Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Web redesign 101

Conversations abound regarding website development and design. What is good, what is appropriate, what is functional? Some say you can never have too much, others have a minimalist approach. Do you put the fancy animated logo that rotates and flashes or a plain static logo that gets the point across?

My personal philosophy... "less is more." I struggle sometimes when searching for information on the web because sites are too busy, or there is too much going on that it distracts from what you're looking for. I have also seen sites that are great and have specific content I am looking for but takes me five to ten minutes to locate it because it is buried under multiple layers.

I recently read the article "Build it Better" which outlines a number of educational institutions that have recently undergone a total redesign of their school web page sites. This short, to the point article provides additional viewpoints on what a good website has to offer the public.

4 main topics are covered in the article, "Pepper the site with links," "Many Moving Parts," "A Look of Continuity" and "Colors Matter." Each topic provides some insight and background testimonials from school districts that have recently undergone a redesign of their web site. The information in this article can provide insight to anyone who is thinking of creating or redesigning their personal or professional website.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Learning by doing... is it better?

I have always been a hands on learner. If I can do it as I am learning it is beneficial to my learning curve. There are many others out there in the world that learn the same way. Do you think that our students learn the same way? In today's "plugged in" world I think that it is true.

What about your Science students grades 4-6? What if there was a resource that allows them to get hands on learning... and lets you give them a Certificate when they complete each lesson.

Take a look at Siemens Science Day. This website gives students in grades 4-6 Science classes the ability to get some hands on learning. You have videos, hands-on activities and other information that will help them learn Life, Earth and Physical Science.

What do you do to get started? You do have to create an account, I know not another password to remember. Once you create an account just choose one of the subject area topics, have the students watch the video, then pass out the printable worksheets for the activity and let them start working. The subject topic gives you a difficulty level associated with it, a summary of the topic and is also aligned with national science curriculum.

Have fun and take a look at this with your students and give them the opportunity to learn Science in a fun and inviting way.

Oh yeah.. one last thing to look at while you are on the site. You could also win the Ultimate Cool School Science Day Sweepstakes. The contest runs through March 2, 2009. So enter often and soon so that you have a chance to with the prize. What do you get? Here is an explanation of what you get "The winning teacher will win a spellbinding assembly for his/her school that is not only fun and interactive, but also underscores the importance of science literacy and the need for science resources among schools. Discovery Networks will lead the assembly, which will consist of videos, mind benders and interactive demonstrations."

Have you ever had an AHA! moment?

I was sitting in a meeting the other day with a group of educators and we were discussing ways to integrate technology and the curriculum seamlessly that would make teachers more comfortable and less likely to run. When I say run I am talking about full bore sprinting away from using technology in the classroom.
Talk came round and round to the same point that teachers are overwhelmed with the everyday tasks that are put on them and sometimes can not get their head above water. I have numerous friends that say it is all they can do sometimes just to get kids to sit down in their seats let alone try to introduce them to curriculum that has a technological component to it. "When do I have time to learn," some say. "If you do not show me how I can use it in my subject area I will never use it after the training," are what others say.
So comes the AHA moment. I get it now where it had not really clicked before. I have been going into school after school showing these educators the technology, over and over again until I can recite verbatim the training in my sleep. I don't need props anymore because it is so repetitive that I seem to sleep through everything.

So now comes the retraining of the trainer. I now have to relearn what I have learned so that I can make it viable for everyone that I am working with. Personalize it as some would say so that it makes sense to the educators that are sitting there like their students. I am not sure how it is going to go, or what changes I will make. Stay tuned for my personal journey to make life easier for the 20th Century teacher in a 21st Century classroom.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

We Are...

Some faculty members at a local school had never seen Photo Story 3, Movie Maker or heard of a vodcast before a couple of months ago. Now they have created a number of vodcasts representing their school. Here is their latest creation. Enjoy it and read some of the comments on how they created this. My hats off to them for coming so far so fast.

