Saturday, February 28, 2009

Week in Review - Most Popular Items

It was an interesting week here in Maine. Sunday evening we received 26 inches of snow and my home was without electricity for 45 hours. Therefore, I was not able to post anything on Monday. Despite not posting on Monday, the blog still received almost 2000 views that day. Also this week the subscriber list continued to grow. A big welcome to all of the new subscribers. There are now nearly 3000 subscribers to Free Technology for Teachers. Thank you to all of the long-time subscribers and readers who have helped to grow and expand the reach of Free Technology for Teachers. If you're not subscribed, but would like to be, you can subscribe to the RSS feed here or subscribe to the daily email here.

Here are the seven most popular blog items of the last week.
1. Explore the Cycle of Recycling
2. Quick Translation - Dictionary and Translation FF Add-on
3. The Crisis of Credit Visualized
4. Computer Hardware in Plain English
5. A Monsters Morning
6. Monitoring and Mapping CO2 Emissions
7. The Forward Thinking Museum - Virtual Museum

Friday, February 27, 2009

How My Students Used Today

I've written about a number of times in the past (here, here, and here) and I continue to find new ways to take advantage of all that has to offer. For those readers not familiar with, the basic purpose of is to provide a simple file, private sharing system. gives users the ability to create a page of documents, links, and audio files in a matter of seconds.

Today, I gave one of my classes an assignment about the transcontinental railroad, the settlement of the western United States, and the role that "the old west" played in forming the identity of America. The assignment required students to find 19th century images of the West that they thought symbolized characteristics and stereotypes of the West. After finding the images, the students had to write a short justification for the selection of each image. I could have had the students print each image they found, but our school only has black and white laser printers so the quality of image prints is not good. Here's where entered the picture; I had each student (there is only four in this class) create a page on which they added links to the images they found. Along with each image link the students had to write a short note justifying the selection of each image.

The students enjoyed creating these digital portfolios and they now have something that they can continue to add to for the rest of the year. Using to have students create digital portfolios for this assignment also cuts down on the pile of physical papers that I have to sort through and keep track of over the weekend.

Call Graph - Record Skype Calls for Free

If you have ever participated in a Skype conversation between classrooms and wished that you could have a recording of it for later use, Call Graph may be of interest to you. Once Call Graph is installed you can record up to 1GB of Skype conversation for free. The video embedded below provides a brief overview of Call Graph.

Applications for Education
Call Graph could be a good piece of software for teachers trying to connect classrooms and make podcasts of those conversations.

All My Faves - Great Websites for Kids

All My Faves is a catalog of websites covering a variety of topics. The Kids section of All My Faves features websites that are kid-friendly and in most cases designed for kids. In addition to the Kids section there is a Games section that includes intellectual/ trivia games.

Applications for Education
All My Faves is similar in design and purpose to Alltop. The Kids and Games sections of All My Faves are handy places to find independent learning activities for kids.

The Travels of Odysseus in Google Earth

During the one year that I taught a literature course for 9th graders, I had to teach The Odyssey. Some of the students loved it, others hated it, and others were indifferent toward the book. One of the elements of The Odyssey that some of my students struggled with was grasping a sense of the geographic setting of the story. Had it been available at the time, I would have had those students explore the travels of Odysseus in this Google Earth file.

Applications for Education
This is a great example of how literature teachers can use Google Earth to help students gain an understanding of the geographic context of the books they're reading.
For more examples of how Google Earth can be used in literature courses check out Google Lit Trips.

7 Resources for Creating Cartoons and Comics

There is no shortage online of tools for creating cartoons and comic strips. Every week it seems that I find at least one new comic creation tool. I've tried many of them and written about a few of them in the past. Today, I compiled a list of seven good cartoon and comic strip creation tools that students can access.

1. Pixton is a comic creation tool that has been passed around the education blog-o-sphere quite a bit lately. Pixton has a drag and drop interface which allows anyone regardless of artistic ability to create comics. Recently Pixton introduced Pixton for Schools which allows teachers to create private rooms in which only their students can create and share comics. To learn more about Pixton, watch this short video.

2. Artisan Cam is more than just a comic creator, it is a comprehensive collection of online art activities. On Artisan Cam students can use the Super Action Comic Maker to build a six frame comic. The Super Action Comic Maker has a drag and drop interface which students use to select a background and character for their comics.

On Artisan Cam students can also try their hand at virtual sculpting, jewelry design, and card making.

The next five comic creation tools have previously been written about on Free Technology for Teachers.

3. PikiKids provides a variety of layouts to which students can upload images then edit the images or add text bubbles and titles. The comics that students create can be embedded into a blog or website as well as be shared via email. You can read more of my original post about PikiKids here.

4. Comiqs provides users with the choice of using pre-made images from the drag and drop menu or creating original doodles to use in their comic strips. Comiqs presents your finished product in a slideshow format rather than a traditional comic strip format. Read more about Comiqs including a note about the Comiqs terms of service here.

5. Be Funky is a fun, easy-to-use tool for turning digital photos into digital comics. Be Funky can be used for simple one frame images or be used to create an entire strip of cartoonized images with inserted text. You can learn more about Be Funky and watch a video introduction to Be Funky here.

6. Make Beliefs provides students with a pre-drawn characters and dialogue boxes which they can insert into each box of their comic strip. One of the most impressive features of Make Beliefs is that it allows students to create dialogues in seven different languages. Click here for more information about Make Beliefs.

