Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Lesson Plan Syndication Online


As I was faced with the task of syndicating the second season of Annick LIVEbrary lesson plans on World History, I've learned that moderated content-sharing sites that allow submissions are few and far between. Many will only accept lesson plans submitted by school teachers, or will only use standardized content generated in-house or by the educational partner sites affiliated with the particular institutions. In other words, while the online teaching tools for educators are abundant, I found that it was rather difficult to syndicate lesson plans unless you are a teacher. If you're a homeschooler or a librarian you will also have a hard time finding quality sites that would accept your content.

Such tight quality control is not only understandable when the safety of our children is concerned, but is also desirable. What you end up with are spam-free sites that are worth pitching and posting to. After you identify the potential sites for your target market, you will need to register on most of them. Some will notify you via e-mail if your membership was approved and will then ask you to verify your email address. Some sites allow you to submit via email only, but many have submission forms. All require approval by the moderator, be it a Webmaster or Editor. The most accepted formats are Word, Text and PDF.

Here are some resources that were high on my lesson-plan syndication list:

Apple Learning Interchange
Graphics heavy, content-sharing site powered by Apple. Contains educator-created lessons, podcasts, videos and such social network trappings as groups, searchable member directory, and forums. JPG thumbnail cover images are required for member-uploaded content.

HotChalk
Teacher-contributed lesson plans and online classrooms powered by a learning management system that make a teacher's life easier by automating such time-consuming tasks as planning and grading.

Teachers.Net
Forums, live chats, interest-group discussions, an online magazine, and a lesson-plan library.

For Lesson Plans
Free lesson plans for K-12 teachers.

Teachnet
Lesson plans, forums, editorials; and product, service and website reviews.

A to Z Teacher Stuff
Lesson plans, discussion forums, downloadable teaching materials.

SchoolTube
YouTube-like media-sharing site. Videos and images only. Student submissions are also accepted but heavily moderated.

Teacher Lingo
Teacher blogs and message boards.

Learn NC
Lesson plans, multimedia resources, and online courses for K-12 teachers and students.

Teachers First
Classroom-ready content generated in-house along with the reviewed web resources.

USA Teachers
Lesson plans, a message board, plus a directory of the school-district sites by state.

Lesson Corner
Educational technology company with online teacher resources.

We The Teachers
Forums, lesson plans and discussion groups.

Lesson Plans Page
Powered by HotChalk.

Homeschooling Library
Lesson plans and resources tailored to the needs of the homeschooling families.

Scribd
Online library of original content organized by topic; moderated but not limited to teacher resources.

photo courtesy of dc John, used under its Creative Commons license

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

FreeConferenceCall Tutorials for Teachers, Authors, Librarians



Continuing with our back-to-school preparation here at the LIVEbrary, I have located and reviewed a variety of resources for using FreeConferenceCall.com to deliver online classrooms visits.

FreeConferenceCall is a free conference call service that allows you to stage and record group phone calls. The only charges are whatever your phone carrier charges for long-distance calls to FreeConferenceCall. You can open a FreeConferenceCall account (no credit card required) and begin using it today. It's that simple.

At last check, FreeConferenceCall does not include the ability to text chat or instant message during a call (as Skype does), nor do they offer free videoconferencing at this time (as ooVoo does). But the phone connection through FreeConferenceCall is easier to use and more stable than VOIP, and no software installation is required.

Teachers and librarians -- please email me if you have questions about using FreeConferenceCall for online classroom visits from our LIVEbrary authors.

STEVE O'KEEFE
Producer of The Annick LIVEbrary
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

RESOURCES FOR USING FCC
(FreeConferenceCall.com)

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Skype Tutorials for Teachers, Authors, Librarians



The Annick LIVEbrary received a nod from high school librarian and author, Carolyn Foote, in an article about "Skype in the Classroom" in School Library Journal. Thanks, Carolyn!

As part of our continuing summer cleaning, I've been reviewing online tutorials on how to use Skype. All LIVEbrary authors have been trained to use Skype to deliver online classroom visits.

To use Skype well, you have to know at the minimum how to set your preferences -- particularly your privacy preferences. Skype comes with security issues that are important for school systems and library systems to understand before they go wild installing Skype.

