Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Clipmarks - skim the best from blogs

You might not think we need an easier way to access information these days -- what with cool RSS feed readers like Pageflakes -- but how often do you really "read the feeds?" If it's not as often as you'd like, join the club (and congratulations on "having a life!").

ClipmarksWelcome to Clipmarks. Besides having a slick Web 2.0 interface, Clipmarks is like a combination of Deli.cio.us and Digg. In less Web 2 teminology, Clipmarks allows users to grab snippets clipped from the news or blogs and catalog them like a social bookmarking site. Like Digg, you can "Pop" others' clipmarks to raise them to reach more peoples' attention.

If you want to quickly explore the tool, here are two suggestions
  1. Clip on Today's Top Clips to see what's popping to the top. Because this is a "real" Web site, there's no guarantee that the clips will be appropriate.
  2. Use the Search field to access quick takes on subjects like "Climate Change," nanotech," or "outsourcing." You could go one step farther and ask students to skim results like these and formulate an opinion (or blog post) on the subject. Because a range of opinions and sources appear, synthesis is required over copy and paste.
If you want to get started adding your own clipped sections of the Web to Clipmarks, download the Firefox (or Explorer) extension.

Please let us know what you think.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

You've got to see it to learn it!

"A student not engaged is a student not learning," says Scott Smith, director of Instructional Technology at Visalia Unified School District (and current president of California's Computer Using Educators). When I visited his district to lead a digital camera workshop, Scott addressed the participants to start the day and this was his opening remark. The district had been under a lot of pressure to improve their test scores, but rather than give into a program of remedial instruction that doesn't include technology, Scott argued "if you have access to technology and you're not using it to teach the base program, then you're not teaching the base program as well as you could be." The participants and I proceeded to spend time discussing how to use digital cameras and Picasa (a powerful and free program for editing, organizing, and sharing photos) to engage students and to differentiate instruction for all students, including English Learners and Gifted students.

Marzano's (2001) strategies for increasing student achievement are important in Visalia (and in many other districts), so we discussed ways digital cameras (and Picasa) could be used to support several of these research-based strategies, including the following:
  • Ask students to compare or classify images.
  • Ask students to delete, edit, or re-order images to facilitate analysis of the information at a deep level.
  • Create a slide show to recognize student effort, achievement, and mastery.
  • Create a slide show to illustrate time-sequence, or cause-effect patterns.
  • Use images to document individual and group accountability - or to facilitate group reflection.
  • Use images to support “corrective” feedback. (The instant nature of digital
    images – and means of sharing digital images – can facilitate timely
  • Use images taken with your digital camera as cues and advance
In preparation for the workshop I also combed the web for inspirational ideas using digital cameras and Picasa in the classroom. I offered the participants a list of a dozen ideas:
  1. Slideshows for Back to School Night or Open House
  2. Slideshows of Performances, Celebrations, Assemblies, or Field Trips
  3. Photo Yearbooks (For a school, a class, or a club!)
  4. Photo Journalism, Documentaries, or Dramatizations
  5. Time Lapsed Photography (Especially in science!)
  6. Class Books (Think big books!)
  7. Story Books (“Digital Story Telling”)
  8. How-To Guides (Address non-fiction standards!)
  9. Exercises in Classifying, Categorizing, or Compare and Contrast.
  10. Photos as Anticipatory Sets, Writing Prompts, or Review
  11. Document Learning (Great for parent conferences!)
  12. Photo Portfolios (Can be used for student presentations, too!)
This list is hardly meant to be exhaustive, and if you can add to it we'd love to hear more inspirational ideas from you in the comments here at the ITM. :)

During the workshop, participants also learned to operate their new cameras and capture great photos. You can find tips for classroom photography in many places online, including these ten tips from the Apple Education site (just swap Picasa for iPhoto in #7 if you're on a Windows machine).

Next we walked through the features of Picasa. You can download Picasa for free for Windows and now for Linux. Mac users can use iPhoto in place of Picasa. Google even provides a plug-in for iPhoto that allows Mac users to take advantage of the popular Picasa Web Albums feature to share their photos on line for free. This is a great way to share images of student work, presentations, or field trips with parents using public or private online albums (with permission of course).

Learn all you need to know about getting started - and about organizing, editing, and sharing - your classroom photos at the Picasa support page.

