Ed Tech Ideas

Tech Integration for Busy Teachers

Monthly Archives: November 2009

WatchKnow – For Teachers who are YouTubed Out

I learned about this site from Wesley Fryer, who learned about it from Richard Byrne, who actually learned about it from ReadWriteWeb. I know there are a lot of YouTube apprehensive educators who are concerned with some of the content of videos that appear on YouTube, so I thought I’d share. Personally, I would rather be around when students stumble upon the kinds of things we don’t want them stumbling upon, because, let’s face it; they’re going to stumble upon it at some point in time. Being in a safe environment when this happens opens up the conversation on what to do when these kinds of things happen. However, I also understand that some lessons are time sensitive and teachers may not have the luxury to sidestep a lesson. Thus, this post.

What is WatchKnow?
Taken from the About section on the WatchKnow website:

“Imagine hundreds of thousands of great short videos, and other media, explaining every topic taught to school kids. Imagine them rated and sorted into a giant Directory, making them simple to find. WatchKnow–as in, ‘You watch, you know’–is a non-profit online community devoted to this goal.”

The site is the creation of Larry Sanger, the co-founder of WikiPedia and it gathers videos mainly from YouTube, but also from sites like National Geographic and organizes them into searchable categories and age ranges. WatchKnow is people-dependent and at launch, most of the videos on the site were added by teachers. There is a leader board which lists the most robust posters and, at the time of this writing, a 4th grade teacher named Teresa Hopson is in the lead with 3,048 submissions.

One thing I really like is that the related videos that you normally get after watching a YouTube video have been removed (at least all the ones that I previewed were) because often, the “related videos” have nothing to do with what you just watched and sometimes the content is questionable.

Apparently, YouTube is blocked in many schools in the states. If this is the case at your school, WatchKnow will also not work. Fortunately for you, Richard Byrne has posted 30+ Alternatives to YouTube.

Top 5 Spelling Resources

I found this recently on one of Tom Barrett’s posts. Since spelling is always a hot topic in my school, and I know it is in others, I thought I’d share.

There are so many online resources available nowadays to support literacy and spelling, but which are the true gems in the bunch. Which do we use in the classroom? Which are favourites with my class? Which have the flexibility, depth and longevity to make it into my Top 5 Spelling resources?

1) Spelling City

This has proven to be a highly valuable resource. You are able to save spelling lists for the children to access beyond school. It comes into its own as each list is used in a variety of different games to help the children learn them. Each word that you add to the list is automatically linked to a snippet of audio pronouncing the word and there is even audio of the word used in a sentence.

Lists can be downloaded, printed and there is even a handwriting sheet that you can print off for your spelling list. There has been a big take up by KS2 teachers in my school and Spelling City is a firm favourite of my class. My only grumble is that some words are difficult to understand in the audio as the pronounciation is American.

2) TutPup

No problem in TutPup with the English pronunciation of the words as the lady who has done the audio, I am told, did the announcements for the London Underground system! TutPup provides a social competitive edge to the children’s practice which they really enjoy.

The main bulk of games are maths based but the audio quiz for spelling is excellent too. The children listen to a word and type in the spelling, they are of course paired with another user from somewhere in the world giving it that competitive fun. Why not finish your session with a look at Google Earth and map where the competitors were from.

I am pleased to note that since I began using TutPup last year they have added a link to the word lists used for the different levels so you can point the kids at the right one.

3) Look Say Cover Write Check

There are a whole bunch of these resources but the best in my opinion is the Crickweb version.

You can add your own 10 words, practice using the look, say, cover, write and check method and there is even facility to print paper based resource cards and review and assess progress. Simple and very effective.

4) Spin and Spell

A lovely interactive site for the simple practice of common key words. Children can choose from a range of different word topics such as “In and around the home” and “Animal Kingdom”. The children then are presented with a big wheel in the centre of the screen with all of the letters on it. They choose a little image from the many that populate the rest of the screen and they hear audio of that word and then have to spell it using the dial.