My sister is a branch librarian for a large public library system. She Skyped me one day to inform me she had gotten all the library staff on Skype to facilitate branch-to-branch communications. I asked her if she was aware of the security issues related to Skype and whether she had toggled her privacy preferences to prevent communications from people who are not in her address book.

My sister reevaluated the library's teleconferencing solution and ended up going with ooVoo. ooVoo, discussed in several other posts here at the LIVEbrary, has the same security issues as Skype. But ooVoo also has the ability to handle up to five video connections simultaneously. This time, my sister tweaked her privacy settings in ooVoo and assisted the other librarians in tightening their privacy settings, too. The tutorials, below, will help you do the same in Skype.

Skype offers the promise of closed-access conferencing that is secure for students, schools, and libraries -- but you have to be savvy about how you set it up. If children or library patrons are using the system, you need to investigate ways to lock strangers out of teleconferences. Teachers and librarians -- please email me if you have questions about your Skype privacy settings.

STEVE O'KEEFE
Producer of The Annick LIVEbrary
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

RESOURCES FOR USING SKYPE
Last Revised: July 14, 2008

Video Tutorials:

* TutorPipe.com
Skype for PC Tutorials: http://www.tutorpipe.com/home.php?sub=28#
Skype tutorials are free. 10 total, 5-10 min. each

* Digital Landing
Skype on a PC Tutorial
http://www.digitallanding.com/video/video_display.cfm?video_id=39

Text-Based Tutorials:

* North Canton City School
Technology Tutorials (free text tutorials in Word and Adobe Acrobat)
http://www.viking.stark.k12.oh.us/~technology/Tutorials/skype.html

* Vitamin: A Web Developer Magazine
How to Podcast with Skype (article)
http://www.thinkvitamin.com/features/blogs/podcasting-with-skype
Description: Good (if dated -- June 2006) article by Josh Owens on how to make podcasts with Skype. Involves installing third-party software for recording. Not an introductory piece.

From Skype:

* Guides to Using Skype
http://www.skype.com/help/guides/

* FAQs
http://support.skype.com/?_a=knowledgebase

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

LIVEbrary Lesson Plans: Index for Season Two, World History



As we get ready for the coming program on "LIVEbrary Science" this fall, we've been grooming the lesson plans from Season Two. Below is a list of the lesson plans with links to each plan in a variety of formats.

We offer the plans on the blog (without the answers to the quiz) and in the following formats (all of which have the quiz answers embedded): Microsoft Word, Text-Only, and Colorful Printable PDF! Whether you want to read our LIVEbrary Lesson Plans here on site, or download them, print them, and share them with colleagues and students, we have the format you need.

Please let us know if you have any trouble accessing the LIVEbrary Lesson Plans -- or any suggestions for improvement. Thanks for your help.

STEVE O'KEEFE
Producer, The Annick LIVEbrary
http://annickpress.blogspot.com
Coming Fall 2008: LIVEbrary Science!
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

INDEX TO LIVEBRARY LESSON PLANS
Season Two: World History

Lesson Plan #6
Word Text PDF Blog
Topic: Henry Puyi -- Last Emperor of China
Book: Kids Who Rule

Lesson Plan #7
Word Text PDF Blog
Topic: Children at Work in the 19th Century
Book: Cowboys and Coffin Makers

Lesson Plan #8
Word Text PDF Blog
Topic: Under Attack in Renaissance Europe
Book: The Seige

Lesson Plan #9
Word Text PDF Blog
Topic: Egyptian History
Book: Rise of the Golden Cobra

Lesson Plan #10
Word Text PDF Blog
Topic: The Jeans Scene
Book: The Blue Jean Book

Lesson Plan #11
Word Text PDF Blog
Topic: Teen Life in the Inquisition
Book: The Apprentice's Masterpiece

photo courtesy of intenteffect, used under this Creative Commons license

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Using "Cover It Live"



"Cover It Live" is a new tool for broadcasting a live blog into your own blog. It is most often used to blog from live events. The host's commentary appears in real time in a single blog post rather than in dozens of sequential blog posts. Blog readers are not forced to use a different application to get your live commentary. They can read your comments -- and add their own -- right at your blog.

