Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Long and Winding Road

Motivating others to integrate technology...

What began almost four years ago, after attending in an in-district workshop on wikis, is finally beginning to come to fruition. That is, teachers integrating technology that enables them to expand the walls of their classroom, communicate globally, and to inspire and motivate all learners (but particularly, reluctant learners).

While attending this particular workshop I was, at first, contemplating how I could utilize this tool as an administrator. As those thoughts wandered, the instructor repeatedly said the words “expand the walls of the classroom”. That caught my attention and then I had no problem envisioning how the teachers I worked with could utilize a wiki to do just that.

Knowing the many demands already placed on teachers; IEPs, PDPs, PLCs, ADD, ADHD, ODD, NCBL, NJ ASK…and the list goes on. I knew it wouldn’t be as easy as simply sharing a philosophy or demonstrating several of the tools in action. So I developed a plan that would hopefully inspire others to integrate some/any web 2.0 tools into the classroom. I’d like to share certain elements of that plan, which were successful, unsuccessful, and some of the positive results.

The number one component of the plan was to model and lead by example. The nagging question of how could an administrator utilize a wiki was answered. Develop a “faculty wiki” that would expand my walls, serve as a communication tool, and resource for teachers. It still needed a carrot, therefore if information that was normally shared at a faculty meeting could be done “outside of those walls” at one’s own convenience, the face-to-face faculty meeting would be shortened for all and could thus begin 15 minutes later (we have ours before school).

Once again, it sounded great in theory, but not the immediate success one would hope for. During the first year, there were a couple of failed attempts and a couple of success stories as well. The so called attempts (failed, but not really), I must share the blame for and should have seen coming, they were there just to satisfy the principal’s desires and were merely examples of technology for the sake of technology (nothing worse in my mind). However, after discussing this with our technology resource teacher, we both agreed rather than stifling the attempt, we would live with it until we felt the time was right to assist in tweaking it to accomplish our goal; technology integration to expand the walls, collaborate globally, and inspire/motivate. In the end, almost four years later, we have several very successful classroom wikis and this year a grade level of twelve fourth grade teachers created a wiki dedicated to sharing curriculum and lessons. They also developed a Google Site designed to meet the needs of our gifted and talented population (dedicated teacher was cut due to budget restraints) through problem based learning activities, complete with blog, Google Docs for collaboration, and inter-class communication capability. Lesson learned – be as specific and explicit as you can when explaining the goal of technology integration.

Another failure, at first, was the purchase of eInstruction’s student response system, a.k.a. “clickers”. The most attractive aspect of these was to motivate and engage the reluctant participant. There are other benefits, including student assessment, assessing the effectiveness of instruction, and running records.

We solicited teacher interest, provided professional development, and supplied the tool. However, the most attractive tool or numerous benefits are meaningless if the technology simply doesn’t work. It just so happened that the software was never operable on a consistent level on our network. In hindsight, we assumed and were led to believe, that the software needed to be installed on the teachers’ computer in every classroom. In that case, it increased the overall in-house management and possibility of malfunction. After a year of little or no use, a teacher installed the software on her own laptop and connected it to a projector on a traveling cart. This eliminated the reliance on our network, our IT department, and our hardware. Her success spread quickly and interest was once again elevated. Lesson learned – technology that doesn’t work has a negative effect on motivating technology integration. We now have four sets of twenty-eight individual response clickers, on a dedicated cart, with a dedicated laptop (don’t ever think money is an obstacle, just one that can be overcome). Each is assigned to a specific area of the building and reserved through our media center via Google Calendar.

Lastly, how simple and valuable Skype can be in order to collaborate with experts in the field. This one would be an easy sell; it is web based, requires little in the way of hardware, and there are experts who love to promote themselves.

Back to component number one of the plan; model. We had two teachers conducting an evening book chat with parent and student. The chat was focused on bullying and the book they chose was Loser, by Jerry Spinelli. A simple e-mail to Mr. Spinelli and a connection was made. However, Mr. Spinelli was somewhat camera shy and only agreed to a live conference call. Not to be defeated, the grade level was reading Deadly Waters by Gloria Skurzynski and Alane Ferguson, once again a simple e-mail connected us with both authors whom happened to be mother/daughter. Rather than Skype, they suggested we videoconference with them while they were conducting the same at the University of Missouri with another classroom from a local school. It was a simple process, an outstanding learning experience, and a hit with all. Unfortunately, there was not another attempt to Skype or videoconference after that. After two years of continuing to promote these opportunities, we have had some success stories that I am certain will be contagious throughout the building. Most recently, one of our third grade teachers Skyped with her sister’s third grade class to discuss a book both classes had read. When it was over, one student commented that they had missed their regularly scheduled language arts class. The learning process was invisible to him. They had in fact discussed with their Skype mates several skills they had been focusing on; theme, plot, characters…Lesson learned – perseverance.

