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30 July 2010

Seven FREE Resources for Science Teachers

For this installation of the "Seven" series, I decided to tackle science resources.  Here are a few that I've found interesting:

This site is a great way to create, share, and collaborate on physics lessons that you find on the site or design yourself. Watch this video to find more about Knotebooks.







PBS Teachers: Science & Tech
PBS includes free lessons, worksheets, and professional development opportunities in Science & Tech. Resources are organized by grade level, and they offer a PDF that provides an overview of the Science & Tech resources.

Bill Nye the Science Guy
Bill Nye has dedicated a section of his website to kids and teachers, where you can find videos, episode guides, printables, and kid-friendly science experiments called "Home Demos."

Google Earth Ocean
Google Earth 5.0 added the Ocean functionality.  It allows you to explore oceanic elements, undersea wildlife, endangered species, and climate change with experts from the National Geographic and the BBC. Watch this video about Google Earth Ocean.







BioEd Online
Tons of free resources for biology teachers. There are presentations that include topics organized by contents standard, teaching strategies, lab techniques, and more. You'll also find classroom lessons, units, slide sets, and a plethora of other classroom resources.


The US Geological survey has tons of free materials for primary, secondary, and undergraduate level students and teachers including online lectures, maps, lessons, activities, photos, videos, and more.


Interactive Periodic Table of Elements
At first glance, this looks like a basic periodic table.  However, when you click on an element, you get a popup with information about that element including the atomic number, atomic symbol, atomic weight, family, etc.  It also provides links to other online resources about that element.



Please comment and let me know what science resources you're using in your classroom!

28 July 2010

Seven FREE Resources for English/Language Arts Teachers

As a high school English teacher, I sometimes had difficulty finding useful resources on the Internet.  Many of them seem to be geared more toward ESL/ELL or younger students.  Here, in the continuation of my "Seven" series, are my seven favorite English/Language Arts resources.

owl.english.purdue.edu/
Purdue OWL English
Your one-stop shop for MLA resources for teachers and students. Find organized and searchable information about MLA formatting and citations with descriptions and examples.

Google Lit Trips
Use Google Earth to explore where authors lived or travel through the world with the characters of a book.  You'll find Lit Trips everywhere from Shakespeare's Macbeth to Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath to Elie Wiesel's Night.  You have to install Google Earth in order to use Google Lit Trips.

Paper Rater
Paper Rater is a free, cloud-based resource that allows you to upload a paper and have it checked for grammar, usage, style, word choice, readability, and plagiarism.  It doesn't save you from grading all of those essays, but it's a quick, easy, and FREE plagiarism check for you or your students.


The Book Seer
Have you ever finished a book that you really enjoyed and wanted to know what to read next? Have you ever had a student come to you with the same problem?  The Book Seer is the answer. Simply type in the title and author of a book you like and it builds a list of suggestions that are related to that title. As an avid reader, this is one of my favorite websites.

ED.gov
ED.gov is a government website where you can find free resources for teaching reading, literature, poetry, writing, grammar, and more.

JPROF
JPROF offers resources for teachers and students of journalism, including lessons and links about reporting, writing, editing, photojournalism, web journalism, and broadcasting.

Web English Teacher
More of a collection of links than a collection of actual resources, this site still has a lot to offer English teachers.  Web English Teacher is well organized and searchable, helping you find resources of all kinds from literature to grammar to vocabulary.

If you know of more, please let me know in the comments.  I'm always on the search for new and exciting online resources! Find more of my favorite resources at bit.ly/21stCenturyTools.

27 July 2010

Seven FREE Resources for Social Science Teachers

For the third post in my "Seven" series, I decided to get content specific. Today I'm offering seven resources for social science teachers.  (Note: Most of these are geared toward Social Science teachers in the US.)

LIFE Photo Archive
A joint effort of LIFE and Google, thousands of photographs (some never published) are all archived in one place. The photos span from the 1750s to today, are categorized by decade or topic, and are completely searchable.

