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Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Bizarre Borders - Fun Geography and History Lessons

Take a look at the border between the United States and Canada west of the Great Lakes and it looks like a long straight line to the Pacific ocean. But zoom in on it in Google Earth or walk a section of it as I have, and you'll see that it isn't as straight as it appears on paper. In the video embedded below CGP Grey explains why the border is not straight and how some of the other quirks of the border came to be.


The video above is the second installment of CGP Grey's series on bizarre borders. In the first installment he explains other bizarre borders around the world.


Applications for Education
These videos could be the basis of a flipped lesson in a middle school or high school geography class. These five tools make it easy to create flipped lessons with YouTube videos.

7 Highlights from The Practical Ed Tech Handbook

In late August I published The Practical Ed Tech Handbook. Since it was published more than 6,000 people have downloaded it. If you haven't downloaded it, you can do so here. In the free document I outline seven categories of ed tech tools and share my favorite tools in each category. A preview of each section is outlined below.

1. Communication with students and parents.
Remind, formerly known as Remind 101, is a great tool for sending important reminders to students and their parents. Through Remind students and their parents can sign-up to receive text messages on their mobile devices. You send the messages from your computer or mobile device without students or parents seeing your personal cell phone number. Like regular text messages that you might send to friends, you can attach files to messages that you send through Remind. Messages can be sent to individuals or to groups that you create in your Remind account.

In addition to text messages Remind offers the option to send audio messages up to fifteen seconds in length. Just like text messages, voice messages can be sent to individuals or to groups.

Stamps is one of the two options that Remind offers for students and parents to use to interact with the messages that you send to them. Students and parents can reply to your Remind messages by selecting one of four stamps to indicate that they have received your message and indicate if they need further clarification about your message.

Chat is the other option that Remind offers to students and parents to communicate with you. Remind Chat allows students and parents to reply with text to a teacher's messages. When I first heard about Remind Chat I was leery of it because I was concerned that students and parents would be messaging teachers at all hours of the day and expecting rapid responses. Remind alleviated that concern when I saw the "office hours" setting in the Remind chat service. "Office hours" allows teachers to specify when they will allow chat messages to be sent and received. Teachers can also pause or stop chat exchanges at any time.

2. Web search strategies.
Remind students that not every question needs to be Googled. One of the bad habits that I see many students fall into when it comes to research is simply entering into Google the first thing that comes to mind. While this strategy can work, it often leads to a lot of time wasted on searches for information that students already have. Before embarking on a research project ask students to make a list of the things they already know about the topic they plan to research. Have them look in their notes to see if they already have information on the topic.

3. Digital citizenship.
PBS Kids offers the Webonauts Academy in which elementary school students can learn about safe online behaviors. When students have completed all of the Webonauts missions they will graduate from the Webonauts Academy. The educators tips page offers some practical suggestions for using Webonauts in the classroom or in a school library.

Own Your Space is a free ebook designed to educate tweens and teens about protecting themselves and their stuff online. This ebook isn't a fluffy, general overview book. Each chapter goes into great detail explaining the technical threats that students' computers face online as well as the personal threats to data that students can face online. For example, in the first chapter students learn about different types of malware and the importance of installing security patches to prevent malware infections. The fourteenth chapter explains the differences between secured and unsecured wireless networks, the potential dangers of an unsecured network, and how to lock-down a network.

4. Video creation.
Tellagami is an app for iPad and Android that is a lot of fun to use to create narrated animations. Tellagami allows you to create customized animated scenes in a matter of minutes. To create a narrated, animated scene simply open Tellagami and tap “create.” After opening the create menu you will see a default character and background scene. The characters can be altered by selecting from a big menu of customization options. The background scenes can be changed by selecting from a menu or by inserting a picture from your iPad or Android tablet’s camera roll. To add your voice to your animations simply tap “record” and start talking. Completed animations are stored on the camera roll of your iPad or tablet. Tellagami does not require students to create accounts or have an email address.

