Monday, July 30, 2012

Try Duolingo to Learn Spanish, German, and French

Duolingo is a free site on which you can learn Spanish, German, and French. To learn on Duolingo you read, listen to, and translate words and phrases. For example if I want to learn Spanish I'll be shown Spanish words with translations. I can can hear the words pronounced too. Then to practice I type and or speak translations. The activities start out with simple words and phrases. As I become more proficient, Duolingo gives me more challenging phrases. To help me track my progress Duolingo awards me point and virtual badges.

Applications for Education
Duolingo won't replace in-person instruction, but it could be a good site for students to use to practice writing and speaking a new language.

Grading Made Easy with Diigo & Jing

This is a guest post from Rebecca Johnson.

Both Diigo and Jing have been written about on numerous occasions here at the Free Technology for Teachers blog, but I wanted to share my experiences using both tools when grading assignments. I teach an information literacy course for the college where I work as a librarian. This course requires students to create an annotated bibliography as their final project; but there’s one issue that I continually run into time and time again - students would submit their sources throughout the quarter, but when it came time to put the bibliography together, they never could find their sources again which left them scrambling to search for additional content. This past quarter, I tried something completely different, and it worked beautifully!

Students were required to create a Diigo account at the beginning of the quarter, and when searching for books, journal articles, or scholarly websites, they would save their sources using the diigolet tool (a bookmarklet). As the image indicates, students were required to provide me with an APA citation, and their summary annotation within the description field of the bookmark area. When students were finished searching for that week, they would submit their Diigo library URL to me, which made it very easy to continue grading their work as they advanced through the course.

Once students submitted their work to me through Diigo, I needed some way of grading it visually so they would know exactly what mistakes were made in order make the necessary changes and complete the final project. I’ve used Jing in the past to create screencasts, but my number one 
use is screen capturing. I mark-up student work and provide the screen capture URL for them to view. The image indicates an example of what a student missed in their Diigo library and how I marked it up using Jing. 

This combination of grading has worked much better than I ever thought it would, and as an added bonus I have even had students ask how to download Jing for their own computers!
Rebecca Johnson teaches Information Literacy at Harrison College and is transitioning into an Instruction and Emerging Technologies Librarian position with Manchester University.  Follow her online at BeccaLovesBooks (Twitter @beccalovesbooks). 

Editor's note: Jing Pro is scheduled to be shut down in February 2013. TechSmith (the producers of Jing) do offer other screen capture products. You can find a list of other screen capture tools here

Sunday, July 29, 2012

A Short Review of the Nexus 7

When I pulled into my driveway on Friday evening there were two boxes waiting for me. One contained new mountain biking clothing. The other contained my new Nexus 7 tablet. I'm sure that most of you don't care about my mountain biking clothing, but I have a hunch that many of you are interested in my thoughts about the Nexus 7 tablet. This is my preliminary hands-on review of the Nexus 7.

What I Like About the Nexus 7:
1. The screen. It is bright and crisp. Reading on the screen doesn't stress my eyes like my Galaxy 10.1 does.
2. The size. I can hold it in one hand and reach every part of the screen (I have fairly average size hands for an average 5' 11" man).
3. Android Jelly Bean. One of the features that I like is zoom option when trying to select a link or other email font feature.
4. Chrome. I can run Chrome as the web browser and sync it to my laptop and desktop.
5. The camera clarity. When I used it for a 30 minute Skype call it it was perfect.

What I don't like about the Nexus 7:
1. The size. The screen size makes the device default to the mobile phone interface. You can change this if you root the device, but I think that voids the warranty.
2. The lack of a back camera. There is only one camera and it is front facing. I could capture a picture with it if I held it backwards, but I wouldn't know for sure what I was capturing.

Would I buy it for students?
So far I feel the same way about the Nexus 7 as I do about the iPad and about my Samsung Galaxy tablet. I would not purchase a tablet as the only device for a 1:1 program. Yes, these tablets can be used to create content but that's not what they're designed to do.  That said, I would purchase the Nexus 7 for elementary schools before I purchased iPads for elementary schools. Why? Because I can buy two Nexus 7 tablets for the cost of the least expensive iPad.

This post was written on my Nexus 7.

Exploring the Olympics on Google Earth and Google Maps

If you've been watching the Olympic Games and wondering how you might incorporate them in your classroom, here are couple of resources to investigate.