I'm testing Cover It Live today here on the LIVEbrary Blog. I created a live blog in this post, above. I'm going to use that live blog to create a tutorial on how to get started with Cover It Live. The tutorial is a series of screen captures made while configuring Cover It Live today. Since Cover It Live keeps a transcript of your live blog, the transcript should be a quick tutorial in using Cover It Live.

Here are some of the main features of Cover It Live you should know about when considering this interface for your classroom or school:
  • You don't have to install any software -- yay!
  • It shouldn't have any problems with school or library firewalls -- yay!
  • The host controls whether reader contributions appear or not -- yay!
  • You can embed images into the live blog -- have them ready in advance.
  • You cannot embed video into the live blog -- but you can add video in a separate pop up.
  • You can put hotlinks to related resources into the live blog.
I want to stress that -- as far as I know -- Cover It Live cannot be used for live audio or live video blogging -- only live text blogging. You can link to prerecorded audio or video, but you can't stream live audio or video -- only live text.

Let us know if you would like to try an online classroom visit using Cover It Live. We're always interested in test driving new technology with school teachers and librarians. If you've used Cover It Live, please share your comments here. Thanks!

STEVE O'KEEFE
Producer, The Annick LIVEbrary
Coming Fall 2008: LIVEbrary Science!

Monday, July 21, 2008

JOMB: Just One More Book for Great Podcasts


Just One More Book (JOMB) offers a breathtaking collection of audio podcasts recorded by two children's book enthusiasts in a cafe in Ottawa. Andrea and Mark Blevis, along with their two daughters, head to the corner cafe three mornings a week and review a book that has become a read-aloud favourite in their home.

These reviews are recorded and podcast online at JustOneMoreBook.com. The podcast is available from iTunes and other podcast portals. You can download episodes to your MP3 player or stream them from the web site. The episodes last from 5 to 30 minutes, and sometimes include interviews with authors, illustrators, and other children's book industry professionals.

On July 15, 2008, JOMB celebrated two years producing their show -- and their 400th podcast! -- with a special birthday podcast that should not be missed. It includes birthday wishes from many well known authors and illustrators.

You should also get an earful of Mark Blevis interviewing Annick Press co-founder Rick Wilks, recorded a year ago during JOMB's "Publishers Showcase."

JOMB accepts reader-submitted audio reviews and considers books for review. Their age range is 4 to 10 years old. As near as I can tell, JOMB is a labor of love for children's literature; the web site and podcasts are free of advertising.

STEVE O'KEEFE
Producer, The Annick LIVEbrary

photo courtesy of Mark Blevis, used under this Creative Commons license

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Annick LIVEbrary on Summer Vacation

We here at the Annick LIVEbrary are on summer vacation through July and August. During our vacation, I'll be maintaining the blog lightly -- one or two posts per week. Our LIVEbrary Letter newsletter will be published just once each month.

In the background, your LIVEbrarians are gathering up all the documentation from the first two seasons, putting the LIVEbrary Lesson Plans in order, and freshening web pages to keep up with the output of LIVEbrary support materials.

Speaking of support, your participation is very important to us. We need to document that we are helping teachers use technology in the classroom through this blog. Your comments on this blog, your subscription to our newsletter, and your downloads of our lesson plans all help demonstrate that teachers, librarians, and homeschooling parents alike consider this program valuable and want it to continue.

Please don't hesitate to ask questions about the Annick LIVEbrary program. We'll be back next season with five more LIVEbrary Lesson Plans, five more books, five more authors, all on the subject of Science. Stay tuned and thanks for participating!

STEVE O'KEEFE
Producer, The Annick LIVEbrary
http://annickpress.blogspot.com

photo courtesy of merfam, used under this Creative Commons license

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Introducing Ray Conlogue

Ray was born in Toronto, Ontario, where he spent an excellent childhood. At the time, Toronto was much smaller than it is now. From his home, he could walk with his friends into the countryside and visit abandoned barns, which they believed were populated by witches.

