Monday, April 8, 2013

Write App - A Simple Blogging Platform

Write App is a free service on which you can keep a private journal, maintain a simple blog, or do both. Write App is designed with a minimalist look and set of tools. You won't find options for multimedia elements, fancy themes, or any formatting tools to speak of. What you do get is a clean space to write and create digital notebooks for your writing. You can create multiple notebooks in your free Write App account. Each note that you write can be made public or kept private. Public notes can only be read, they cannot be commented on.

Applications for Education
If you're looking for an easy-to-use tool for your students to write a mix of public and private entries on,  take a look Write App. The minimalist format could help students focus on their writing instead of worrying about the look of their blogs.

Ten Good Video Sources for Science Students and Teachers

One of the great things about teaching today is the wealth of educational videos that are available on the web. No longer do we have to flip through catalogs, order a VHS cassette, wait for it to arrive, and hope that it is as good as the catalog made it sound. Now we can quickly access and screen educational videos. In fact, there is so much available that the challenge is sifting through it all. That's why I occasionally publish lists like this one to help others find educational videos online. Here are ten good sources of science videos for students and teachers.

The Spangler Effect is a YouTube channel from Steve Spangler Science. Unlike his popular Sick Science videos which are no more than short demonstrations of science experiments students and parents can do at home, The Spangler Effect videos offer longer (15 minutes or so) explanations of science experiments. The Spangler Effect videos explain the science of do-it-yourself experiments and how you can recreate those experiments at home or in your classroom.

On his website and YouTube channel Montana's 2011 Teacher of the Year Paul Anderson has uploaded more than 300 quality instructional videos like the ones about biology that are embedded below.


Gooru is a service that aims to provide teachers and students with an extensive collection of videos, interactive displays, documents, diagrams, and quizzes for learning about topics in math and science. As a Gooru member you have access to hundreds of resources according to subject areas such as chemistry, biology, ecology, algebra, calculus, and more. Within each subject area you can look for resources according to media type such as video, interactive display, slides, text, and lesson plans. When you find resources that you want to use, drag them to the resources folder within your account. Gooru also offers you the option to add resources to your folders even if you did not find them within Gooru.

Learners TV has organized hundreds of academic videos. They've also organized more than one hundred science animations. The science animations on Learners TV are organized into three categories; biology, physics, and chemistry.

ScienceFix is the blog and YouTube channel of middle school science teacher Darren Fix. On both the blog and the YouTube channel you will find more than 100 videos demonstrating various science experiments, demonstrations, and middle school science lessons.

MIT Tech TV is a collection of thousands videos produced by students and faculty at MIT. The videos are arranged into more than 600 collections covering topics in engineering, education, science, the humanities, and more. You can view the videos online and most of them are available to download. Roughly 300 of the MIT Tech TV videos are also available on a YouTube channel of the same name. There are a couple of playlists within the channel that could be of interest to high school and middle school science teachers. MIT Engineering K-12 is a set of twenty-six videos in which MIT students explain and demonstrate things like gas pressure, gravity, Boyle's Law, and the shape of sound waves. MIT Physics Demonstrations is a playlist of 44 short demonstrations. The videos don't have narration, just the demonstration. The explanation of the principle demonstrated is found in the description below each video. 

Bright Storm's YouTube channel offers video lessons for biology, chemistry, and physics. The videos are nothing more than an instructor lecturing with a whiteboard for a few minutes which could be adequate if a student just needs a refresher on a science topic.

NASA has a few different YouTube channels, but the one that has the most universal utility for teachers and students is NASA eClips. NASA eClips is organized according to grade level with playlists intended for elementary school, middle school, and high school.

Interactive Biology is a website offering a series of videos, quizzes, and study guides for biology students. The site offers study guides for sale, but there some good free resources available too. The best free resource found on Interactive Biology is the Interactive Biology YouTube channel. There are ten multiple choice quizzes based on information in the videos and study guides. Each quiz offers immediate feedback and provides a hint if you get a question wrong and want to try it again.

John and Hank Green's Crash Course channel on YouTube includes courses in chemistry, ecology, and biology. They're good videos, but they do go quickly so your students might have to rewind them a couple of times to catch everything.

A note about Khan Academy: I left Khan Academy off the list because it's the best known source of educational videos. Sal Khan doesn't need my help promoting his stuff.

