Tuesday, March 10, 2015

What if Minecraft Goes the Way of Second Life?

This morning I saw Michael Beilharz give an excellent presentation at the Future School Expo. His presentation was all about using Minecraft in education including in a professional development environment. As I was watching one of Michael's demonstration videos I thought to myself, "what if Minecraft goes the way of Second Life?"

Many of us recall when Second Life was all the rage and teachers were developing all kinds of ways to bring it into their schools. I even presented a couple of times in ISTE's Second Life island. Today. Second Life seems to be barely staying alive. I haven't seen it even mentioned on a conference schedule in a few years. That's not to say that all those past sessions about Second Life were bad. In fact, I saw some that were very good. But technology changes and what engages students changes. As long as the activities that were conducted in Second Life engaged students, motivated them, and helped them learn then the activities were useful.

If Minecraft goes the way of Second Life, that will be okay. That's not a knock on Minecraft. Rather it's a statement about the changing nature of popular technology. As with Second Life, as long as the activities conducted in Minecraft today are engaging and helping students learn, keep at it until they cease to be effective. When they cease to be effective, change and embrace the next technology that students are crazy for.

And just to be clear, this post is not at all a criticism or Michael (his presentation was one of the best I've seen about Minecraft) or anyone else that has presented on Minecraft or Second Life over the years. 

Text to Speech in Google Earth

This is a guest post from Brenda Doucette (@doucetteb) of EdTechTeacher - an advertiser on this site.

Recently, some of our 6th graders came into the computer lab to do research using Google Earth. The teachers on the 6th grade team had spent many hours digitizing curriculum and making Google Earth Tours (.kmz files) for their students as it is a wonderful way for students to experience the world around them.

Today's lesson was a tour of Europe's Physical Features - complete with embedded videos, text and images. One particular group seemed to be having some trouble reading the text as they made each stop on the tour, and they were not progressing with the rest of the class. As I tried to help them with the reading material, I thought about the built-in Apple Text to Speech in Yosemite and wondered if it would work on Google Earth.
  Apple Dictation & Speech

We were thrilled to find out that it does! We taught the student how to turn on this accessibility feature, and we were further surprised to learn that we could change the speaker’s voice and speaking rate. Everyone in the lab has headphones on, so none of the students were singled out. This was a game changer for that particular group of  students as they could now access the same material in Google Earth as their peers. I just love it when Apple products work so well with Google products!

If you are interested in learning more about differentiating instruction, using Google Earth with students, or a number of other topics, EdTechTeacher will be offering hands-on Summer Workshops in 5 cities during June and July.

Monday, March 9, 2015

TinyTap Introduces Challenge Mode for Building Games on iPads and Android Tablets

TinyTap is a fantastic free iPad app and Android app for building fun and interactive review games. With the app you can create games based on pictures, diagrams, videos, and icons. The latest update to the app enables you to include a challenge mode in your games.

TinyTap's challenge mode allows you to add scoreboards to your games so that players can see how they stack-up against each other. The challenge mode also lets you create time limits on your games and create "lives" for players in each of the games that you create.
Image courtesy of TinyTap PR.
If the challenge mode doesn't appeal to you there are plenty of other great aspects to TinyTap games. One of my favorite aspects is the option to build shape puzzles in the app. I demonstrate that process in the video embedded below.

Applications for Education
One of the ways for using TinyTap that I have shared in the past is to create games to help students learn about their classrooms and school building. You could use TinyTap to take pictures of hallways and rooms in your school then turn those pictures into identification games.

At the upper elementary and middle school levels creating TinyTap shape puzzles is a good way for students to practice recognizing important parts of a flowchart, a cell diagram, or a storyboard.

iStoryBooks Now Offers Premium Books for Free to Teachers

iStoryBooks is a good service that for the last few years has offered classic children's books for free through their iPad and Android apps. Today, I received an email from their PR department in which they announced that now all of the books in the apps will be free to teachers. Directions for getting a free premium subscription are copied below.

To request a free subscription, teachers need only contact iMarvel, the app’s developers. This can be done by visiting www.istorybooks.co and clicking the “contact us” link on the web page. Teachers are asked to include promotion code TCH0315 in the message. They will then be contacted with further instructions to finalize the subscription. Free subscriptions are currently being offered for any interested teacher but, the offer is subject to change at any time without notice. The free subscription provides access to the complete collection of eBooks including 55 premium content books that normally costs $0.99 monthly.

Applications for Education
The iStoryBooks iPad app and Android app gives students the option to read each story on their own or to read along with each story while listening to the narrator. If you have or teach children under eight, iStoryBooks could be a great app to install on your iPad or Android-powered tablets. Children can practice reading and recognizing words by going through the stories with the narration turned on. Or you can turn the narration off and read the stories with your child or student.

Simple Search Strategies Your Students May Be Overlooking

Over the years I've written about advanced web search strategies shared by Daniel Russel. And I've written about alternative search engines that have come and gone over the years. But often times students don't have to dive into complex strategies and databases in order to find a lot of great information. In the slides embedded below I have outlined some simple search strategies that can be powerful when students remember to employ them.

These slides are the basis of a presentation that I will be giving on March 31st as part of Simple K12's afternoon of Google Apps webinars.

Disclosure: I am being compensated to present this free webinar.