Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Are Your Students Standing On The Shoulders of Giants?

If you visit Google Scholar right now you will see the tagline, "stand on the shoulders of giants." This is something that I mentioned a couple of times while talking about search on Tuesday at the TIE Conference. Google Scholar allows us to see what other researchers have cited in their works. Middle school and high school students may find the material on Google Scholar is above their reading levels, but the concept of seeing what others have cited can definitely be applied to K-12 classrooms.

Two ways students can stand on the shoulders of giants.
Create a Diigo group in which your students share links that they find throughout the year when researching for your class. Save these bookmarks from year to year and have your students consult that list before searching elsewhere. That could save them time on researching the basics of a topic and show them what others have found useful before going to look for more in-depth material. 

If you're asking your students to deliver a slideshow presentation to their classmates, your students can probably find a completed slideshow rather quickly by searching for .PPT files in Google or visiting a site like When students find those slideshows the challenge becomes finding more information than can be found quickly through a Google search. The challenge is to bring their own ideas to the presentation and go beyond the basics.

A Simple Activity to Help Students Analyze Characters in Books

Scholastic's Character Scrapbook is a nice little online activity that could help your students analyze the characters in the books that they read. The Character Scrapbook asks students to create a digital drawing of what they think a character from a book looks like. The Character Scrapbook allows students to create digital drawings of people or animals. After creating their drawings students then complete a list of ten things that they know about the character, ten words to describe the character, ten details about the character, ten challenges facing the character, and ten things about the character's personality. When students have completed each page of the Character Scrapbook the pages can be printed.

Applications for Education
Character Scrapbook isn't a revolutionary tool. In fact, you could do the same activity on paper. The one thing that I really like about Character Scrapbook is that digital drawing tool allows students who might not think of themselves as creative artists to create a visual representation of their favorite characters from the books that they read.

Three Ways Students Can Explore Space From Their Desktops

Someone recently emailed me after reading this post about Google Sky for Android to ask if there were similar tools available for use on laptops. The answer is yes. Here are three tools that students can use to explore space from their desktops.

The Microsoft WorldWide Telescope makes very detailed, high resolution images (scientific quality) from space available to anyone with access to a computer and an internet connection. The goal of the WorldWide Telescope is to enable users to use their computers as virtual telescopes. The WorldWide Telescope can be downloaded and run on Windows-based computers. Mac users will have to use the web client to access the WorldWide Telescope. The educators page on the WorldWide Telescope site has lesson resources and ideas for middle school and high school use.

Celestia is a free space exploration simulation program. Celestia is a free download that works on Mac, PC, and Linux systems. The advantage of Celestia over other satellite imagery programs is that in addition to seeing the Earth's surface, students can zoom in on moons, stars, and planets. The user controls what they see. Operating the program is easy enough to be used by students as young as six or seven. The user guides for Celestia are very thorough and available in four languages. There is a companion website to Celestia called the Celestia Motherlode that features add-ons to Celestia and educational activities that teachers can use in their classrooms.

Google Sky allows you view images of space in your web browser. Google Sky offers great images of outer space captured by the Hubble Space Telescope and the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. Google Sky has images that have captured x-ray and infrared wavelengths. The Google Sky web browser also has some more basic images in a collection referred to as "backyard astronomy." 

Find Free Sound Effects on SoundGator

The next time you need common sounds like doorbells ringing, dogs barking, or car horns honking to use in a multimedia project you could try to record those sounds yourself or you could turn to SoundGator to find free recordings that you can download. SoundGator offers free sound recording downloads. There are twenty-three recording categories that you can browse through to find the perfect sound for your project.

You do have to register on SoundGator in order to download recordings. After registering you can download recordings directly to your computer to re-use in your projects.

Applications for Education
Whenever I talk about having students create multimedia projects I encourage having students create and use their own sound samples. Creating their sound samples isn't always feasible and in those cases it is good to have a site like SoundGator at your disposal.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Persistence- The Key to Successful Classroom Blogging

My mom and brothers in 1990
I've been fortunate to have been invited to speak about blogging at a number of schools and conferences. One of the points that I always try to make in my talks about blogging is "keep blogging even if only your mother is reading your blog."

Teachers (and many others) often give up on blogging because they think that no one is reading their blog posts. It takes persistence to make a blog work if you're the only author. Keep writing even if only one person is reading it. That one person may tell another about your work and then you'll have doubled your readership. But if you stop writing because you think no one is reading then no one will be reading or sharing your blog posts.

To take this idea to classroom blogs remember that it takes time and persistence to get students and their parents to regularly check your classroom blog. These are the pitfalls to avoid that I'll fully admit I fell into the first time I tried to use blogging in my classroom. My first use of a blog was simply to distribute information and have students comment on it. The pitfall here was allowing to students to email comments instead of posting them on the blog when they forgot their log-in credentials. My second use of blogging was having students write reflections of what they had learned during the week. The pitfall here was, again, letting students email their reflections instead of posting them on the blog. The whole point of having the classroom blog was to have students share with each other and comment on their classmates' ideas. When I didn't have the persistence to say, "no, you need to reset your password" then the blogging activity lost its momentum. When I started saying, "no, you need to post to the blog" then my classroom blogging activities became successful.