Ray's mother was a widow who worked full-time as a nurse. He and his brother, Michael, did not have many children's books in the house, but he remembers a little picture book called Bongo the Circus Bear. Bongo escaped from the circus train, which pleased Ray. Later on, he found a copy of Treasure Island at the back of a bookshelf. But mostly, he and his friends read comic books, especially Superman, Batman, and Green Lantern. When Ray ran out of these, he sometimes looked at the books his father had left behind. One of them was Rabelais's Gargantua, a satirical book full of rude jokes, which he had trouble understanding since it was written 500 years ago. But he would laugh loudly to impress his mother with his precocious intelligence.

He began writing at the age of 11 after teaching himself to touch type on an old Underwood typewriter. Ray's first novel was a science fiction story, which a publisher rejected. His mother said his luck would have been better if he had told them he was 12. But he gave up on publishers after that, and kept his second novel, The Martian Revolt, at home.

Writing fiction daunted Ray. So there followed an interval of about 40 years. During most of it, he was a theater critic and arts journalist, though the dream of writing fiction never left him.
At college, he was much inspired by Shakespeare, and wrote an entire play in iambic pentameter. This was good, even though the play was bad, because every writer needs models. Why not imitate the best?

Later on, he wrote short stories in a contemporary style and even showed one of them to a well-known novelist, who told Ray to give up. What would Ray's advice be to an aspiring author? Do not be discouraged by rejection. Even if the person who rejects your work is correct, there is one sure cure for the problem: keep writing and never give up.

Ray has lived all of his life in Toronto, except for six months in Oran, Algeria (where he taught English), and seven years in Montreal (where he learned French). Ray and his wife have three children, Jonathan, and twins Clare and Christopher.

Messing around with tools has been a preoccupying hobby for Ray. He also enjoys canoe tripping. When he was younger, he liked to travel rough into remote places and find out how the world works. His plan is to continue writing fiction for both adults and children.

Ray is the author of Shen and the Treasure Fleet.

Monday, June 30, 2008

General Excellence Award: Chuck Estep


Meris Stansbury, assistant editor of eSchool News, reports on the ten educators and three policy makers who were honored by the National Cable and Telecommunications Association and Cable in the Classroom (CIC). The 13 were honored for advancing 21st century teaching and learning. One of the honorees, Chuck Estep, was featured for his work with Virtual Field Trips (VFTs).

Estep is the curriculum resource consultant for the Monroe County Intermediate School District in Michigan. He won the General Excellence Award for his Virtual Field Trips. Estep and fellow teachers worked closely with local historians and the Monroe County Historical Museum to craft lesson plans that adhered to state curricula. He started with a VFT of the battlefields of the War of 1812. So far, 70 classes and 2,300 students have toured these battle sites "through cable TV for a lesson in the region's history through movie trailers, film footage, music, animated presentations, short video vignettes, and a dynamic presenter."

Estep feels strongly about the value of integrating technology into teaching: "When we make technology a part of our methodology, our students are engaged in ways that otherwise would nearly be impossible. We have a responsibility to provide students with the opportunities to access, utilize, create, and learn using technology. It's malpractice to do otherwise."

In the future, VFTs could include a visit to an operating room. Estep also wants to create "on demand" VFTs so teachers outside the school network can use the trips anytime. The school's spelling bee and Quiz Bowl will also be streamed out through the Web.

Estep's cash prize will go toward more equipment to improve the Virtual Field Trips and other work being done by him and his colleagues to use technology to stimulate and teach. Congratulations, Chuck!

SOURCE: "Cable industry honors visionary educators" 06/23/08
photo courtesy of emilywjones, used under this Creative Commons license

Friday, June 27, 2008

The American Revolution Online


Looking for some sites to enrich your teaching of the American Revolution or celebration of Independence Day? Walter McKenzie at Education World highlights 5 top sites for teaching students about the Revolution. And just in time for the Fourth of July!

The first site McKenzie highlights is The Federalist Papers. All 85 essays are at the website. These essays are often used to help us understand what the Founders meant when they created the Constitution. The site has a great search engine that lets you hunt for exact phrases or words.

The Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention is sponsored by the Library of Congress. Here, students can see the primary documents of the Congress and Convention. It is listed as great for secondary school and even college-level research but it can also be useful in middle school or with gifted students in social studies.

