Friday, October 31, 2008

Range of the Strange



It’s Halloween, the perfect time for spooky things. Make the most of the day and tap into the potential of perplexing peculiarities. Have learners do some higher level thinking by exploring intriguing topics. Consider using this spooky day to help learners integrate technology in the pursuit of answers to mysterious topics. Here are a few web-based resources guaranteed to exercise the imagination and leave students just a little unsettled.

Exotic creatures have always been a source of mystery. Loren Coleman, world-renowned cryptozoologist, has an eerily informative approach to tracking elusive organisms of all kinds. He reminds all of us to keep an open-mind. Loren contributes to Cryptomundo and writes thoroughly fascinating books about creatures that may or may not exist.

The very planet we inhabit is a source of awe and wonder. Even though Google Earth now makes scanning the globe considerably easier, the world retains many mysterious places that are sure to keep curious minds occupied. For example, take a look around and be fascinated with the Unexplained Earth.

Mysterious disappearances also engage eager minds. When things and people vanish, we instinctively want to know why. Whether investigating the curious facts surrounding the Mary Celeste or the enigmatic exit of the crew and passengers who disappeared along with the USS Cyclops, vanishings make us want to know more.

Boo!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Look Through Any Window

I wonder how many of my friends are going over to Amazon to do a little windowshopping? Although it's in beta, I can see how this type of interface could be adopted by those who design educational content.

Spiffy!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

More Than Just Hype: Hypah

Sometimes, a useful resource pops up when an educator least expects it. There are a lot of tools that help teachers accentuate a concept. While casting about on the outer fringes of the internet it's quite possible to chance upon an entertaining way to add a little pizazz to instructional content. Suppose there's a Language Arts teacher who wants to enrich a vocabulary lesson. Instead of merely writing or speaking new vocabulary words, the instructor decides to display an image along with each new word. The teacher understands that her students will balk at a ho-hum PowerPoint slideshow. Therefore, she decides to use a few of the eye-catching effects at Hypah.

One of her vocabulary terms is the word hypnotic. To add meaning to the word, the teachers uses it in context.

The strange man caught my attention with his hypnotic gaze.

Next, the teacher uses morgueFile to locate and download a copyright free image that will help her convey the concept.

After some brief searching, she finds a graphic that evokes hypnotic eyes.

To increase the likelihood of capturing the attention of her students and make their interaction with the image more memorable, the teacher goes to Hypah where she can add a few special effects to the picture she's obtained from morgueFile.


Once at Hypah, the teacher clicks on an image and is prompted to choose an picture that she wants to enhance.

The teacher selects her image and it is uploaded to Hypah. The teachers has a number of tools at her disposal that will add animated effects to her static image.


The teachers chooses a starbusrt effect for each eye in the picture.


She can set the color, size, and point count on the star.


To apply the effect, the teacher clicks on the tool and then clicks on the eye in the picture.


After she's finished adding her chosen effects, the teacher clicks the DONE icon.

She's prompted as to where the image can be accessed. Hypah gives her with a link to where the image is stored online. The teacher can download the image and use it offline.


She can also post her image on a blog or wiki using the image code provided.


The finished image is appropriate for the word and phrase it accompanies:

The strange man caught my attention with his hypnotic gaze.



Is this useful? Could this resource be helpful in the work you do? Or, is it overkill? How might your students respond to this kind of technique? Better yet, should students be encouraged to use resources such as Hypah to illustrate their vocabulary words?

Related links:
  • Check out other interesting effects at Flash-Gear.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Finding the Right Type of Resource

A few people have been asking me about resources that can help students hone typing skills. Here are a few suggestions that fit the bill:

Give younger pupils a chance to acquire and reinforce touch typing skills. Allow them to explore and use the BBC’s thoroughly engaging Dance Mat Typing website. It’s an addictive means of teaching the basics of touch typing. Pupils ranging in age from 7 to 11 years will benefit from using the site to hone typing ability and agility. The site also makes worksheets available for offline typing activities. Don’t be surprised if the site ensnares older students and adults who drop by to see what all the fuss is about.