You can select to have the words chosen randomly and they can reveal and hear the word again as they are working. Again the American pronunciation can cause some confusion but otherwise it is worthy of a spot in my top 5 spelling resources.

5) GeoGreeting

A bit of fun for number five – this resource will help children to see their spellings in a different way.


GeoGreeting finds satellite images of buildings and other objects from around the world that resemble the letters in your words. Great to get the kids using them to see the words in an alternative visual way.

These are my top 5, but I know that there are a huge variety of online games and interactive resources that can be used. What do you think of my list? What would make it into your top 5 online spelling resources? I hope you have found something useful here to use with your class.

Automatic Captions in Youtube Video

This is a pretty cool new feature in Youtube videos. It uses Google’s Voice Transcription Technology and adds text to any video in Youtube. In the official Google blog post, “Automatic captions in YouTube,” Google announced:

…we’ve combined Google’s automatic speech recognition (ASR) technology with the YouTube caption system to offer automatic captions, or auto-caps for short. Auto-caps use the same voice recognition algorithms in Google Voice to automatically generate captions for video. The captions will not always be perfect (check out the video below for an amusing example), but even when they’re off, they can still be helpful—and the technology will continue to improve with time.

In addition to automatic captions, we’re also launching automatic caption timing, or auto-timing, to make it significantly easier to create captions manually. With auto-timing, you no longer need to have special expertise to create your own captions in YouTube. All you need to do is create a simple text file with all the words in the video and we’ll use Google’s ASR technology to figure out when the words are spoken and create captions for your video. This should significantly lower the barriers for video owners who want to add captions, but who don’t have the time or resources to create professional caption tracks.

Check out the 2:34 video to see it in action.

Inspiration – Animals With a Bad Rep

Pythons - by Benjamin

In a recent Foss science unit, a third grade class was learning about the structures of life. The teacher wanted her students to be able to focus on a specific animal and learn about the following things: Physical Traits, babies, habitat, food, behaviors/interactions and anything that “wow’d” the student about their animal. What made this project different from other animal research projects is that the students could only choose their animals from a list of “animals with a bad rep.” This included animals like anacondas, sharks, cockroaches, human bot flies, killer bees, wasps, bats, and naked mole rats, just to name a few. In order to speed the project along, the teacher pre-selected a couple dozen websites which I dropped in a network folder that the students have access to.

Sharks - by Nicholas

After gathering all of the information, I had the students begin an Inspiration diagram about their animal. The diagram had three levels: The main topic (the animal); the research category (physical traits, habitats, etc.); and the information that the students found.  After all the information was entered (the rapid fire feature in Inspiration makes this step go quickly), the students were then instructed on how to arrange their diagrams to better display their findings in a hierarchal way.

Watch this video to see how rapid fire works.

Monkeys - by Ellen

The open-endedness of this project made differentiation effortless.  Some students were able to get their research organized with a few facts and display it in an organized way. There were others who listed over 30 facts on their given animal, and then went on to change the font, create new line colors, add new shapes, and insert pictures. Read more of this post

Web Searching – Don’t Believe Everything you Read Online

One of my 4th grade classes is about to embark on a research project, so in a recent lesson, I decided to teach and hone their research skills. Not wanting to go the standard route of, how to Google more efficiently, I chose to select 2 topics, have the students search for information on one of those topics, and then share what they have learned. The 2 topics students could choose from were, the Tree Octopus and All About Explorers. (Note: I did skew the activity purposefully by telling them that they had to search for those exact phrases).

Most students went directly to Google and without much thought clicked on the first link and began writing down “factual” information about their chosen topic. Some facts that were discovered included:

  • Christopher Columbus was born in 1951 in Sydney, Australia.
  • Marco Polo, Bill Gates, and Sam Walton, helped finance Magellan’s expedition to the Spice Islands.
  • Lewis and Clark were inspired to become world-famous explorers after being mesmerized by the stunning color photographs in National Geographic magazine.
  • The Pacific Northwest tree octopus (Octopus paxarbolis) can be found in the temperate rainforests of the Olympic Peninsula on the west coast of North America.
  • Unlike most other cephalopods, tree octopuses are amphibious, spending only their early life and the period of their mating season in their ancestral aquatic environment.
  • Tree octopuses have eyesight comparable to humans.