I hope the experiences I have shared will assist someone through the same process, lift the spirits of anyone that is as discouraged as I was at times, and inspire others to give just one tool a try. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a by-product of utilizing any web 2.0 tool; classroom management made easy. Please visit my blog and view the post on March 1, 2011. During the three video clips you can’t help but notice that all students are participating, none are off task, and the teachers do not redirect any student behavior. Conclusion, when students are actively engaged, motivated, and excited, learning and behavior are natural.

Michael Gregory is the principal of the Alpine Elementary School in Sparta, New Jersey. Due to budget cuts last year, his previous school (grade 5 only) was closed and the district restructured its two remaining K-4 buildings to include a pre K-2 school and his current grade 3-5 building with a population of 850 students.

Guest Post - End of the school year approaches - lesson ideas and reflection

By David Andrade,

We are quickly approaching the end of the school year. Advanced Placement Exams start next week, effectively the end of AP classes (although I do a lot of projects with my AP students after their exam). The student's last day of school is June 21st and teachers finish on June 22nd. Seniors will be finished by June13th though as they then have graduation rehearsals and Senior activities. I teach 90% seniors, so I have to finish up everything by the 1st of June when Senior finals begin. 

As I was looking over the schedule and working on my lesson plans for next month, I was trying to decide what I would do with my students. I use web quests, videos and activities from Discovery Education, and projects to keep my students learning during a time of distraction. Senior Prom, Junior Ring Dance, end of the year, Spring Fever, Senioritis. They all affect schools around this time. So, I use the projects. Think of projects related to your curriculum that would be great to do at the end of the year and use that instead of lectures, problem sets, or standard labs.

The rockets project is my favorite and my students favorite. The web quest incorporates elements from NASA's web site. The students are applying multiple areas of physics during this project: energy, chemical reactions, fluid dynamics, forces, Newton's Laws, and more. They get to work in a group and do something hands-on and creative (they get to decorate the rockets any way they want and they are also able to do different fin designs). The best part is launch day. The students get to go outside and launch rockets. I handle the actual launching so that I can ensure safety, but the students love the countdown and watching the launch. They also have to chase down rockets that drift in the wind. Who wouldn't want to be outside launching rockets on a beautiful Spring day?. Then, they do a web quest on aerodynamics and then design, build, and fly their own gliders. They learn some great physics topics while having a lot of fun.

Another thing I start doing around this time is to reflect on the past year. What worked? What went right? What went wrong? How did I handle classroom management issues? How well did my students learn? Lots of questions to answer and get ready for next year. I do this throughout the year too, but this is the point where I can really plan and make changes for the following year.


One thing I do to as an evaluation of the year is to have my students fill out a survey about the class and their experience. It asks them to rate things such as was the classroom and equipment (labs and projects) adequate, was enough time given for demonstrations and review, how well did the teacher answer student questions, and their thoughts on assignments and work given. It also asks about me: did I set a climate that was conducive to learning, did I effectively communicate with students, did I address their needs and issues, and were the teaching methods effective. I also have space for them to write comments about what they liked about the class and what they think should be improved. They can put their name on it or it can be anonymous.

I do take the surveys with a grain of salt. Some students write all "4" (highest score) and some complain that everything was too hard. But I do get a lot of great feedback and ideas. Some times I am surprised by the level of sophistication that I my students have and how insightful they are about their classes. (I've also used this model with pre-service teachers).

After I've read through all of the surveys and taken notes, I sit and think about the whole year. I try to be critical of things so that I can really evaluate how things went. I am going to implement some of the things I've come up with and some of the things my students noted, but I am also going to keep my lessons flexible so that I can modify them once I've met my students next year and see what they are like and what they need. I believe in constantly assessing how I am doing as an educator and how well my students are learning and changing and modifying things as needed throughout the year. The end of the year and summer are great times to come up with lots of different ideas so that I have a collection of ideas to use next year.

Ongoing Assessment is a term we use in EMS for constantly monitoring our patient and changing our treatment as needed based on the patient. This is also something we do in education. We change things to meet the needs of our students.

This year I've been using the classroom blogs and Google Forms to get more feedback from the students throughout the year. I will also be using a Google Form instead of paper for this year's final class evaluation. 

As I write this, I keep having thoughts about issues I've had and how to change them next year. I'm also thinking about the type of teacher I am and what I can do to improve my attitude and persona to make me better. I think one of the things I'm going to do this summer is to actually relax a bit instead of working to much to recharge myself. I will be attending a few conferences and will keep active with my PLN (Personal Learning Network) to share ideas, thoughts, and resources. I want to come back to school next year enthusiastic, motivated, and ready to have some fun while educating. 

So, let's hear from you:

What do you do in your classroom at the end of the year to keep students focused and engaged?

How do you evaluate teaching and learning in your classroom? 

What do you do at the end of the year and summer to prep for the next year?