Keybr.com also makes learning to type fun. In fact, it makes game of keyboarding! Users can choose from three lessons that progressively build skills. This free, online service instantly delivers graphs of users' mistakes and words-per-minute (wpm) scores.


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Related links:
  • Imagine computer workstations where users do typing or desktop publishing without the use of a mouse or keyboard. It's an idea that’s been picking up steam in recent years. Check out the Dasher Project for details.

Monday, October 27, 2008

If You're Gonna Stay Up Late Anyway...

You might as well check out Nosleep Software. Why? For starters, the software is completely free. Free is good! Whether you're a student or teacher who has a task that was due yesterday, you'll find some helpful programs. For example, there's a helpful resources called QuizWiz that allows you to do self-learning on any topic using flashcards, multiple choice, or true/false questions. Also available is Idea Pad, a nifty application that lets users construct concept maps, flow chart, and/or diagrams that can be converted a text outline.


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Friday, October 24, 2008

There are None So Blind...

Yes, I know that my posts have been, at best, infrequent. I apologize. Though it's my desire to share ideas and resources on a daily basis, the last few weeks have been rather crazy for me. In addition to maintaining this blog--something I do when I'm not at work--I try to support the efforts of a number of different teachers at a number of different schools, in a number of different school districts. Some of the school districts are more progressive than others. Sadly, the bulk of the systems are regressing. They are losing ground because they have not decided to move into the 21st Century. It seems as if no matter how hard I try, these districts become even more mired in complacency or behaviors that are the complete antithesis of what 21st Century learning is about.

This state of affairs literally wears me out.

I'm working in schools where internet filtering has been carried to such extremes that web access is practically non-existent. It's safe to say that many of my readers won't or can't be able to get to my posts until they leave school and or get home. As if web-filtering didn't hobble them enough, many of the teachers in my schools also have to deal with other draconian ordeals that make using technology a pain in the backside. Prohibitions against right-mouse clicking (yes, right-mouse clicking!), USB drives, and shared folders on a network make it difficult if not virtually impossible for students or educators to do anything useful with technology let alone collaborate.

To mitigate these circumstances, I redouble my efforts and try, each day, to find workarounds. I end up working on work at home. This eats into the time I allocate for composing and posting content here. After recently slogging through some particularly maddening bureaucratic practices and administrative balderdash, a pal at work shared the following picture with me. I laughed that silly, yet frightening laugh that people who are too close to the edge laugh when they have an epiphany. You know, a kind of it's so obvious laugh that makes you worry about whether or not sanity is about to give way to complete madness.


You can find this powerful image and other rich content and ideas at a great blog called Dangerously Irrelevant. Check it out immediately. In the mean time, I'll get my act together and step away from the ledge.

What do you think? How can we address or help the people in charge?

Monday, October 20, 2008

Straight from the Art


Teach art? Want to integrate technology? If so, you'll want to make sure you check out Art Education 2.0.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Best in SHOW

If you teach Social Studies, be sure to take a gander at SHOW. This web-based service is a nifty online tool that appeared on the scene May of this year. Developed by Mapping Worlds, this site gives visitors a better perspective on world issues. SHOW re-sizes countries on a map of the world according to a series of global issues.

For example, if pupils are researching which countries rely upon coal for energy. They can swing over to SHOW, click on the PLANET tab, locate ENERGY, and choose COAL.


After selecting the parameters, the map on the screen changes, reflecting that the countries being displayed have been changed size so as to reflect the amount of each nation's coal reserves (the more tons of coal a nation has in its reserves, the bigger the nation appears).
This is how the map looks after the countries have been re-sized.

Note that the United States appears to be larger than China. Learners need only hover their mouse over the nation to discover why it is smaller in the graphic representation. China has 114.5 billion tons of coal reserves.


In contrast, after hovering over the United States, students can see that the United States has 242.6 billion tons of coal.

If pupils doubt the veracity of the information or merely wish to cite the source, they need only look over on the right-hand side of the map to see where the information originated. In this instance, there's a refernce to data contained in a 2005 document from the World Energy Council.

It's true that pupils could easily refer to a table of numerical information regarding coal reserves. However, by using SHOW, students have an opportunity to explore that same data in an engaging manner that activates higher order thinking.