"Making the storyboard first was probably one of the most helpful tools because I knew exactly what kind of pictures I needed and where they needed to go in the sequence of the story. I love creating these stories and can't wait to learn more about editing videos. "...

"I wanted the video to have a clear message, but I wanted the words to come through powerfully yet subtly. In order to do that, I decided to have a black background with the words written in red. I felt the contrast between the bright colors and the dark background would give it intensity, but the lack of narration would give it a visual effect. I also wanted the phrases to be short, and the meanings (and pictures) present contrasting images between the old and the new."...

"...The classroom no longer has to be contained in four walls. The traditional walls of old school education are crumbling. When I thought of wall crumbling, I wanted a visual effect to enhance that image and phrase which is why I searched for a transitional effect that would make the slide look like it was falling or crumbling to reveal a world beyond. The word slides are made using the PowerPoint program, and I saved the slides in the presentation as separate J-PEG images."...

Friday, February 6, 2009

BlackBerry for Kids?

Leap Frog announces a BlackBerry for kids. That's right, I said a BlackBerry for children.

Kids can be just like mom and dad now with their own BlackBerry or "Text & Learn" as dubbed by Leap Frog.

The device offers a full Qwerty keyboard, allows them to send their own text messages. It has a mock online browser and because it is from Leap Frog it has learning activities for kids ages 3 and up. Children can learn about the keyboard, letter matching and a calendar feature to help teach kids about the months of the year, shapes and how to follow the directions. When does it hit the shelves you ask? It looks like it will be a summer release.
The price you ask, 19.99 in British pounds or approx. 25-29 US Dollars, not very much at all compared to the cost of the current Blackberry on the market.
Image provided by: cnet news

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Bridging the Gap: English

As an English teacher do you find it difficult to integrate technology into your instructional day?

Wouldn't it be nice to have a reference guide or road map to help with curriculum/technology integration?

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills(P21) and the National Council of Teachers of English(NCTE) have teamed up to offer a new Free resource which can aid in integrating 21st century skills into the curriculum.

The 21st Century Skills Map for English provides English teachers with examples of how some of the 21st century skills can be incorporated into classroom instruction. This document provides ideas for adapting and molding collaboration, problem solving, critical thinking and other skills students need into their curriculum .

The road map provides sample lesson plans and various ways of bridging the gap between the current text-based methdology and its web 2.0 integrated counterpart. Resources and information are available for use with grades 4, 8 and 12 to help foster student achievement.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

"Copyright" - Enough Said

What can we do to help everyone get on the same page with Copyright Guidelines? How can we make any and all information available to everyone so that informed decisions can be made when it comes to using digital materials in the classroom.

Someone has gone and made it a little bit more simplified. The Temple University Media Education Lab, along with National Association for Media Literacy Education, the Action Coalition for Media Education, the National Council of Teachers of English, the Visual Communication Studies Division of the International Communication Association have all collaborated on their most recent project.

This project was to develop a an easier format to aid educators in understanding copyright when using "digital materials in teaching and learning." They have created the "Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Media Literacy Education." This document was created to help educators in making good and appropriate decisions on how they use copyrighted material.

You can also watch the pre-recorded launch event from November 2008. As well read more about it from the Temple website.

3-D Virtual Field Trips

Did you ever think that you could take a virtual field trip to ancient Rome circa 320 A.D.? Well now you can with a little help from Google. Yes I said Google.

Google Earth has recreated a new three-dimensional representation of Rome around 320 A.D.

They have recreated nearly 7000 individual structures from the city including the Circus Maximus and the Colosseum. It really makes you feel as if you were there. You have the feeling of being a citizen of Rome as you travel through the streets to the Markets and the Forums, and up to the Palace.

With the updated version of Google Earth you can access this new package from the Gallery Layer. You get to tour the buildings and also learn about the lives of the people of Rome. The program offers the visitor pop up material about the buildings, maps and aerial imagery of the city.

The "Ancient Rome 3-D" concept and design is based from a simulation created by an international team of designers which was led by the University of Virginia, and the University of California.