7. Art Pad and Sketch Pad aren't designed specifically for cartooning, but they certainly can be used to create comics. I used Sketch Pad to create my cartoon Every Teacher Should Have a Blog. Art Pad and Sketch Pad are designed for free hand doodling and drawing. Art Pad offers a few more options than Sketch Pad, specifically Art Pad allows you to selectively erase parts of a drawing while Sketch Pad's only erase option erases the entire drawing. You can read more about Art Pad and Sketch Pad here.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Morgue File - Odd Name, Good Free Photos

Morgue File sounds like a website that would feature weird photos and images, but actually it's just an odd name for a good website that provides free photos. The Morgue File photo collection contains thousands of images that anyone can use for free in academic or commercial presentations. The image collection can be searched by subject category, image size, color, or rating.

Morgue File is more than just a source for free images. The Morgue File also features a "classroom" where visitors can learn photography techniques and get tips about image editing.

Applications for Education
Finding free images that students can use in their digital presentations can be a time consuming and occasionally frustrating experience. Morgue File makes it easy to find good free images for students to use in their digital presentations.

News From the Google World

Google made two announcements today regarding Google Translate and Google Maps. Through the Official Google Blog it was announced that Google Translate has added seven more languages to its service. 41 languages are now accommodated by Google Translate.

On the Google LatLong Blog it was announced that Google Maps Streetview now includes user generated images of popular cities and tourist attractions. The images come from public collections on Panoramio. The video below offers a short overview of the new user generated images in Google Maps Streetview.

Applications for Education
The addition of user-generated photos in Google Streetview increases the utility of Google Maps for creating virtual tours and or web quests. No longer do you and your students have to rely on just the standard Google Streetview image, you can now access more views and perspectives.

On a related note, 360 Cities is a great source of imagery to complement imagery found in Google Maps Streetview.

Mrs. Critchell's Kindergarten - 36 Years of Ideas

Mrs. Critchell's Kindergarten is a website filled with great ideas for Kindergarten teachers and parents of Kindergarten students. According to the homepage, Mrs. Linda Cricthell was a teacher for 36 years with ten of those years spent in Kindergarten classrooms. Mrs. Critchell's Kindgarten is very well organized with activities and lesson ideas categorized by months and by major holidays.

In addition to resources for teachers, Mrs. Critchell's Kindergarten has great resources for parents of Kindergarten students. On the parent page are activities that students can do at home to develop fine motor skills as well as educational craft activities. The parent site also has a list of educational websites that Kindergarten students can use at home.

If I was a Kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Critchell's Kindergarten would be a must read website for me.

A Monsters Morning

This morning, the students in my first class of the day were a little "grumpy" and "dragging." One of my students said something to the effect of, "hey why can't you guys be happy" which prompted my mind to think of the band REM performing "Furry Happy Monsters" on Sesame Street. So I jumped on YouTube and brought up a video of REM performing on Sesame Street and played it for my class. Some of them liked it and some were indifferent, but the end result was that the 3 minute video put enough kids in a better mood to make the class more enjoyable for everyone. The video is embedded below.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Computer Hardware in Plain English

Common Craft released another great video today. Common Craft's latest creation is Computer Hardware in Plain English. The three minute video explains how the functions of the major parts of a computer. Watch the subtitled version of the video below.

If you're reading this in an RSS reader, you may need to visit the blog directly to view the video.

Applications for Education
Computers are a fundamental part of today's students' lives. They should have a basic understanding of the key parts of a computer. Just as you don't have to know how all of a car's parts work, it can be helpful to know some basic information about the mechanical specifications of a car when making an auto purchase. Likewise, having a basic understanding of computer hardware can help students and parents when making purchasing decisions about computers.

This video could also be a good introductory tutorial for students in a computer electronics course.

Tenement Museum - Ellis Island to Orchard Street

Tenement Museum is a resource for US History teachers that I've seen on a number of blogs and in Twitter posts recently. Since I am soon to be teaching immigration and urbanization in one of my classes I thought that it was time for me to check out the Tenement Museum.

The Tenement Museum can best be described as an interactive virtual museum. Students select a male or female character for their passport from Europe to Ellis Island. Once at Ellis Island students learn about the process of legal immigration. Eventually students make it to the Orchard Street tenement where they have to choose an occupation as well as make choices regarding living conditions. At the very end of the exhibit, students can write a post card to their friends and family back in Europe. Throughout the journey, students see short video clips featuring "Victoria Confino" who explains to students what they are seeing and reading.

Applications for Education
The Tenement Museum is a great resource for teaching elementary and middle school students about life as an immigrant living in turn-of-the-20th century United States cities. The language and format may seem a little "too childish" for most high school students, but I am going to give it a try with one my special education class.

Gradspot - Practical Advice for Graduates

Gradspot is the companion website to the Gradspot Guide to Life After College. The book is available in paperback or for free as an e-book. I explored the Gradspot website for a while today after reading the Center Networks review of the site. In the Center Networks review of Gradspot, Allen Stern focused on the message board aspect of the website. He was right, the message boards appear to be dormant for the most part. That said, there is some great content on Gradspot for soon-to-be college graduates. Some the content could also apply to high school graduates.

As most websites in this genre do, Gradspot offers readers solid advice about job hunting, resume writing, and monitoring/ cleaning digital footprints. For students striking out on their own for the first time, Gradspot offers some very practical advice articles covering everything from cooking at home to choosing a doctor (something I knew nothing about when I graduated from college) to managing debt and finances. Overall, while there is nothing groundbreaking about the site itself, Gradspot does a good job of providing new graduates with some solid advice to help them get off on the right foot.

