Thursday, February 26, 2009

EdTechSec Podcasts #1

Gabcast! EdTechSec Podcasts #1

*WOW! For any of you who have ever made even one podcast, or any of you who have ever made just 1 blog post, you can attest to how easy it is - they are the kinds of things that once you do them you go, "Hey, that was a lot easier than I thought it would be!". Well for those of you who have ever taken that just one step further and put put an mp3(sound) file on your blog - still, the feeling is, "Hey, that was not hard at all!".

Those were my reactions to all of those things when I first learned them. They are now operations that take me literally only seconds to do.

Well, today my world just got a little easier with Gabcast! This section I am posting (beginning with the asterisk) was my own addition to a post CREATED FOR ME with Gabcast. I made that call, said my message, crossed my fingers then came to this site. And here it was - posted and ready to go. This is the easiest blog post AND podcast I have ever made - I think I could get to like this!
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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A tool for teaching kids to be discriminating about information from the internet

All About Explorers was developed by a group of teachers to teach students to be critical readers of the content they find on the internet.

All About Explorers is a series of lessons for elementary and junior high students (can be explored by a single or several lessons, or as a webquest) that demonstrates that just because something is out there for the searching does not mean it is worthwhile.

For example, if a student is doing a search for information about Christopher Columbus, typically they will just do a Google search or type something like If you click on this link, that is not helpful. Neither is, which takes you to the Columbus, OH, Chamber of Commerce.

This site carefully takes students through what looks like a typical research project or webquest, and has plenty of opportunities built in for students to make choices and look critically at the information they are finding.

It's easy to use for teachers and students - for teachers wanting to see what is offered, the site is easy to navigate.

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A physics interactive to challenge all levels

Fantastic Contraption is a web interactive where your challenge is to build a machine from simple parts to move objects to a goal. Yes - physics is the main focus of this activity but anyone (even teachers) can test, test, and re-try with this! There is a short tutorial that explains the simple parts and what they do and explains the objective (move your machine to the pink box). The controls are easy to manipulate and you will find yourself building a Fantastic Contraption before you know it.

Fantastic Contraption is a great tool for elementary students studying simple machines - you can easily incorporate the concepts into this interactive play. There are endless levels, so even more advanced students in physics will find ample challenges.

If you choose to register (you don't have to) you can save your levels of play and your devices and share them on the site, as well as seeing what others have done - there is no one right way to complete the objective!
For those students or teachers who have an iPhone or iPod Touch, Fantastic Contraption is available as an app for $4.99. Try it out online for free first.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Some technology food for thought...

This is a little side trip from the usual posts about educational web tools.

When we talk about educational technology, I think we have to differentiate between the idea of simply "technology" and the idea of "technology integration".

If we have kids play online skill drill math games, they are using technology, but they could practice those same drills with pencil and paper. If we have kids punch the correct multiple choice response on a computer, they are using technology, but they could accomplish the same learning with a textbook or a worksheet. This is not to say that any of these types of activities are wrong or bad - often they are more time and materials efficient than paper/pencil/textbook/worksheets, and they can be more engaging too.

But relying on only these activities to say "I integrate technology into my classroom" falls short of the real idea of technology integration.

We must think critically about this when we think about educational technology - are we teaching them to use tools that help them think in different ways, create something new, and think in an innovative way? Or are we just using the computer in the same way we have always used textbooks, worksheets, and the library?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A different way for students to view the U.S.

SHOW USA is an online tool launched by Mapping Worlds. The website offers users a new way to look at the world by resizing countries on the map according to a series of global issues.

SHOW USA is ready to use - just select a subject from the top menu (People, Planet, Politics, Business, Living and their subcategories) and watch the states on the map change their size. Instead of land mass, the size of each state will represent the data for that subject--both its share of the total and absolute value. Roll you mouse over each state for a quick pop-up of state by state data. Underneath the map is a short explanation of the results, as well as a link to at least one book related to that subject.
After you select the subject and sub-category of interest the map immediately begins to change. For example, when I selected the Living category and the sub-category of Bigfoot Sightings, the map interestingly morphed to this;
Washington has the most Bigfoot sightings? Who knew?

SHOW USA can be a great way for teachers to visually show students data when studying ideas in geography, economics, current events, the environment, etc. It can easily integrate into any subject area as a useful and infomational supplement.

Students could certainly find SHOW USA a useful resource for research - each new map has an option to download or embed into a blog or website.

Young students beginning the study of U.S. geography often find it difficult to grasp the concept that Alaska is the largest, yet the smallest state. A quick click on the People tab and choosing Demographics very quickly morphs the country in front of your eyes - Alaska shrinks, while geographically tiny Connecticut dwarfs it. What better way for young students to really get this concept? Older students using SHOW USA as a research tool would find many ways to use these maps for comparison/contrast studies.