TimeMaps
This site offers free, interactive maps that represent the history of most of the major civilizations stretching from 3500 BCE to 2005 CE.  The maps include encyclopedia entries to help students better understand the events of a particular time period. The site is new and is a work in progress, so as of right now the encyclopedia entries stretch through 500 CE, but they are adding more all the time.

The Object of History
According to their website, The Object of History takes you "behind the scenes with the Curators of the National Museum of American History."  It lets you view items from the Smithsonian, learn about them, interact with them, create lessons with them, and find resources about them. The most exciting element is one that allows teachers to create their own "virtual exhibit," with virtual items and their own commentary.

The Avalon Project
The Avalon Project is an effort by Yale Law School to scan in and organize thousands of documents "from the fields of Law, History, Economics, Politics, Diplomacy and Government."  These documents are organized by time period, from 4000 BCE to the 21st Century CE.

The National Archives
This site offers primary source documents, lesson plans and activities, regional resources, and teacher training. The archives can be searched by keyword or browsed by subject.

The Library of Congress
The Library of Congress also offers access to primary source documents, but it also includes tips on teaching with primary source documents, classroom materials, and professional development opportunities.

FedFlix
FedFlix has collected and organized countless videos from the US Government. These include military training films, documentaries on government agencies and national parks, and more. They are all free to use, reproduce, or embed. They can be browsed by keyword, subject area, or can be searched.

I hope you find these resources helpful.  I really think that social science students should have access to more primary source documents, and many of these sites allow that to happen in the classroom.  If you have another Social Science resource or tips on using these, please let me know in the comments.

26 July 2010

Seven FREE Online Resources for Teachers

Yesterday I gave you my top seven cloud-based applications. Today, I decided to make that the first in a top seven series and offer you my top seven online resources for teachers.  All of these are sites I've used in the past to find lesson ideas, videos, or interactive elements that I could use in my classroom, and all of them have something to offer.

Edutopia
Edutopia is a sites for educators created by the George Lucas Foundation that supports education and works to move it forward.  It is the home of the "Schools That Work" project that many of you have probably heard about or possibly used.  They offer free access to videos, blogs, and a teacher community, and they work to better prepare educators to meet the needs of today's students

Thinkfinity
Thinkfinity is a free resource for educators offered by the Verizon Foundation.  There you can find free lesson plans, students interactives, games for students, information for parents, and much, much more. Another great resource offered under the Thinkfinity umbrella is Read, Write, Web.

PBS
PBS has a ton of educational materials which it separates into several sites: one for teachers, one for parents, and one for students. While PBS Kids is geared more for younger students, PBS Teachers offers free lessons, activities, videos, etc. for every grade level organized by grade level and subject area.

Discovery Education
Discovery Education is a good place to find resources like lesson plans and videos.  Much of Discovery's content is free for educators, but some of it requires you to purchase materials. One of my favorite elements of Discovery Education, though, is its free Puzzle Maker, a free cloud-based application that allows you to create your own printable puzzles like word searches and crosswords. There's also a "Science Fair Central" section that offers tips and advice for teachers, students, and parents.

Curriki
Curriki is a place to find resources that are submitted by and reviewed by other educators.  You can find and download resources by searching or by browsing grade level or subject area. You can also submit your own lessons or vote on materials posted by other users. You need a membership to submit and vote, but membership is free.

Wolfram|Alpha for Educators
Wolfram Alpha, the "computational knowledge engine," recently began collecting and sharing tools for educators.  You can download lesson plans in math, science, or social studies and share your own lessons. The site is still young, so it doesn't have as many resources as some of these other sites. The resources it does have, though, are top notch.

WatchKnow
WatchKnow aggregates educational videos from all over the Web and conveniently puts them in one place. You can search educational videos or browse by age, grade, subject, etc., narrowing by category and subcategory, which makes it super simple to find exactly what you're trying to find.

If you haven't tried these sites, open a new tab and start playing. You'll find plenty of lesson ideas and useful materials. If you have a favorite site that you've used to improve your classroom, please let me know in the comments.  Find more free resources for teachers at bit.ly/21stCenturyTools.

25 July 2010

Seven FREE Cloud Tools Every Teacher Should Know

As I've said before, cloud-based applications play a big role in my everyday computing and my classroom tech integration.  Here's an annotated list of my seven favorite cloud tools.

docs.google.com
Google Docs
Office Suite
Google Docs is a free, online office suite.  Google Docs allows you to create, edit, share, and collaborate on documents, presentations, spreadsheets, forms, and drawings.  It does lack some of the more advanced features and font choices that you'll find in desktop software like MS Office or OpenOffice, but the main features are reproduced very effectively.  As a cloud-based application, Google Docs offers things desktop software doesn't like the ability to collaborate, store your documents online so they are accessible from any device with Internet access, and easily publish your documents to the Web.  Google Docs is also part of Google Apps.




sites.google.com
Google Sites
Website Creation
Google Sites is a free, online WYSIWYG website creation tool and hosting service. It allows you to easily create your own website from scratch or from a template.  It's easy for people who have never created a website, but it also offers more advanced options and HTML editing for those who want a little more punch.  Google Sites is also part of Google Apps.






polleverywhere.com
Poll Everywhere
Free Text Message Polling
Polleverywhere.com offers free accounts for educators where they can create multiple choice or text polls for students to answer via SMS messaging, much like the text voting on reality television shows.  This offers a way for students to provide feedback to the teacher or the class since the poll results are listed in a graph that is updated in real time.  It's also a great way to incorporate cellphones into the classroom.  The free educator account allows up to 32 answers per poll, but unlimited polls that are super easy to create.


picnick.com
Picnik
Basic Photo Editing
Picnik allows you to upload photos and perform basic editing functions like cropping, resizing, adding text, objects, and effects, and more.  You can then download that picture in a variety of formats.  You don't have to sign up to use Picnik, but registration allows you to upload 5 photos at a time. Paid registration opens up a variety of options not available to non-paid users, but the free version is more than adequate for everyday usage.


aviary.com
Aviary
Image Editing and Creation, Music Editing and Creation
Aviary offers more advanced image editing than Picnik, and is more comparable to Photoshop or G.I.M.P.  It also has an online audio editing tool that allows you to edit and layer multiple channels.  Most recently they added a music creation tool with numerous instrument loops that you can use to create your own music.


jaycut.com
JayCut
Video Editing
JayCut offers multiple channel video editing in the cloud. Upload your video and edit it then store it in the cloud or download it to your device.  It has an easy-to-use interface and includes many of the same functions as traditional video editing software including titles, transitions, etc.



dropbox.com
Dropbox
Online File Storage
Dropbox allows you to upload and store files in the cloud.  You can upload and download your files from dropbox.com or install the Dropbox software on your device, which allows you to add and organize files in the Dropbox folder that is automatically synced with your dropbox.com account.  This software can be installed on multiple devices so that your files are accessible from any computer you use.  The free account offers 2GB of storage that can be upgraded to up to 3GB by following a few simple steps.  You can also purchase extra storage space for monthly or yearly fees.


There are many other free, useful, cloud-based services for teachers.  Check out my list at bit.ly/21stCenturyTools (bit.ly and Google Bookmarks are also great tools!) or tell me about your favorites in the comments.

24 July 2010

The Prism of a Funding Crisis

I see the world of education and, more specifically, educational technology through a very distinct prism.  It makes my views very opinionated and in possible contrast with the views of many teachers and technology specialists.  I want to take today's post and explain a little bit about that prism and how it affects my views on edtech.  I probably should have written about this in my first post, but it's better late than never, I suppose.

As many teachers have noticed  in the past few years, education funding in many places has been dropping.  Since I teach at a small school (roughly 2,500 K-12) in a rural county in Alabama, my classroom funds and technology funds have been cut dramatically.  Let's get some numbers:

  • 7.5% - The percentage of the cut in education funding instituted by Gov. Bob Riley when he announced proration for Alabama's education budget in April of 2010.
  • 32nd - The rank of the state of Alabama in per-student funding for the 2007-08 school year.
  • 104th - The rank of my school district (Cullman County) in local revenue in relation to the other 165 districts in the state of Alabama for the 2008-2009 school year.
  • $0 - The amount of technology funds appropriated by the state of Alabama for the last two school years.

So, as you can see, funding is a serious issue for me, both as a classroom teacher and a technology coordinator.  Because of this, when I search out tech to use in my classroom or services to share with other teachers, I can't just consider ease of use and educational impact--I have to consider cost.  Would I like all of my students to have iMacs instead of low-priced netbooks?  Yes.  Would I rather purchase Adobe Premiere instead of using Movie Maker or JayCut?  Absolutely.  The harsh reality is, though, I can't.

Many of the computers in my school are more than five years old, and all of them are Windows machines. We've recently made moves to cut overhead even further.  During the 2008-09 school year, I began piloting Google Apps with my computer classes, and midway through last year, my principal and I facilitated the move to Google Apps Education Edition for our entire school, eliminating the need for site licenses for the school and removable storage for students.  Then, near the end of last school year, the district moved every Cullman County employee to Google Apps, saving the district thousands of dollars each year in licensing and upkeep. This has also removed some of our dependence on legacy software, which is allowing us to move some of our student computers away from Windows and onto a free Linux distro.

All of these things influence the way I see edtech moving forward.  This makes me see cloud computing in a different light than many, especially those in IT or those from schools with fewer funding issues.  By moving storage and software into the cloud, it reduces the cost to me, my school, and my district.  Instead of buying site licenses for MS Office 2010, Adobe Premiere, or Adobe Photoshop, we are able to cut those costs by using cloud-based solutions like Google Apps, JayCut, and Aviary.  Instead of spending a $5,000 grant on 10 iPads, we can purchase 20 netbooks. We have to make every dollar stretch.

These options may not be the best choices for everyone.  If you're in a school or system that doesn't face the same funding issues as mine, you may find some of my ideas and opinions extreme or even ludicrous.  Still, I think the cloud has something to offer even those schools with more equitable and universal access.  Plus, as more and more software and companies move into the cloud, it will open even more doors for educators from every end of the spectrum.

Sources:
ftp://ftp.alsde.edu/documents/ReportCard/2008-2009.022.0000.Profile.pdf
http://www.alsde.edu/general/AlabamaEducationReportCard_2008-09.pdf
http://www2.census.gov/govs/school/08f33pub.pdf

16 July 2010

Tablets: The Future of Classroom Tech?

Since the release of the iPad, iPad 2, and comparable Android tablets, much has been made of the use of tablets in the classroom and 1:1 initiatives.  Many people are excited about what they mean for the future of education.  But are tablets the future?  Will we eventually see a tablet in the hand of every student and teacher?

Creation vs. Consumption
Over the years, the students have been moving from passive learners who would sit in desks and soak up the information fed to them by teachers toward actively engaged creators of their own content.  Studies have shown that most students learn more when they are actively engaged in the learning process.  In fact, in an elementary school setting, they may be fully capable creation tools and work well for the minimal content creation in that setting.  However, as students age and grow, their tech must be able to offer more advanced creation tools for which I think more traditional PCs have a better offering (stronger processors, better graphics rendering, etc) for students in high schools.

Textbooks vs. eBooks
This is where tablets make the most sense to me.  Having students replace an entire bag of books with one reader makes complete sense.  While there are other options like Nook or Kindle, the ability to add multimedia and interactivity into the eBook experience is one of the things I like most about tablets.  In my mind, if tablets are going to make a surge in education, this is where it will start.

Sustainability
This is my biggest fear of where tablets are right now.  In a school that struggles with funding, I'm still working with 6-year-old computers.  Will tablets released right now still be in circulation in six years?  I have a 2-year-old Android phone in my pocket, and it quickly became outdated and is no longer receiving OS updates. The same has happened with older versions of the iPhone.  Tablets are changing even faster than mobile phones, so do we really expect them to have long-term sustainability?  Sometime in the future, I'm sure the market will stabilize, but the market is shifting too fast for any large investment in tablets (especially as 1:1 solutions).

Cost
This is another problem I have with the current tablet landscape.  For me, educational technology must be useful, pertinent, and affordable. I would love to be able to provide my students with hardware and software without the constraints of a technology budget, but I can't. I am forced to work within that budget, which in my case has been $0 for the past three years. Those constraints have put me on the hunt for the tech that offers the most return for the lowest price and moved me to free software and cloud-based applications.  With the cost of most tablets plus the cost of supplying them all with apps, lower-priced netbooks with free software and web apps seem a more viable option for now.  I'm sure that tablet costs will lower as we move forward, but they're just not there yet.

So, are tablets the future?  Will tablets replace laptops and netbooks as the 1:1 product of choice?  I'm not going to say no; I'm just going to say not yet.  They are new and exciting tools.  They have loads of potential in the classroom, especially in elementary.  Portable labs with tablets are a great idea, but I think that we should wait to see how things shake out before we start implementing 1:1 with them.  I understand the need to push the envelope and innovate, but maybe, in this case, it's better to wait.

Updated March 2011

11 July 2010

The Cloud: Shifting Education

docs.google.com
The cloud isn't a scary place up in the sky that's untouchable.  In my mind, it's one of the most exciting things that's ever happened in educational technology.  I'll explain what it means for education, but first let me explain what the cloud is and how it's changing.


While the exact origin of the term is still up for debate, the cloud is thought to refer to classic network flowcharts in which the Internet was represented by a cloud.  So, when people talk about the cloud, they're really just talking about the Internet.


The cloud has been used for off-site file storage for a long time.  If you've ever used a browser-based email like Gmail, Yahoo! Mail, or Hotmail, or stored pictures at a website like Picasa Web, Flickr, or Photobucket, then you've used the cloud.  What makes those cloud services?  Your email, attachments, and pictures aren't stored on your computer, they're stored on the servers of those websites, on the Internet, in the cloud.


What's exciting about the cloud right now is that it's moving far beyond online file storage and into online applications.  These are "programs" that run completely inside the web browser.  There's nothing to download, nothing to install, and most of them are FREE.  


picnik.com
More and more of these cloud applications crop up every day.  Here's a short list of some of my favorite cloud-based applications:
Google Docs - Online office suite offering document creation, storage, and collaboration
Picnik - Easy to use, basic image editor. (The Teach the Cloud logo was created in Picnik)
Aviary - More advanced image editing, vector graphics, and music editing
JayCut - Video editing


Now, what does this mean for education?  As I said, most cloud applications are FREE.  So, instead of paying for site licenses for Microsoft Office, Photoshop, and Adobe Premiere, the main functions of those programs can be accessed for free through the cloud.  With programs such as Google Apps, email functionality can be sent to the cloud, eliminating the need to keep Microsoft Exchange servers on site and avoiding licensing fees and upkeep costs.  With all of the money that can be saved, I envision more and more school systems and teachers moving away from traditional software and into the cloud.


edmodo.com
It's not just money, though.  Many of these cloud-based applications also present more opportunities for teachers and students to collaborate.  Applications like bubbl.us let students and teachers work together on interactive, online graphic organizers.  Google Docs allows students to work on collaborative documents and presentations in small groups or class projects with each student at his/her own computer.  In applications like Edmodo, the teacher can interact with students in an online classroom much like the social networks that today's students know so well.


Still, with all of the great things offered by cloud computing, is it a viable replacement for installed software?  I would argue that it is.  I haven't had a version of Microsoft Office installed on my personal computer in two years, instead relying on Google Docs as my main office suite.  More recently I've moved away from software like Photoshop and G.I.M.P. and into the cloud with Picnik and Aviary.  As the cloud becomes more prominent, I look forward to more advanced applications moving off of traditional software and into the cloud.  Soon, the web browser will be the single most important program on a computer, if it's not already.  


So, what do you think?  Is the cloud the next step in educational technology, or is it just a passing fad?  How do you think it will help shift education as we move forward?  Add your comments!