Young Scientist Challenge

The Young Scientist Challenge sponsored by 3M and Discovery Education is science video competition for students in grades 5 through 8. The contest asks students to create a short, one to two minutes, video about a specific science topic selected from a list of topics created by the YSC judges. Videos are judged based on demonstrated knowledge of the topic and creativity. Ten semi-finalists will be awarded an all expenses paid trip to New York to compete in the competition finals. The overall winner will receive $50,000 in US Savings Bonds. To enter the contest, the student's parent must register with a valid email address to which registration information will be sent. Click here for the full contest rules and requirements. You can view sample videos from last year's competition here.

Applications for Education
This competition is a great opportunity for middle school students to learn about and creatively express knowledge of science topics. If your students' parents are reluctant to have their children enter the competition you could hold your own science competition within your school or school district.

Nixon's Visit to China

President Nixon's February 1972 visit to China is one of the high points of his administration and a historic moment in US - China relations. This week the National Archive's "Today's Document" feed has featured two documents about Nixon's visit to China. Today's document is the menu from one of Nixon's dinners in Peking. Earlier this week, the featured document was a photo of Nixon's plane landing in China.

The Nixon Presidential Library's website has a section about Nixon's visit to China. In this section you can listen to recordings of Nixon discussing the rationale for the trip and his post-trip reflections. You can also listen to Mrs. Nixon discuss the arrival of two Pandas at the National Zoo.

The PBS American Experience website has an interactive map of Nixon's visit to China. The map highlights the places that Nixon visited during his seven day visit in February 1972. The map and the rest of the website are designed as companions to the PBS American Experience film "Nixon's China Game."

Videos of President Obama Addressing Congress

There are a number of places on the Internet to find President Obama's address to Congress last night. CNN Student News leads off their episode this morning with a segment about President Obama's address from last night. As always, CNN provides a short quiz and transcript to accompany the video. CNN Student News is embedded below.

If you need to watch the full address from last night, the video below covers President Obama's entire address.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Quick Translation - Dictionary and Translation FF Add-on

Last week Tekzilla shared a quick tip about adding a dictionary to your Firefox browser. To add a dictionary install the Firefox add-on Quick Translation and select wiktionary in the configuration menu.

I had not heard of Quick Translation prior to watching Tekzilla so I installed and tried it out. I was impressed by how quickly I was able to have words and phrases translated by the service. I also liked that I was able to see the original content while also viewing the translated content. A video demonstration of Quick Translation is embedded below.

Applications for Education
The Quick Translation Firefox add-on could be a handy tool for ESL/ EFL students as well as for anyone that would like to be able to access a dictionary without having to leave the webpage they're viewing.

Google Earth Tours and DIY Google Tours

Google Earth, as 46 blog posts in the last year will show, is one of my favorite resources for use in history, geography, and environmental science courses. Over the weekend I found David Tryse's Google Earth Files webpage where he shares some excellent Google Earth creations. Most of Mr. Tryse's Google Earth files are centered around an environmental science theme. The files listed include overlays for US National Parks, deforestation maps, oil spills, and biodiversity hotspots.

Creating Google Earth tours is not a terribly difficult task once you've done it a time or two, but that first experience can be frustrating for some students. The new Google Earth 5.0 makes it easier than ever to create tours. As easy as the new Google Earth 5.0 makes it create a tour, there are still some functions that your students may desire, but struggle to make work. Fortunately, people like Rich Treves on the Google Earth Design Blog put together detailed directions and tips for improving Google Earth tours. Today, Rich Treves published directions for creating a Google Earth tour with annotations. If you or your students are looking for tips for creating better Google Earth tours, check out the Google Earth Design Blog.

In case you're wondering if there are uses for Google Earth in literature or math check out Google Lit Trips and Real World Math.

The Crisis of Credit Visualized

Developing an understanding of banking, particularly lending practices, can be difficult for many students. Fortunately, there are some great Internet resources to help students learn about banking including two videos that I recently learned about through TEA (The English Adventure).

The Crisis of Credit Visualized is a two part video series explaining how lending practices and mortgages in particular contributed to the cause of our current economic situation.

Part One

Part Two

Applications for Education
These videos are probably too advanced for use in elementary schools, but could certainly be used in middle school and high school classrooms as part of a unit on economics.

Here are three other video resources that you might also consider using as part of a lesson on economics.
Saving Money in Plain English
Understanding the Financial Crisis - Say It Visually
The History of Credit Cards in the United States

26 Inches of Snow and 36 Hours Without Power

You may have noticed that Free Technology for Teachers was silent yesterday. No, I didn't run out of things to talk about. I ran out of electricity to power my computer. On Sunday evening we received 26 inches of snow in Naples, Maine. Like 100,000 others we haven't had electricity at home for the last 36 hours. It's an odd experience to be involuntarily disconnected from the web. Hopefully, the power will be restored this evening and I'll be able to share some of the things I've learned about today.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Story of the Obama "Hope" Poster

One of the most iconic images of the 2008 US Presidential campaign was the Barack Obama "hope" poster. The image was even used as Time magazine's cover for their "person of the year" issue in December. This morning the CBS Sunday Morning Show ran a segment profiling the artist that created the image. A video of the segment is embedded below the "applications for education" section.

Applications for Education
The story in the video raises a couple of issues of relevance to classrooms. First, because the image in the poster was created from an Associated Press photo, there is a question regarding fair use of copyrighted images. This story is a good resource for starting a discussion about students about the use of copyrighted images.

Art teachers and students will also be interested in this video as it brings up the question of what is art?

Watch CBS Videos Online

If you're viewing this in an RSS reader you may need to visit the blog directly to see the video.

