Tuesday, May 3, 2011

10 Sites and Apps for SAT Vocabulary Review

Like many of their peers across the country, this Saturday all of the Juniors at my school will be taking the SAT. Although it's kind of late to start prepping for the test, better to do some review this week than not do any at all. The following ten websites and mobile apps are designed to help students review the type of content they're likely to encounter on the SAT.

Vocab Ahead is a great service offering hundreds of videos designed to help students learn SAT and ACT vocabulary words. Each video features a narrator pronouncing the word, reading the definition, and then reading a sentence or two using the vocabulary word. An animated drawing accompanies each sentence to illustrate the meaning of each word and sentence. You can watch the Vocab Ahead videos individually or in a continuous stream. All of the Vocab Ahead videos can be viewed directly on their website or you can embed the Vocab Ahead widget into your own blog or website. Vocab Ahead also gives teachers the ability to create custom playlists of vocabulary videos. The playlists can be shared via email, a posted link on a blog, or by posting a vocabulary video widget on a blog or website.

Bubba Brain is a simple site packed with review games for students preparing for the SAT and AP exams. Bubba Brain also has some games for elementary and middle school subjects. The games all use the same format of giving a definition and asking students to find the word or term that it matches. Once a correct match is made, a new definition appears on the "back" of the answer to the previous definition.

Vocab Sushi is designed to help students prepare for standardized tests such as the SAT, ACT, GRE, LSAT, and more. When you register for an account, Vocab Sushi will ask you which test you are preparing for. Based upon the test for which you're preparing, Vocab Sushi will give you a short (20 question) quiz to evaluate your current skills. Then based on your score, Vocab Sushi will generate a list of words for you to learn.
EduFire is a tutoring service offering live video lessons. EduFire charges for the video lessons, but they do have a good selection of flashcards that students can access for free. There are many decks of flashcards designed for SAT and other standardized test preparation. Students can also access flashcards designed for developing and practicing foreign language comprehension.

Flashcards, either online or physical, still seem to be one of the preferred methods of studying vocabulary words. Flashcard Flash is a handy little search engine designed for one purpose, helping you find sets of flashcards. Flashcard Flash was built using Google Custom Search. Flashcard Flash searches twenty-two different flashcard services including Flashcard DB, Quizlet, and Study Stack all of which I've previously reviewed and found to be excellent services.

Power Vocab is a free iPhone App for learning and studying vocabulary commonly found on the GMAT and GRE. The app uses artificial intelligence based on the research of the MIT Web Semantics Lab and MIT Artificial Intelligence Lab. The artificial intelligence in the Power Vocab app is used to learn about your vocabulary skills and habits to then present you with the word lists and exercises you need to focus on. The app provides you with tools to track your progress as your test date approaches.

Easel is an educational iPad App that provides a canvas for working on Algebra and SAT practice problems. Select a problem type from the menu and you're provided with a blank canvas to write and draw on in the same way that you would use scratch paper. If you get stuck, you can tap the "show me" button to get help. Easel has free and paid versions of an app for SAT prep and an app for Algebra.

Words, Words, Words is a free vocabulary app for Android from Socratica. I have previously checked out some other apps from Socratica that I liked, and this one is no different. I like that the interface is very visually-pleasing and easy to navigate. Words, Words, Words can be used in a flashcard-like manner for familiarizing yourself with the words or in a quiz mode. Words, Words, Words offers audio to help users with pronunciation.

Cobocards, like other flashcard services, allows you to create customized sets of flashcards. One of the key differences between Cobocards and other flashcard services is that Cobocards provides you with pdf copies of your flashcards that you can print to study offline. Of course, you can study also study your flashcards online.

Cramberry allows users to share flashcards with other users. After creating your flashcards you can contribute to a public gallery of flashcards. If you don't have time to make flashcards of your own, you can search for and study flashcards in the public gallery. To use the flashcards you will need to create a Cramberry account. Cramberry offers apps for iPhones and iPads. 