Well here is something else to think about not only is this pretty cool but Google is also holding Curriculum Contest around the "Ancient Rome 3-D" Google Earth layer. They are taking in curriculum submissions from K-12 so no one gets left out. Oh and I almost forgot about the Prizes. Yes, you know that there cannot be a contest without prizes.
Here is a list of the prizes.

Apple MacBook laptop
Digital classroom projector
Digital camera
3D Navigation mouse
$500 in gift cards to Target or Office Depot
Engraved Google "Top Educator" plaque

The deadline is February 9th so go take a look at the Ancient Rome 3D Curriculum Competition.

You're looking at Colleges, now how are you going to pay for it?

Did your parents ever tell you that it pays to have good grades? Have you told that to your own children the same thing? In this case it does. How, you ask?

Take a look at GradeFund, which was developed by two brothers from Harvard and Princeton, which actually pays students for the good grades they get.

Michael and Matthew Kopko have really taken helping students pay for college to a new level and with this site they have launched it can make that dream happen for so many students out there that are struggling with wanting to go to college but may not know how they are going to pay for it.

How does it work?

Well the first thing is that the site is doing is matching up students, who have determined their own achievement level in a specific class, with sponsors that have determined what level of contribution for a certain grade. The sponsors of the students watch the grades that the students upload onto the site and award them with the amount per grade.

The student will create an account and determine themselves what their goals are for each subject, let's say an "A" in Math. Their sponsor, which could be a relative, a friend, a company or a complete stranger, verifies the grades made against the students transcript and then will either pay the student directly or the amount will go to the University for the student.

This site also offers additional help and support for students to help them with finding jobs and with internships that can also help pay for their higher education.

What is the appeal for Sponsors in this site, I think that it is a way to not only get family and friends involved in student achievement it is also a chance for corporations to get involved in academics. We see it in the news everyday about companies giving money for scholarships to universities, colleges and tech schools. That money then goes into a fund that is then spread out across all eligible students. Would it not be better for a company to award money for specific academic goals. A Bio-tech company, Law Firm, Bank, Hospital, etc. could sponsor students who were in a specific career path in school as a way to recruit new employees.

Take a look for yourself and read all about the GradeFund site and make up your own mind.

Tech-Literacy with NCLB

We all know that NCLB part D addresses the technological literacy of our students through a standardized computer test given in the 8th grade.

Wouldn't you like to know where your students stand prior to the test so that you can work with them to help them succeed?

Well there is now a way to do this. InfoSource launched at NECC 2008 a website that helps you to assess your students knowledge of their tech-literacy. Simple Assessment is the name of the site.

It offers users a free online technology assessment to all K-12 students to determine their technology proficiency. The site assessments are based off of the ISTE NETS standards for students. All data is stored for your easy retrieval afterwards, as well as to retrieve historical data from previous students. The system is all web-based so there is nothing to load on the computer or on your server at the school.

Simple Assessment does want you to follow some guidelines when working with this software. Rules you say, not something else that we have to deal with. Well relax, I will give you these rules as follows.
1.) The free SimpleAssessment is good for one year from implementation date.
2.) The free SimpleAssessment comes with online training and support video tutorials, as well as scheduled Webinars. No individual telephone support is available.
3.) 25% of students in an organization's free SimpleAssessment site must have completed one assessment within 120 days of system implementation or the site will shut down.
4.) To help manage your school's bandwidth, you may assess 20% of your imported students at any one time (not to exceed 500 students at any one time).

Give it a try and go to the website to see if it will help the tech-literacy of your students.

Need help finding a College? pt. 2

So again I say, it is that time to start looking for colleges. Students don't know what to do, parents are looking for ways to pay for it and teachers and faculty members are trying their best to help you bridge the gap.

Take a look at a site launched by the Department of Education in collaboration with students. Yes I said, well they said, students.

When you go to the site, it looks fairly plain at first with what looks like a pencil drawing of a highway with a large billboard off the road

What this site does give to the students is the Why, What and How of colleges. Why go? you will see some student driven videos on the importance of going to college along with additional information. What to do? takes you through the process of getting yourself ready to apply. Lastly, and most important to both students and parents today, How to pay? this link gives you information on how to pay for college, where and how to look for financial aid and how to get the forms filled out correctly to submit.

There are also additional links for parents/families and teachers/counselors to help them better prepare students for moving on and up with any post secondary institutions.

Need to find a College to go to?

I know for me it was tough, sitting there with all those college catalogs spread out across the kitchen table. Then it was in-state versus out-of-state and what degree program to go into. With all of those decisions that not only our students, children, or ourselves face would it not be better to go to a one stop shop to find out what we need?

Take a look at Campus Explorer

This is your one stop shop to finding a college to attend. You have the ability to search based on three criteria areas. (1) You can search by 4 yr, 2 yr and Career Education types of institutions, (2) you can search by geographical location and (3) search by major discipline.

Once you are within each criteria area you can then filter down even more to narrow your parameters to find the institution you want to attend. You are given links to the schools as well as the average per year cost of tuition and even provides you an Admissions Calculator so that you can enter in your SAT, ACT scores, GPA and class rank to see your chances of admissions.

Hey if they had this when I was going to college the first time around I would have had a much easier time making my choice.

Hey don't take my word for it, it's that time of year now that High School students are looking at colleges to attend in the fall. Go to Campus Explorer and see how easy it is to get as much info before you make that decision.

To Write or Not to Write...

Are your students having problems with their writing skills? Are they getting mixed up with their persuasive arguments and narratives?

Does this make you want to pull out your hair? Well don't go and by that miracle hair grow formula yet because there are others out there just like you.

What they have done is to Blog about it on a site called The Writing Teacher it is filled with tips and tricks to help you aid and guide your students to write better, more efficiently and up to grade level.

There are lots of additional research on the site as well so that you can go out and see what others have done too.

Virtual Classrooms in DimDim

Here is another great use of interactive white board space.

DimDim has announced the creation of a new Virtual Classroom pack that is an add on to the current video conferencing software that you use today. They have focused this development towards the K-12 and higher ed systems. Here are the specs:

1. Support for up to 40 students per virtual classroom
2. Customization for teachers, including landing pages, logos, and other images.
3. Integrated support for video chat
4. Built in VoIP service, plus 10 free audio conferencing accounts

Now with all of the great things that you can do with this, from general classroom instruction to staff development, there is a cost for this add on feature. The services price point is based on a per year contract of $2199

Now this seems like an extraordinary cost to put out in these economic times so here are some Grant opportunities that you can look at that might help to ease the pain and possibly make this opportunity a reality.

Google Maps and More

I know that sometimes its the little things that make us smile, but I had an "Geek moment" when I saw this feature in Google Maps, and I may be behind the times on this one but oh well.

I went to google maps to get directions just like anyone else would and ended up seeing a new feature that I had not before.

Google maps offers a Street View of the location that you are looking for. This street view is only available when the street you are looking at is outlined with a "Blue" line. Once you do this you have a pop up window that will allow you to see your destination from the ground as if you were walking or driving in a car.

If you enter an address that is not outlined with blue there is an Icon of a person that will say to see the Street View, drag me to a blue lined street.
Have fun with this feature, oh and I guess it could be kind of creepy too, but still fun.

Well a few days after my "Geek Moment" I was shown and article that was in the Winston-Salem Journal about the new Street View ability of Google maps. The article states that Winston-Salem, NC was one of the first 37 cities along with Charlotte to be part of Google's new Street View feature.

If you want to read the article here it is Article
Remember that will archive their news reports after a couple of months so you may want to copy the article.


Have you ever stumbled upon a website that was really interesting, bordering on great? Not sure what to do with other than add it to your Favorites?

Well, try adding it to your StumbleUpon site.

StumbleUpon is a social bookmarking site that goes a little bit further. You can rate your sites and share them with others. The system will also search for sites according to your personal preferences. You have a menu of topic areas that you can choose from and it will search to locate other sites that match. Each stumble that you rate also posts a small graphic of the page you are showing. Unfortunately if there is flash object on the site, it will not be displayed.
You also get an option to create a blog with your account. The system even will show you a listing of people who are in the immediate area so that if you want to collaborate or share with those users you can.

One thing that is accompanied with this free tool is a toolbar. It is a small download that gives you a thumbs up or down to rate a site and put it onto your StumbleUpon page.

Microsoft Surface

Did you ever imagine that you could sit down on your couch at your dinner table at a restaurant table or coffee table and begin to use it like your computer?

Think of the possibilities....for
families interaction
educational collaboration
social interaction/networking

Think of the implications for that student that is not engaged in your classroom. Maybe this will get them motivated.
What about the student who cannot manipulate a keyboard, the touch capability will allow them to join in and participate in lessons they could not normally be involved in.
How about the web 2.0 possibilities and collaborative learning and social interaction.

Kind of makes you think doesn't it.

Video provided by


ODEO is a free podcast + hosting site that is really easy to use. Even if you have never done a podcast before, they have an easy walk-through to help you.

It is very easy to create an account. A couple of clicks and your podcast is created. All you need is a microphone to do the recording. ODEO will also host the podcast for you.

Now there are a few things of interest:

1. you have your own page where you can import in your PEEPS and manage them
2. you can drop podcasts into your iTunes and create an RSS feed
3. there are many different podcasts previously created that you can browse and listen to

The down-side of things:

1. there are ads on the page
2. some of the topics to browse are questionable (but if you keep everyone on task you should have a great time with this online tool)

WiZIQ What is it?

WiZIQ or Wiz - IQ is a free online collaborative workspace and virtual classroom environment.Similar to some of our other posts, this is an online environment with a virtual workspace that allows you to invite in users and share an interactive whiteboard experience: pdf, word, powerpoint, and images. You can also search their repository for information.

One additional item that is of some interest is that they have a area where you can upload test questions. Yes, online tests - built by users and shared into this environment. You just pick from the list provided or search a topic and the system gives you tests questions in a multiple choice format.

So here is another free tool in my quest to find more free online workspaces for collaboration and information sharing between students and teachers or teachers and teachers.

Palbee for Online Collaboration

Palbee allows up to 9 people to simultaneously work in an interactive online environment with video, chat, and whiteboard capabilities. Oh and not to forget the recording and sharing features of the output. This product is similar to Yugma but with its own twist. So go out and take a look at this site to see what it has. You can take the content and embed it into your own webpage after you have recorded your session. You can upload photos, graphics and powerpoints which can then be added to the whiteboard area and changed, modified or drawn over. This is a free online service that has you to create a username and password. All of your attendees will need to create a username as well to join in your session. But you can LOCK down the session so that only you, the owner, and the people you invite can participate. You can also set it as a widget on your browser.

Hip Hop Learnig

Hey, I know we all have said once in our careers "How do I reach these kids?" or "What will it take to get them engaged!"Well I might have an answer...His name: Mr. DueyHis Occupation: TeacherHis Passion: Teaching by any means neccessaryWhat has he done that is so different? Well he decided to take his lessons and put them to hip hop music to try and reach his students.I had a friend email me this link to have me take a look at this new approach to reaching students. He has recorded 17 songs to help his students learn subject matter. He also has a Fractions video on Teacher Tube, giving you a visual of what he is doing to reach his students. hat is off to you Mr. Duey for doing what ever it takes to reach your students.

Ustream.TV is it good or what?

While attending the NCAECT Conference last week March 13 -14, I had the opportunity to see a Web 2.0 tool that I had not seen before. a free web-based application to allow you to do live interactive broadcasts over the internet. For me this will help out some of the schools that I work with to open them up and bring them into the 21st Century. While in the sessions the some of the presenters were using this tool as a simulcast of the conference. This tool allows you to broadcast live video and sound, record the input, share via posting directly on the screen integrates well with other applications. This is something that I am really looking forward to using very soon.