Friday, September 24, 2010

BBC Dimensions - How Big Is It Really?

BBC Dimensions, located at, is a neat tool for quickly comparing the size of famous objects and events to the size of your town, county, state, or country. BBC Dimensions runs on Google Maps. Here's how it works; pick one of the categories of objects or events then select an object and a small map will appear. Then enter your postal code or city name and BBC Dimensions will overlay your selected object over your city. Watch the Tekzilla video below to see BBC Dimensions in action.

This is what the Great Wall of China looks like when centered on my hometown.

Applications for Education
BBC Dimensions could be a useful tool for giving students a sense of the size of objects like the Three Gorges Dam or the size of Great Pacific Garbage Patch compared to their hometowns.

Progressive Phonics - Free Reading Program

Progressive Phonics is a free series of ebooks that teachers and parents can use to help their students learn to read and write. Progressive Phonics offers free ebooks that cover everything from learning the alphabet to learning to write to learning the construction of words and sentences. As the name implies, Progressive Phonics arranges the series of free ebooks to build upon each other. You do have to register for the service, but once you do you can download the ebooks.

Thanks to my Google Teacher Academy buddy Kristen Swanson for sharing this great resource. Subscribe to her blog today.

Applications for Education
Progressive Phonics could be an excellent free resource for anyone tasked with teaching children how to read and write. The directions for the activities in the books that I downloaded appear to be very clear so as to very accessible to young learners. 

Here are some related items that may be of interest to you:
Seven Places to Find Free eBooks

Google Books Adds Shelving Options
Embedding Books Into Your Blogger Blog or Google Site

How to Craft Clear Explanations - A Podcast With Lee LeFever

Common Craft videos are world renowned for their clear explanations of often complex topics. The clarity of explanation is why I use some of their videos in my professional development work and use Electing a US President in my classroom when introducing the Electoral College to my students. Today, while eating lunch I listened to Lee LeFever on the Art Heros podcast explain the process of crafting the clear explanations that appear in the Common Craft videos.

Applications for Education
If you listen to the podcast I think you'll find that many of the ideas Lee has about creating clear explanations apply to the classroom as well as to video production. Listen to the podcast here. (Note, for some reason the podcast is marked "explicit" but there is nothing in the podcast with Lee that justifies that label).

Here are some related items that may be of interest to you:
Learn It In 5 - Tech How-to Videos
Seven Videos All Teachers Should Watch

Wikipedia in Plain English

A Follow-Up to Five Alternatives to Traditional Book Reports

Yesterday, I ran a post titled Five Alternatives to Traditional Book Reports. I ran that post without including much in the way of explanation regarding why I think that teachers should explore alternatives to the traditional written book report. As a result I've had some people comment and email with questions along the lines of, "why are these things any better than traditional book reports?" Rob Wall even wrote a post on his own blog essentially asking the same question. Copied below is the comment that I left on Mr. Wall's post.

Hi Rob,

Since it's my post about book reports that you linked to, I thought I should offer some clarifications and explanations.

At first glance, yes some (perhaps) all five suggestions are just "jazzed up" book reports. However, what I have found is that when students know that their work is going to become, for lack of a better term, a "performance piece" they tend to invest more effort and care not only in making their products look good, but also in making sure that they look for and include as much information and insight as they possibly can in their final products. In my experience this happens because classmates, parents, and others are much more likely to look at one of these short performance pieces than they are to read a two page book report. Therefore, the students creating the alternative book reports take care to include as many details as possible.

I'm not suggesting that traditional book report assignments are inherently bad. They're not. In fact, they can be excellent exercises in analyzing and writing. I'm simply suggesting that if writing is not the purpose of a book report assignment, there are alternatives that students can use to convey the meanings and main ideas of a book.

(Granted, the following example is with a research assignment instead of a book report, but I think there are many parallels). In my own classroom over the last week and one half my 11th grade students, many of whom have in the past been reported as having a poor attitude toward school,  have worked on creating short videos about the Revolutionary War. Those students have worked as diligently as they possibly can to make sure they know their content and convey their stories as clearly as possible. Many of them have revised their works, without my prompting, three or four times. I know that I probably would not have gotten the same effort out of those students if I had made the assignment a standard research essay. Why? Because they know that the whole class is going to see their final product whereas if it were an essay assignment they know that the whole class is not going to read every student's essay. Are my students learning more about the content because I made their final product a video instead of an essay? Yes. Will there be times that my students do write traditional research papers? Yes, because I do believe that writing skills are important, but I'm sure that that process will not be as cheerily undertaken by my students as video creation projects are.


One last thing that I should add to this is I am not at all opposed to traditional book report assignments. I believe that learning to report and convey messages in written form is an essential skill that all students should develop. That said, we must find a balance between traditional communication skills and communication skills using new media creation tools.

And now back to my standard blogging voice of reporting on free technology resources for the classroom.

The Week in Rap

The Week in Rap is back again today with another short lyrical overview of the week's news. If you can't view it online, you can download it from The Week in Rap website as a WMV file. Teachers of my age might notice that this episode features Supa Dave West from De La Soul.

The Week in Rap - Sept. 24th from Week in Rap on Vimeo.