Ed Tech Ideas

Tech Integration for Busy Teachers

Monthly Archives: April 2011

Mac vs. PC

As our school struggles with platform choice and I am soon to begin using a Macbook Pro (the last time I had a Mac was 1996), I think this infographic from Hunch Blog is rather interesting.

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My Top 3 Brainstorming Tools

I’ve always liked Inspiration and Kidspiration for quick, easy to use ways of brainstorming. But with a $900 price tag for a 20 computer license, there just didn’t seem to be any reason to pay that money when there are several robust, free alternatives. In the past couple of years, these alternatives have come close to matching, and in many aspects, surpassing what Inspiration and Kidspiration can do to help students organize their thoughts. Here are my three favs, with a few honorable mentions thrown in to boot.

1. Diagram.ly

Just discovered this one and it’s already my favorite. Easy to use (really) drag and drop interface. Intuitive tool bar. Decent amount of shapes, lines, and clip art.  You have the ability to right-click on any shapes for editing options. Diagram.ly has a very Microsoft feel to it so if you have students who are used to using Office products, the learning curve with Diagram.lywill be easy. Another great feature is that there is no sign up, no registration and no download. You simply create your mind map and save (.xml, .jpg, .png, or .svg).

2. Grapholite

Grapholite is another great diagramming site that is, like diagram.ly, very “Microsoftesque.” Grapholitehas a generous amount of shapes, text boxes, arrows, flow chart icons, and blocks. Colors, fonts, and sizes are easily changed, and it’s easy to insert your own pictures directly into the diagram. Without creating an account (demo mode) users can create diagrams (there doesn’t seem to be a limit as to how many) and export their work as either a .jpg, .png, or .pdf. If you sign up for a free account, you can save your work online to be able to come back and edit it at a later time.

3. Bubbl.us

Another great tool, bubbl.us allows you to easily create and save mind maps. Without an account you begin brainstorming straight away and are able to print or save your mind map as a jpeg or png. Sign up for a free account and you can save the mind map to work on later and/or have others edit it.

Honorable Mentions

Hewe are some other sites worth checking out for brainstorming and flow chart creation:

Moses 2.0

How many different tech tools can you count?

Translation Telephone

Remember playing telephone as a kid? You and your friends would sit around in a circle, the first kid would start it out by whispering a sentence or two into the next kid’s ear. The sentence would move around the circle until it arrived at the last person and, inevitably, the end result would be completely different (and often pretty funny) from what was initially said.

Now, with the help of Google Translate, a new site called Translation Telephone lets you simulate this experience online. You type in a phrase and click go and then watch as your sentence gets translated from language to language, until it finally gets translated back into English (see example below).

Ed Tech Ideas: This is a great site to not only have a little fun with your students, but also to show kids limitations of technology and prove to them that you can’t always trust everything you see online.

Technology Enables a World-Wide Virtual Choir

If you haven’t seen Eric Witacre’s amazing global video project, Virtual Choir – Lux Aurumque,” it’s a must. It is an amazing example of how technology can bring people together from around the world to collaborate and produce something beautiful.

Take a few minutes to watch.

In a recent Ted Talk, Witacre explains how this project came to fruition and what he is doing for part 2.0:

Great Sites to Learn About Outer Space

This week I’m highlighting three great sites about space and our solar system.

Solar System Scope

Solar System Scope is an amazing site that allows you to zoom around our solar system and view the planets and the Sun in amazing detail. To see the orbits in action, you can click play at the bottom of the screen and watch the rotation and revolutions of the planets as they make their journeys around the Sun.  With Solar System Scope, students really get a feel of the size of the solar system and how long it takes the outer planets to make their orbits. There are also controls that allow you to switch from heliocentric, to geocentric, and panoramic views. You can also toggle on and off the stars and constellations.