America Rock has all those great Schoolhouse Rock songs that some of us remember seeing on Saturday mornings. Some of the Schoolhouse Rock songs related to the Revolution included at the site are "No More Kings," "Fireworks," "The Shot Heard Round the World," and "The Preamble." McKenzie says adults might find them "silly" but I bet they are too catchy and useful to dismiss. I know that I remember a lot of Schoolhouse Rock almost 30 years later.

Liberty! The American Revolution is a companion website for the PBS special about the American Revolution. It has a lot of great resources for the classroom, including the game The Road to Revolution. This game uses interactive quizzes and fictionalized news articles to engage and teach students.

Independence Day on the Net is a "comprehensive celebration of the history, legends, and traditions of this most American of holidays." The site has music, fireworks, and tons of information on the origins of the Fourth of July and the customs surrounding that day. This site seems suited more for elementary school or the beginning of middle school but can be fun anytime. It's a great idea for your own kids sitting at home who may want to get revved up for this year's holiday.

Little Known Facts about the American Revolutionary War is also a fascinating site with answers that are off the beaten path, like the fact that women fought in the Continental Army and there were actually two Boston Tea Parties. This collection of little-known facts will appeal to kids and adults alike. The host of the site is the state of Delaware.

Happy Fourth of July 2008!

SOURCE: "The American Revolution" 06/03/08
photo courtesy of babasteve, used under this Creative Commons license

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Boy Writers: Reclaiming Their Voices by Ralph Fletcher


We hear anecdotes and read news articles sounding the alarm for boys in our schools. Are they being left behind? Why do their scores drop in middle school, especially their writing scores, when compared to girls. A recent book by Ralph Fletcher tries to address these questions and offer some tools and tips for helping boys as writers.

Fletcher is a respected staff developer and children's book author. His books on teaching writing and using the writing workshop, such as Live Writing: Breathing Life Into Your Words and What a Writer Needs, are widely read and valued by teachers of writing. In Boy Writers: Reclaiming Their Voices, he tries to show teachers what the classroom and writing workshop are like from the perspective of boys. And it's not good. Boy writers often feel rejected by teachers when the topics they choose or like most, such as war or bathroom humor, are disapproved of or received with no enthusiasm. Some teachers emphasize handwriting which hampers some boys (and girls) and makes writing a chore at which they are sure to fail. Regardless of the exact whys, many teachers find themselves struggling to reach boys and help them develop as writers, especially as they move into the middle school grades.

The chapters discuss various topics like "The Gender Filter," "Rules of (Dis)Engagement," "Drawn to the Page," and "Boy-Friendly Territory." Each chapter ends with a section called "What can I do in my classroom?" with practical tips and options to try with male students. At the Stenhouse Publishers' website, you can see the table of contents and read the first chapter, "The Trouble with Boys," in PDF format.

In that chapter, Fletcher discusses what he's seen as a writing workshop consultant and what he has heard from some writing teachers. He also outlines what he learned from Tom Newkirk's book Misreading Masculinity: Boys, Literacy, and Popular Culture, published in 2002. What Fletcher got from Newkirk is that "we don't really understand the boys in our classrooms. We misunderstand their crude humor. Especially after the tragic shootings at Columbine High School, we fear their apparent thirst for violence, which is reflected in what they choose to read and write. Instead of trying to understand these boys we treat them as a problem to be managed." No wonder some boys are sullenly disengaged from the classroom.

Fletcher hopes that his book will help break down the barriers between boys, their writing voices and their teachers. Hopefully, with his guidance, we can inspire boys and "widen the circle" of writing workshop to make them feel welcome and ready to take a chance and participate at all ages.

SOURCE: "Stenhouse Publishers: Boy Writers: Reclaiming Their Voices" 2008
photo courtesy of GypsyRock, used under this Creative Commons license

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

More with Google: Lit Trips


Suzie Boss reports in Edutopia about one teacher's blending of literary "road trips" with Google Earth to enhance his literature teaching. Though he teaches and uses his Google lit trips in high school, they can certainly be adapted for middle schoolers.

Jerome Berg is an English teacher and technology-integration coordinator at Granada High School in California. His site, Google Lit Trips, features ready-made "lit trips" that can be downloaded and used with Google Earth. The trips are interactive and multimedia by nature. To start, you'll need to download Google Earth and spend a few minutes getting used to the navigation tools. They're relatively easy but if you prefer formal guidance, you can use the Google Earth tutorial.

