mapping Engine recommends using Firefox as your web browser.

Try BoomWriter for a Fun End-of-the-School-Year Group Writing Project

Disclosure: BoomWriter is an advertiser on Free Technology for Teachers. That said, I was writing about them and using the service a couple of years ago without any financial interest. This is a guest post from them. 

BoomWriter is a free and easy-to-use collaborative writing tool that lets students create, share, and even publish stories and other original content.  BoomWriter lets teachers deliver a fun and engaging personalized learning experience, as elementary, middle, and high school age students work online to develop their reading, writing, and peer assessment skills.

BoomWriter uses a simple process but with a technology twist.  The teacher selects a “story start”, either from a database of original first chapters or they can create their own prompt, and students then individually write what they think should be the next chapter/section.  The teacher reviews each submission online before allowing the students to read and vote on the anonymous chapter/s that they would like to see included as the next part of the piece.  There’s an easily managed voting system that fairly determines the winning chapter, while not requiring students to read all of their peers’ pieces (and they do not see their own during voting).  The process continues until the story is completed, which is determined by the teacher.  Once finished, BoomWriter will even convert the project into an actual published book containing the names of all of the participating students.  These books are then made available for purchase from the BoomWriter Bookstore.

BoomWriter can be used by teachers in a variety roles and educational settings (whole class, small group, before, during and after school), and it’s safe for students since all of their work is created and stored in a closed digital environment.  BoomWriter is a helpful and effective instructional tool, allowing teachers to go online to monitor students’ progress, and provide individualized feedback and personalized instruction from anywhere.  Teachers are also able to provide helpful guidance notes to the group prior to each writing phase, creating relevant practice and application opportunities for specific skills and/or understandings covered in class.

BoomWriter continues to add new resources and features to support teachers, such as some recent ELA lesson plans giving teachers step-by-step instructions on how to incorporate elements of personal narrative or literature into their projects.  Last month, in celebration of April’s National Poetry Month, BoomWriter sent its users a lesson plan for using the application to create a class poetry anthology, in addition to some fun poetry-themed classroom activities.

BoomWriter was started in a middle school classroom and now has a presence in close to 10,000 classrooms spread throughout more than 60 countries!  The more it grows, the more ways teachers find to use this approach to writing in their own classroom.  One high school teacher in Kansas used BoomWriter with her students to create a modern day version of Arthur Miller’s play, The Crucible that explores the events of the Salem witchcraft trials.  According to the teacher, while collaboratively engaged in a contemporary retelling on BoomWriter the students explored “how the themes and ideas that Miller wrote about are still prevalent in today's world.”  

BoomWriter has also identified a way to support large urban school districts and inspire students to write using technology through its Technology Heroes Program.  Tech Heroes, which “helps teachers be champions of technology in their classrooms,” consists of BoomWriter partnering with larger districts and a third party corporate sponsor to provide every student and teacher with their very own free copy of the book they created using BoomWriter!  Tech Heroes programs have taken place within Boston Public Schools, Chicago Public School, and the Oakland Unified School District, to name a few.  In a survey conducted of participating Tech Heroes teachers just last spring, 95% found BoomWriter to be an “effective instructional tool” and 97% of teachers would use it again in their classrooms.  One teacher raved, “I really enjoyed hearing my students beg to write. Students were thinking at home but writing in class.  They were talking about their stories during recess.  Students who never wrote full stories, began to write and complete their writing.  I am delighted with BoomWriter.  It is a valuable asset to my classroom.”

Lastly, as the end of the school year approaches and with most of the standardized testing behind us (for the time being), what a great time this is to let students exercise and share their creativity while working on a fun and academically focused project.  Sign up for free now at: BoomWriter.

ExamTime Introduces New Options for Tracking Your Own Study Habits

ExamTime is a neat service that students can use to create flashcards, mind maps, and practice quizzes to help them study. Recently, ExamTime added some helpful new features.

The most significant of the new ExamTime features is the new performance tracking option. Performance tracking allows students to keep track of how they scored on practice quizzes, monitor which flashcards they know and which they need to spend more time with, and track their comprehension of nodes of their mind maps. That last option provides students with "tick boxes" that they can check when they feel like they have mastered the topics depicted on mind maps that they have created.

ExamTime's other new features include an improved, expanded flashcard display and a new resource "pinning" option. As all study materials created on ExamTime can be shared publicly, there is a large gallery of study materials for students to access. Pinning a resource from the public gallery is a way for students to quickly add review resources to their libraries of study aids.




ContextU - A Great Site for Exploring the Context of the Civil War

Ken Halla, the blogger behind the US History Teachers Blog, has been working on an excellent new site for students of US History. The new site is called ContextU and its purpose is to help students see the greater context for significant events in history. The first iteration of ContextU is focused on the American Civil War.

On ContextU students select from a table of contents an event, piece of legislation, or theme to see it in the context of other events, pieces of legislation, and themes leading to the start of the Civil War. Through timelines, Google Maps, diagrams, flow charts, timelines, and text ContextU provides context for each chosen event, piece of legislation, or theme. Students can jump from event to event or from theme to theme by following the hyperlinks within each diagram.

Applications for Education
ContextU is still in development, but what is available now is already quite good. The advantage of ContextU over a textbook as well as many other websites is the ease with which students can see how an event fits into the larger context of the causes of the American Civil War.

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