Lots of possibilities here - worth a quick trial run. Easy to play with, no registration or sign-in. Next to the title of this page is also a link to their other site SHOW WORLD, which offers a similar tool for viewing the world map.

Good math fun

Ghostblasters is one of those super simple math game sites that is great because of its simplicity. It only practices one skill - identifying multiples. You can set the multiple to whatever you want on the ghost that pops up on the screen - then click start and up pop the ghosts! You have to be fast to click on the multiples of whatever you selected (a mouse is probably better for this than a mouse pad).

It's one of those quick and easy things you can use for a reward, or individual practice that the kids just can't get into trouble with. They find it pretty exciting once they get the hang of it.

No ads, no sign in, no registration, no side menus that can lead them astray to other games or sites - just Ghostblasters.

Monday, February 16, 2009

A helpful math tool for all k-12 students

A Maths Dictionary for Kids is an excellent reference for any student to have handy. From simple concepts like addition to fractions, to more complex math vocabulary concepts like Fibonacci numbers or frustrums (I did not know that one), it would be difficult to find a term, theorum, or concept that was not listed in the Maths Dictionary for Kids.

Don't let the simple layout fool you and make you think it's only for the younger students - it is unbelievably simple to navigate but contains high level terms and descriptions that high school students will appreciate. I went to the A's and clicked on "area" to get this nice visual aide and description.

Besides the nice visual and graphic representations that are easy to read and interpret - almost all have some way by which you can take the concept for a test run - either on the main description page, or the following. For example on the "area" page, I clicked the button on the bottom for "area calculators" and got this handy tool;

Whatever grade you teach, show the Maths Dictionary to your students! Help younger students learn how to easily navigate this tool so that they can help themselves with their math work, and can keep referring back to it whenever they need to.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

A study aide that's WAAAYYY more fun than flash cards!

Jeopardy Labs has a great site that teachers (or students) can build a great study tool on. I'm hard pressed to think of anyone I know who doesn't find a little guilty pleasure in stopping on "Jeopardy" while flicking through channels, just to try their luck - well now you can enjoy it in front of everyone because it's EDUCATIONAL! It's for school!

JeopardyLabs allows you to create a customized Jeopardy template without PowerPoint. The games you make can be played online from anywhere in the world. Building your own Jeopardy template is a piece of cake. Just use their simple editor to get your game up and running. Also no registration, no sign in - as soon as you get on to the site you can use it.

If you are not interested in building your own Jeopardy template you can browse Jeopardy templates created by others - mostly teachers!
I set one up for a French review, popped it up on the overhead screen and we had a good time with it - I wished I had created more than just one! I'll be looking for more ready made ones that suit me - there are quite a few of them!

Good higher level thinking skills for kids too - remember, they are only seeing the answer within a category and have to figure out what the question is...

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Math and Google Earth is the Real Deal!

Wow! That is all I can say about this mash-up resource, so I'll say it again - WOW! Real World Math is a truly awesome website for math teachers grades 5-12 who want to push their math teaching beyond the text. Google Earth is the tool used to accomplish this.

Real World Math's collection of concept lessons uses Google Earth to present math topics like rates or scientific notation in unique ways. The collection of project based learning activities has lessons that requires students to work collaboratively in pairs or groups. The measurement lessons have students using the measurement tool in Google Earth to complete problem solving activities. There are also exploratory lessons which include non-traditional math topics like fractals, topography, or modern geometry.

Real World Math uses Google Earth which is interactive and 3-D. Students can add placemarks, annotations, photos and models, as well as measure distances and draw paths.

This growing collection of lessons (you can contribute lessons too) encourages higher level thinking skills, creativity, technology, and social learning.

Real World Math is very accessible for teachers and students - no registration required.

Another One Bites the Dust!

Shoot! That's all I have to say right now! I had an almost serious setback at the beginning of class today. Stinto - my beloved easy chat that I talked up so big just a few posts ago is now down for the count. I guess that's the way it goes in web world - easy come easy go.

Luckily, there is always something similar, and sometimes better, that comes along.

A couple of weeks ago, a teacher on Twitter told me about a similar easy chat room called Chatzy. I'd peeked at it quickly, but hadn't tried it - just bookmarked it for later times.

Well, today when we went to get our Stinto chat started, two of my students, in horrified voices, hollered, "Mrs. Weisz! Stinto's down!" like we needed to give it cpr or something!

I said a calming word or two, then quickly checked my bookmark tags for "chat". Lo and behold, up popped the Chatzy site I'd bookmarked earlier. I quickly got the class back on track, rattling off the new url rapidly. They got there before I did and I quickly heard the tone change - "This is a cool chat! It's better than Stinto!" Luckily it is just as easy too.