With the interactive tools, students can follow the journey a literary character or non-fiction author takes or describes in a text. At Berg's site, you can see the potential of these lit trips with the one he created for The Kite Runner. The KMZ file, what Google Earth files are called, has placemarks in key locations, color coded to link them to exact chapters in the book. Students can zoom in to see terrain or buildings. They can also "fly" virtually from Afghanistan to California and back just as the character Amir did.

The placemarks also include embedded supplementary information on the Pashtun people, Shia and Sunni Muslims, and other details to enhance students' understanding or enjoyment of the book. Some of Berg's popups feature questions to encourage students to think about the story, characters or issues raised. Students can add placemarks themselves that help them relate to or better understand the story.

At the end of the article, Boss gives instructions on how to make your own lit trip and offers examples of ones made by middle school and elementary school teachers, both of which can be seen at the Google Lit Trips site. Students can also create their own lit trips. You can see a lit trip created by 2 seventh-graders for The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants at Berg's site. A lit trip can be a great supplement to studying a text or can serve as an engaging end-of-term project.

SOURCE: "Google Lit Trips: Bringing Travel Tales to Life" 06/12/08
photo: screencapture of the Google Lit Trips homepage

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Diane Heitzenrater: Finalist for PA Teacher of the Year!


Rich Pietras reports for The Intelligencer that one of the 12 finalists for Pennsylvania's Teacher of the Year is from Keith Valley Middle School in the Hatboro-Horsham School District. Diane Heitzenrater has taught technology to sixth, seventh, and eight graders for the past 8 years and if the praise from her peers is any indication, she has a great chance of winning.

Heitzenrater incorporates technology into middle school studies to show students how these tools can help them learn and make learning more fun. She really enjoys middle school: "I especially love teaching middle-school students. At that age they are all about changing. They are very exploratory and very clever. They are really starting to find out what their interests are."

Heitzenrater was nominated by fellow teachers, parents, community members and students. A committee of former finalists and PA Teachers of the Year chose 30 semifinalists then the 12 finalists, including Heitzenrater. She says she was "honored and thrilled" to make it through the process. It's no cakewalk -- the committee takes several months to make its decisions.

The principal of Keith Valley, Jonathan Kircher, calls Heitzenrater "an outstanding, student-centered educator" and a "teacher leader" who "works hard to help students be successful in their learning." He praised Heitzenrater and the whole technology department at Keith Valley for the help they have given teachers and students over the past four years to integrate technology into the curriculum.

The Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year will be announced in October at a celebration ceremony in Harrisburg. The winner will be the state's nominee for the national Teacher of the Year. The winner will also serve as a spokesperson for fellow teachers in PA.

Break a leg, Diane!

SOURCE: "Keith Valley teacher finalist for state's top honor" 06/19/08
photo courtesy of Wesley Fryer, used under this Creative Commons license

Monday, June 23, 2008

A Virtual Experience of China


Mike Wendland reports for the Detroit Free Press on a new interactive game that teaches students of all ages Chinese language and culture. Zon/New Chengo teaches through fun, interactive activities and can be used alone or in a classroom setting.

Yong Zhao, a distinguished professor of educational psychology and technology at Michigan State University, is also a respected researcher in Chinese education. He is originally from a poor area in the Sichuan Province. Zhao started working on the game in 2001, intending it to be "fun and educational" and to give players "a vicarious, virtual experience of China."

Zon/New Chengo is a multiplayer role-playing game that gets players to move up through Chinese society from "tourist" to "citizen." At each stage of the play, quests and challenges are encountered. Players also have access to educational material, including tutors in Chinese, and can create and join in social activities. The game is Web-based so nothing needs to be downloaded. It is free for now but in the future, Zhao plans for there to be a small monthly fee.

Zhao hopes to create future editions aimed at specific audiences or groups, like business people, students at varying levels, travelers, and more. To play Zon/New Chengo, go to the game website and register. Once you enter your information and create an avatar, your avatar will appear in the Beijing airport and your first quest will begin. This is a great game for students interested in Chinese language and culture, especially after the dreadful earthquakes in Sichuan and before the coming Beijing Olympics.