This Day in Sports History - Miracle on Ice

This morning the YouTube blog reminded me that today, February 22, is the 29th anniversary of the US Olympic Hockey Team's upset victory over the Soviet Union. A quick search of YouTube for videos about that game yielded numerous videos. Below are a couple of good ones.

The last 15 seconds of the game and the famous "do you believe in miracles?" call by Al Michaels.

A ten minute montage video including game footage, game audio, and background information about the significance of the game.

Applications for Education
These videos as well as the movie Miracle are good resources to complement a study of the Cold War. Students that might not otherwise be engaged in studying the Cold War may become interested when sports are added into the discussion.

Monitoring and Mapping CO2 Emissions

This month's issue of National Geographic has a feature article on CO2 emissions titled It Starts at Home. The article chronicles the author's (Peter Miller) attempts to reduce, by 80 percent, his CO2 emissions at home. The online version of the article is accompanied by an interactive quiz and an interactive guide to reducing CO2 emissions. All three of these items could be useful resources for teachers of environmental science.

On Friday, Google posted on their LatLong Blog a Google Earth map of CO2 emissions from fossil fuels. The file was created by a team at Purdue University. On the Google Earth map you can find CO2 emissions by fossil fuel consumption source. For example you can compare how much CO2 airplanes emit compared to the CO2 emitted by automobiles. You can see the map here. A video overview of the map is posted below.

Applications for Education
The National Geographic resources and the Google Earth resources posted above could be the starting point for a classroom project about CO2 emissions. Teachers could divide their class into teams that then compete to reduce their CO2 emissions for a week. The goal could be 80% as in the National Geographic article or it could be to simply lower emissions more than the other teams. The National Geographic interactive guide and the Google Earth map provide students and teachers with a guide to places where they can reduce emissions.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Forward Thinking Museum - Virtual Museum

The Forward Thinking Museum is a virtual art museum containing more than 100 exhibitions and videos. Visitors can view image exhibitions or watch video exhibitions. The content ranges from subjects such as wildlife to architecture to people at work. The Forward Thinking Museum could keep you occupied for hours as you explore all of the exhibits. Visitors navigate through the Forward Thinking Museum by using their mouse or keyboard arrow keys.

Applications for Education
The Forward Thinking Museum could be a great resource for art teachers and art students. The museum could be used as an introduction to photography and videography styles. The Forward Thinking Museum could also be used as the centerpiece of a pairing and sharing activity.

Explore the Cycle of Recycling

Explore the Cycle is a series of short animated videos that explain the cycle of recycling consumer goods. Explore the Cycle explains, in very clear language, how paper, plastic, metal, and glass are recycled. Each video segment can be downloaded or shared via the embed code provided by Explore the Cycle.

Applications for Education
Explore the Cycle is accessible enough for use in elementary schools, but also provides content that could be used with high school students. One way that teachers can use the video is to have students watch the video then make an evaluation of their school's recycling program.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Slide Map - Photos of the World on a Map of the World

Slide Map is a mashup of Flickr photos and a Yahoo map. Slide Map makes it easy to find images of countries and cities. To use Slide Map select a country from the drop down menus, when your selected country's map loads simply place your mouse over a tag on the map and images connected to that tag appear.

Applications for Education
Slide Map is a good resource for Geography teachers and students. Instead of relying on selected images in a book to examples of a coutnry's physical and human geography, you can quickly access an ever expanding collection of images on Slide Map.

Kideo - Kid Safe YouTube Video Player

Finding kid safe videos on YouTube can be a time consuming process. Kideo Player makes it easier to locate videos appropriate for students in pre-K through second grade. Kideo Player plays a continuous stream of videos for pre-K through second grade students. When a video you like is playing, click on the the YouTube icon and you will be taken to the original YouTube source where you can find out more about each video and grab the embed code. Clicking your keyboard's space bar allows you to skip ahead in the video clips.

Applications for Education
As mentioned above, Kideo Player is a good resource for pre-K through second grade videos. Some of the videos have educational value like the "ABC's" video while other videos are more of a children's entertainment style of video.

Thanks to Silvia Tolisano's Langwitches blog for the link to Kideo Player.

Thank You Guest Bloggers!

I returned from ice fishing vacation yesterday and almost immediately turned on my computer to check on this blog (it is my baby after all). As you know, while I was away I turned the blog over to a host of guest bloggers. That was the first time that I ever had guest bloggers so I was excited to what would happen. The quality of the blog entries from each guest blogger was simply amazing! The feedback from comments on the blog, comments on Twitter, and comments via email is overwhelmingly positive. Thank you to each of my guest bloggers. I encourage readers to check out the blogs and websites of each of the guest bloggers which can be found in the list below.

Colin Becker: We Can Work IT Out
Lorna Costantini: Our School (Parents as Partners)
Janet Bianchini: Janet's Abruzzo Edublog
Hedy Laverdiere: Mrs. L's Rocket Launchers
Amy Meyer: UR English Teacher's Blog
Clay Reisler: Recess Duty
Becky Herl: Small Town Tech
Cyndi Danner-Kuhn: Cyndi's Education Technology Place
Ramses: Spanish Only
Kim Caise: Kim's Ventures in Educational Technology

Thank you again to all of the great guest bloggers on Free Technology for Teachers.

Skim Articles Quickly on NY Times Article Skimmer

The New York Times has tons of great content everyday, but trying to sort through even a portion of it can be very time consuming. The New York Times now has a new way for readers to browse its content. The New York Times Article Skimmer is a grid of headlines and article stubs that enables you to quickly skim many articles from your choice of sixteen article categories.

