Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Virtual Dinosaur Dig

The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History has three great interactive activities about dinosaurs. There is a virtual tour in which students can tour the museum and see close-ups of exhibits. The interactive timeline provides students with an overview of the Paleozoic, Mesozoic, and Cenozoic eras. The most fun of the interactive activities is the virtual dinosaur dig. In the virtual dinosaur dig students use a variety of archeologists' tools to unearth fossils and then assemble those fossils.

Applications for Education
The Smithsonian's virtual dinosaur dig could be a fun way for elementary school and middle school students to learn about archeology. The other interactive resources from the Smithsonian are also informative although not quite as engaging and the dinosaur dig.

Here are some related items that may be of interest to you:
Download a Dinosaur
Fun Dinosaur Games and Lesson Plans
Dinosaur Trivia Game

Pennsylvania Civil War 150 Interactive Soldier

I've mentioned Teaching the Civil War with Technology a couple of times in the past because it is an excellent blog that every US History teacher should follow. Recently through Teaching the Civil War with Technology I learned about the Pennsylvania Civil War 150 website. On Pennsylvania Civil War 150 you can find interactive timelines, interactive maps, artifact displays, and a neat interactive soldier display. Through the interactive soldier students can see how a cannon was loaded and fired, examine the intricacies of a Union uniform, and watch soldiers act out common field commands such as "charge bayonets."

On a related note, make sure you check out Civil War Sallie which is the companion site to Teaching the Civil War with Technology. Civil War Sallie won the 2009 Edublog Award for best student blog.

Applications for Education
The interactive soldier on Pennsylvania Civil War 150 could be a great way to bring a study of the US Civil War to life. If you really wanted to get your students physically, actively engaged in a lesson you could have them study how the soldiers act out field commands then have the students try to act out field commands themselves.

Here are some related resources that may be of interest to you:
Three Good WWI Resources from the BBC
American President - An Online Reference
The Science and Technology of WWII

NORAD Tracks Santa on Google Earth

Those of you who have young children that still believe in Santa may be interested in this. NORAD and Google have again partnered to track Santa's travels on Christmas Eve. Beginning at 2am EST on December 24, if you visit you will be able to track Santa's travels in Google Earth. Read more about this on the Google LatLong Blog. The video about last year's travels is embedded below.

Screenpresso Looks Promising for Screen Captures

Screenpresso is a new screen capture program for Windows. Screenpresso has all of the features such as image resizing, annotation options, and format variety that you would expect from a screen capture program. Screenpresso also features like Twitter integration which are not always found in screen capture programs. The most unique option in Screenpresso is the ability to stitch together multiple screen captures. Stitching allows you to include scrolling in your screen captures. The scrolling option could be very useful for showing people how to work through a large page that doesn't fit into a typical screen capture. For example all of the front page of Free Technology for Teachers doesn't fit into a typical screen capture. Using Screenpresso you could create a screen capture of the entire front page.

Applications for Education
Screen captures, particularly annotated screen captures, can be very useful for giving directions to students and colleagues about how to use a piece of software or how to navigate a website. Using Screenpresso you can make annotated screen captures then post them to Twitter, email them, or post them on your blog or wiki.

Here are some related items that may be of interest to you:
Four Free Tools for Creating Screencasts
A Very Simple Way to Make Screen Captures
Screenr - A Simple Tool for Creating Screencasts

My Seven Edublogging Secrets

I'm often asked, via email and or in-person, questions about how I find the time to blog and questions about building a blog audience. While I am by no means a "pro blogger" or a "social media expert," I do have some tips that can help new(er) education bloggers. The following tips apply to those people who would like to expand the size of their blog's audience. If you're not interested in this topic, skip this post and I promise the next one will be back to "regularly scheduled programming."

1. Identify a niche for your blog and write for that niche. You might be thinking that "education" is a niche, but it's not. A niche is something like "K-12 School Leadership" or "Technology in the Elementary School Classroom." Identifying a niche does two things for you. A niche helps visitors quickly identify what your blog is about. A niche also helps you identify topics for your writing.

2. Post consistently. You don't have to post five things a day to build an audience. In fact, you don't even have to post everyday, but you do need to post consistently. Chris Guillebeau has built a huge audience by posting three times a week on a regular schedule. In addition to posting on a regular schedule, post with a consistent voice (see #1 above).

3. Link to other bloggers. If you read a post on someone else's blog that inspired the post you're currently writing, link to that person. If you're quoting someone, make sure you link to that person. And if you use someone else's slideshow, video, or audio make sure you link to that person (I forgot to do this once and was very embarrassed). Linking to others is not only the right thing to do, it can also be the way to get on another blogger's radar for the right reasons (I'll talk about the wrong reasons later). If you link to another blogger, he or she may see your post even if they're not a regular reader of your blog. Down the road that blogger may link back to you.

4. Write original material. It's fine to quote other people and or to post other people's presentations, but in doing so make sure you're adding value to that work (also make sure you link to them, see #3). Adding value can be writing a commentary about a video and how that video influenced your thinking. Adding value could also be a critical commentary designed to spark conversation. Simply copying and pasting another person's blog posts without adding value, even if you link to that person, is not only bad etiquette, it can be a violation of copyright.

5. Network. Get on Twitter or Plurk or FriendFeed and contribute to conversations there. (Read this post for ideas about finding other teachers on Twitter). If you're making good, insightful, or helpful contributions to conversations, people will be more inclined to check out your blog. Don't be afraid to self-promote, but do so sparingly. (As Chris Brogan says, don't be that guy).

6. Remember, it's not about you, it's about your readers. People come to your blog for a reason. That reason may be to further their learning, to be inspired, or to be entertained. Whatever the reason, they're coming with an expectation and you need to try to meet that expectation.

7. Don't stress-out over fluctuations in statistics. Watching the statistics of your blog can be stressful if you worry about every fluctuation. The statistics do give you some nice feedback about things like the type of post that appeal to your readers, but don't obsess over daily fluctuations. Instead look at weekly or monthly statistics to see if your audience is growing. Think of it this way; the more readers you have, the more people you will have stop reading.

As I said at the beginning, I'm not a "pro blogger" or "social media expert" so take my advice with a grain of salt. If you're interested in what the "experts" have to say I recommend Pro Blogger, Chris Brogan, and Gary Vaynerchuk.

Do you have your own advice for new bloggers? If so, please leave a comment.