So, we lost maybe 5 minutes, and a good friend (Stinto), but actually gained a better tool.

If you were interested in Stinto, give Chatzy a try.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Have a web-based Valentines Day!

Of course, we can't let a holiday like this pass by without the opportunity to sneak in some edtech - that's right - "educational" technology about Valentines Day.

I'd like to use this post to list a few great site links for all ages to play a little and learn a little on this relatively uncontroversial (for schools) holiday.

First up is, of course, the History Channel's offering on The History of Valentines Day. This special page has lots of information from the frivolous to the factual. Students can learn about how this holiday got started, look up famous love quotes from Aristotle to Anais Nin, learn some historical facts such as who are generally recognized as the greatest couples in history, some commercial facts, and even read some of President Truman's love letters to his wife, Bess. If you can get them to work at school (I didn't test them out under the GCI filter), there are some pretty interesting video clips on the St. Valentines Day Massacre, how to make Valentines candy, as well as some video histories. There are of course a few games too.

For intermediate students - have them test their knowledge of Valentines Day and also their vocabulary with this quiz. This is an ESL site, but the activity is appropriate for any students aged 10 and up depending on their reading level.

All kinds of puzzles, wordscrambles, and other Valentines Day worksheets on this site.

Younger students will like this site where they can make a virtual Valentines Day cake. They can email it to someone when they are done, or just save it to the site to show to whoever they want.

The National Zoo has put up some really cute images that kids can print off or send as Valentines Day ecards. It would be fun to do an activity where the students had an opportunity to learn a little more about these animals, and then include the Valentines ecard as an ending activity for the holiday.

High school students might enjoy this MSNBC article on the 5 Worst Valentines Day Gifts - some really great humorous writing pieces with a heavy dose of irony! There is also a little poll they can take.

Another good current events/economics article for high school students by MSNBC - Businesses loving Valentines Day ever more - commentary on the heavily commercialized holiday.

And finally, one for the younger students - they will really enjoy this fun site - My Punny Valentine - which is a sort of animated slide show of the old fashioned Valentines cards with puns - a great opportunity to teach a litte bit about the varied uses of our language! Let them use it at the computer center, or pop it up on the overhead during your Valentines Day party and let them try to figure them out and explain them to their friends.
I'm sure many of you have some great sites as well - I would encourage you to add them to the comments section of this blog post. If you keep checking back and see comments to this post (a number other than zero by the "comments" line at the bottom), hopefully that's where you will see suggestions and links put there by others.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Alaska History - anything you need to teach it!

For anyone teaching any portion of or any subject matter related to Alaska's cultures, geography, history, etc. - this is your site! Alaska History and Cultural Studies was a site Becky Gallen, the English and Social Studies teacher at Northway, recently told me about. She says she has been using it for her Alaska Studies/History class, and I can see why.

The site was created by the Alaska Humanaties Forum. It can be taught as a course - it has 6 specific units of study with plans and activities that cover geography, Alaska's cultures, Russian territory, the purchase and time as Alaska Territory, government and the state constitution, and modern Alaska.

Within each of those units is a wealth of resources that is easy to search. There are videos, interviews on mp3 files, maps, pictures, slideshows, virtual tours, you name it. Students will have no trouble finding scholarly research information for their studies and projects.

Environmental science teachers will also find many good resources and references here.
Although much of the material is for older students, kids as young as 5th grade could easily use and enjoy many of the interactive activities, as well as the informative videos and interviews.

Whenever I see a site that is put together this way, I think how cool it would be for students to create a site like this to show their learning - a web page with links to searched or created multimedia, good research accompanied by pictures and maps, and appropriate links to sites that give further information. This is an excellent example for our students of what they should be doing!

Anyone who is an Alaskan will find the Alaska History and Cultural Studies site a fascinating search to check out - Thanks Becky!

Monday, February 9, 2009

You and your students can explore any "ology" that interests you

Ology is a section of the American Museum of Natural History's website for kids. Students can explore paleontology, archeology, water, astronomy, biodiversity, earth, "Einstein", genetics, or marine biology. There are fun activities within these "ologies" to explore, like the live lizard and snake cam, making your own marine biology stationery, describing space and time in the 4th dimension, just to name a very few. Ology is a fun site to play around with for teachers as you can easily find great a great variety of online and offline student projects and activities - directions included.

You have to sign up, but no email is required - it's a simple process to pick your "ology" name (mine is Terrible Tyrannosaur), and a password, so it is kid-friendly. Elementary students of all ages can have a great time studying concepts in science with the variety of activities on Ology.