Applications for Education
The New York Times Article Skimmer could be a good news resource for high school students. The New York Times Article Skimmer has potential for use not only in a current events curriculum, but also in business courses, science courses, and technology classes as there are sections for each of those topics on the NY Times Article Skimmer.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Guest Blogger - Three Weeks in edmodo

When Richard sent out a tweet asking for guest bloggers, my initial thought was 'what an opportunity, what a great idea!' Now that it's Wednesday, I'm thinking 'what have I got myself into?' So, thank you Richard for your trust in having me as a guest blogger. My name is Colin Becker and I'm an ICT Co-ordinator in the K-7 section of an Independant boys school in Adelaide, Australia. My own blog We Can Work It Out is here.

Two weeks ago I wrote about my experience as a new edmodo user in this blog post. For those of you who have not seen edmodo, it is a little like Twitter, a little like Facebook and a little like a learning management system. It is quite difficult to describe it and I'm still confident that it does a whole lot more than what I'm doing with it.

This is my third week of using edmodo with my Yr 7 Maths Class.
Not having used edmodo before, I also have been using a maths blog to organise and set tasks for the students. It may well be, that edmodo could allow for both - anyone know?

Each day I write a post on the main page of the maths blog describing briefly what the tasks for the lesson will be, and include things to do with edmodo - I think this will end up as a useful and accurate account of my program. We are currently doing a unit on 'whole numbers' and all the main learning points are covered on a page of the blog called 'Unit 1'. This is where I summarise the main learning points, include links to my teaching videos that support new skills and processes, and set tasks from the text book. There is also a secure page that has a pdf copy of the text, so that students can have access without carrying the book home.

'The good': I'm fortunate this year that I have access for my maths classes to a room that allows one-to-one computing. The boys love the idea of coming in, logging on and starting straight away. The few times when the boys have beaten me to class, I have been pleasantly surprised to see them on task - this would not have been the case last year!
They love the messaging side of edmodo and I've heard comments like 'it's just like facebook'.
Each day, (while they are still getting used to using edmodo), I have asked them to use it to send me a message of how far they have got with their homework questions. Those that do, recieve 2 maths bonus points (it's a reward, not a bribe).

I have also been encouraging boys to use it to ask for help, and I have had a handful ask me questions via edmodo. This is definitely one of the pluses as when a message is sent to me, no other boy can see it. So, it allows them to ask questions that they may not be brave enought to ask in class.
I have used the 'assignment' part of edmodo twice. This is where the teacher can attach an assignment and set a hand-in date. Students download the file, complete the answers and save it and then they hand it in via edmodo. The teacher then marks it and gives a mark, all via edmodo.

'The could be better': After three weeks, there are still a small handful of boys who gain great pleasure by posting innane messages. I tend to delete the worst of them.
I find the navigation through the messages a little clunky. It can take a while to sift through 22 messages, particularly if you are responding to each one. I think this could be organised better. I'd like to be able to put them into bundles.
The assigmnet part has not had a high turn-in rate. Both times, 2 out of 22 used edmodo to hand it in. This is partly because the technology is new to them and partly because I haven't made the assignments compulsory - they have been set as bonus tasks.
I have also been surpised with the 6-8 boys who continually seem to ask 'what are we supposed to be doing?' This is not related to edmodo or the blog, but to the students themselves. I mean, it's written on the blog! They can read. They have the internet at home. They have it in class. How do they get on in classes without technology? Frustrating!

At three weeks, I'm still learning and discovering what can be done with edmodo. I am really enjoying being able to use technology for my class. I am lucky to have access to one-to-one computing, to an IWB and to the internet with flexible filtering. I will definitely be continuing this journey and developing both the blog and edmodo further.

Parent Engagement in the 21st Century Guest Blogger Lorna Costantini

I want to thank Richard for his invitation to share some ideas about parent engagement and how to use technology to connect parents to the classroom and support student learning. I am the facilitator for Parent Reaching Out project for the Niagara Catholic District School Board in Welland, Ontario, Canada.

I am also the moderator for the Parents as Partners web cast at and recently joined the “Live” conversations at Classroom 2.0 as a co-host so I am totally immersed in using Web 2.0 tools. I have shared some of my thoughts and experiences in these two blogs at and

Over the past three years, I have been working with parents and schools in a project focused on increasing parent engagement. In the first phase of the project, a video was produced to capture what we saw as a reality. All too often the relationships between teachers and parents are broken. Take a look at the seven minute video. It might be a familiar picture. We are in the third year of the pilot program and at this stage I will be working with teachers to help them build technology into a program developed by the National Network of Partnership Schools called Teachers Involving Parents in School Work.

There has been tremendous discussion about how parents’ negative reactions interfere with the use of tools such as classroom blogs, podcasts and the like. The lack of accurate information fueled by negative media coverage has made all to many administrators hesitant to embrace the read and write era for fear of the repercussions from parents. While many, many good teachers are working to prepare their students for the 21st century, I believe that there is an opportunity that should not be ignored.

The TIPS program offers a vehicle to create experiences that directly involve parents in schoolwork. Parents become active participants in schoolwork that reinforces learning without expecting parents to be teachers. Parents do care about their child’s learning but most just do not know how or what is expected. The task – challenge, if you will - is to use podcasts, classroom blogs etc. to enhance this program. I know that this blog has a great following of excellent educators and I am hoping that you might just take up the torch.

As part of this challenge, Parents as Partners will be hosting an Elluminate session Monday February 23, 2009 at 8:00 PM EST (GMT-5). “Connecting with parents using Facebook – what it means to be a digital parent.” You can find all the details to participate in this post.