Milking the Rhino - Snag Learning Film of the Week

This week's Snag Learning Film of the Week is Milking the Rhino. Milking the Rhino is an hour long documentary about the challenge of wildlife conservation in Africa. The film depicts the struggle to convince people who have for years poached game to preserve game. Milking the Rhino features the work of NGOs to show African villagers how they can benefit more from ecotourism than they can from poaching. Watch the film and find discussion questions here.

Watch more free documentaries

Egypt After the Revolution

Just a few months ago the world was buzzing with news out of Egypt. As it always does, since Mubarak left the news cycle has shifted to other conflicts and events in the world. So what has happened in Egypt since Mubarak left power and what's next for Egypt? Those questions are covered in the following short (10 minute) documentary Egypt: After the Revolution.

Egypt: After The Revolution from Marty Stalker on Vimeo.

H/T to Open Culture.

Travel Tips for Teachers and Students

This post is way out of the norm for this blog so unless the title really grabbed you, I won't blame you for skipping it. 

This post was inspired by a recent call to action by Chris Brogan. This summer teachers all over the world will be take advantage of one of the perks of our profession and travel for pleasure or professional development. While I don't fly as much as George Clooney's character in Up In The Air, I do fly enough to  have "Elite" status on a couple of airlines and feel I have a few tips that can make flying a better experience for those who don't fly very often or are taking their first flights this summer. These tips are especially useful if you're taking a group of students on a trip somewhere, pass these along and make the experience a little less stressful for everyone involved.

Planning Your Flights
I've been known to fly in late the night before a presentation (see my recent trip to NETA as an example), but I don't plan it that way. Airlines have delays for all kinds of reasons that are often out of their own control; weather, work stoppages, FAA regulations. Expect your flights to go on schedule, but plan your itinerary around them not going on schedule. In other words, if you need to be in Omaha at 6am on Friday don't plan to take the last flight into the city at 11:30pm the night before. Instead book your travel to arrive at 3pm on Thursday and when nothing goes as scheduled you'll still arrive in time for that 6am appointment the next day.

Expedia, Travelocity, and similar sites often have the lowest prices for flights, but it's worth taking five minutes to comparison shop directly on an airline's website. I recently found a lower rate through the US Air website for the same flight that I found on Expedia.

Another word about Expedia and Travelocity flight bookings; if you sort search results by lowest price you'll often see that the fares quoted are for travel on multiple airlines for the same itinerary. There's nothing inherently wrong with flying from Boston to Chicago on US Air then switching to Delta for the next leg of your trip, but it can pose some extra work for you. I've found that if you fly multiple airlines on the same itinerary it can be difficult, if not impossible, to check-in online before arriving at the airport. I've also found that I'll sometimes have to check-in on each leg of my itinerary which can be problematic if you have close connection times. I no longer will book flight itineraries that are require swapping airlines that are not in partnership with each other (check Star Alliance to see a list of major airlines that are partnered).

Even if you only fly once a year, join your airline's frequent flyer program. If nothing else it shows an airline agent that you have intention to use that airline again (for all they know, you could be a big time traveler on a rival airline) and it might provide them with a little incentive to be extra helpful when you need it. For more about the perks of enrolling in frequent flyer programs check out Chris Guillebeau's work. He's even outlined some ways to earn free tickets without flying.

At the Airport
Whether you check-in online or at an airport kiosk you'll probably be presented with a slew of options to upgrade to a seat with more leg room, a seat closer to the front of the plane, or to first class. The decision to spend the money comes down to two factors for me; how long the flight is and where my original seat was. If the flight is less than two hours and I'm not assigned to the middle seat, I'll usually stay with my original seat. If the flight is long (Boston to Seattle for example), I'll usually pay to upgrade to a better seat. The few times I've paid (on Continental and US Air I've been comped) to upgrade to first class it has been worth it for me.