David Andrade is a Physics Teacher and Educational Technology Specialist in Connecticut. He is the author of the Educational Technology Guy blog, where he reviews free educational technology resources for teachers, discusses ways to use technology to improve teaching and learning, and discusses other issues in education. 
He is also a professional development trainer and presenter at conferences, helping educators learn new and innovative ways to educate students.

Using teaching as inquiry to guide an eLearning action plan

My name is Claire Amos and I am the Director of eLearning at Epsom Girls Grammar School in Auckland, New Zealand. I lead our ICT Professional Development contract, which means I get to split my time between teaching (High School English) and leading eLearning professional development for our teaching staff.

This year I am working with our teaching staff to develop their own eLearning action plans, using a teaching as inquiry cycle to inform their planning.

'Teaching as Inquiry' is an inquiry cycle designed to support effective pedagogy, which is part of our New Zealand Curriculum. The Teaching as Inquiry cycle is made up of four stages:

  1. Focusing Inquiry - What is important (and therefore worth spending time on), given where my students are at? This focusing inquiry establishes a baseline and a direction. The teacher uses all available information to determine what their students have already learned and what they need to learn next.
  2. Teaching Inquiry - What strategies (evidence-based) are most likely to help my students learn this? In this teaching inquiry, the teacher uses evidence from research and from their own past practice and that of colleagues to plan teaching and learning opportunities aimed at achieving the outcomes prioritized in the focusing inquiry.
  3. Teaching and learning
  4. Learning Inquiry - What happened as a result of the teaching, and what are the implications for future teaching? In this learning inquiry, the teacher investigates the success of the teaching in terms of the prioritized outcomes, using a range of assessment approaches. They do this both while learning activities are in progress and also as longer-term sequences or units of work come to an end. They then analyze and interpret the information to consider what they should do next. (Source: NZC)
When Teaching as Inquiry is used to inform an eLearning Action Plan, the most important thing is that the teacher begins with the student's learning needs (not the eLearning tool or strategy). The four stages stay the same, but the following questions are also asked:
  1. Focusing Inquiry - What is the desired student learning outcome?
  2. Teaching Inquiry - What eLearning tools and strategies will we use to support students achieving the desired student learning outcome?
  3. Teaching and Learning - What are we going to do and when are we going to do it?
  4. Learning Inquiry - What are we hoping to be the results and how will we measure the success of our eLearning tools and strategies?
Below is my EDtalk, where I do my best to explain how we are using Teaching as Inquiry to inform an eLearning Action Plan.

Applications for Education:
I guess the aim of all of this, is that teachers integrate eLearning in a meaningful, strategic and effective way; ensuring that the student (not the technology) remains the focus and the priority in and beyond the classroom.

Other EDtalks you might like to check out:
Crockett - Understanding the Digital Generation
Derek Wenmoth -
Ten Trends Episode 1: The Smart Web
Ewan McIntosh - ePortfolios; just good 'old fashioned' sharing

Claire Amos is the Director of eLearning at Epsom Girls Grammar School in Auckland, New Zealand. She is also the facilitator of the ICTs in English community on English Online. She writes a blog called Teaching and eLearning and is also on Twitter.

Crowd Sourcing Solutions to Teen Pregnancy - Guest Post

This is a guest post from Jim Sill. Jim is a Google Certified Teacher and all around good guy that I had the pleasure of meeting at ISTE last year. Jim Sill is a video production teacher at El Diamante High School, Visalia, CA. Over the years, his award winning students have produced videos that have showcased issues like gang life, teen alcohol abuse, suicide and more. Follow him on Twitter.

We have all seen the telephone commercial featuring a dad typing a mindless twitter post with his phone.  “I’m...sitting...on...the...patio”.  Even though the commercial aired a couple of years ago, that feeling about social networking still reverberates around the halls of education.  Does it have a place in the classroom?  Like many teachers, I have often struggled with that question and how to introduce Twitter and Facebook into my lessons.  I have struggled until now.

Five years ago, my video production students began working with a local non-profit to produce videos about the repercussions of becoming a teen parent.  You should know that our county ranks number two in California for number of teen births and is 31 points higher than the state average.  Every year, my students produce a video that addresses the issue.  This year, they wanted to finally start offering solutions instead of just identifying the problem.  They all agreed that we needed to stay away from statistics and start hearing from real kids. They wondered what kids in areas with lower teen birth rates were doing to avoid becoming teen parents and how do we reach them. Enter social networking.  

Using a Facebook fan page and twitter posts, we recently launched a project called “Remaining Young, Refusing to be a Statistic”.  For the last couple weeks, students and I have been posting the link to the project’s Google Site.  It features an embedded Google Form with survey questions, a Google Map of participants, and examples of past videos.  To continue the spreading the word, we even embedded a Twitter link in the confirmation of the Form (Thanks to Alan Levine for that trick). Using these free collaborative tools, my students worked together to create a one-stop site that enables teens and adults from around the country (and beyond!) to help put an end to this ever-present problem.