Learn more about using Picasa in education, including more ways to use digital cameras to support Marzano's strategies, at the Picasa in Education Wiki I've started. The wiki also includes links to additional resources and to free image galleries you can use with your students. Please feel free to contribute your own ideas and links to the wiki - or in the comments here.

I'll finish the post with a final tip: take your images one step further by using Microsoft's free and easy to use PhotoStory 3 (Windows Only) to create slideshows of your photos, complete with titles, captions, narrations, and a sound track. Photostory has the best ease-of-use to cool-payoff ratio of any program I've seen in a while. The final product is a Winows Media Video that can be played on any machine for free, making Photostory perfect for creating "enhanced" podcasts on a Windows machine.

Educational technologists often talk about digital photography being the "gateway drug" of technology for teachers. I know this post is a break from the usual Web 2.0 fare here at the ITM, but I hope the ideas presented in this post will get you (or your colleagues) off to an exciting start using technology with your students - or provide a "shot in the arm" to re-energize you about using digital images in your class.

Monday, May 14, 2007

The 'i's" Have it!

iGoogleSome people call them "Webtops," others "start pages" and still more "personal homepages." The latter is what Google called its until last week when it officially launched "iGoogle ."

Let's begin with a (very) little Web 2.0 mumbo-jumbo jargon: RSS, AJAX and Y-O-U.

RSSMost know RSS as "Really Simple Syndication" and fellow Infinite Thinking Machine blogger Mark Wagner has written a great intro on the subject of RSS. Suffice it to say that RSS feeds the latest content from news sources and blogs directly to you. Many of us use Bloglines as a feedreader but this requires a separate browser window with log-in. Wouldn't it be cool if you could simply surf your RSS feeds right from the place you do most of your online work? Hold that thought until we chat about...

AJAX"AJAX" stands for "Asynchronous JavaScript and XML" which can be translated as "hunh?" Let's just say that two cool bits (JavaScript and XML) have combined to make what can happen in a Web browser much more interactive and powerful. To quickly "get" this, try to remember life before Google Maps. To navigate beyond the edge of the current map or to zoom in or out on a location, you had to wait for the next image to reload. Wasn't it amazing the first time you could simply drag or scroll across the map and have it happen immediately? This is thanks to AJAX. To get a feel, take these for a quick spin:
No, this isn't some Web 2 nomenclature, it's "you!" What iGoogle and its many brethren do is combine RSS feeds into very slick interfaces that bring YOU everything you love. Go ahead, them a try:Now let's take these great applications and integrate them into the classroom to create what I see as the next revolution in supporting Real, Rich and Relevant learning. Anyone who has seen one of my presentations in the last ten years is likely to have heard me heap praise on the Child Slave Labor News Web site. For over a decade Miss Fantina's students have posted their exposés of multinationals' mistreatment of children in the workforce. ClassActPortal A Google search on the key words "child slave labor" will show you how much the world appreciates these students' efforts. Because they finally launched their own site after years on geocities, you'll see that the top three results point to the efforts of these New Jersey high school students. What if every class chose a topic and made it their own? If this interests you, read Why ClassAct Portals? How could students easily begin building expertise on their chosen subject? How could we facilitate this growing knowledgebase? How about a Webtop, startpage or personal homepage?

Here's a quick shared page of RSS feeds I made for our MyPlace Project using PageFlakes. The best thing about iGoogle and Pageflakes is that both are very smart applications that you and your students will really have fun using. Now, connect these RSS AJAX pages to your Class Blog and...

Saturday, May 12, 2007

More data delight

The data delight continued for me this week as I explored more ITM readers’ suggestions for tools that can help students learn data-analysis, probability, and other important mathematics concepts.

Okay, the word ‘delight’ might not work if you’re not a ‘data enthusiast', but maybe you would be if more people followed the advice of Edward Tufte and mastered the skills to visually represent data. Watching Al Gore’s global warming presentation skills or Hans Rosling’s exciting Ted Talk makes it easy to understand why Visual Literacy has been identified as one of the key 21st century skills according to North Central Regional Educational Lab (NCREL) (Photo Credit)
"Visual literacy is the ability to interpret, use, appreciate, and create images and video using both conventional and 21st century media in ways that advance thinking, decision making, communication, and learning" ... NCREL
While I would never want to see the colorful crayons and markers that Ms. Patterson's students use to produce the graphs that line their classroom wall disappear, the next steps for preparing tomorrow’s leaders could be collaborating using online spreadsheets, publishing or embedding their graphs in a blog, wiki, or web page, and chatting from remote locations about their findings. The addition of graphing capabilities to Google spreadsheet provides an accessible tool for even our younger students to develop these 21st century skills.