50 Years of NASA

To celebrate its 50th anniversary, NASA launched a nice interactive sitethat showcases all of the developments that have occurred over the last 5 decades in space travel and exploration. There are tons of places to explore to learn all about the space agency, its missions, details of specific rockets, and information about astronauts and leaders in the industry. My favorite part of the site is when you use the decade slider at the bottom of the page, there are different audio devices of the time that play top hits from that era. Man the 80s rocked! Thanks to @ktenkely and her great blog for the find!

Google Sky / Moon / Mars

Google has teamed up with astronomers from some of the largest observatories in the world to create Google Sky. This is a great tool to learn about constellations, planets, and solar systems. Just as in Google Maps, you can easily pan around and zoom in, and you have the ability to view the sky in infrared, microwave, or historical. Make sure to click on Moon and Marsto see some stellar (you knew that was coming) views of these far off places.

Happy exploring! 

The Greatest and Greenest Earth Day Sites for Kids – Part II

April 22 is Earth Day and in recognition of this, I’m dedicating two posts of the greatest Earth Day sites for kids and teachers. Part I can be found here. As Earth’s population nears 7 billion, teaching awareness of our environment to children has never been more important.

Environmental Kids Club

Environmental Kids Club is a site made by the US Environmental Protection Agency.  One thing I really like about this site is that it has Daily Actions, an Environmental Tip of the Day, and a Question of the Week. There are also sections about air, water, garbage & recycling, plants & animals, you & your environment, an art room, a science room, a game room, and many other additional resources for kids and teachers.

National Audubon Society

The National Audubon Society’s education section has fun activities for kids where they can play games, watch videos of wildlife and see live webcams of nesting birds. There is also an adoption center where classes can learn about endangered animals, and how they can help.  In the educator section, there are links to activities, lesson plans, and tips on how to bring nature into your classroom.

Environmental Education for Kids (EEK)

From the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, EEK is a very kid-friendly site with links to information on all kinds of animals (would be a great resource for animal research), environmental issues, and a section devoted to cool things to do and read about. The Teacher Page has activities, resources, event calendar, and a news section that will help teachers keep their students informed about environmental issues.

A Google a Day

Here’s a great idea for a classroom ice-breaker or a daily conversation starter from Google. It’s called “A Google a Day” and it’s a simple interface that takes the Google search page and adds a daily trivia question to the bottom of the screen. You do a search to find the answer and then check to see if you got it correct by clicking, “Show answer.” The answer is then displayed along with tips on the best techniques to search for it (in case you got the wrong answer).

Ed Tech Ideas: This is a great activity for younger kids as it teaches and reinforces smart search querying. To avoid spoilers, Deja Google was created, which is, “A wormhole inspired time machine that searches the Internet as it existed before the game began.” So you can search for the answer without fear of coming across someone’s blog post with the answer, thus spoiling the fun.

The Greatest and Greenest Earth Day Sites for Kids

April 22 is Earth Day and in recognition of this, I’m highlighting several of the greatest Earth Day sites for kids and teachers. As Earth’s population nears 7 billion, teaching awareness of our environment to children has never been more important.

Eco Kids

Eco Kids has a lot of eco-awareness games and activities to help kids gain a better understanding of environmental issues in fun way. There is a homework help section with information on a variety of earth science related fields, a contest section, and a place where kids can become EcoReporters . The Teacher Section (free registration) has lesson plans, activities, class kits, ESOL Lessons, and many other environmental-related resources.

Eeko World

Aside from an annoying Gilbert Gottfried sounding monkey as a mascot (kids love it), Eeko World is a fun site for kids to learn more about things they can do to take care of our world. Eeko (which stands for Environmental Education for Kids Online) features an engaging interactive environment which invites kids to explore, experiment, and collaborate as they learn about conservation and the environment. There is a parent and teacher section that explains how to use the site, as well as how to integrate Eeko World into literacy activities.

