"If we teach today's students as we taught yesterday's, we rob them of tomorrow." --John Dewey

Sunday, January 29, 2012

My BrainShark to the Rescue!

We've all heard it before.  There are students who do well by reading directions, while some need to hear directions, and still others need to both see and hear them.  Adults, undoubtedly, are no different.  Have you ever taken the time to send a detailed email only to find out that the recipient didn't read every word as carefully as you wrote them?  It can certainly be frustrating when your thoughtfully composed message just doesn't do the trick, but what can you do?  . . .  Enlist the aid of a brainshark, that's what!

Mybrainshark.com is a wonderful website that allows you to upload written content to your free account, add narration, background music, even survey questions, and share with your contacts.  You can add your voice to documents, PowerPoint presentations, videos and photos by using your computer's microphone, or your cell phone.  Share your file by distributing a link, embedding it in a blog, wiki or web page, or via QR code.  Twitter and Facebook users can also share their work through their favorite social networking site, or (and this is my favorite) email contacts directly through the mybrainshark website.  Then, with the simple click of a checkbox, you'll receive an email notification each time your work is viewed.  Invest in a Pro account, and get access to even more features.  Never again will your colleagues, or your students, miss the important details of your message.

Take a look at the sample presentation below.  I know you'll want to give mybrainshark a try, and once you do, I'm confident you'll be a fan.  My Brain Shark truly is the easy, free way to make online video.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Now Presenting . . . Prezi!

Yes, everyone admires a well put together slide presentation.  And for the most part, we're getting pretty good at using PowerPoint and/or Keynote to do it.  But PowerPoint presentations are getting a little predictable, don't you think? A picture, bullet points, maybe an animation or two, and on to the next slide, where you'll see a picture, bullet points and an animation or two. It's easy to lose the interest of your audience, especially if that audience is comprised of students who live in a fast moving video-game world.

Introducing . . . Prezi:  an online presentation program that will allow you to create "visually captivating presentations that lead your audience down a path of discovery."  Instead of creating a linear series of slides, you will begin creating your presentation on a virtually limitless canvas of sorts.  You can easily insert text, images, shapes, documents, links or videos anywhere on the canvas.  Once inserted, clicking on your text or image, etc. will reveal what some refer to as the "zebra tool" that will allow you to move, resize and angle your object with a simple manipulation of the tool.

Here's what makes it fun.  You can put your text upside down, and reduce the size of your image so that it fits inside of one of the letters of your text.  When it's time to show your presentation, Prezi will automatically turn your text right-side up, and zoom in on your graphic until it's full-screen.  While it's in progress, you're presentation could look like a hot mess, but by outlining the order in which you want each element shown, Prezi turns your haphazard collection of bits and pieces into a well-organized whole.  Take a look at the example below and see for yourself.  It contains unedited comments from my 5th graders after completing their first project at prezi.com.  You can read additional reviews written by my 8th grade class by visiting their blogs at http://kidblog.org/sgscomputers.  

Your students will really enjoy creating and viewing Prezi presentations, and I'm sure you will too.  Be sure to check out the Meeting option.  By sharing a link to your Prezi, you can invite a colleague or two (or ten) to work on creating the presentation with you, each from the comfort of your own classroom, or home, or town.  (We used Meeting to have an entire class of students create the Prezi above, all at once.)  Just one word of caution.  Be judicious about creating too many inverted objects in your presentation.  The non-stop spinning effects will not be appreciated by anyone in your audience who is prone to motion sickness.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Cast Your Vote on Zoomerang

There's no doubt about it.  U.S. Presidential Primaries and the upcoming elections are finding their way into every major newspaper and daily newscast.  Chances are good that political banter is finding its way into conversations with your colleagues, and if you teach Social Studies, will undoubtedly soon be finding its way into your curriculum too.  Why not make your lessons in democracy come to life by letting your students participate and cast their own votes?

Zoomerang.com is an easy to use website that will allow you to create surveys/polls that you can embed in your class website or blog.  Your students can vote for presidential candidates,  oscar-worthy movies, the basketball team's most valuable player or a name for you new class pet.  Need to include a picture so that your students will more easily recognize those presidential candidates?  Zoomerang makes it easy to select and upload your images for inclusion in the survey.  You can even get parents involved in your project by sending the survey directly from the Zoomerang site to their emails, which you can manually add or import into your Zoomerang address book. Do your students have their own school email addresses? With a little imagination, Zoomerang becomes a versatile online quiz tool.

