Tuesday, February 5, 2013

What Matters Most To Me When Ranking Educational Blogs (Hint, It's Not Traffic)

Last month the Teach 100 was launched for the purpose of trying to rank the popularity and influence of educational blogs. Today, Larry Ferlazzo drew my attention to another top 100 ranking produced by Onalytica. And it seems like at least once a week I see some kind of list of "the top 50 (or 10 or 100) blogs for teachers of X." In fact, I recently wrote a few posts in which I recommended a handful of blogs for language arts, math, and history teachers

But trying to get on these lists is not why most of us blog. Why we blog is to try to help others learn from our work. So what really matters when you see a list of "influential blogs" isn't how much traffic a blog gets or where it ranks on a list. What matters is whether or not you like the blog and you benefit from reading it. I read lots of blogs that don't appear on any lists yet they're blogs that I count as the most influential to me. My top 100 and your top 100 will always be different and they should be. Otherwise we're all just reading the same stuff and that gets boring after a while.

Class Badges Adds a New Make Your Own Badges Option

Class Badges is a free achievement tracking service that launched late last year. On Class Badges teachers create goals for their students. When students reach their goals teachers give them a badge to them to keep in their student profiles. Teachers can create goals for things like completing a large research project, for perfect attendance, or for completing an informal learning activity with their parents while visiting a local museum. This month they have added the option to create your own custom badges for anything that you would like to track and reward your students for doing.

Applications for Education
Class Badges is being used by some teachers to help students track their progress toward the completion of large research projects. Some teachers are using Class Badges to document students' mastery of key elements of course curriculum.

Monday, February 4, 2013

50 Years of Solar System Exploration & 10 Good Resources for Learning About Space

National Geographic and Bill Nye the Science Guy hosted a panel discussion with NASA scientists. The panel discussed the history of major developments over the last fifty years of space exploration. The half hour discussion was recorded and is available to watch online. Watching the video, embedded below, prompted me to review some of the many resources for learning about space exploration that I've discovered over the years. Here are ten of my favorites.

Station Spacewalk Game is designed for middle school students to learn about the purposes and functions of the International Space Station. In the game students go on Extravehicular Activities modeled after real EVAs performed by astronauts. Station Spacewalk can be played online or downloaded for free as a Windows game or as a Mac game.

NASA's Lunar Electric Rover Simulator is a free iOS app that lets you explore the moon. The app is really a game in which players perform tasks to support the activities of a lunar outpost. Players transport items from place to place and along the way encounter lunar challenges to overcome. The app also includes an interactive gallery of images. You can download the app for free from iTunes.

NASA 360 is a series of videos about NASA's work. The episodes examine NASA's technological and scientific work. The episodes discuss how NASA's work is used not only in space exploration but also in elements of our modern everyday lives. The episodes can be downloaded from the NASA 360 page or viewed on Hulu.

In the 25 minute video below former commander of the International Space Station, Sunita Williams takes viewers on an in-depth tour of the International Space Station. In the video you'll get the answers to almost everything you may have wondered about regarding living in space for weeks or months at a time. Williams shows us the laboratories, the space suits for space walks, the kitchen, and the sleeping quarters. Williams even shows us the space station's "outhouse" and goes so far as to explain the different types of toilet paper on the space station.

We Choose the Moon is a project put together by the John F. Kennedy Presidential LibraryWe Choose the Moon has eleven stages that viewers can follow as the mission progresses. If you visit We Choose the Moon you can explore image and video galleries capturing the sights and sounds of the lead-up to the launch. Included in these galleries are videos of President Kennedy talking about the goal of putting a man on the moon.

Planet In Action is a fun website that features games based on Google Earth. In  the Moon Lander game you take control of the Apollo 11 moon lander and guide the Eagle to touch-down. 

NASA has an excellent interactive timeline tracing the history of astronomy and space exploration from the Greek philosophers through today. Planet Quest is actually three timelines combined into one. The three timelines cover technology, discovery, and culture as it relates to astronomy and space exploration. Each element on the timeline is narrated. Users can select individual elements on the timeline or choose autoplay to hear the narration of each item in sequence.

The Scale of the Universe 2 features a huge selection of objects in the universe that are arranged according to size and scale. You can zoom-in on the image to objects as small as neutrinos and quarks or as large as planets, constellations, and galaxies. When you click on an object in The Scale of the Universe 2 a small window of information about that object pops up.

Spacecraft 3D is a free iPad app produced by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Spacecraft 3D uses augmented reality technology to bring NASA spacecraft to life on your iPad. To get started using the app you first need to print out the spacecraft target codes. Then your students can scan those target codes with their iPads. The spacecraft then becomes a 3D model that your students can explore.

NASA Space Place is a sizable collection of fun projects, games, animations, and lessons about Earth, space, and technology. Before playing the games or attempting one of the projects, students should explore the animations and facts sections to gain some background information. The projects section of NASA Space Place provides teachers, parents, and students with directions for hands-on projects like building a balloon-powered rover, building relief maps, and building a moon habitat. The games section offers thirty games covering all of the subjects in the animations and facts sections.

Problem Attic Now Offers 80,000+ Practice Questions in Math, Science, Social Studies, and ELA

Problem Attic is a free service that allows you to quickly create practice tests and flashcards for social studies, language arts, mathematics, and science. I reviewed the service last fall. Since then it has nearly doubled the number of practice questions that are available for teachers to use to create practice assessments and flashcards. Problem Attic now includes questions from past standardized tests of seventeen U.S. states.

Problem Attic makes it easy to create practice assessments and flashcards. To create your practice tests on Problem Attic you simply create a new document then browse through questions and pin them to your document. After you have pinned all of the questions that you want in your document you can arrange the order in which they appear in your document. Finally, before printing your document you choose and set the page formatting.

Applications for Education
One of my former department chairpersons was a big fan of using old New York Regents exam questions as essay prompts and review activities with his students. In my travels and work with teachers in other parts of the U.S. I've talked with other teachers who also like to use old exams for the same purpose. If you like to use old exam questions as review materials, Problem Attic is a service that you should try.

Is The 5-Second Rule True? And Other Interesting Science Videos

VSauce is an interesting YouTube channel that I have followed for a while now. The videos published by VSauce explain the science and math that answers all kinds of fun and interesting questions like "is the 5 second rule true?" "where is the most dangerous place on Earth?" and "will we ever visit other stars?"

Applications for Education 
Due to the PG-13 rating that I'd apply to some of the content of some VSauce videos I wouldn't turn my students loose on the whole VSauce channel, but I would use an individual video as part of a science lesson.