Students can create an online graph in 3 simple steps.

(1) highlight data and click on the toolbar’s graph icon
(2) fill out a clean, user-friendly screen that even our younger students can understand (type of chart, labels, and whether you are charting columns or rows (both options --yeah!!)
(3) save and voila your graph appears on your spreadsheet.

Most teachers will easily see that the graph can be moved, edited, and saved as a separate image. If you want to share your charts with a global audience, click on PUBLISH tab, then scroll down to More Publishing Options. Selecting HTML as File Format will Generate a URL that you can paste as a hyperlink in emails or on a webpage. However, selecting the HTML to embed in a web page File Format and clicking Generate URL will actually give you some code that you can paste in a webpage, blog, or wiki. Don’t worry if you don't understand this code, just ask any student who has a MYSPACE account and they can show you exactly what to do with this code. Thank you JR for the tips on how to remove gridlines and the folks at Google for discovering that merged cells should be avoided on spreadsheets with published graphs (until this little 'bug' is fixed) as I added a Google chart to the jumping jacks data collected by by the students at St. Albans City School.

Go ahead, give it a try. Add a new twist to some of the classic Candy and Cereal graphing lessons using Web 2.0 tools to help today’s students meet important math standards. Imagine if the 2002 Skittles Project data had been collected and charted with Google Spreadsheet. (Photo Credit)

Thank you to all the ITM readers who shared their favorite tech tools for creating visual representation of data. Besides those I explored in my last post, readers have also suggested advanced tools (like www.data360.org and www.many-eyes.com) ; online productivity suites (like Zoho and ThinkFree); and online spreadsheets (like EditGrid and NumSum and more),

I can’t wait to hear how some of you are redesigning assignments with these tools.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Share and Tell #2: Custom Search Engine

Teachers often bemoan their students' Internet search strategies. Kids, especially younger ones, often surf to Google, type in general search terms, and end up with thousands, if not millions, of results. Many of these results probably are not very relevant and, kids experience difficulty sifting through pages of hits. Clearly, teachers need to teach kids methods of refining their searches. Additionally, there is a Google tool that might help kids become more efficient web searchers.

Custom Search Engine lets your create your own search engine based on preselected sites. This provides a more directed research focus for your students. I created my first engine last fall, and used it in with my classes that participated Google's Global Warming Student Speakout project. I've continued to add more sites geared toward my middle school computer science classes to this engine. The second search engine I created was comprised of sites I regularly explore for when compiling my Friday 5 resource lists. I've embedded this particular search engine in my blog so teachers can look for additional lessons and project ideas. Finally, inspired by the other Lucie who wanted to specifically search the Infinite Thinking Machine, I created a third search engine, using sites cited in the ITM, blogs of the contributors, and the ITM blog itself.

One important Custom Search Engine feature is that you can embed a self-created search engine in a blog or a web site; the html code is provided. You can also invite others to contribute to your search engine, and you can use the Google Marker to bookmark sites directly to your customized search tool. Google Co-op also facilitates collaboration as other people can be given permission to add to the list of sites, and you can add your Custom Search Engine to your iGoogle customized homepage as well.

I also recently discovered a more sophisticated use of Custom Search Engine. In this blog post, Wisconsin educator John Pederson describes how he translated the feeds from his newsreader and used them to roll a search engine based on items he reads daily. His search engine is directly available here. To see how others have used Google Co-op, check out Google's featured examples and the Custom Search Engine blog.

Homework Assignment #2

1) Create your own custom search engine and post the URL in the comments section of this blog post.


2) Join one of my search engines and add sites that you think are worthwhile. Just click on the Volunteer to Contribute link and I'll approve anyone interested in collaborating.

The Infinite Thinking Machine Search Engine
The Friday 5 Search Engine
Mrs. Gray's Research Sites for Kids