Students can collect interest cards throughout the activities to add to their own stacks and create a "homepage" on the site that keeps track of these.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Stinto takes a casual chat to a study activity

It's time for me to bust this one out - it's so simple but it's become one of my favorites recently. Stinto is a chat room, but a very simple one.

You simply click the button to begin a chat and Stinto will give you a 4 or 5 character ending to the URL - for example, your URL will go from, to You can tell, or send this URL to whoever you want to join you and if they go to that address they are in your chat room. This ensures that you will have a private chat. No sign-in, no accounts, no registration necessary.

Why would you want to use Stinto? Well, one way I have been using it is for a 5 to 10 minute review at the beginning of French. I need to spend a little time at the beginning of each class reviewing the new vocabulary from the previous day, but was having difficulty getting the students to volunteer (orally) in French. So at the beginning of each class, I have a student open a Stinto chat and write the URL on the board (just those last digits as everyone knows the Stinto address). Now I get 100% participation in these short reviews, and the students are really willing to guess and take chances (this is a short clip from yesterday's class chat).
At the bottom of the chat page is a disk icon so that you can download and save the chat to your desktop. It will download as an rtf file (rich text). Once it is on your desktop, all you have to do is change that .rtf to a .doc, and voila! It becomes a WordDoc (see above example). Besides the student engagement benefits, it's also a great formative assessment tool. I have a good running record of who participated, how they participated, and what they know.
Once the chat is inactive for an hour or two, it simply disappears! I have been encouraging students to use Stinto as a way to get study groups together in the evenings as well.
There are lots of ways to incorporate Stinto into your class. You could use it for small groups that have to brainstorm together - it would be quieter if you had a large class, more kids contribute - you have a record of who participated and what kinds of contributions they made to the group. Think of it as group notes.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Another great vocabulary tool!

One of the first posts on this blog was for a great vocabulary visualization program called VisuWords. Since then I have heard both good and just so-so feed back - the so-so being that a few of you had some trouble with it running slowly sometimes. Well, Lexipedia is another visual vocabulary tool that has all of the good components you liked about VisuWords, and fast graphics.

Lexipedia is a pretty fun vocabulary tool. Just like VisuWords, you type in the vocabulary word you want to search. Lexipedia immediately pops up a web with the vocabulary word in the middle and surrounded by the noun forms, verb forms, adjective forms, synonyms, antonyms, and something called "fuzzynyms" for that word. On the left is a menu that gives the information in a more formal thesaurus type format.
You can click on the key so that you can only view certain forms of the word. Roll over that form with the mouse and you'll get a pop-up that uses it in a sentence. It's extremely simple, very fast, and really fun to play with! Give Lexipedia a try and I'm sure you'll see what I did - a great tool for your students!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Teaching young students how to use a search engine

Finally, a search engine that mimics the format of "grown up" search engines, but doesn't get cluttered up with "grown up" search results. KidRex emphasizes kid-related webpages, is powered by Google Custom Search, and uses Google SafeSearch technology.

I liked the initial search page with the colorful dinosaur picture - this is a draw for the young kids right away! I typed in a search for "animal habitats" and got these very obviously safe results right away;
For teachers who are trying to teach young students how to use a search engine and how to analyze their results, KidRex is a great introductory search and also offers a great way to teach these valuable skills to young students.

Monday, February 2, 2009

How to find books boys ("Guys") will like

A big question in literacy circles lately seems to be "What can we do to get adolescent boys reading?" I think this is a question that extends both ways beyond the adolescent years. For whatever reason, in general, it seems that boys are a little pickier about what reading material they are interested in.

Enter author Jon Scieszka and his helpful site - GuysRead. It's a great resource for determining great age appropriate selections from little boys all the way through late teens. This can help ramp up the interest level of a course reading list, or also serve as a handy resource for suggestions for boys. As an author of kids' books, a teacher, and a parent, and a guy, Jon Scieszka seems a credible source of information on this particular topic.

Scieszka has the site set up to navigate through suggetions for different age levels, to do a search, or to set up your own GuysRead group or list. The graphics are fun and the site is interesting to navigate - very Scieszka-like, so students will find it easy and fun to use too. They can search based on a book or an author they already like and get recommendations for more books they should try out.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

A great, comprehensive American History resource

The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History for Teachers and Students is a sort of prepackaged US History curriculum that is free online. It has some great resources, lesson plans, and interactives for teaching US History. You can get online quizzes, primary source documents, and TWENTY (yes twenty) very quality comprehensive units of study complete with visual aids and links to additional resources. They've done much of the leg work for you!
One very neat feature is their series of podcasts called Historians on Record, which has famous authors speaking on their favorite US History topics.

Many of the activities and resources on this site not only inform, they also help students find ways to create their own projects for learning.