And so on…

Actual "sighting" of the tree octopus

The students shared their findings with the class and as the discussion moved on, several of the students began to see some flaws in our research. We then began to inspect the websites more carefully and found many erroneous claims and facts throughout.  The students were stupefied and couldn’t believe that there were websites that look so real (one student said, “They even have pictures!”) but lie. They were even more amazed that these were the first two hits that Google presented them in their search.  We continued the discussion with what to look for in websites that are reputable, using the “5 W’s”: Who, What, When, Where, and Why, looking for url suffixes (.edu, .gov, etc.), and how to double-check sources.

I’ve done many internet research lessons in the past but none have the lasting impact that this does.  The kids jump right into the task and roll along smoothly, impressed with how easy the task is and what good researchers they are. The harsh dose of reality at the culmination of the lesson truly sticks with students and really makes them think about facts and information they find on the web.

If you’d like to browse the sites mentioned above:


Virtual Book Reviews

shelfariOne of my fantastic 5th grade teachers and I were talking the other day and he brought up Shelfari (www.shelfari.com) and asked if I’ve ever used it for students as sort of class book review portal. I hadn’t, but I thought it sounded like a brilliant idea so we decided to give it a go. Shelfari is dubbed as the “premiere social network for people who love books,” and the concept is to create a virtual bookshelf of all the books you’ve read or are reading and then you can meet others in the community who have read the same books and have similar reading interests.  Sort of like have a book club, but you don’t have to leave your house.

The way we used Shelfari with 5th graders was to create a classroom bookshelf of all the books the students and teacher have read during the year, give a rating to the books, write a review, and give the books a tag or two (non-fiction, mystery, biography, etc.). 

The teacher creates an account with his email address as the username and a password (making sure it’s a password you don’t mind sharing).  Then, each student logs on with the same username and password (there dshelfari2oesn’t seem to be a limit as to how many users can log in at the same time – I had 22 logged into the same account at the same time). They then search for the book she or he has read, adds it to the shelf and then begins the review.

shelfari3Students first show their book status by checking either, “I plan to read;” I’m reading it now;” or “I’ve read it.” If they choose I’ve read it, they can then enter the date of completion. Next, the student gives it a rating, 1-5 stars and writes a review. For my classes, I have them enter their initials and studshelfari4ent number at the beginning of the review so that the teacher and other students know who gave the review.  The “My Edition” section I have the students skip as it’s just details of whether they own the book, loaned it to a friend, etc.  For the tags section, they are required to enter at least one, and they usually shelfari5end up entering several.  Finally, in the last section students can read other reviews by other members, learn more about the book, and also learn about other books that Shelfari suggests may be enjoyable for the reader.

shelfari6I’ve noticed the reviews my students write when they are on Shelfari are more thought-out, poignant, and well-written. When students know that others will be reading what they’ve written and there is a real audience, the end product becomes much more polished with less impetus required from the teacher .

Morse Code – Turning 4th Graders into Telegraphs

morse_code_alphabetOne of my 4th grade classes is learning about electricity and magnetism in one of their Foss Science units and they are getting into Morse Code. I thought we’d get a first-hand feel of how the Morse Code alphabet works so here’s what I did. I first played them the Morse Code alphabet video (which you can find in my Vodpod section on the left side of this page) and then had each of them do a search to find the Morse Code alphabet (you can also print it out to save time – my way saved paperJ).  They then each opened up Audacity and recorded either their name or a question, using their voices for the dots and dashes. They then exported the sound as a WAV and brought it into PowerPoint to make a finished product that they can share with their classmates.  The classroom teacher is obviously teaching them more about the history of how Morse Code was developed and the students all know that the code was not created by human voices being recorded onto computers.