The idea is to let the survey answers shape the direction of the video. In addition, they hope that some participants submit a one minute webcam video that can be used in the final production.  In other words, they are crowd sourcing their own video.  

From a teacher’s perspective, this project is bigger than just making a class video.  Using a variety of social networking applications gives students a view of how to use these tools to impact not only their school work, but their community.  It is empowering for them to know that the Google Site that they worked together to create is being viewed by complete strangers, an authentic audience, from around the world.  The idea of mapping participants is a great way for them to visualize that their work is far reaching.  Finally, the responses from participants gives them a broader look at customs, norms, and actions of students from an area outside of our community.  

We hope that you will consider filling out the survey and share the project with your network.  The students are projected to finish the final video in June and will post it to the site. With your help, we are teaching students that these tools are not “mindless” and that they can be used to impact our world.  

Tearing Down Your Classroom Walls

Kara Cornejo-5th grade teacher at Zion Lutheran School in St. Charles, Missouri. 
Skype: karacornejo
Teachers have been using Skype to connect with other classrooms for a while now. However, teachers like myself, have had to use other social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook to start the initial conversation with these classes.
The first time I used Skype in my classroom was to bring a Native American in to share more about their culture and traditions with my class. I initially had to use Twitter to find him.  But no longer do you need to search other sites for people/classes to Skype with.
Skype has now launched a new portion of their website called “Skype in the Classroom.”  Skype in the Classroom was started to make it easier for teachers to connect with other teachers or classrooms from around the world. Skype is now making it possible to collaborate with people you would have never had the opportunity to bring into your classroom. Teachers are using this section of their website to connect with other teachers that may be learning the same concepts or searching for teachers or professionals who might be able to bring something new to their students. You are no longer only limited to what is in your textbooks.
And it’s simple to get started. Log in to Skype. The first thing you will want to do is set up a profile. Use this opportunity to tell other teachers what you are studying in your classroom and what subjects you are interested in connecting with other schools. Do you teach Science? Social Studies? Are you looking for pen pals? Or are you open to anything? You will also want to add a location to your profile so teachers can find you by simply browsing a map.
When Skype in the Classroom first started you had to file through all the teachers profiles to find someone who was doing some of the same teaching as you. Now Skype has added an awesome feature to Skype in the Classroom, the Projects section. Teachers can now list their projects that they are interested in connecting with other schools on. This makes it so much easier for teachers to search for projects in their grade/subject level.
Skype in the Classroom is a great tool to build your PLN (Personal Learning Network). I feel that the bigger your PLN is the more people you will bring into your classroom and the more your students are going to learn.
Just recently I was searching for classes all over the world to join us in a “Weather Around the World” unit. After searching for approximately one minute, I found another teacher who was looking for the same thing. We connected and I decided that I wanted more classes involved. I then put on my profile (this was before the Projects section on the website) that I was looking for classes to participate in a weather unit with us. After about 48 hours I had several other schools from Canada to London to right here in the US willing to participate. 
Skype in the Classroom has also featured me and my story in these news articles.
Mashable                                    FierceVoIP                                    Digital Technology

Month in Review - April's Most Popular Posts

Greetings from Omaha, Nebraska where I've just finished a full day of presentations at the Nebraska Educational Technology Association's annual conference. I was totally impressed by the organization of the event and the great people I met here. It was great to see so many people come out to learn about how they can use free technology in their classrooms. If you're within driving distance of Omaha, I highly recommend marking your calendar to attend next year's NETA conference. And if you're a conference organizer interested in having me speak at your event, please get in touch with me.

These were the most popular posts in April:
1. Brainstorming - Google Across the Curriculum
2. Five Ways to Make Word Clouds from Text
3. An Education Playlist - Suggestions Wanted
4. QR Codes in the Classroom
5. 7 Good Sources of Mathematics Videos
6. YouTube Launches Copyright School
7. Google Apps K-12 Lesson Plan Selector
8. HOTTS - Higher Order Thinking and Technology Skills
9. iBrainstorm - Free iPad & iPhone Brainstorming App
10. - Snip and Share the Best Parts of Pages

Thank you to everyone that visited Free Technology for Teachers this month and shared the links you found. With your help this month Free Technology for Teachers surpassed the 34,000 subscriber mark.

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Friday, April 29, 2011 - Music Videos About Economics

Econ Stories is a great website that I just learned about through Lee Lefever's post on the Common Craft Blog. Econ Stories produces videos and articles that explain the differences between the economic theories made popular by John Maynard Keynes and F.A. Hayek. Econ Stories offers four mini documentaries and three informative and entertaining music videos. Watch the music video Fight of the Century Keynes vs. Hayek below.

Applications for Education
Discovering these videos came at the perfect time for me as my US History students have just reached the Great Depression in our curriculum. Right now I'm planning to use these videos as fun reviews of the content we study in class.

