Monday, March 4, 2013

Connect and Collaborate With NASA

It's not a secret that I enjoy many of the educational resources that NASA offers to teachers and students. I enjoy visiting the NASA website because it seems like every time I visit it there is a new resource to investigate. This afternoon I discovered Connect and Collaborate With NASA. Connect and Collaborate With NASA is a page linking to all of NASA's iOS, Android, and Windows Mobile apps. The page includes apps that I've previously tried Spacecraft 3D (my review) and Sector 33 (my review) as well as some new-to-me apps like Comet Quest (free iOS app) and Be A Martian (Android).

Applications for Education
If you're looking for some free apps to support your lessons in engineering and science, take a look at Connect and Collaborate With NASA before you jump to searching in the Google Play or App Store. Some of the apps that I recommend starting with are Planet Quest, the Lunar Rover Simulator, and Earth as Art. All three of those apps are available through Connect and Collaborate With NASA.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Five Ways to Create Word Clouds

This morning at the Massachusetts School Library Association's conference (a fun conference that I highly recommend) Pam Berger presented some good ideas for working with primary source documents and Web 2.0 tools. One of the ideas that she shared and others elaborated on was the idea of using word clouds to help students analyze documents. By copying the text of a document into a word cloud generator your students can quickly see the words that appear most frequently in that document. Here are five tools that you and your students can use to create word clouds.

ABCya! offers a beautiful word cloud generator. Like all word cloud generators you simply copy and paste chunks of text into the text box to have a word cloud created. Common words like "the" are automatically excluded from your word clouds. You can edit the font style, adjust color schemes, and flip the layout of your word clouds on the ABCya! Word Cloud Generator. The one shortcoming of the tool is that it doesn't provide embed codes. You can download and or print your word clouds.

Tagul is a free word cloud generator that offers the option to link every word in your word cloud to a Google search. Click on any word in your word cloud to be taken directly to a Google search results page for that word. Tagul creates a word cloud from text you copy into your Tagul account. Tagul will also generate a word cloud from any url you specify. Just as you can with other word cloud generators, Tagul allows you to specify words to ignore in creating your word clouds. Once your word cloud is created Tagul provides you with an embed code to put your cloud on your blog or website.

Word It Out creates word clouds out of any text that you paste into the word cloud generator. Once the word cloud is created you can customize the size and color scheme of the cloud. You can also customize the font used in your word cloud. The feature of Word It Out that I like the best is that you can choose to have Word It Out ignore any word or words you choose. Ignoring words keeps them out of the word cloud.

Tagxedo makes it very easy to customize the design of your word clouds. You can select from a variety of shapes in which to display words or you can design your shape for your word cloud. You can enter text into the word cloud generator manually or simply enter a url from which Tagxedo will generate a word cloud. As with other word cloud generators you also have options for excluding words from your word clouds.

Wordle is regarded by some as the "original" online word cloud generator. Wordle provides many options for color, shapes, and fonts for displaying your word clouds.

Disclosure: ABCya! gives me money for groceries and dog food every month. Actually, they give me money for advertising. 

Saturday, March 2, 2013

How to Create Your Own Search Engine

Yesterday, Google published a new visual explanation of how Google Search works. The Story of Search is part of the Inside Search website where you can find some good tips that will help you search better. Looking at Inside Search reminded me that I needed to update my tutorial on how to create a Google Custom Search Engine and how to put that search engine into your blog. My new guide to creating a Google Custom Search Engine is embedded below.

Applications for Education
One of the reasons that some teachers like to create their custom search engines is so that they can control which websites appear when their students search. You can also control how many sites appear in a search result by building a custom search engine. This can be useful with young students who are just learning to search and can be overwhelmed by the number of results or confused by content that is far above their reading levels. 

The Week in Review - Welcoming March

Good morning from the Free Technology for Teachers world headquarters in snowy and sunny and Greenwood, Maine. How snowy is it? The snow is up to the railing on my back deck and my dogs are up to their necks in snow when they step off of the trails we've made in the woods. In other words, March has arrived like a lion. I like the snow though and my dogs do too so I'm not complaining. 

In just a little bit I'm heading out for the Massachusetts School Library Association's annual conference. I'll be speaking there tomorrow. Later in the week I'll be spending three days at the NCTIES conference in Raleigh, North Carolina. If you're going to be at either of these events, please say hello. 

Here are this week's most popular posts:
1. 5 Ways to Add Interactive Elements to Your Videos
2. Why Word Order Matters in Google Searches
3. 5 Good Services to Help Students Learn New Vocabulary Words
4. Why Visuals Matter in Storytelling
5. 76 Examples of Using Haiku Deck in School
6. - Sync Your Presentations to Your Audience's Laptops and Tablets
7. Teaching With Technology and Primary Sources

Would you like to have me to visit your school this year? 
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Friday, March 1, 2013

It's Okay to Ask For Help

This is one of the rare times that I am going to step away from writing about technology and education on this blog and take advantage of having a large following to send out a personal message. If you want to skip this post, I understand, but I hope that you don't skip it.

This afternoon I received a phone call from a friend who informed me that one of our friends from college had taken his own life. The details are still fuzzy and the "why" may never be known by anyone other than our deceased friend. On the outside though everything looked "normal." He was a teacher at a small Christian school in Pennsylvania, a youth pastor, had a lovely wife (I was a part of his elaborate marriage proposal on New Year's Eve, 1999) and two young children at home who will now grow up without him.

I wish that I could ask Grant "why?" and remind him that no matter how down and dark you're feeling there is help available and that life will improve. But I can't now. I can, however, share my  story and tell you that it is okay to ask for help because people want to help you. A very small circle of my closest friends know that a couple of years ago I too struggled with the same depth of depression that I'm sure Grant was feeling. That changed on the first Friday of April, 2011 when that morning I walked into my principal's (Ted Moccia) office and with tears welling up told him that I needed help. Ted dropped everything that day to get me the help that I needed. That day my life turned around for the better, but it wouldn't have happened if I didn't ask for help. And believe me, asking for that help was emotionally the hardest thing for this New Englander to do.

I'm not sure how to conclude this post other than to say that whatever you may struggle with, there are people who will help if you ask. And if you don't have any struggles, help those who do.