To check baggage or not is a matter of trip length and personal preference. I generally pack light so if I'm going somewhere for less than three days, I don't ever check bags. It's not an issue of not spending $25, it's a matter of convenience when I arrive at my destination. There's no chance of losing my bag when all I have is a carry-on and it saves me the hassle of waiting at a baggage conveyor for up to 30 minutes after my flight.

At security I have a system that saves me a hassle and keeps the line moving. My ID (and boarding pass if I'm not using a mobile boarding pass) goes in my front shirt pocket while my watch, wallet, phone, and keys go in the outer zippered pocket of my laptop bag. Most of the time I wear slip-on shoes to speed the process along too. At the conveyor my shoes, belt, and jacket go in the first bin followed by my laptop bag followed by my laptop and finally my carry-on bag. At the other side of the scanner my shoes come out first, then I pop open my laptop bag, stick in the laptop that followed in the tray, then grab my carry-on bag.

At the Portland, Maine airport you can literally see all of the gates from anywhere inside the terminal so I don't have to scope-out where my gate is. However, if I'm flying out of a big airport like Logan International, I like to go find my gate and confirm that the flight is leaving from that gate before going to eat or shop.

Getting on the plane.
(Disregard this next paragraph if you're flying on Southwest). Most airlines have taken to assigning boarding zones on your ticket. They do this for a couple of reasons; to reward frequent flyers and first class customers with priority boarding and to prevent huge human traffic jams at the gate. As tempting as it is to try to jump ahead in boarding zones doing so can make the entire boarding process longer.

The real cause of human traffic jams on planes though is people trying to put bags into overhead bins or under seats. Again I have a system for not being the cause of the traffic jam. Before getting on the jetway I put my iPod and phone in my pockets and take out the book/ magazine I'm going to read to hold in my hand. Then when I get on the plane I'm not fumbling to take things out of my bag before putting them away.

Getting off the plane.
Yay! The plane landed safely! Now let's all stand up and wait to get out of it! Just like my strategy for getting on the plane, when de-planing I just put things in my pockets or carry them instead of struggling with zippers on my bag. They'll be plenty of time to jam things back into my bag when I'm off the plane and in the terminal.

As much as I like recording important info in my phone, I still write down on paper the address of my hotel and or the name(s) of the person picking me up. It's just comforting to know that if my phone died, I can still get to where I'm going. If you're taking a cab or shuttle to your hotel, don't forget to have cash for tips.

The inevitable lay-over.
Fly enough and you're going to experience a long lay-over somewhere. In big airports you'll have lots of places to eat, but even small ones you can usually find passable meals. I recommend eating in an airport during a lay-over instead of shelling out $7 for a box of industrial grade cheese and crackers on a plane. You might spend a few dollars more, but you'll also eat better. Plus a full stomach will help you sleep on the plane. Depending on the airport you might also see an "airline lounge," I've never paid to go into one, but I have had access through my frequent flyer status. Trust me, even if you're really tired and grumpy it's not worth paying $50+ for a day pass to one of those airline lounges.

Traveling with Students.
This is not something I've done, but I have observed many a traveling student group. The ones that appear to be led by teachers not losing their minds have one thing in common; t-shirts. Call it dorky (kids probably will), but if the whole group has the same t-shirt (a group from my school is currently traveling wearing bright blue t-shirts with "DECA" printed on the front and back) the leader and group members can quickly count and identify each other. When I was a teenager I traveled on the US Jr. Olympic Archery Team and we wore the same "USA" team shirts in part because it was easier for coaches to pick us out in airport crowds. (The adult teams traveling for USA Archery wore whatever clothing they wanted).

Remember that if you're traveling as a group and a flight is canceled or you miss a connection, your whole group may need to be rebooked. It's much easier to rebook individuals than it is to rebook big groups. Have patience with the ticket agent, he/she is trying to help.

TWITTER - Expanding the Classroom - Shrinking the World

While I was principal for 3 years I dealt with a lot bullying/behavior issues related to social media. Finally, I swore it off as a hassle that led to many discipline issues. I swore up and down that I would never use social media such as Twitter or the like. Now I am back in the classroom full time and cannot imagine my life or career without Twitter.

