Thursday, September 22, 2016

You Choose 2016 Teaches Kids About the Presidential Election Process

Last month I featured the classroom debate kits from PBS Election Central. This week PBS published another good resource for helping students learn about the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election.

PBS Kids You Choose is designed to help elementary school students understand some of the key points of the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election. The site features short biographies of Trump and Clinton, create little campaign posters, and collect "Presidential trading cards." A collection of short, animated videos is also included in PBS Kids You Choose. The videos feature familiar PBS Kids characters singing and or talking about things like the importance of voting, the first Presidents, and frequency of elections.

Applications for Education
PBS Kids You Choose does contain some resources that could be useful with students in 2nd to 5th grade. Unfortunately, the site leaves a bit to be desired in its layout so you'll need to pick resources from it and direct your students to them rather than just letting students use the site on their own.

Short Lessons on the Autumnal Equinox

The autumnal equinox occurs today in the northern hemisphere. If you're looking for some resources for teaching about the equinox and the change of seasons, I have a small collection of resources for you.

On National Geographic's Education page there is a hands-on lesson that is worth noting. This hands-on activity is designed to help students understand the changes in intensity and duration of sunlight on their part of the world throughout the year. The activity requires use of foam balls (or similar) and flashlights that students position to mimic the changes in that amount of sunlight that reaches different parts of the world at different times throughout the year.

Mechanism Of The Seasons is a video that I found on YouTube. The six minute video could be helpful in a flipped classroom environment as it covers the same information that your students will review in the National Geographic materials mentioned above.

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.

This video from NASA explains why the full moon that occurs closest to the autumnal equinox is called the Harvest Moon.

If you would like some resources for teaching about the changing fall foliage, click here for a list that I recently posted.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

PrepFactory Introduces Great, New Practice Activities for Middle School Students

PrepFactory is a popular service that for years has offered great, self-paced SAT and ACT preparation activities. For the new school year PrepFactory has expanded to offer self-paced math and language arts lessons for middle school students.

The self-paced lessons and activities in the new middle school section in PrepFactory reflect the recent changes to the site as a whole. Now when students sign into their PrepFactory accounts they have the option to read a passage of information about each topic or skill in a category and or watch videos on each topic or skill in a category. Students can choose to practice skills in the areas of mathematics, reading, or English/ writing.

As students work their way through a set of practice activities they can avail themselves of helpful hints hyperlinked at the top of each activity. Video review is also available to students. Students are provided with instant feedback after each question or problem in a section. If a student answers incorrectly, he will be given an explanation of why his answer was wrong. The question will also cycle through again for the student to attempt it again.

To avoid monotony, PrepFactory varies the practice activities within every section that a student uses. For example, in the English section students will see fill-in-the-blank, sorting, multiple choice, and short response questions in random sequences.

Disclosure: PrepFactory is an advertiser on

Trace Product Developments Through Google Scholar Patent Search

Last week I was on Facebook chatting with an old friend about an older friend of ours who passed away almost a decade ago now. His name was Steve Gibbs and he owned a successful business that manufactured archery products. Steve's company sponsored me when I was attempting to make the 2000 U.S. Olympic Archery Team. (I didn't qualify, but that's a story for another place and time).

Steve and his company developed a bunch of innovative, patented products. Many of those innovations have been improved upon since his passing. Thinking about Steve and his innovations prompted me to do a little digging in Google Scholar. Specifically, digging into the patent search in Google Scholar. Through my digging in Google Scholar I was able to see who has used and or referenced my friend's patent in the development of subsequent, similar products.

In Google Scholar you can search for patent filings as well as literature about patents and their respective holders. What's interesting about patent search in Google Scholar is that once you've located a filing you can then read the abstract of the filing, view drawings associated with the filing, and read the claims made by the patent holder. Further more, at the bottom of the filing page in Google Scholar you will find a list of citations to related patents referenced in the filing along with a list of other patent filings referencing the one that you're currently viewing. Most of those references include direct links that you can follow back to their respective patent filings.

Applications for Education
Conducting a patent search in Google Scholar and or on Google Patents (a subsection of Scholar) could be a good way for students to trace the development of innovations on a product or process. You could have students create a timeline of development. In that timeline ask them to summarize how each new, related patent was influenced by prior developments.

We will explore this idea and many others in Teaching History With Technology starting in October. 

How to Insert Columns Into Google Docs

Yesterday, Google announced a change to the way in which search works in Google Drive. Buried at the bottom of that announcement was a note about column formatting in Google Docs. For years the only way to create columns in Google Docs has been to insert a table. That finally changed yesterday with the addition of new column formatting option.

To insert columns into your Google Documents you now simply open the "format" drop-down menu and select "columns." In the video embedded below I demonstrate this new feature of Google Docs.

In October you can earn three graduate credits while learning more about Google Docs and all aspects of Google Apps for Education.