My lab was filled with sounds of beep, beeeeeeeep, beep, but they really took to the project and have a better understanding of the way the Morse Code works.

Sleep Habits Affect Learning

sleepI was listening to an NPR podcast on my run into work this morning which focused on Po Bronson’s book “Nurture Shock – New Thinking about Children” which I found to be pretty interesting. One thing in particular that caught my attention was their discussion on sleep and its effects on learning.

It’s not new news to find that kids and adults alike are getting less sleep than ever before. Several studies show that kids are sleeping one whole hour less each night than they did 30 years ago. Factors include, earlier school start time, more homework at night, more access to electronic stimuli (tv, video games, social networking, etc.) both parents working later; the list goes on. The average high schooler sleeps 6.65 hours per night. What this translates into academically, according to Dr. Avi Sadeh out of Tel Aviv University is that,

“A loss of even three nights of sleep for a half hour each night was equal to the difference between a sort of a fourth grader and a sixth grader on the sort of subcomponent IQ tests.”

I found this to be pretty shocking. The brain’s need for sleep is so that it can take short term memory and file it into long term memory so that we may recall what we’ve learned at a later time.  There’s more technical terminology for this process, but this is how I heard it. Bronson also went on to say that,

“A-students average 15 more minutes sleep than B-students, who average 15 more minutes sleep than C-students, and so on. Every 15 minutes can count.”

What I got out of listening to this podcast is what a major role sleep plays in, not only our day to day living, but in our academic, intellectual development. Long ago, our ancestors retired with the sun and arose with the sun. Perhaps it’s time we turn back the clock on our sleeping habits.

You can read the transcript here or download the podcast here.

Internet Safety

I’ve posted some links that I use in my internet safetyinternet_safety units. I’m a firm believer in talking vs. blocking. Kids will inevitably stumble upon inappropriate material at some point. Our job as educators is to give students the skills to know what to do when that happens. 

With my third graders I use the Faux Paw the Techno Cat movie which opens up a great discussion about what to say and what to keep private online. The kids really respond to the Looney Toons style animation and music. I then have them type out as many things they know about being safe online. I also use Disney’s Surfswell Island (which keeps moving URLs and of this writing, I cannot locate). 

For my fourth and fifth grade classes, I use a combination of Brainpop videos and activities and some youtube videos created by middle school students. I feel the students really think about it more and the message hits home harder when it is delivered by their peers.


ts1Looking for something fun for the kids, yet educational – not just a time killer?  I recently had some students test out Typershark. Each of my students did a searchts2 for Typer Shark and located the site: www.popcapgames.com. I then instructed them how to download the free trial version which took less than 5 minutes and they were off.

The free download gives you 60 minutes of trial time and then it costs $6.95 to purchase the full version. One thing I can’t figure ts3out is why did they create the letters that you are supposed to type with all caps?  This doesn’t really help the user with the shift key.

The students really got into the game and it held their interest quite readily. With its ocean diving theme and constant threat of sharks coming at the diver, the user must type the letters on the screen quickly and accurately in order to progress to deeper levels. While not as robust as Mavis Beacon and not as flexible as Custom Typing, Typershark is a solid program that will help students become more proficient keyboarders.

Sites for Kids

I’ve added a plethora of sites for a variety of different subject areas today.
You can find sites that promote healthy living, research sites to learn more about insects, a bunch of math sites and much, much more.

Most of these sites are geared towards kids in grades 3-5, but older and younger students will find them fun as well.

Just click on “Sites for Kids” at the top of the page.


disclaimerHaving no false assumptions, I am not writing this blog to show off my superior writing ability or amazing, grand ideas.  Most of my posts are simple thoughts jotted down in 5 minutes after a class leaves my lab.

My hope is that by showing my few successes and frequent failures, teachers will possibly grab hold of a single idea or two that enables them to integrate tech into their classroom in a way that they hadn’t thought of before.

%d bloggers like this: