Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Countdown to 2009

Well, it won't be long now.'s new year countdown is ticking away the moments. See you in 2009!

The Energy to Change

2008 is on the way out and 2009 is almost upon us. What better time is there to reflect upon ways we can all make the world a better place in the coming year? Consider, for example, peace on earth and sustainability. A big step toward making our planet a more tolerable place for children, living things, and other, equally interested parties, is making more informed, better use of resources. We, all of us--administrators, teachers, media specialists, students, parents, community members--need to know how much energy we're using. WattzOn is a website that helps users calculate the amount of power needed to support all aspects of a chosen lifestyle. Before ringing in the new year, pause to consider how and why we can all reduce energy consumption and get a handle on climate change.

Related links:
  • It's later than you think. Take a look at Worldclock and you'll see why.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Construction Instruction: Sodaconstructor

One of the best ways to get pupils interested in school to construct learning experiences that are additively engaging, challenging, and fun. When students enjoy the process of experimenting with a concept and develop the desire to habitually ask, "Hey, why does this happen?" they're on their way to self-motivated lifelong learning. Good teachers do all they can to inspire, incite, and engineer such outcomes.

For example, dedicated Science teachers know that their learners need multiple pathways to understanding. As such, instructors can give students opportunities to play around with tools such a Sodaconstructor, an interactive tool that simulates the use and behaviors of masses and springs. Why is this good? Here are a few reasons:
  • For starters, the resource is intriguing. Once people see it, they want to play with it over and over again.
  • The wow factor in Sodaconstructor naturally generates a great deal of critical, higher level-thinking that's needed for comprehending the application of the Scientific Method. When students create interactive objects that move about as a result of masses and springs, budding engineers have an opportunity to adjust variables such as gravity, friction, and speed adnd hypothesize what should or will happen nezt.
  • Next, Sodaconstructor is accessible anywhere there's an internet connection. Think 21st Century learning--anywhere, any time.
  • Finally, it's free!
The best way to appreciate the power in Sodaconstructor is to give it a try. What are you waiting for?

Monday, December 29, 2008

Where to Go Bananas and Monkey Around with Lots of Data

Add context to your classroom content by having your students research and work with real-wold data. What's that? You don't know where to get that kind of data? No problem. Check out Infochimps. This site connects info-hungry visitors with a dazzling collection of free, redistributable data sets.


I'm Back!

Well, I've returned from visiting all of my relatives for the holidays. Though I hate to go a day without blogging, I purposely avoided posting for a few days. I'm proud to say that my family received the gift of my undivided attention.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Have a safe, happy, and copyright-free Christmas! The image above and other goodies like it are available from the United States Library of Congress by way of the Prints and Photographs Division.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Twas the Night Before Christmas...NORAD Style

Are the kiddies worried that the Man in the Red Suit may not arrive? If so, have them check in with NORAD Tracks Santa 2008.

Don't stay up too late. Santa does his best work when everyone's asleep!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Walking Through a Linux Wonderland

Anyone checking my blog can see that I've been taking it easy. Aside from slacking off from my posting and occasionally checking my mail, I've been playing around with all kinds of Linux distros. I'm fortunate to have a reputation for being a guy who takes worn-out PCs. I got a lot of old laptops and desktops to experiment upon in my quest for tried and tested tools for free computing. When I get aging machines I enjoy loading the hardware with all manner of open source and free software. For the last five days I've been working my way through all of the flavors of Ubuntu.

My wife, bless her, has been very accommodating with my holiday hobby. Antiquated computers adorn my home like scattered toys. My floors may be messy but they bear witness to my zeal. I've been installing, examining, reviewing, and testing stuff like:

I've known about and used these resources for a few years and I'm still eager to explore their potential. The kind individuals who invest time and knowledge in refining all of these variations of Ubuntu make the prospect of using the systems irresistible. That's why I'm on holiday from Windows and thrilled about touring an alternative operating system or two. Why not take the plunge and see what Ubuntu or one of its cousins has to offer? Better yet, burn a few Ubuntu CDs and give them to your friends!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Good Doggy!

