Monday, March 7, 2011

Mister Thread - Password Protected Backchannels

For more than a year now I've been sharing Todays Meet with anyone interested in using backchannel forums in their classrooms. I like Todays Meet because it's very simple to set up a backchannel with it and it's advertising-free. But there's one thing that was always missing, the option to password protect your Todays Meet chats. Well now there's a service that offers simplicity and password protection. It's called Mister Thread.

Mister Thread is a free service for creating your own backchannel forum. Creating your forum (or thread) can be as simple as naming it and clicking "create the thread." Once you click create Mister Thread assigns your thread a url. Give that url to the people that you want to participate in the conversation. If you want to password protect your thread then choose a password that all visitors to your thread must enter. You can also enter your email address to give yourself the option to destroy your thread.

Thanks to Larry Ferlazzo for sharing this good backchannel service.

Applications for Education
As I mentioned during my Reform Symposium presentation about backchannels in the classroom, student backchanneling solves a few challenges that all teachers face at one time or another. Those challenges are having time to hear every student's question or comment, providing a voice for shy students, and improving the relevance and timeliness of your responses to students and their responses to each other. The recording of my presentation is now available here (clicking the link will open an Elluminate page). 

Here are a couple examples of using a backchannel in an elementary school classroom. Here is an example of how I've used backchannels with my high school students. 

Seasonally Appropriate Sport Science Videos

Major League Baseball's spring training is in full swing and NCAA Basketball's March Madness is just a couple of weeks away. Therefore, I'd like to pass along a couple of seasonally appropriate sport science videos that you might be able to incorporate into science and or mathematics lessons.

Sport Science: Distraction looks at whether or not all of those waving, screaming fans behind a basketball hoop actually make a difference in whether or not a player makes his or her free throw. You could turn this into an active survey in your school's gymnasium. Have your students shoot some hoops without distraction and tally their average rate of success. Then have them test out distractions like waving, playing music, or yelling to see if there is a change in the success rate.

Sport Science: Mariano Rivera's Cutter examines how the great Yankees closer (as a Red Sox fan it was agonizing to type those words) makes the baseball move in flight. The video explains arm angles and pressure points that control the action of the baseball.

Real-time Map of Emergency Events Around the World

Through Tekzilla I've learned about a neat use of Google Maps to display real-time information about emergency events around the world. RSOE is a service based in Hungary that is using publicly available data sets to create a continuously updating Google Map of emergency events. Click on any icon on the map to learn about the event. The types of things you're likely to find on the map are car, rail, and airplane accidents, seismic activities, outbreaks of illnesses, fires, and nuclear energy events. Learn more about RSOE in the Tekzilla video below.

Applications for Education
RSOE could be a good resource for social studies students to use to locate and investigate emergency events around the globe. RSOE doesn't offer a lot of details on each event. I would probably use it to have students find an event then do some investigation and develop a news story about that event.

Advertising Comes to Skype

Skype is a wonderful free (for most purposes) service that teachers are using to connect classrooms across the globe. I'm planning to use it to connect my Global Studies class with another for the purpose of expanding our classroom conversation beyond the just the eight of us in the room. If you're currently using Skype in your classroom, you should be aware that they are going to start inserting some advertising into the home tab in Skype for Windows. Skype says that they won't be using pop-ups or interrupting calls with advertising. You can read the full announcement from Skype here. Here's what the advertising will look like.
Update: Just to clarify, I don't begrudge Skype for making this move. They have bills to pay just like the rest of us. I'd rather see them raise revenue this way than move to a completely fee-based model. I posted this information just so readers who use Skype in their classrooms wouldn't be surprised if they see advertising appear.

H/T to Read Write Web.

Asparagus, A Stalk-umenatry

This week's Snag Learning film of the week is Asparagus, A Stalk-umentary. In the context of asparagus farming, this five minute film examines the impact of produce grown outside of the United States on US farmers and markets. You can watch the film and find discussion questions here.

Watch more free documentaries
Applications for Education
This short film could be useful as part of a lesson on the impacts of government subsidies and international trade policies on farmers in the United States. A similar short film that addresses these topics is The Luckiest Nut in the World.

Digital Storytelling with iPads

Last week Apple released the second generation of iPads. I was very pleased to see that they included a camera in this generation (something they should have done initially, but didn't because then they couldn't market based on perceived obsolescence).To me the inclusion of a camera (two actually) makes the iPad a slightly better investment than it was before. The cameras make the iPad better suited to becoming viable tools for creating digital stories. If your school has invested in iPads or is planning to invest in iPads, take a look at Digital Storytelling with the iPad.

Digital Storytelling with the iPad is a site created by six Apple Distinguished Educators. The site offers a good list and descriptions of free and paid apps that you can use to create digital stories on the iPad. You will also find on the site some app tutorials and links to general digital storytelling resources.

Applications for Education
Although I still think schools should put money into 1:1 laptop programs before 1:1 iPad programs, I do think that the new generation of iPad has more potential than the first. If you're school is investing in iPads for student use, sites like Digital Storytelling with the iPad and IEAR (reviews of educational apps) should be a part of your resource lists.

Thanks to Steven Anderson for Tweeting the link to this resource.