With the ability to add multiple choice, rating, ranking or open-ended questions, Zoomerang allows you to easily collect a lot of information, from a lot of people, for a lot of different purposes. That's a lot of reasons to give Zoomerang a try!

There are, of course, many other options for online polling. If you're a fan of a particular site, share your endorsement by completing the sample Zoomerang survey below. I'd love to hear about your experiences.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Wolfram|Alpha: The Answer Engine

For a myriad of reasons, I've had an exceptionally busy week.  It's during weeks like this that I come to truly appreciate the time-savers that I sometimes take for granted, and Wolfram|Alpha is just one of those time-savers.

Mouse over the bottom left
corner to reveal options
for saving.
More than a search engine, Wolfram|Alpha bills itself as a "computational knowledge engine," providing answers to your queries, and not just a list of places to search for answers.  What kinds of information can you find at Wolfram|Alpha?  Check out the page of examples and prepare to be impressed (but be sure to start exploring when you have time to spare because you will become engrossed).  If you look at the math examples, you'll find that not only will the site be able to add fractions or factor polynomials, it will outline the steps involved in deriving the answer.  Want to find out what the weather was like on the day you were born?  Or how long president McKinley was in office?  Or the number of flights departing from Chicago's O'Hare Airport today?  Wolfram|Alpha will give you the answers, and usually much more.  The neatly organized, uncluttered results page is easy to navigate, and allows you to save the information as an image or copyable text (mouse-over the lower-left corner of each chart to reveal the options).  If you're so inclined, you can use the buttons on the right side of the page to share your information via email, Facebook, Twitter, or a number of other sites, and even create a widget based on the information you found, to embed in a blog or wiki.

Clicking on the Products link at the top of every page will direct you to some valuable goodies, such as widgets (like the one below) and toolbars.  Click on the link in the lower right corner labeled For Educators and find lesson plans and other resources for your classroom. And finally, consider following @WolframFunFacts on Twitter for your daily dose of mostly useless, but nonetheless interesting, trivia.

Give Wolfram|Alpha a try below.  Type in your birthdate followed by the word weather to see what it was like on the day you were born, and if you find out that it was 80ยบ and humid, like I just did, be sure to give your mom a hug.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Resolve to "Log It"

Have you done it yet?  Made your New Year's resolution, I mean.  If your resolution has anything to do with fitness or simply being more active, I have a suggestion for you that is inexpensive and easy to do; wear a pedometer.  I guarantee that you will be surprised at how much walking you actually do during a normal school day.  I find that the recommended 10,000 steps a day is usually not much of a challenge, and I bet the same will be true for you, too.

Now here's how you can turn your New Year's resolution into a fun class project.  By logging in to an account at http://peclogit.org you can keep track of the steps you take each day and the site will trace your progress on a map of the United States, as if you were walking from state capital to state capital.  (Right now I'm approaching Dover, Delaware en route from Trenton, New Jersey.)  You can even set up a group account so your students who wear pedometers can keep track of their progress as well.  As account manager, you can set daily goals, participate in a challenge with another class, and print readily accessible Certificates of Achievement for members of your class who reach a milestone, or simply need a little recognition.  You can even use the built-in mail function to easily send messages to the whole group, or individual participants.  (That function alone can be worth creating an account if you have no other means of online communication set up.)

And here's a suggestion for taking the project just a little further.  Add a wall map of the U.S. to your classroom and keep track of your progress there too.  In my classroom (I use the hallway, actually, but I digress), I add a star to the map each time we reach a state capital, and trace the straight-line path we took to get there.  You can even print the congratulatory message from the site and learn something about each capital along the way.  

This website really will help you keep that New Year's resolution, and may encourage your sometimes-too-sedentary students to be more active as well.  And who knows, you might even get a parent or two to participate.

With all that said, let me take a minute to wish everyone a quick Happy New Year before I dash away from the computer.  For some reason, I have a sudden urge to hop on the treadmill.

Look out, Dover, here I come!