A Brief History of Royal Weddings

When I turned on the television this morning, all I could find was coverage of the Royal Wedding and the NFL Draft. I can't make much of a connection to the NFL Draft and the classroom, but there is a potential connection for the Royal Wedding and a history classroom. The video below features Emory University historian Patrick Allitt giving a two minute overview of the history and purposes of Royal Weddings.

H/T to Open Culture.

Resources for NETA Attendees and Those Who Wanted to Attend

I'm spending the day in Omaha, Nebraska presenting at NETA's annual conference. Below are links to the resources mentioned in my presentations today.

Richard Byrne's PD Site.

Google Tutorials

Video Creation Resources

Thursday, April 28, 2011

7 Simple To-do List Services for Students

Creating to-do lists and knocking off tasks one by one can help students not only prioritize and track tasks, it can also help them feel like they're accomplishing something each time they check off a task. I've reviewed a lot of to-do list and task management applications over the years, but I still like the simplest ones the best. Here are seven simple to-do list applications for students.

Ta-da List is a simple to-do list creation tool built by 37 Signals. Ta-da List allows to you to create a to-do list in 30 seconds. Just sign-up and start building lists. Your lists will be hosted at a unique url assigned just to you. Direct your browser to that url to check items off of your lists or to create a new list.

Todoist and its sister service Wedoist are easy-to-use task management services for individuals and groups. Todoist is the service for individuals and Wedoist is the service for groups. It takes just a minute to register and begin using both services. You'll notice with both services that the user interface is very clear and intuitive. When you create projects and assignments by default they are arranged chronologically, but reordering them is a simple matter of selecting an up or down arrow. To help you keep track of your to-do lists wherever you go Todoist offers desktop clients, iGoogle Gadgets, a Google Chrome extension, and three mobile applications. Todoist can also be integrated with your Gmail account.

Wipee List is a simple list making and to-do list management tool. Here's how Wipee List functions: sign in, click add an item, then type your "to do" item. If an item has immediate priority you can drag it to a "quick reminders" sticky note. When you complete an item drag it to the trash bin. If you're working on a project with someone you can share your list with a specific url assigned to your list.

To Simply Do is a free service that you can start using in a minute or less. Just register with your email address, confirm your account, and start typing tasks into a list. When you've completed a task, remove it from the list just by clicking on it. The task then moves from your "to do" list to your "completed" list.

Squareleaf is a simple system for creating and managing online sticky notes. To use Squareleaf just register for an account and begin creating notes. Your notes are displayed on an online "whiteboard." On your Squareleaf whiteboard you can arrange your sticky notes in any pattern that you like. The size and color of the sticky notes can also be adjusted.

Strike App is a simple to-do list creation and management tool. To use Strike App just title your list of things to do and start typing your list. When you've completed a task just come back and strike it out by clicking on it, dragging it off the screen, or "x-ing" it out. You can share your to-do lists by sending people the link to your list. For those people who like to experiment with different backgrounds and themes, Strike App offers a handful of designs to choose from.

Sticky Screen might be the simplest of all the services on this list. Sticky Screen lets you put three short notes on a sticky placed in the center of your screen. Make sticky screen your Internet browser's homepage and your reminders stare you in the face every time you open a window or tab.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Lesson Plan - Develop a Business Plan for Yourself

This post is another follow-up to something I mentioned on Twitter today. Today, the students in my Global Identity and Interaction class (I only have six students in the class) pitched their business plans to an angel investor (this person actually was a prominent businessman in our community before retiring). The purpose of giving the assignment to my students was to get them to explore business and job opportunities beyond the conventional model of "get a degree, go work for big company."  To give students as much flexibility as possible, the actual directions that I gave to the class were quite basic. You can read the directions here.

I and the angel investor were quite impressed by all six students' presentations but two really stood out. One student developed a plan for an online fitness and nutrition coaching program for teens. The program would include one-on-one virtual coaching and a community forum for members to support each other. The other plan that stood out was for a blended online and in-person tutoring program for K-12 students.

I was asked on Twitter which resources the students used to acquire ideas and background knowledge while assembling their business models. In no particular order here are the resources that I directed them to (the students also found others on their own).

Excerpts from Guy Kawasaki's The Art of the Start and Reality Check. We also watched a couple of YouTube videos of Guy Kawasaki explaining his 10-20-30 rule for presenters.

Excerpts from Chris Guillebeau's 279 Days to Overnight Success.

We looked at the Common Craft business model and listened to part of this podcast with Lee Lefever.

Students also read some of Chris Brogan's blog posts about Kitchen Table Companies.

Cell Phones in Schools - My Experiences and More

This afternoon I Tweeted that I was thankful that my school allows teachers and students to use cell phones and social media in the classroom. After sending out that Tweet I got a bunch of requests to elaborate, so here are my experiences using cell phones and social media in the classroom followed by some examples from others. If you have your own experience to share, please leave a message.