Got old computers sitting around? Teach your old desktop and laptops some new tricks! Consider installing Puppy Linux. It's a small, fast operating system that runs from CDs, USB sticks and even hard disks. Puppy Linux has the potential to bring new life to an abandoned computer.


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

May I Have a Word With You?

Language Arts/English teachers: You'll want to explore Lexulous (formerly Scrabulous, a game based on the commercial board game Scrabble). Lexulous is an addictive online word game that educators, pupils, parents, and others can use to build and hone vocabulary and spelling skills. To play Lexulous, participants generate words with a given set of letters (not unlike Scrabble). If you're hesitant about registering for an account, play the game in practice mode to get a feel for the action.

On a related note, Kotaku is reporting that Hasbro is dropping its copyright infringement lawsuit against the makers of Scrabulous.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Take It Easy: J2E

Every once in a while I run across something that's educationally useful and fun to play with, too. For instance, I stumbled across a playfully powerful Java-based (word?) processor that does some incredibly spiffy stuff. Although the site is for profit, j2e is currently free for individual users and worth exploring. It's just too easy to like this resource.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Key Resource

Hate having to access pull-down menus for features of a program? Use keystroke commands instead. Don't know the keystroke commands? No problem. KeyXL is an indispensable database of keyboard shortcuts (including shortcuts for Windows, Macintosh and Linux) that's searchable by program. Spiffy!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Everything's Under Control...Really

Teachers continually state that they want their students to do a better job of thinking. Many educators believe that popular culture seems to be anything but supportive such an endeavor. Ever wonder where popular culture originates? Ever wonder who decides what cognitive content will be generated and disseminated? Take a look at the Elements of Information Control.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Battery Low

Sorry kids, no real posts today. I'm exhausted.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Forever Blowing Bubbles?

A few months ago, I stumbled across a service called the Awesome Highlighter. After using it in a number of classrooms, I became an immediate user and fan and posted my experience with using the tool. The service is a godsend for educators, students, and parents because it allows anyone to highlight text on web pages and subsequently receive a small link to the highlighted page. Reading a page that has been touched with the magic of the Awesome Highlighter is a quick means of zooming in on pertinent information.

Well, there's another service I'm about to add to my teaching toolbox that, like the Awesome Highlighter, will be extremely helpful to me. Bubble Comment is a (currently) free service that makes it possible for anyone to share video comments with others on just about any web page. After signing up with Bubble Comment, using the service is a simple three step process:

  1. select a web page,
  2. record a video comment, and
  3. share the video comment with others.


Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Too Much of a Good Thing: Piles of Files

Have a Mac? Running low on disk space? Want to know the sizes of files and folders on your machine? Check out Disk Inventory X.

Related links:

Monday, December 8, 2008

Augmenting Arguments: Debategraph

Famed polymath and writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once stated that "Nothing is more terrible than ignorance in action." Intelligent people know this and constantly seek to clarify their understanding. We need to able to review, refine, and correct what we think we know about issues and situations that concern or affect us. More importantly, we, as educators and citizens, must model how we go about formulating, analyzing, and clearing up our thinking. The young minds we teach need help with and examples of strategies for dealing with the tough situations that create debate and controversy.

A website called Debategraph is an excellent tool for helping people get a better, more visual representation of contentious issues. There are rarely simple simple solutions to the innumerable disagreements, disputes, and differences of opinion that plague humanity. Thankfully,however, there are options. One course of action is getting a perspective of the ideas, opinions, and facts that permeate an issue. Debategraph has the power to make this possible.


Saturday, December 6, 2008


Know a student, colleague, friend, or acquaintance who is obsessed with the weight, style, and width of printed characters (in hardcopy and digital format)? Such individuals are unabashed fontophiles. They're the kind of people who are hungry for text. These crazed connoisseurs of letters, words, and paragraphs are constantly adding to and analyzing their alphanumeric appetites. They hunger for printed material. In addition to scanning any form of text for the value of its content, they're also assessing it for its aesthetic attributes. Take them out to lunch and they'll devour and relish digesting a menu as much as (if not more) than any entree. They're just as likely to snack on the contents of a few billboards on the way to the restaurant.