Twitter recently led to an experience for my 6th graders that I could never planned or make happen on my own. While studying Ancient Greece and their gods, I assigned my students a research project on a god. While they were giving their presentations on it, I posted a few tweets about how well they were doing. A teacher in Pennsylvania (@brdcmpbll) happened to see the tweets and it led to an awesome interaction between our two classes.

Mr. Campbell saw that we were studying Greece and asked our class to help his class. His senior Western Civilization class had prepared Greek god reports and we were going to be judges. Through the use of Skype we sat in on some of their presentations. During the presentations, our students used the backchannel Todaysmeet.com. My 6th graders were excited to see other students’ work, talk with students in another state and oh by the way, learned a little more about Greek gods in the process. One of my students actually got to perform the song she wrote about Athena for her presentation to the class in Pennsylvania.

The collaboration due to Twitter did not stop with viewing those presentations. Our class viewed the rest of their presentations using a Google 3X3 grid. Later, the students in Pennsylvania made study guides for my 6th graders using Studyblue, Studystack and Quizlet. All of these sites helped my students learn our material better and made it more fun for the students to learn.

Twitter helped make all this connection and collaboration happen. It broke down the walls of our classroom and allowed students in classrooms across the country to interact and learn from each other. My students were still buzzing about the experience days later, more so than they ever would have been had I just taught a lesson only in our classroom.

Twitter shrinks the world. My students and I follow world events on Twitter, almost as they happen. Greece riots reported by someone watching out their window, earthquake updates in New Zealand, and of course the guy who blogged the U.S. raid on Osama’s compound without even knowing are all examples of events we have “watched” unfold through Twitter. We talk to with classrooms around the world. We participate in classroom competitions and gain authentic audiences for projects of our own. For a recent project the students had to create Prezis on an earthquake. I wanted the students to practice the skill of persuasive writing/presenting. They had to slant their Prezis and try to convince their audience that their earthquake was the worst of the century. I wanted to give them a bigger audience than just themselves and me. Twitter will make the happen. Because of Twitter I already have one teacher who will help judge and I am confident more will help. Twitter provides my students with an authentic, non-biased audience for their presentations. One of my 6th graders was concerned that in the voting phase, everyone would vote for their friends. Great point! So Twitter will help address this concern. This provided more motivation for them to prepare great presentations.

Twitter increases our school’s communication with parents as well. I have created a middle school Twitter account (@aslsms) that the students are allowed to tweet from during the school day. The students update it periodically. I also put updates out there for the parents to read. We have gained a few followers through the year; parents and others. Parents are also just checking the Twitter page to see what is going on daily. Also, some students have even gotten their own Twitter accounts and I have communicated with them via Twitter.

Twitter brings the world into our classroom in so many ways. It breaks down the walls of our classroom and allows our students to experience the rest of the world in new and better ways. Twitter provides opportunities for connection, communication and collaboration to help make the students’ learning experiences better. Twitter has made me a better teacher. Twitter has expanded our classroom and shrunk the world in exciting ways for my students.

Please check out some of my students’ work at www.aslsmra.blogspot.com. This is a collection of some of the digital work of our students from this school year. Most, (if not all) of these ideas or websites I learned about on Twitter – yet another benefit!

Two big thank you’s – one to @kevcreutz for getting me to sign up for Twitter. Also, to @brdcmpbll for collaborating on the Greek god project.

Scott Akerson – 7th Grade homeroom – Abiding Savior Lutheran School – St. Louis MO – @mra47 - www.mra47.blogspot.com

CNN Student News Reports on Death of Osama Bin Laden

Today's episode of CNN Student News is all about the death of Osama Bin Laden. The episode includes a timeline of Bin Laden's terrorist activities, an overview of the operation that killed Bin Laden, and reactions from around the world.

Click here to see the video, read the transcript, and locate the daily discussion guide for CNN Student News.