Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Sights, Sounds, and Science of Autumn

This morning I woke up to a chill in the air. As I walked my dogs I spotted a bunch of fallen, red leaves. In just over a week from now the autumnal equinox will be here in the northern hemisphere. Here are some resources for teaching and learning about the sights and sounds of autumn.

Sixty Symbols offers an eleven minute video about equinoxes and solstices. It's not a video that most kids will find engaging, but I'm including it because in it you can see a demonstration of how you can use the free Stellarium software in your lessons.

To help students understand why the leaves change colors in the fall, the Maine Forest Service has an animated video explaining why leaves change colors. The video is titled Maine's Autumn Magic and you can watch it here. To help students understand some of the terms in the video, the Maine Forest Service has a glossary of tree terms.

Although they're not as informative as the two resources above, National Geographic has a couple of nice photo galleries of fall foliage. Click here for a small gallery of images from Acadia National Park. Click here for a gallery of images from the Adirondack Park.

Untamed Science offers a good, partially animated, explanation of why leaves change colors, what produces the colors, and why bright and sunny days are best for viewing red leaves. The video is embedded below.


Autumnal Colors is a short video produced by Thomas Rasel. The two minute video highlights the sights and sounds of autumn. A bugling elk and a squirrel preparing for winter are a couple of the sights and sounds included in the video.


Autumn from Thomas Rasel on Vimeo.


Autumn Stars and Planets is a short PBS video that explains why the stars and planets that we see from Earth change with the seasons. The video is embedded below.


Reactions, a great YouTube channel from the American Chemical Society, offers a nice video about the chemistry involved in the process of leaves changing color. The videos explains how chlorophyll and the glucose stored inside trees help reveal the reds, yellows and, browns of fall foliage.

Symbolab - An Online Graphing Calculator and More

Symbolab is a service that launched four years ago. When I tried it then I described as a cross between Google and Wolfram Alpha. I described it that way because Symbolab would conduct a search for answers to math problems and also display the steps needed to complete the problem. Additionally, Symbolab provides links to blog posts that explain how various equations and functions help to solve problems.

Recently, a Symbolab developer contacted me about some new features of the service. First, Symbolab is now more than just a search tool. It includes a free graphing calculator and a free integrals calculator. Symbolab has also added a neat chemical reactions calculator. Finally, students can now find practice problems on Symbolab. The practice problems cover a wide array of topics in math. Most topics cover in the practice problems are accompanied by helpful videos for students to review if they get stuck on a problem.


Applications for Education
There are other sites and apps that provide similar services to those of Symbolab. Not being a math teacher myself, I can't say that Symbolab is inherently better than its competitors. I will point out that it's nice to have multiple options for students to choose from when looking for free scientific calculators.

Help Me Choose My Next Video Topic

Every week I make new video tutorials that I publish on my YouTube channel. The topics of most of those tutorial videos comes from questions that people email to me or ask me on Twitter. I'd love to read more of your suggestions for video tutorials. If you have a tutorial request, please complete the form embedded below.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Pixton Offers a Great Way to Create Engaging Writing Lessons

For years I’ve advocated for using comics as a way to get students engaged in the writing process. To many students, creating a comic seems a lot less intimidating and a lot more fun than simply writing a story on a blank sheet of paper. One of my favorite ways to have students use comics is to create and share stories about themselves. Students can create cartoon characters to represent themselves in a story. They can create the characters in their likeness or make the characters appear completely different from themselves, thereby telling a story in an anonymous fashion.

Pixton is one of the great tools that students can use to create comics. Pixton provides excellent, free lesson plans to help you get your students engaged in writing through comic creation.

Pixton is a drag-and-drop cartoon creation tool which allows anyone to create great comics regardless of their drawing skills. In Pixton you can tell stories through comics by using pre-made scenes and characters, or by developing your own custom characters and scenes. My preference is to use a mix of pre-made background settings and customized cartoon characters. You can choose how many characters you want to appear in each frame of your comic. A nice touch in Pixton is that you can quickly change the poses of your characters in each scene of your comic. Just click or tap the actions button to select from large variety of character poses.

Unlike some other comic creation tools, Pixton lets you choose from a variety of layout formats including graphic novel styles, storyboard formats, mind maps, and traditional comic strips. Another nice feature of Pixton’s formatting options is the ability to change background scenes from one frame to the next.

Applications for Education
As mentioned above, one of my favorite ways to have students use comics is create and share stories about themselves. At the beginning of the school year when we’re trying to get to know our students and they’re trying to get to know each other, telling a fun personal story can be a good way for students to show a bit of their personalities. You could do this in Pixton by having students first choose or create cartoon characters to represent themselves in the story. Then have them choose and/or modify background scenes for each frame of their stories. Finally, let them write character dialogues or monologues.

Often the writing of the story comes fairly easily once students have chosen their characters and background scenes. This is because, throughout the process of choosing characters and scenes, they’re thinking about the highlights of their stories.

Visit Pixton’s free lesson plans depot to find many more great ideas for teaching with comics. You’ll find lesson plans there for all subject areas and grade level

Disclosure: Pixton is currently an advertiser on FreeTech4Teachers.com

6 Things to Check When a Website or App Isn't Working

This is the time of year when you might find yourself trying to use an app or website for the first time after a few month layoff due to school vacation. This is also the time when you might be trying a completely new-to-you app or site that you saw demonstrated during a PD session during the summer. When you visit that site or app you might find that it's not working the way that you expected it to work. Before throwing your hands up at it, try these simple fixes.

1. Are you using a modern and updated web browser? In a lot instances of a site not working properly in a school, the cause can be traced to using an outdated version of Internet Explorer. If you're using an outdated version of a web browser not only will some sites not work correctly, you are also opening yourself up to more potential security threats. Find out which browser and version you're using by visiting WhatBrowser.org

2. Do you have cookies enabled? Many websites require cookies in order to offer you the best possible experience. Explania and Common Craft offer good explanations of how cookies work.


3. Do you have a pop-up blocker turned on? It is not uncommon for a website to use a pop-up window for account log-ins. If the pop-up is blocked, you won't be able to log-in.

4. Are you using the site on a tablet/ iPad/ Chromebook? While it would be great if every site was optimized for tablets, that is not the case.

5. Have you updated your operating system? New apps and sites may not function properly on an outdated operating system. Take the time to run the update on your iPad or computer.

6. Have you checked your spam folder? If you sent a help request to the help desk/ site administrators, they may have replied and had their messages flagged by your spam filter. I've experienced this more than once when using a school district email address.

And just to bring a little humor to this, in the words of The IT Crowd, "have you tried turning it off and on again?"


Disclosure: For years I have had an in-kind business relationship with Common Craft.