My Experiences
What prompted my Tweet today was my reaction to the great presentations made by the students in one of my classes this afternoon. For the last couple of weeks the students in that class worked on developing independent business plans that they then "pitched" to an angel investor. A handful of my students used social media Twitter and YouTube's messaging system to contact people who could offer them some advice about starting a business on the web.

This is an excerpt from a post about cell phones that I wrote in the fall of 2009. 
This afternoon in my civics class we were discussing some of the citizens' initiative questions on this fall's ballot in Maine. At one point in the conversation I saw one of my students playing with her cell phone. In an attempt to make sure she was paying attention I asked this student what she was doing. She said that she just received a text from her mom telling her that she could stay after school. So I said, kind only half-seriously, ask your mom what she knows about Question 4. Another student said, "can I ask my mom too?" And in a matter of minutes more than half of my class had sent a text message to their parents asking them what they knew about Question 4.

The responses from parents were interesting in that many of the responses echoed the various messages that have been running on local television stations. After we had received all of the responses we talked about why some parents knew more than others about Question 4 and the role of television and radio advertising in influencing voters' positions. Those discussions took place on top of the original pro v. con conversation that had started prior to breaking-out the cell phones.

The experiences and perspectives of others.
On August 29, 2010 The Boston Globe ran a good article about Burlington High School Principal Patrick Larkin's approach to cell phones in his school. One of the things that jumped-out at me while reading the article was this quote from Patrick in response to a question about concerns that students will cheat or be distracted by using cell phones or laptops: “If they want to cheat, they’re going to cheat,’’ Larkin said, “with technology or anything else.’’ He said he doesn’t see much difference between this and the old scourge of teachers — note passing. “We’ve had no problem with note passing the last few years . . . I wonder why . . . they’re texting!’’ he said. Read the whole article here and make sure you read the closing quote from Principal Larkin.

Patrick Larkin takes an approach to dealing with cell phones in schools that many of us would like to see in schools. Rather than spending our effort and limited time telling students to put away their pocket computers (cell phones) we should put that effort into learning how we can leverage mobile devices to improve the learning experiences of our students.

The following video from CNN is a report on two different approaches to dealing with cell phone use by students. Thankfully, my school is slowly moving toward the second approach. Watch the video below then leave a comment and tell us which approach your school uses and which approach you prefer. 

Finally, to put social media and cell phones use in a greater context, check out Clay Shirky's TED Talk How Social Media Can Make History.

Who Am I? A History Mystery

Who Am I? A History Mystery is a fun and challenging activity from the Smithsonian's The Price of Freedom online exhibit. Who Am I? presents players with six historical characters that they have to identify using the text and image clues provided. To solve the mystery players have to match the visual artifacts to each character.

Applications for Education
Who Am I? A History Mystery could be a good way for history students to practice using evidence to create a hypothesis. Who Am I? is part of a larger online Smithsonian exhibit called The Price of Freedom. The Price of Freedom offers a series of detailed lesson plans and videos for six major events and eras in US History. Those events and eras are War of Independence, Wars of Expansion, The Civil War, World War II, Cold War/ Vietnam, and September 11.

Hunting for Oil - Snag Learning Film of the Week

This month marked one year from the beginning of the Deep Water Horizon Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico. A year later people in the Gulf Coast region are still feeling the effects of that disaster. This week's Snag Learning Film of the Week is Hunting for Oil. Hunting for Oil is a twelve minute film about the people who are working to evaluate the impact of the oil spill and clean up the oil. You can watch a preview of the film in the widget below and find the full film with discussion questions here.
Watch more free documentaries

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Squrl - Collect Videos and Build Playlists from Many Sources

YouTube playlists are great, but if you want to organize a playlist of videos from multiple websites you might want to give Squrl a try. Squrl allows you to create a playlist of videos from sixteen different sources. You can save videos to watch them later on your laptop, iPad, iPhone, or television.

To add videos to your Squrl que of videos you can use the Squrl bookmarklet (didn't work for me on Firefox 4), email links to your squrl account, or Tweet them to your Squrl que. Squrl also offers an iPhone and iPad app.

Applications for Education
If you're looking for a good way to keep track of the web videos that you want to use in your classroom, Squrl could be just the app you need. If Squrl doesn't suit your taste, you might also consider using VodSpot or VidQue to organize a playlist.

Strike App - Set Up Tasks and Knock Them Down

Strike App is a simple to-do list creation and management tool. To use Strike App just title your list of things to do and start typing your list. When you've completed a task just come back and strike it out by clicking on it, dragging it off the screen, or "x-ing" it out. You can share your to-do lists by sending people the link to your list. For those people who like to experiment with different backgrounds and themes, Strike App offers a handful of designs to choose from.