Earth Matters


The aim of Earth Matters is to, “Assist classroom educators and schools in teaching a sustainable foods and earth systems curriculum for 4th and 5th graders and inspiring students of all ages to live more aware and sustainable lives.” To do this, Earth Matters presents in-depth, standards-based curriculum, news feeds, some informational videos, along with a few games, and ideas to become environmentally active. There are a couple of sections that are still under construction and I’m wondering if the site is currently being maintained, as the copyright date is 2006. However, the information and activities that are available, make the site a worthwhile visit.

Children of World War 2

From the BBC, Children of World War 2 is a great resource for kids who want to get a better understanding of what life was like for children during World War 2.  History lessons will usually focus on the major events of the war: The Nazis invade Poland, the German Blitz, the bombing of Pearl Harbor, D-Day, Auschwitz, etc. The human side of the story is often missed and that’s where Children of World War 2 comes in.

The well-presented, easy to explore site has 10 sections to delve into that inform kids about the war and what it was all about. From evacuations, to what homes were like,  food and shopping, daily life, and other interesting areas. Each section comes with some amazing photos with captions, some sections have writings (actual letters and speeches written by the various leaders), and also videos, and audio recordings of war-time events (Note: the audio and videos are not available in all countries).

Also, within each section, there are activities, challenges, and quizzes that add a bit of fun to an often sad topic.

Visit the teacher section for lesson plans, worksheets, a collection of all the media associated with the site, as well as links to other websites to further explore the topic.

The Children of World War 2 is a great resource for any unit of historical study of World War 2. It truly gives students a new, eye-opening perspective about some of the atrocities, and some of the simplicities that took place during this time in history.

Rationale for Using Skype in the Classroom

Skype is an awesome world-opener for education. Imagine being able to bring in experts from anywhere on any subject to teach, inspire, and motivate your students. Imagine being able to talk to an author of a book your class just finished reading, and ask him or her questions about the book. Imagine conversing and collaborating with a class half-way around the world. All of this, and more is possible with Skype.
If you are planning on using Skype in your classroom, head over to Silvia Tolisano’s blog for everything you’ll need to get started.  If you’d like to see a recent Skype interview my 5th graders had recently with history experts from Singapore’s Ministry of Education, click here.
This post, however, is in response to an email from a parent I recently received about safety concerns of using Skype. The email focused on every negative aspect of technology that has ever been broadcast on the evening news, and although it was fairly clear that I would not be changing the parent’s mind, I did gather the following research and information to state our reasonings for using Skype in the classroom. Not all parents will be initially supportive of the use of this technology, so if you are planning on using Skype in the classroom, I recommend you lay out your rationale to parents beforehand as we did, to ease any worries that parents may have. Here is a permission slip that we used for our Skype-In project.


Rationale

  • We have a policy at our school to prepare our students for the 21st century and beyond. We teach and utilize tools that aid in collaboration. We teach students how to use these tools in a safe environment where we can monitor mistakes and turn them into teachable moments.
  • First and foremost, we show students how to use the security features within Skype and teach the students how to do this so that only people within their contact list can communicate with them. We also teach them:
    • To not put details in their profiles (names, birthdates, addresses, etc.) that should not be publicly available
    • How to spot phishing scams and what to do when they happen
    • How to block unknown contact requests
    • How to create strong passwords
    • Appropriate online etiquette
  • Studies have shown that children begin using social media at younger and younger ages. Not preparing them for this world (their world) would be doing them a disservice. Being able to teach them the skills of safety within online/social environments is part of all of our jobs as educators and parents. If we turn a blind eye to this, we will only be exacerbating the problem by allowing them to try to stumble their way through on their own.
  • Internal surveys of our students found that 26% of 3rd graders, 35% of 4th graders and 53% of 5th graders have social media accounts (Facebook and/or Myspace) and use them regularly. I’m not saying this is good or bad, but it’s the reality of today’s student. Where are they going to learn the necessary skills of an ever-more increasing digital world?