Please join us and share your experiences supporting students and parents in the 21st century.
image by Karl Herman on Flickr

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Guest Blogger -The Voyage of Discovery

Who am I?
Hi, my name is Janet Bianchini and I am currently having a gap year to pursue "the call of the wild" in Abruzzo, Italy. I have been an EFL teacher for 30 years and have only recently started exploring the theme of technology in education. I am deeply honoured to be writing a post on Richard's incredible blog and he has kindly accepted my invitation to do a guest slot next month on my blog called Janet's Abruzzo Edublog.

The Twitter Connection
Richard and I are linked in only 3 steps from being complete strangers to me writing on his blog today. How did this happen? Well, it all started back in November 2008 when I first tentatively looked at Twitter. I was totally at a loss as to what to do and say as I was completely and utterly "tweetless" in the Twittersphere, so to speak. "Rmbyrne" was my first follower and he kindly gave me the prophetic tip: ".The more people you follow, the more information you can gather. It's like an ever-expanding conversation. Check out the folks I follow" and the rest is history.......

I luckily found out about this guest blog spot via Twitter and with heart pounding furiously but without thinking twice, I sent Richard a Direct Message saying I was interested in doing a post. To my absolute amazement, the reply came back almost immediately saying "I'd love to have you do a guest post".

So here I am! Thank you so much Richard for giving me this opportunity of a lifetime to share my thoughts with your readers.

The Mountain of Adventure
The mountain above near where I live in Abruzzo provides the background to a very interesting analogy and statement regarding my introduction to the world of technology in education. According to my current tutor from Ning Digifolios and Personal Learning Spaces, Cristina Costa, it represents "a cyberspace landscape - with flat terrain to run and mountains to climb, and a sky to remind us there is no limit! How does it feel to be part of the landscape? To be there observing its changing, while taking part in the change....The first attempt is always the hardest - after climbing the first mountain all the other ones seem easier!"

Welcome to the world of a Newbie Blogger
Well, my technological journey in the past 12 weeks or so has certainly been a helter-skelter ride of a few lows and many highs. I decided to write a blog simply because I wanted to do something different and creative in my life. I was curious to see how I could apply an educational blog to my world of teaching but I had very little idea of how to go about creating one. The impetus came from a short online course I followed, one which is well documented in my personal blog postings. The main aim of my blog is to share ideas, learn new things and to learn from other educators and sites such as Free Technology for Teachers. I am achieving this aim slowly but surely. If I can inspire other people to create a blog from scratch by following my example, then I would be very happy. In addition to the educational perspective, I am also writing about my new life in Abruzzo, Italy.

Discovering new tools
The following is a tool which I learned about as a direct result of writing and researching for my blog. Wordle is a site which easily allows you to make word clouds from words that you paste into a box. The application for education is great. Students can recreate a text from the words given, they can predict a text from the words as a pre-reading task, they can create their own "Wordles" on a subject they are researching.

Here is my own "Wordle" of the new tools and concepts I have come across and used in the past few months.

I have created my own examples and shared my learning curve of dealing with most of the above tools/ideas in my blog.

The Future is NOW!
I sincerely believe that you never stop learning. It is what motivates me - the eternal quest for new horizons in teaching and the hope to inspire fellow educators and students to do the same.
The future of teaching and education is all about
  • caring
  • sharing
  • contributing
  • supporting
  • discovering
  • being adventurous
  • integrating new technologies
  • having fun

The Animoto experience
Another new tool I have been experimenting with recently is "Animoto". This allows you to create a slideshow of your photos with the added bonus of music to suit your theme. I had fun creating the following video and it shows off some Abruzzo pictures.

Application for education? Great for students to use in showcasing projects based on particular themes they are researching. The videos are free if they are under 30 seconds long and very easy to create with no specialist technical knowledge to master. That is the beauty of Animoto. If it was easy for me, it will be fine for anyone, I can guarantee.

I'd like to thank Richard once again. It's been a real pleasure writing this posting.

Guest Blogger: Mrs. L's Rocketlaunchers - A Learning Portal

Hello! Hailing from cold but beautiful Northeast Ohio, my name is Hedy Laverdiere and I am the Lower School Technology Coordinator for Lawrence School, a private school in Broadview Heights, Ohio, serving children in grades one through twelve with learning differences. Teaching is my third career, following a home/web-based business as well as a former career as a software trainer. As I’ve put the cart before the horse my entire life, I’m currently pursuing my Masters in Ed Tech through Ursuline College. My position as a technology coordinator entails providing technology resources for our teachers and students, working with them integrating tech into the curriculum, as well as professional development. I have tons of free resources and tech integration ideas for you to use with your students and fellow teachers.

My website, which our students, as well as others, use as a tech integration portal from its Launchpad, is Mrs. L’s Rocketlaunchers, which, in brief, provides links to educational websites, games, multimedia, resources, student projects, blogs, and podcasts. I hope you’ll bookmark it in your classrooms, computer labs, and recommend for home use for your students. We also welcome classroom collaborations for blogging and webcams!

Mrs. L’s Rocketlaunchers
Mrs. L’s Rocketlaunchers contains several sections including Mission, with links to blogs, the LAUNCHPAD, our educational portal, the Toolkit on how to blog, podcast, and vodcast, Techno with links to teacher website templates, and BEYOND, with resources and links for teachers. The LAUNCHPAD is primarily used by students ( and is set as the default webpage in our computer labs and teacher pc’s, which have projection in the classrooms. A link to Google provides access to quick searches.