Applications for Education
For students who like to use or need to use a to-do list, Strike App provides a simple way to keep track of things to do. If your students are working on group projects and need to maintain collaborative list of things to do, Strike App offers the option to do that too.

Updated Google Tutorials Page

Readers who primarily read Free Technology for Teachers in RSS or email, may have forgotten that I have some static pages listed at the top of the blog. One of those pages is dedicated to Google Apps Tutorials. Today, I spent a bit of time updating that page to include some videos to help you get started using Google SketchUp and Google Voice. I also added a video about a neat application that will help you map your family tree on Google Earth, while not free (it requires a small licensing fee after 30 days) it's still a cool application.  In all there are now 37 tutorials posted on the Google Tutorials page and I'll continue to work to add more.

Please note that because of the quantity of multimedia elements, the Google Tutorials Page can take a little longer than average to load completely. 

ZangZing - Group Sharing of Photos from Many Sources

ZangZing is a new service, currently in an invite-only beta, that will allow you to collaborate on the creation of an online photo album. There are many services that allow you to do this now, but what makes ZangZing different is that you can pull in the photos you already have on other photo sharing sites. You can pull in photos from Facebook, Picasa, Flickr, Instagram, and other popular photo sharing sites. You can also email photos directly to the album(s) you create on ZangZing. Each collaborative album you create on ZangZing has its own privacy setting so that you can create a combination of public and private albums within your account.

Applications for Education
Thinking back to my experience in elementary school (I've never taught K-6) I remember parents always snapping photos at school events. Later, in middle school I recall classmates taking pictures at school events. In both cases there were always people asking each other if they would make "doubles" to share. Services like ZangZing allow everyone to get "doubles" by simply creating a group photo album for the members to view. A group photo album could be created on ZangZing by a teacher or "class parent" to record the memories of a play, field trip, or school concert.

iPad - Yes or No?

When Apple introduced the iPad, I sat back and watched as people lined-up to buy what appeared to me to be an over-sized iPod Touch. Despite the handful of times that I flew last year and wished I had a tablet instead of my laptop to use in a cramped airline seat, I resisted the temptation of purchasing an iPad. Then the iPad 2 came along with it's built-in cameras (something I'm sure Apple left out the first time in order to create perceived obsolescence a year later). The addition of the cameras got me to think, "okay, now I can consider purchasing one of these things."

So last week I jumped on the Apple site and poked around at my iPad 2 options (AT&T and Verizon coverage is woeful in the areas that I spend most of my time in so a 3G model would be a waste). Even though I can probably write-off the expenditure on my 2011 taxes, as I was looking at the models and the prices I couldn't help but think, "I'm not convinced that this is a good use of my money." I have two laptops, a desktop, a netbook, and an Android phone, what gap in my computing experience will the iPad occupy? What am I missing about the iPad 2? I feel like I need to know the answers to these questions before I can say to someone else that the iPad is or isn't a wise investment for a school 1:1 program.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Kwik Surveys - Create Surveys With Respondent Tracking

Kwik Surveys is a free survey tool that offers a bunch of excellent options. Kwik Surveys gives you the option to mix and match eleven different types of questions. You can administer your survey by posting it on a blog, website, or discussion forum. You can also email your survey to the people you want to take it. If you choose the email option, you can track who has taken your survey and restrict respondents to taking the survey only once.

Applications for Education
Kwik Surveys could be useful for any teacher or school administrator who needs to collect responses from students, staff, or parents. Using the email option could be a good way to make sure results aren't skewed by people taking your survey multiple times.

Trading Around the World - An Economics Game

Trading Around the World is an economics game hosted on the International Monetary Fund's website. The object of the game is to provide students with knowledge of the variables affecting international trade. Students experience the impact of each variable by playing the game as a representative of a country or region that is trying to buy or sell resources. The overall object of the game is to accumulate cash through buying and selling natural resources.

Applications for Education
Trading Around the World is a game appropriate for middle school students studying the variables associated with international trade. The game can be played in one sitting or stretched out to play in multiple sessions. When students start playing the game they are given a code to enter if they want to stop a game and continue playing it at a later time.

iBrainstorm - Free iPad & iPhone Brainstorming App

iBrainstorm is a free brainstorming application for the iPad and the iPhone. The app allows you to record brainstorming sessions using a combination of free hand drawings and sticky notes. You can share and collaborate with other users of iBrainstorm. Sharing notes and drawings between users in a local setting is a simple matter of "flicking" an item to another user. Watch the video below to see iBrainstorm in action.

Applications for Education
iBrainstorm could be a great application for schools that are using iPads in a 1:1 setting. The option to combine free hand drawings and sticky notes makes iBrainstorm flexible enough to suit learning and creation styles of most students.

Tsunami Mapper - Visualize a Tsunami in Your Area

Tsunami Mapper is a visualization creation tool built upon the Google Maps platform. Using Tsunami Mapper you can quickly measure how large an area a tsunami would affect if it hit your community. To use Tsunami Mapper just enter your location then enter a wave height and direction.