Related resources:
Essential Questions that may be worth pursuing:
  • Even if it is possible to map every inch of the surface of the earth, should we? What are some of the most disturbing unintended consequences of such a venture?
  • What is the best way to (simultaneously) represent the geophysical, economic, and/or political aspects/boundaries of our world?
  • What are other, novel ways that geographic information can be represented? For example, how could such information be successfully represented for or accessed by senses other than sight?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Blog Action Day: Free to Combat Poverty



Today is Blog Action Day. It's a day when bloggers, podcasters and other digital communicators come together to examine, discuss, and post on a single issue. By uniting, we hope to draw attention to an important topic and ultimately generate a global discussion. Last year, the blogosphere addressed the Environment.

This year the theme is Poverty. In an effort to heighten awareness of this issue within the context of education and instructional technology, I'd like to suggest that administrators, media specialists, teachers, paraprofessionals, pupils, parents, and community members use free resources to help the impoverished. Why?

First of all, free resources cost nothing. To struggling learners who have little or no money to invest in expensive software packages, free is a godsend. Not having to make choices between learning 21st Century skills and going hungry is a blessing. Being able to do word processing, use spreadsheets, and create digital presentations for the purpose of education without the necessity of parting with funds that can be allocated toward shelter, health care, and food is helpful to those in need. There are so many ways students can learn using free software.



Secondly, free resources promote liberty as much as they do financial freedom. Using free software allows everyone--not just the poor--to make political and ethical choices affirming one's right to learn. When users have that ability they are more able and apt to share what's being learned. The Free Software Foundation underscores this sentiment in its work.

Note: Free software--truly free software (according to Richard Stallman)--should give users the ability to:
  • run an application for any purpose,
  • study and modify a program,
  • copy a program so one can help others and,
  • improve a program, and release improvements to the public, so that the whole community benefits from the enhancements.

Next, there are many, many free, high quality digital learning tools available. For school systems who want to help the poor, there are a number of excellent resources that can easily be made accessible to those who desperately need them. Rather than invest an inordinate amount of funding for commercial, machine-based, suite software, school districts can receive Google Apps Education Edition services without paying a penny. If access to the internet is a problem, Open Office can be used instead. Money that might have been spent on commercial products could be redirected to other, more powerful ways to assist pupils from impoverished homes. Rather than continually paying high fees for operating systems, schools can use resources like Edubuntu.


Finally, free resources extend the potential for learning. Schools can take computers that may have otherwise been surplussed or sent a landfill, wipe the harddrive, install a free Linux-based operating system like Ubuntu, Edubuntu, Puppy Linux, or the like and loan (or give) poor students hardware that can be used outside of school. Outdated laptops and desktops can find new life by way of free resources and help needy young men and women hone 21st Century skills in the bargain!

What are your ideas for alleviating poverty? Please post a comment here and share your insights with the world.

Related resources:

News That's Fit to Print

I heard about the following resource via a GeekBrief.TV podcast. What with the cost and scarcity of paper, I know a lot of educators who will use and appreciate PrintWhatYouLike.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Caught in a Web of Collaborative Concept-Mapping

I always knew this day would arrive. After being a dedicated user of Inspiration software for almost two decades and having seen related services such as Cayra, CMap, FreeMind, Mind42, Mindmeister, and Mindomo pop up on the web, I wondered when Inspiration would follow suit and unveil its own flavor of collaborative concept-mapping tool. Well, the wait is over. It's finally here.


After signing up for a beta account and playing around with the resource, I was able to generate a concept map in pretty short order. The experience was not unlike using Inspiration. That's a definite plus. For example, the user-interface for the original, offline version looks like this:


The newer, online version of the product is very similar to its predecessor. There's not much more a user must learn in order to get started. Tinkering with Webspiration is relatively easy as the trappings are pleasingly familiar. The web version of the user-interface looks like this:


It's easy to migrate to Webspiration. As with Inspiration, users are able to switch to outline mode at any time, a feature that other online mapping resources haven't fully mastered at this point. That said, I am puzzled about one aspect of the new version. Webspiration currently lacks Inspiration's ability to automatically rearrange symbols in a concept map into configurations such as Top-Down or Right-Tree diagrams like the original program does. I'm confident that users will want this functionality.


Still, Webspiration is in its beta iteration. There are bound to be a few kinks that'll need to be ironed out.

Related links:

Monday, October 13, 2008

The (Freebase) Parallax View

Sometimes, looking at an issue, a concept, or a subject from a different vantage point gives us a whole new means of comprehending the topic. Ultimately, shifts in the direction of our inquiry, engendered by changes in the manner in which we're making observations provide new perspectives. By observing a notion from different angles, we end up with a parallax view of the idea. We begin to understand that there are more layers of meaning to take into account, additional details that are worthy of inspection.

Humans appreciate familiarity. We grow accustomed to routines and fall into them with startling regularity. When we use a particular path to arrive at a desired destination, whether making our way to a market or an answer to a question, the ruts that form our route are continually reinforced by our travel. The more often we progress along the circuit, the deeper the rut becomes, the more ingrained the routine is in our approach. For example, many individuals, when conducting research these days, automatically turn to Google or Wikipedia for an answer without bothering to deviate to an alternative road to enlightenment.

To be sure, Google and Wikipedia are useful tools for research. Both are invaluable for tracking elusive explanations. However, neither of these paragons of probe are the quintessence of query. There are other avenues of access to answers. Research scientist David Fran├žois Huynh points out this fact eloquently as he discusses the merits of Freebase Parallax, a "a novel browsing interface" designed for use with Freebase, an open, shared database of the world's knowledge. Dr. Huynh's impressive video demonstration of Freebase Parallax ought to convince even the most die-hard fans of Google and Wikipedia that a fresh perspective can often yield richer solutions in a shorter amount of time.


Freebase Parallax: A new way to browse and explore data from David Huynh on Vimeo.

Related links:
  • Drop by Freebase and check out the Categories there.
  • What do you know about a unit of knowledge? Google's relatively recent Knol is designed to help users locate an authoritative article about a given topic.
  • My apologies to director Alan J. Pakula and actor Warren Beatty for alluding to their 1974 film the political thriller, The Parallax View, in my post title. No conspiracy was involved. It's an engaging (if not disturbing) work of cinema that's guaranteed to deliver a shiver or two.
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Sunday, October 12, 2008

I'm Back!

Well, my little hiatus is over. I've returned. After a particularly hectic Monday morning rush last week, I found myself swept away by all manner of work and home related events. Just in case you're curious, I spent my time making visits to schools, working alongside teachers. Most of the schools I visited are receiving grant funding that I helped to secure. When I'm on site at these places, I often find myself doing a great amount of instructional technology triage--rapidly evaluating the most dire emergencies and doling out my expertise where it'll do the most good. After completing my grant-related visits I turned my attention to submitting proposals to a number of upcoming conferences. On the heels of that, I prepared web-based resources and resource DVDs that I used when I actually attended a conference where I presented a session (three times)! Thankfully, a restful weekend with my family recharged my mental batteries. I've had a little time to catch my breath. Six days away from blog was like torment but I have to admit, any of my posts (had I made them) would have been less than stellar. I hope to keep the posts coming on a daily basis from here on out. Bear with me, folks.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Driven to Distraction

If you teach Economics chances are you'll end up discussing the concept of cost with your students. Since most students can relate to a desire to have their own car and drive where ever they please, you might want to have your pupils pull over to Cost to Drive. After parking on this site for a few minutes they can discover how much is costs to drive to any location in the United States.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

An Online Graphics Tool That's Large and In Charge

If your students want to create or work with grahics but they don't have Photoshop (or aren't able to download/install the GIMP) send them over to Sumo Paint. Although it's currently in beta, this digital illustration tool is quite impressive.

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Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Go TypeRacer, Go!

So, your students have mastered keyboarding with dizzying digital deftness at Dance Mat Typing and now they're full of bravado. They may even think they're ready to move on to something a little more brisk. Get ready! Get set! GO!

Welcome to the fast and furious experience known as TypeRacer.