SOURCE: "MSU professor creates online game to teach Chinese culture, language" 06/16/08
photo courtesy of McPig, used under this Creative Commons license

Friday, June 20, 2008

Middle School | Second Life


Virtual worlds like Second Life have grown a lot in recent years and educators are participating in larger and larger numbers. Andrew Trotter reports in Education Week that though many of the current educational users are at the university level, more and more K-12 educators are tuning into to Second Life and its safer portal for teens, Teen Second Life or "Teen Grid."

Education is important to Linden Research, Inc., the company that owns Second Life. Educators are offered a discounted price. Linden Research has also started a listserv for Second Life in Education where educators can share ideas and methods.

Second Life is not an easy thing to start, though. There is a steep learning curve. Fortunately, there are places to get help inside and outside Second Life. Kevin Jarrett, who teaches in the K-4 computer lab at Northfield Community School, in Northfield, NJ, took a six-month sabbatical to explore the potential of Second Life for educators and now volunteers his time at an "island" in Second Life to help newbies. Other obstacles for many K-12 educators include the inability to transfer anything from another virtual world into Second Life and the technology required. Second Life also needs a lot of video processing capabilities that some school networks or computers simply do not have.

But there is a lot of potential in Second Life for educators, for classroom use and professional development. Some educators are using islands in Second Life to give lectures and seminars and more informal gatherings like coffeehouse chats and balls. K-12 schools are using the more restricted Teen Second Life to create "walled-in private 'estates'" for exclusive use by their school's staff and students. Some of the things being done with Teen Second Life:
  • Creating virtual structures that mimic real-life spaces and buildings
  • Conducting virtual science experiments
  • Making short videos, called "machinima," in which students write scripts and shoot at virtual locations
  • Talking to peers in other countries
  • Constructing working volcanoes and avalanches
  • Purchasing virtual land or other items to learn "market math"
  • Service projects, like raising money for humanitarian aid in Sudan
Aaron E. Walsh, director of the Immersive Education Initiative of the Grid Institute, a Boston-based company that focuses on virtual worlds, believes that schools will only use virtual worlds extensively when they can host them on their own servers to increase safety and performance. There's also the problem of the expense, a tough thing for many schools right now. Another potential problem is using Second Life at random, as if anything will be better if it is done virtually. The advice for educators is to proceed slowly and thoughtfully to use the best of what virtual worlds can offer.

SOURCE: "Educators Get a ‘Second Life’ " 06/18/08
photo courtesy of HVX Silverstar, used under this Creative Commons license

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Great Sites for American History


Hazel Jobe at Education World wrote about some of the best sites in their archives for American history. These sites are reliable stopping points for enriching American history or any related social studies lesson or curriculum.

Of several sites, Jobe chooses the top five then lists other useful sites. The top five:
  • Ben's Guide to U.S. Government for Kids is produced by the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office. It has resources for learning about the workings of government for students, parents and teachers.
  • History Detectives is a companion site for a PBS series of the same name. Here, students can access interactive features and activities that help them learn about investigating historical mysteries. The site also has lesson plans for middle and high school.
  • History Wired is a virtual tour of selections from the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.
  • The Underground Railroad is a site produced by National Geographic Online that uses multimedia and interactive features to explore the stories and history of the Underground Railroad.
  • Teaching with Historic Places has lesson plans and other resources for teaching American history. The focus is on properties listed in the National Park Service's National Register of Historic Places. There are also professional development opportunities for teachers.
Links in the article send you to Education World site reviews from the archive that address content, organization of the website, and aesthetics along with a review that highlights main and especially notable features.

At the end of the article, Jobe lists other sites from the archive worth mentioning, such as the National Constitution Center; American Notes: Travel in America, 1750-1920; and History and Politics Out Loud, an archive of "politically significant audio materials for scholars, teachers, and students." The article was last updated in 2005 so watch out for broken or moved links.