Pertinent Quotes

As Wayne Morren, principal of Florida High School noted recently:

“Teaching and learning in the 21st Century can no longer be a traditional experience of “sit and get.”[5] Teachers as well as students must strive to creatively employ technology tools to access, evaluate, synthesize and communicate information. Only by engaging in this active process can “information” from the Internet be translated into “knowledge” in the minds of learners. Classroom teachers can leverage the potential of disruptive technologies like Skype, weblogs, podcasts, or one to one technology immersion initiatives to increase student motivation to communicate with authentic audiences, spend more time on assigned tasks, and develop essential literacy skills needed for vocational and lifetime success in the twenty-first century. Translated, this means increasing student achievement, while simultaneously encouraging students as well as teachers to engage in worthwhile and creative tasks. Twenty-first century educators should aspire for nothing less.”

From the Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use, 2010:

“In proceeding forward, schools must understand that the past decade has been characterized by technopanic ~ a heightened concern about the use of the Internet by young people that is not grounded in the actual research evidence.”

From AVG, 2010:

“Nearly three quarters (73 percent) of children under two have some kind of digital footprint, such as online albums or email addresses.”

Benefits of Using Skype in the Classroom

From: http://www.ecu.edu/cs-itcs/thinkin/upload/Ellis.pdf

  • Social interaction allows the learner to reflect and reconsider, get help and support, and participate in authentic problem solving.
  • Benefits for learners include:
    • improved learning strategies
    • greater perseverance, and reduced need for help from the instructor
    • Social interaction provides critical opportunities for learners who are learning at a distance
    • The types of social interactions that would normally occur in a face-to-face setting (discussion, sharing, peer review, group activities, etc.) need to occur via online technologies and tools in online learning environments
    • Internet technologies offer opportunities to connect people and objects that are not in the immediate physical environment.  Using Skype in the online classroom improves social interaction and helps to create an authentic peer review environment.

Uses of Skype in the Classroom

From: http://blog.educaedu.com/en/2011/03/09/skype-in-the-classroom/

  • Videoconferencing in the Classroom –  Utilising experts, authors, and guest instructors who would never otherwise be able to visit the school.
  • Virtual Field Trips – Using video chatting to bring the field trip into the classroom – for example, visiting a TV production site guided by one of the student´s parents who works there, which includes all students despite budgetary or distance constraints.
  • Foreign Language Learning and Cultural Exchange – Teachers use Skype to connect local students with native speaking students from other countires.
  • After School Help – Tutors and teachers can provide after school help to students needing extra attention via Skype.
  • Student Inclusion – Helping an ill classmate join the classroom from home.
  • Foreign Culture Lessons – Skype allows students to see in real-time what people’s lives, homes, schools, weather, and more look like in other countries.
  • Volunteer to help kids in India learn English – Connect with schools in developing countries for both cultural connections and educational benefits

Final Thoughts

There are so many stellar learning opportunities out there when you open up the world to your classroom. There will always be the rare individual who is against new technology or who suffers from techn0-panic. Often, they are simply concerned for the well-being of their children and are probably unaware of how things work. As teachers, we are not only educating our students, but quite often, the parents as well.

Gmail Motion

Google rolled out an absolutely amazing new gmail interface today called “Gmail Motion.” Instead of having to use your mouse and keyboard to compose and send emails (which are outdated – invented long before the internet) users are now able to use simple gestures to send emails.

The way it works is, “Gmail Motion uses your computer’s built-in webcam and Google’s patented spatial tracking technology to detect your movements and translate them into meaningful characters and commands. Movements are designed to be simple and intuitive for people of all skill levels.”

With simplicity and improved productivity as the aims, Google has created over 10,000 gestures and are adding more every day. For example, to open a message, make a motion as if you were opening an envelope. To reply, simply point backward with your thumb. To reply all, use both hands. It’s that easy!

Here’s a quick overview of how Gmail Motion works:

Happy April Fools Day!

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