The LAUNCHPAD is organized by content areas of Language Arts, Math, Science, and Social Studies, as well as Art, Health, and Music. Links to Celebrations, Holidays & Seasons, Documents, ePals login page, Lessons, Lions Lair, Multimedia, Research, Typing Skills, and Webquests, among a few others, are accessible. Clipart is purposely used with a text descriptor to assist younger students in locating sites as directed by their teacher. For example, first graders can be directed to “click on the blooming tree for Holidays & Seasons.” Each link subdivides into other categories. For example, the link for Language Arts has branches for Reading, Writing, Phonics, Spelling/Grammar & Punctuation, and Working with Words.

Through Rocketlaunchers, students can access their Kerpoof student accounts under Multimedia, Kerpoof. Kerpoof is an engaging site with tools to create storybooks, cards, pictures drawings, and multimedia movies. Teachers can create a regular account at Kerpoof. After login, teachers can return to the Home page, click on For Teachers, then Teacher Tools to request a Teacher Account. Upon approval, teachers can setup student accounts in moments, providing amenities usually reserved for fee-based accounts.

Student Work in the Lions Lair – Podcasts, Languages Online Flash Gamemakers, and Classblogmeister Blogs
The Lions Lair link is Lawrence School’s student project area, with links to our students’ podcasts, the ROAR Radio show, classroom blogs, Study Fun (teachers assign Flash games, created by gamemakers from Languages Online, as homework or classwork), and a few other projects. ROAR Radio is created using open source Audacity and podsafe music with how-to links located under the ToolKit. A $20 headset with mic or microphone was our sole expense, though I am fortunate to have my site hosted for free.

Assistive tech is at play here as well, as Languages Online allows for audio within its Flash games, very helpful for students with dyslexia or other reading differences. Languages Online provides five gamemakers (samples I’ve created are linked): a Sentence gamemaker, Memory games, Matching games, Tetris, and Comprehension gamemaker.

I am currently exploring an interesting website called YackPack. YackPack is an online communication interface that allows a teacher and students to interact via audio messaging. I foresee a variety of applications for it, such as an online class, connecting with an absent student, as well as assistive tech uses. For example, a student exhibiting difficulties with reading and/or writing could respond orally to a teacher’s homework posting.

Our students (visit one of our class blogs) have just begun blogging using Classblogmeister, a phenomenal classroom-oriented site run by David Warlick. If you are moving towards blogging with your students, I highly recommend it, especially due to its highly-responsive and active Classblogmeister tech support forum on Yahoo groups. A members only Ning group is also available for teaching and learning.

I appreciate this opportunity through Richard and his wonderful blog, Free Tech 4 Teachers, to share with you, and as always, look forward to his future writings. Thanks, Richard! Feel free to email me with comments or questions.

Using Animoto (and Glogster and Wordle) to LEARN

Hi FreeTech4Teachers fans! My name is Amy Mayer, and I am one of two district instructional technology leaders for Conroe Independent School District, a large Texas district of about 50,000 students (and many different communities and towns) located about an hour's drive north of Houston. I also have a blog, which I'd love for you to visit, and I edit quite a few web pages, like this one (a bare-bones listing of sites we love) and this one, which you might find useful.

If you are a faithful follower of Richard's blog, you already know about Animoto, a free for teachers Web 2.0 video creation tool that pops pictures to the beat of music. What I hope to show you is how valuable it is as an educational tool.

Learn how to get a free, unlimited teacher account and all-access pass for your students here. (Get step-by-step directions and advice here.) Animoto is simple to use, which allows the focus of creation to be educational rather than technical. It has an instant cool factor, but in our school district it has become an important learning tool and very much more than just something "cool". The most common use is as a vocabulary study tool. See a student example made by one of 7th grade teacher Jessica Powell's students here.

Sixth grade teacher Shelly Goodwin uses it like so: She created a private Google Group for her students. Shelly assigns each student a vocabulary word, and s/he chooses pictures from the Internet that represent the word, adds text to announce and define it, then chooses music that goes with the idea. After students finish their Animotos (no more than 30 seconds, she says!), they post the links to a page in their Google Group. Students view classmates' Animotos to study for the test. As a result of this change, vocabulary test scores have skyrocketed (98% pass rate), and students actually remember the words weeks later.

Third grade teacher Laurie Baus used Animoto to help her students learn about the planets. She worried at first they were not going to be able to accomplish the technical tasks necessary, but after half a day, her worries were over. I visited her class one day to find only the sound of clicking and occasional hushed conversation over the light sound of textbook pages being turned. Every child was engaged and involved in learning. After she saw what they'd created, she posted, "I am so proud I could just POP! :-)" on our teacher discussion board.

Animoto is far from the only educational tool that is simply blowing us away, but it is the one our teachers have chosen to implement most broadly. Glogster is another tool that is growing in popularity by the second. I guess the best way to describe it is as an online poster creation tool with music. You'll have to see it to completely understand.

Wordle is another tool that we're thrilled with. At first we just thought it was cool, but now we've realized it provides a graphical analysis of students' text that is really impossible to see any other way. Since Wordle takes the highest frequency word and makes it the biggest (and so on down to the words used once, the smallest) and creates a "beautiful word cloud," students instantly see what their writing is REALLY about. If you meant to write about "family" and your largest word is "I," maybe you have some revising to do! First grade teacher Jean Curran told me today that her students are inspired to write more when they know they'll get to use Wordle, and 7th grade teacher Jessica Powell said that one word cloud a student sent her actually moved her to tears. It was more poetic and heart rending than even the amazing essay the student had written.
Wordle: 21st Century Learning Skills

Thanks for allowing me to contribute, Richard! --Amy

Monday, February 16, 2009


With extreme gratitude to Mr. Byrne and Free Tech 4 Teachers, the playground has moved for one day. Over the weekend, we loaded up the Mayflower moving truck, used the dolley, and hauled all of the equipment from Wisconsin to Maine...digitally! It's time for RecessDuty to be a guest blogger!