Applications for Education
Tsunami Mapper could be a neat tool for showing students how a tsunami could impact their communities. Students can experiment with wave height and direction to see how those variables could affect the impact of a tsunami.

Thank You Weekend Guests

Over the weekend four new guest bloggers stopped by to offer posts about their experiences using technology in their schools. If you didn't get a chance over the weekend, I encourage you to take some time to read about their experiences and glean some tips that you can use in your own teaching practices.

Using Google Sites in Second Language Instruction - Joanna Sanders Bobiash
My Experience With Wikis and Webs in Classroom - Mike Dunagan
Museum Web Quests, Sites, and Apps for Using iPods or Laptops - Rachel Langenhorst
Skype, Egypt, and Classroom Revolution... - Jeff Naslund

If you're interested in writing a guest post for Free Technology for Teachers please read this post then send an email to weekendguest (at) freetech4teachers (dot) com.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Skype, Egypt, and Classroom Revolution...

[Note: This piece is cross-posted at TeacherThink]
How many state budgets in 2012 will account for field trips to the Middle East? My district actually has a new "200 mile policy," in which it is nearly impossible to take/justify a trip beyond that. Scratch the Egyptian tour. I now have to get creative. At the high school level, it will take more than arranging the desks like a tour bus [which I have done] and more of a virtual class trip that harkens memories of "The Magic School Bus" and Ms. Frizzle. Through a combination of Twitter, Google Earth, and Skype, I am able to take my classes around the globe FREE!
Rewind to February 6, 2011. I was looking around the web for resources to teach a Human Rights unit in my Senior American Citizenship class. Admittedly Thankfully, I was multitasking on Facebook. Phil, a friend of mine, now in Law School at Seton Hall University, was providing updates on the uprising in Egypt. He often referred to his friends in Egypt and their individual struggles for freedom. He spent about 13 weeks studying International Law and Human Rights in Egypt the last two summers [jackpot!]. So, I commented a couple of times on his status/posts and threw out the hypothetical, "What would it take to get you to Skype with my class?" Not only did he play my game of quid pro quo, he committed to 3 classes on Friday, February 11 [an important date in Egyptian history as you will soon see]. This interaction justified all of those hours Facebook wasted perusing status updates and pictures of people I normally wouldn't have cared to see until the class reunion [maybe a bit harsh].
Move to February 11, 2011: First period American Citizenship class. Enter seniors on a Friday [sometimes an oxymoronic statement]. I start the class with a tweet to get things rolling: #EgyptianRevolution #?sforPhil. [Click here to see how I tweet in my classroom without access to twitter] I love using tweets as an opener, because they require students to focus on my topic and create a concise statement [question in this case].
After the tweet we hop on Google Flight #221 [my room number]. Using Google Earth, we fly from room 221 at Mt. Spokane High School to Seton Hall University School of Law. The international leg takes us to Tunisia [where it all started] then Tahrir Square and Libya, a pit stop in Uganda and Rwanda [as we have studied both countries] to give us some context, and all the way back to Egypt. Check out the video below:
Finally, we get to Skype with an expert on International Law and Human Rights who is 2500 miles away. I start the conversation with a bit of our curriculum to give Phil some context of our learning. We started our unit on Human Rights with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights [UDHR]. Phil then went into his experiences with everything from law to the Egyptian people. As he spoke of the regimes to go through Egypt from his flat in Newark, NJ, he took a pause for a moment to listen to the TV behind him. Though not completely audible, we could hear the reporter in the background announce "Mubarak has stepped down." The elation that overcame Phil's face was memorable and this moment for my students was priceless. If we are looking to reach enduring understandings, this lesson just etched a moment of revolutionary success into the brains of the malleable minds sitting in my classroom. Our fieldtrip was a success.
Classroom Connection:
Twitter: Like I said in the piece above, I use twitter in the classroom. I actually use it on a nearly daily basis, and I love it! Check it out here.
Google Earth: This is a great FREE resource to take your kids on that "Magic School Bus" that transcends all state budgets. If you are interested in recording "tours" on Google Earth like I did in the video above, check out TeacherThink this upcoming week. Subscribe to TeacherThink here.
Skype: So long as you have the hardware [webcam, computer, and internet connection], Skype is a powerful FREE tool to break down the walls of your classroom. It now includes group video chat, so multiple people can be on at the same time to conference!
Jeff Naslund is @TeacherThink. He teaches History and Math at Mt. Spokane High School in Mead, WA. He is the creator/author of TeacherThink. TeacherThink strives to improve the teaching experience by providing several levels of support, including but not limited to technology resources [oftentimes FREE], innovative lesson ideas, and out-of-the-box educational thought. Efficiency and collaboration will allow educators to weather the current economic storm. Click here to subscribe to the email list, here to follow @TeacherThink on Twitter, and here on Facebook.