Mapping History - Historical Patterns Animated

Some of my favorite social studies lesson plans included having students use maps to analyze data and identify patterns in history. Over the years I've done this with paper maps and digital maps. This afternoon I found a good site, produced by the University of Oregon that features lots of animated maps illustrating problems, patterns, and events throughout history. Mapping History is essentially a digital atlas of American, European, Latin American, and African history. Each section is divided into modules based on historical themes and eras.

Applications for Education
Mapping History is a resource that I have bookmarked for reference the next time that I need a thematic map to illustrate a pattern in history. I found that some of the maps will also be useful as question prompts. For example, this map prompts students to evaluate the extent to which the expansion of slavery in the U.S. was connected to the demand for cotton.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Use Shared Google Drive Folders to Distribute Assignments to Students

One of the ways that I like to share documents, presentations, and files in Google Drive is through shared folders. By creating a shared folder anytime that I add a new item to it, all of the people that have access to the folder have access to the new item I've added to the folder. This is a great way to distribute assignment descriptors, lab report templates, grading rubrics, reading materials, or videos to your students. At the beginning of a semester create a folder, share it with your students, and then for the whole semester you can distribute assignments to students by just adding new content to the folder. The directions for creating a shared folder are posted below. (Click the images to view them full size). 

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Note: Anything that you create inside the folder will have the same visibility permissions as the folder itself.

10 Free Typing Practice Activities for Students

This afternoon I received an email from a reader who was looking for some typing games that her elementary school students can play to practice their touch typing skills. I've reviewed a lot of online typing practice activities over the years, but it has been more than a year since I updated my list. So this evening I put together an updated list of online typing practice activities for students.

Type Rocket is a free typing game from ABCya. Type Rocket is a sixty second game in which students make fireworks explode by typing the letters that appear on the rockets in the games. In the sixty second span of the game students try to correctly type as many letters as they possibly can. The rockets speed up as the game progresses.

Z-Type is a simple and fun typing game. The game has an easy level and a difficult level. The game is played the same way on both levels. To play Z-Type all that you have to do is go to the website and type the words that are falling from the top of the screen. When you have correctly typed a word a laser shoots it. The object is to shoot the words before they reach the bottom of the screen.

If you want students to take a break from the games, have them use Typing Speed Monitor for Google Chrome. Typing Speed Monitor is a Google Chrome extension that will track how fast you type and what keys you use most frequently. If you do a lot of writing online, Typing Speed Monitor is one way to get accurate feedback on your typing proficiency in real-world settings. The latest version of Typing Speed Monitor allows you to opt out of having it track your typing on domains you specify. For example, if you don't want it to track how fast you type on Facebook, you can exclude that domain.

Typing Adventure is a nice little game that young students can use to practice their typing skills. To play the game students just have to visit the game site, read the directions, and press start. The game scenario presented to students is a character leaping from stepping stone to stepping stone. To move along the path students have to type the letters of the stones they want to jump to. Students earn points based on speed and accuracy.

Good Typing is a free online typing skill development program. Good Typing provides 27 graduated lessons designed to help students learn to use their entire keyboards correctly. Unlike some free online typing programs, Good Typing offers support twenty different keyboard styles including US style, Japanese style, and several European languages.

Dance Mat Typing is a nice little resource from the BBC. Young students (four to eight years old) can receive clear, informative typing instruction through Dance Mat Typing. There are four levels for students to work through. Within each level there are multiple lessons and practice activities. The very first lesson that students receive is placement of their hands on the keyboard. Each lesson and practice activity offers instant feedback in visual and audio form.

Word Games offers a large collection of online word games and typing games. The word games range from simple word searches and crosswords to games that require players to complete sentences and phrases. The typing games are a mix of simple sentence typing for speed and games that require accuracy to "defend" a character or move a character through a scene. Some of the games featured on Word Games can be either downloaded to your computer, see Typing Defense, others can be embedded into your blog or website.

Typing Web is an online typing tutorial that provides instant feedback after every free typing lesson. Typing Web offers beginner through advanced typing lessons for free. You can register to track your progress or you can use Typing Web without registering.

Listen and Write is a great way for students to improve their typing skills and hear about the news. Listen and Write plays short audio clips of news stories and users type what they hear. The audio clips are relatively short, come in a few different levels, and registered users can track their progress.
 
Power Typing hosts a small collection of five typing games that students can use to develop their typing skills. Power Typing also offers typing lessons for Qwerty and Dvorak keyboards. The two games that I found easiest to access are Alphabetic Rain and See Don't.