Description: A zooming digital presentation editor. It’s Powerpoint on steroids! What did he say? STEROIDS! There'll be mandatory testing in the future. Type text, embed pictures, and insert video are all features that Prezi puts forth to creators. Unlike Powerpoint, Prezi is free and extremely portable. Because it's web based, Prezi can be created and shown on any computer with web access. If there is no web access available during your presentation, a downloadable version can be obtained to show offline anywhere. No other software needed, not even flash! Prezi also performs quite well in creating a visual organizer. As they claim on their site, "With the help of Prezi you can create maps of texts, images, videos, PDFs, drawings and present in a nonlinear way." As Prezi is in beta, when you apply, you'll be asked to explain how you will be using their site. I explained that I was a seventh grade math and social studies educator and could use it to inform students of social studies information. I was approved in less than a day!

My implementations are below, but this presentation is an incredible overview of how Prezi works. It's flat out awesome, or as the students on the playground say, "It's Wicked!"

Implementation: I have created multiple presentations for a seventh grade classroom on the History of Canada, History of United States, a chapter review, and the all important presentation to professional educators in our school district on a project that included the National Digital Vault, Animoto, and Edmodo.

As the RecessDuty supervisor always says...goPlay!

View Live Site Prezi

RecessDuty is about getting other educators the resources that are successful in my classroom and any educational setting. Technology is implemented, not for technology sake, but as Daniel Pink so vividly states, "to prepare kids for their future, not our past." I hope that my efforts in finding, describing, implementing, and distributing tech information that is successfully implemented into an educational setting to other educators will enable the students we teach to be the best in the world! Revisit your youth by entering the playground now for more great resources!

Digital Storytelling with Mixbook

Mixbook, possibly my favorite online digital storytelling application, just announced the release of their education version. If you are unfamiliar with Mixbook, it is a web2.0 tool that easily allows the creation of an online books. Simply start by selecting a theme or create your own. Upload images from your computer or from the web. Then arrange page layouts and add text. Another option is to invite other classrooms to collaborate as co-authors. Printed copies are available for purchase. Or, simply copy and paste the embed code into your web page or blog.

Silvia Tolisano, author of the Langwitches blog offers a nice step by step tutorial on how to create your first Mixbook.

Possible Classroom Uses:
-Diaries or Journals
-Comic Book
-Book Reports/Book Analysis
-Science Lab reports
-Retell History
-Yearbooks or student portfolios
-Field Trip Summaries
-Class notes
-Sequencing, character analysis, Text Features

Here is an example Mixbook that my primary students recently completed.

| View Sample Photo Books | Create your own Photo Book

When preparing to write this post, I emailed the Mixbook team for updates on their educational version. I received a coupon code to pass along to the readers of freetech4teachers. If you want to purchase a book use the following code, TECHT4MIX, to get 10% off your order.

Looking for a classroom or school to collaborate with?
Try one of the following websites.
Skype in Schools
Global School House

Post written by Becky Herl, Technology Integration Specialist and Elementary Computer Teacher for USD #369 in Kansas. Becky is sharing ways to integrate technology into elementary classrooms on her blog, Small Town Tech. She is looking to expand her blog by inviting other elementary educators to share what they are doing to integrate technology in their classrooms.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Guest Blogger-Technology and Future Teachers

Hello, my name is Cyndi Danner-Kuhn and I teach technology to pre-service teachers at Kansas State University in Manhattan, KS. I am so honored that Richard has asked me to submit to his absolutely amazing blog while he is ice fishing. Wow ice fishing, I grew up in Florida, so I totally don't get ice fishing. Anyway, first of all, he requested we provide a link to our own website It is a work in progress.

Everyone always thinks that the students in college are super tech savvy. Well, I hate to burst the bubble, but it just isn't true yet. They are experts with word processing and PowerPoint, playing on the internet and of course Facebook. But beyond that the vast majority are newbies. Every semester I am amazed that 98% of what I show them is completely new. I keep asking myself, how can that be!!

The first thing I do is have my students create a delicious account and then begin tagging everything we do. It is a good place to start because they can at least keep track to the resources. So, my first recommendation is start using delicious. Link to my delicious

The next thing I do weekly all semester is have them listen and reflect/blog about an educational Podcast. If you haven't gotten hooked on using and learning from eductional podcasts yet, a few of my favorites are below. All can be found on iTunes as well as their websites:

If you would like to see what I do in my class with these pre-service teachers, just click on the DED318 link off my website and you can see what we do each week. It is fast and furious to say the least. Another crazy thing is that most university folks think I am nuts for just putting my entire class on the web. Somebody might use it. My answer to is is GOOD, I hope so!! I would absolutely love to hear your suggestions about what you think pre-service teachers should be learning with regards to technology. Feel free to email me at

I'd like to thank Richard for the eNewsletter he sends each day with resources. I do a weekly newsletter for the College of Ed. Without Richard, it would be a much more time consuming task. I just do what Harry Wong says "steal, steal, steal." He just makes my life so much easier. I hope the school district Richard works for realizes what a million dollar man they have.

Ok in his tradition, one new resource.

ShareTabs - The easy way to share your links as tabs. Add a list of links to the form and submit it to get a single link to them all, conveniently displayed in tabs and images. Great for sharing in Email, IM, Twitter, or SMS. Of course it is FREE!!

Application for Education

Great wayto visually share a variety of links with your students. Here is an eample of one I did for my students.