Fontophiles amuse and frustrate their friends with constant criticism of why some fonts are more or less pleasing than others. The misinformed use of fonts offends these folks. When writing, they spend more time choosing an appropriate font than they do composing text. Whether scrutinizing serifs or sampling a new selection of script, they lose themselves in their love of letters. They also tend to have very slow computers, having installed as many fonts as they can find.

If you know such a person and are looking for a great gift for your font fanatic, check out the Typographic Desk Reference. This tome is a thoroughly engaging reference guide of all manner of typeriffic terminology that's packed with over a thousand facts on typography. Your friend will positively appreciate ascender lines, groove on glyphs, and go hysterical over historiated letters.

Related links:

Friday, December 5, 2008

Opening Up to Open Source: IBM's Progressive Move

My good pal Joe rang me up today and brought something supremely interesting to my attention. He told me about a news story that caught his eye. While exploring Google News, he discovered that IBM is launching a line of computers that do not use Microsoft's Windows operating system. Instead, IBM's machines will combine its own open source Lotus Symphony desktop package with the Linux operating system. According to the news story,
"IBM claims the system can save businesses $500 to $800 per user on Microsoft software licenses and an additional $258 per user "since there is no need to upgrade hardware to support Windows Vista and Office."
That's important. Why? Even before the recent economic downturn, many schools lacked the funds necessary for maintaining Windows-based computers. Money was scarce even before money was scarce. With the added stress of the loss of what little funds they had, it's no wonder that many schools are coming around to the possibility of using Windows-free computers.

For the last three years, Joe has been investigating and using a variety of open source programs and freeware. He knows his stuff. Whether it's Inkscape, Audacity, or TuxPaint, Joe has been carefully researching all manner of computer programs that students can use for free. He fervently believes that the tools of learning can and should be free. With IBM's bold move, maybe they will be.

Related links:

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Put On a Happy Face

Many educators want to publish student work online. However, they are hesitant to post an accompanying image for fear of compromising pupil safety. Thankfully, Portrait Illustration Maker is available.

Related links:

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Easy from A to Z

Need to alphabetize a list of words? Drop by and let this useful site do the heavy lifting.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Express Yourself: artPad

Want to stimulate your creativity? Want to paint without making a mess? You're in luck. Check out artPad.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Remembering Rosa

Americans have always had a dream for a better life, a better world. Following a dream can be a difficult endeavor. On this day in 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, an ordinary citizen with extraordinary courage challenged the status quo to persue a better life for all Americans. In a remarkable act of civil disobedience, a humble seamstress confronted a repressive code of behavior heretofore accepted by many Americans. Her actions made the nation examine its resolve to insure equal rights for its citizens. Rosa Louise McCauley Parks, a normally timid person, stood her ground. By refusing to obey a bus driver's order to give up her seat to make room for a white passenger, she effectively ignited the modern Civil Rights Movement. No matter what you teach, take some time today to use technology to help your students explore this important milestone in our nation's history.

Essential questions (as described by Grant P. Wiggins and Jay McTighe in their book Understanding by Design) are the "big ideas" wrapped up in questions that humans continue to ponder over the course of a lifetime. Such questions lack easy answers. They can be used to engage students and encourage them to seriously ponder the core or the essence of a topic being studied. Essential questions are extremely useful in revealing what pupils think about a topic. A few such questions related to the topic of equality and challenging norms include:
  • What are the most important skills for understanding what's right and what's wrong?
  • How do we know when we should make a stand for a belief?
  • What are the most important rights, responsibilities, and privileges of citizenship?
  • What must happen in order for equality to become commonplace in our world?
  • Will equality ever become commonplace in our world? If so, how? If not, why not?
  • In what ways do prevailing conditions in society begin to give rise to change?
  • What is this most important role of leadership in bringing about an important change?

Related links:

Tools for exploring/explaining this topic:

Fleeing the Flu


Had your flu shot yet? If not, Google Flu Trends will either reinforce your procrastination or move you to action. Why? Well, this nifty online resource is able to "estimate flu activity in your state up to two weeks faster than traditional flu surveillance systems." Roll up your sleeve and get ready for a slight sting. Lest you think that presenting statistics to persuade us to monitor and improve health conditions is a new thing, Florence Nightengale was hip to the process as early as the 1850s.