Monday, September 28, 2009

Google Docs Adds Academic Features

Today, Google announced the addition to Google Docs of some useful new features for academic use. Google Docs has added a new equation editor for mathematics teachers and students. There is a new subscript and superscript tool that can be used in writing chemical compounds and mathematics equations. Earlier this summer Google Translate was integrated into Google Docs allowing users to translate parts or all of a document (I've seen some reports that the translate option isn't terribly accurate for all languages so make sure you double check the translation).

Applications for Education
The new equation editor, subscript, and superscript tools make it possible for math and science teachers and their students to use Google Docs for more of their document creations. Now online collaborative document creation isn't limited to the humanities. Science and mathematics students can now collaborate to solve equations.

Contribute to the National Gallery of Writing

Through the Google Docs Blog I have learned that the National Council of Teacher of English is looking for contributions to the National Gallery of Writing. The accepted submissions will be displayed on October 20 as a part of the National Day on Writing. Submissions to the National Gallery of Writing can be made individually or as a part of local gallery. Local galleries can be created by groups to organize their writing around a particular theme or topic. Any group can create a local gallery as long as there is one "point" person to curate the gallery.

Applications for Education
Creating a local gallery for your class to contribute to the National Gallery of Writing could be a good way provide your students with an authentic audience for their work.

Here are some related items that may be of interest to you:
Essay Map - Step by Step Help Constructing Essays
Writing Den - Writing Tips
Animated and Narrated Grammar Glossary

Digital Storytelling In Plain English

If you're someone who has heard the term "digital storytelling" but you're still not sure what that really means, take a few minutes to watch this video created in the Common Craft style. The video was created by a group of students in Stanford's Teacher Education Program.

Thanks to Miguel Guhlin for the video link.

Reading Logs, Vocabulary Lists, and Spelling Practice

Reading Logs is a site that allows teachers and students to create reading logs, vocabulary cards, and practice spelling skills. Parents can also access Reading Logs to check on their students' progress. It appears that there is also a platform for school librarians in development, but it did not appear to be functioning when I visited the site.

Teachers can upload reading goals, vocabulary lists, and spelling words for students to practice. After their teacher has uploaded the goals and lists students can log-in to reading assignments and practice vocabulary words. To practice spelling words, students can use the Listen & Spell practice system which reads each word aloud. Students can submit completed assignments online or print out their completed assignments. Teachers and parents can track the progress of their students.

Applications for Education
Reading Logs could be a good system for reading teachers and parents to monitor the progress of their students.

An Amazing (Race) Google Earth Project - Reprise

I ran this post last spring at the end of the CBS television series The Amazing Race. A new season of the show began last night so I thought it would be appropriate to share the idea again. Of course The Amazing Race conflicts with the new Ken Burns series on PBS so I did a lot of channel flipping last night.

The CBS program The Amazing Race is one of my must-watch Sunday evening television programs. For the last few weeks I have been watching the show and thinking "if I still taught World Geography, I could design a great student project around the show."

Here is how I envision a World Geography teacher using The Amazing Race and Google Earth to design a student project. Each Monday after a new episode of the show airs, students would do some research on the places the contestants visited in the episode. The students would then add placemarks containing some brief information, perhaps even a video clip, to their Google Earth files. By the end of the show the students will have 15-20 placemarks and have learned a little bit about each place that the show's contestants visited. The culminating assignment for the students could be to select one place on which to give an "expert presentation" to the class.

If you have tried a project like this with your students, please leave a comment. I would love to hear about it. I did some searching on the web to see if I could find an example of a project like this being done, but I didn't find anything quite like I have envisioned. The closest example I found was this Google Map from the last season of The Amazing Race.

View Amazing Race 13 in a larger map

The National Parks Digital Story Telling Modules

The new Ken Burns documentary The National Parks: America's Best Idea premiered on PBS last night. I'd been eagerly anticipating this series since I first heard about it in late July and it did not disappoint me. Prior to watching the first episode I did some exploring on the website established for The National Parks: America's Best Idea. On the website I found some great lesson plans that incorporate a variety of digital storytelling tools including Google Earth. In addition to the lesson plans, PBS has put together eleven modules that will teach you and your students how to create place-based digital stories from start to finish. The digital storytelling modules include screencasts showing you how to do each task each step in the digital story creation process.

Applications for Education
Many of the lesson plans designed to accompany The National Parks: America's Best Idea provide a great opportunity to combine elements of geography, history, and writing into one lesson. Two of my favorite lessons, and ones that I might try with one of my classes, are Mapping the National Parks and Images of the Parks.

Your students don't have to have seen the series to benefit from these lesson plans, but it certainly wouldn't hurt. You can watch a lot of clips from the series here. The DVD of Ken Burns: National Parks - America's Best Idea isn't available until October 6th, but you can order it from Amazon now and save $30 off the list price.