5. Audio recording and publishing.
TwistedWave is an audio recording tool through which you can create and edit spoken audio recordings from scratch. Your completed tracks can be exported to Google Drive and SoundCloud. If you have existing audio tracks in your SoundCloud or Google Drive account you can also import it into TwistedWave to edit those audio tracks. TwistedWave's audio editing tools include options for fade-in, fade-out, looping, sound normalization, and pitch adjustments. The editor also includes the typical track clipping tools that you would expect to see in an audio editing tool. Watch a demonstration of TwistedWave at http://bitly.com/twistedwave

6. Backchannels & informal assessment.
Formative provides you with a place to create online classrooms. Your students join your classroom by entering the assigned class code after registering on the Formative website. Once your classroom is established you can begin distributing assignments to students. Assignments can be as simple as one question exit tickets like "what did you learn today?" to complex quizzes that use a combination of multiple choice, short answer, and true/false questions. You can assign point values to questions or leave them as ungraded questions. You can also enable or disable instant feedback for students. When you give an assignment to students through Formative you can watch their responses in realtime. The best feature of Formative is the option to create "show your work" questions. "Show your work" questions enables students to draw responses and or upload pictures as responses to your questions. When you use this question type students will see a blank canvas directly below the question. On that canvas they can draw and or type responses.

7. Digital portfolios.
Google Sites is a good platform on which students and teachers that have Google Apps for Education accounts can build digital portfolios. Page-level permissions in Google Sites allows the creator of a site to share and give editing access to specific pages within a site rather than giving access to edit the entire site. To use page-level permissions open your Google Site editor then click "enable page-level permissions." With page-level permissions activated you can share and allow editing for each page individually. A video tutorial on using page-level permissions can be found here. A 47 page guide to Google Sites can be seen here.

Four Visual Dictionaries and a Thesaurus for Kids

The right visual aids can make all the difference between students understanding a term or walking away shaking their heads. This pattern is true when students are learning new vocabulary words and or seeing the connections between similar words. Here are four visual dictionaries and a thesaurus that can help your students learn new vocabulary words.

Kids Wordsmyth is a great visual dictionary in which students can search for words, hear them pronounced, read definitions, and see illustrations of words. Students can search for words or simply browse through the Kids Wordsmyth online dictionary. The dictionary is arranged in a virtual book format with tabs for each letter of the alphabet.

Snappy Words is a free visual dictionary and thesaurus. Enter any word or phrase into the Snappy Words search box and it will create a web of related words, phrases, and definitions. Hover your cursor over any word or phrase in the web to read its definition. Click and drag any node to explore other branches of the web. Double click on a node and it will generate new web branches.

Image Dictionary is a Chrome extension that enables users to right-click on a word and quickly find an image that is representative of that word. To use the Image Dictionary extension just highlight a word on a webpage, right-click, and select "image search." The images that are shown come from Wikipedia. Image Dictionary could be a handy little extension to use when you want to quickly find an image to represent a plant, animal, or perhaps a broad topic.

Wili the Word Wizard's Math Dictionary is a glossary of important terms that elementary school and middle school students need to know to be successful in their mathematics classes. The dictionary includes diagrams when appropriate.

Visuwords uses a web design to show users the definitions of words and the connections between words. To use Visuwords just type a word into the search box and Visuwords will generate a web of related words. Place your cursor over any of the words and the definition appears. Use the color-coded key to understand the connections between the words in any web.

Twitter Moments - A New Way to Follow Trending Events

If you have looked at Twitter.com or updated the Twitter app on your phone in the last twenty-four hours, you may have noticed the new Moments feature. Moments is a manually curated set of Tweets about trending topics. Following Moments is different from following a hashtag because following a hashtag will show you every Tweet that includes the hashtag whereas Moments will show only the most relevant and or popular Tweets. Moments can be embedded into a blog post as I've done below with a Moment about the Nobel Prize in chemistry. You can read more about Twitter's Moments curation policy here.



Applications for Education
My first thought when I saw Moments pop-up on my screen was that it could be a good resource in a high school social studies course for following news around events like elections or political debates.

It appears that Moments is only available in the United States at this time.