The Google Earth Blog has published a short list of Google Earth tours based on the Olympic Games in London. The list includes a fly-over tour of the marathon route, Street View imagery of the Olympic Park, and 3D models of some of the Olympic venues.

Google's London 2012 page includes a Google Map showing the distribution of Olympic medals. Visitors can see the distribution of medals according to medal color and country.

Applications for Education
When I saw the Google Map of medal distribution I immediately thought of a simple geography lesson. Students can browse for medal winners in other countries then research those countries. To take it a step further, you might ask students to investigate why a country produces exceptional athletes in a given sport. For example, you might challenge students to find out why South Korea excels at archery.

Larry Ferlazzo has a large list of Olympic resources going, I encourage you to check out Larry's list

Beyond the App - You Found an App, Now What?

This is a guest post from Sarah Emerling.

With all of the technology integration and the plethora of academic apps flooding the market, the time is ripe for teachers to take advantage of these teaching tools.  More and more, classrooms are incorporating iPods and iPads into everyday instruction.  This is such a gift for today’s students.  There is no denying that iDevices, when used efficiently, are some of our greatest teaching tools.  However, using this technology for effective instruction is a challenge that teachers need to face and accept.

There is a prolific amount of educational apps available for teachers and schools.  From simple flash card type math drills, to more elaborate science instruction and quiz format games, there are just too many apps to detail in any single blog post.  Still, apps alone do not make an efficient instructional tool.  By all means, teach the students how to use them, put them into practice, and utilize their brilliance, but without instruction, the apps are just another support device, not a teaching tool.  iDevices can be used in so many other ways, and as a student-driven instructional tool, they can’t be beat.  

Change how you deliver information
With the big push to increase the level of rigor in classrooms, note-making is an easy and engaging way to have students create their own notes, instead of simply copying down information given to them.  Utilize podcasts (either create your own using Keynote or Powerpoint or download free podcasts from iTunesU) and have students generate their own notes.  Give students a short podcast as an introduction to a topic and a time limit.  Students watch the podcast and create their own notes showing ownership of the knowledge instead of simply being given the information.  Additionally, students love the change from a teacher lecturing to holding the instruction in their hands.

Expand the definition of “text”
Text comes in so many formats; authors don’t necessarily write books.  Show students that the world is full of text by connecting with them on a musical level.  Use songs and music videos to teach literary concepts like author’s purpose, figurative language, and story elements (all while being careful of copyright law).  Students respond to the connection of language arts concepts to popular music.  By putting the music or the video on an iPod students are fully immersed in the experience, and therefore in the text.  Using this type of instruction is particularly helpful for non-readers or low-level readers.  For a student who struggles to read, upper level literacy skills can be difficult.  By giving the student text that is auditory, it takes away the struggle to read and puts the focus on the comprehension skills.

Make movies . . . and much much more
The newest generations of the iPod and iPad come with cameras and internal microphones.  Using these tools, students can create any number of projects, again addressing the synthesis level of Bloom’s Taxonomy.  Using the microphone, younger students can record weekly fluency reads for the purpose of teacher conferencing or running records.  Teachers can also have students record exit slips telling what they learned, additional questions, or summarizing the lesson.  Utilize the camera to have students vodcast.  Video-casting is a fun way for students to express opinions.  Vodcasting impressions of a book, or the details from an historical event is an engaging way to make predictions or analyze thoughts.  Have students create their own movies for any number of reasons - propaganda lessons in social studies, animated book reviews, or student led lessons on math topics.  Putting the devices in the hands of the students ultimately leads to creation-based learning at a level that can’t be delivered solely by a teacher.

Ultimately, putting an iDevice in the hands of students without proper guidance or instruction can lead to play and fun, but not always learning.  Using apps, and apps alone, with solid teaching can absolutely be beneficial to students.  But with the wealth of other resources that iPods and iPads offer, to only use them for apps is underutilizing this valuable tool.  The assortment of student-created products that can be conceived by using the other features of the iDevices is limitless.  It puts the ownership of knowledge into the students hands and makes for better instruction and ultimately better thinkers. 

Sarah Emerling is a special education teacher and a technology coach in Aiken County, South Carolina.  You can follow her technology integration as she chronicles her iLessons in a new blog: She also writes app reviews for   You can contact her at or follow her school tech and apps boards on Pinterest at