SOURCE: "Sites to See: American History" 05/25/05
photo courtesy of Weaselmcfee, used under this Creative Commons license

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

LIVEbrary Lesson Plan #9: Rise of the Golden Cobra

LIVEbrary Lesson Plan #9:
"Egyptian History"

Subject: World History
Age Range: 11-15
Grade Level: 6-10

Contents:
- Reading
- Assignment
- Quiz
- Discussion Questions
__________________________________________________

READING:

"A Traitor in the Temple at Thebes"
an excerpt from the book
RISE OF THE GOLDEN COBRA
by Henry T. Aubin
Published by Annick Press
Reprinted here with permission.

~ Introduction ~

In the excerpt, below, teenage Nebi survived an attack from the traitorous Lord Nimlot, who had joined the enemies of Egypt's throne, the northern Mesh. At the time -- 734 BCE -- South Egypt was ruled by King Piankhy from the southern Kingdom of Kush. Piankhy's sister, Amonirdis, reigned over South Egypt from the temple at Thebes. As the excerpt opens, Nebi, found barely alive after crossing the desert, is taken by goatherders across the Nile River to the temple at Thebes. He carries a message for princess Amonirdis, "the Divine Adoratrice."

~ The Road to the Temple ~

Nebi took in the spectacle through half-closed, feverish eyes.

Thebes had few fortifications, yet its appearance from midriver awed him even more than North Egypt's capital, high-walled Memphis, which he had sailed past with Master Setka.

Here, signs of great wealth were spread everywhere. Estates and villas spread out from the city. Obelisks towered over the center. As the Temple of Amon at Karnak came into view, his eyes widened. It was said to be the biggest building anywhere. Monumental pylons rose above a protective wall. In the rich afternoon light, the yellow stone looked golden.

The villagers lugged the boy through streets lined with open-air stalls and teeming with farmers, slaves, civil servants, and children. Nebi's deprived senses sprang back to life. Aromas of spices and flowers filled his nostrils. He bathed in the sounds -- snatches of animated banter, the cries of vendors, and the giggling of girls.

From knee level, he could see swirling about him tan Egyptians, black Kushites, pale traders from the Middle East, and, here and there, still paler traders such as he had seen in the Delta. He had heard they came from a thickly forested area emerging from barbarism -- Europe.

~ The Captain of the Guard ~

The peasants wove their way up an avenue lined with stone sphinxes the size of horses. It led to the entrance of the Karnak temple's outer walls. Carved in limestone above the gate was one of the symbols of the faith, the disk of the sun carried on two great wings.

Guarding the immense bronze doors were a few bare-chested soldiers in red kilts, their number evenly divided between Kushites and Egyptians. At the ends of the tall pikes they held upright, red pennants drooped in the breezeless heat.

The villagers set Nebi on the dusty ground. Bowing and stuttering, the goatherd timidly asked for the captain of the guard.

It took so long for the Kushite officer to emerge from his little office that Nebi wondered if he had to be awakened. But he was a striking, large-boned man, fully a head taller than his soldiers, and broad-shouldered as well.

The captain wore an officer's standard kilt of white pleated linen; two red stripes down each side denoted his rank. His eyes turned downward at the outer corners, giving him a melancholy expression.

Hands on hips, the big man examined the humble trio but said nothing.

Nebi propped himself on an elbow. "Please, sir, get word to Her Holiness the Divine Adoratrice that a messenger from His Excellency Setka is here to see her."

The captain cocked a skeptical eyebrow at the scrawny, blistered speaker. To be a messenger, and particularly a messenger for the royal family, was as prestigious as it was demanding. It was not a job for a ragamuffin.

"Setka?" drawled the captain. "Who is Setka?"

"Her Holiness will know."

The captain looked him in the eye. Nebi held his stare. And held it.

"I'll see," the captain finally said.

When the lanky office returned, he was striding quickly. He clapped for the guards. "Pick him up and follow me," he told two of them.

Nebi put one bony arm over each guard's shoulders. When he turned to thank the goatherd and his neighbor, their mouths were wide open with astonishment. The guards followed the captain through the gate.

~ The Temple of Anon at Karnak ~

Inside the walls, it was Nebi's turn to gape. After passing through courtyards and corridors, they entered a hall into which his whole village of 80 houses could have fit. Here, all was dim, cool, and restful.

The guards followed the captain through a forest of pillars, each adorned with colorfully painted carvings of gods, lions, lotuses, and past pharaohs. Nebi craned his neck to look up. Each of the pillars was the equivalent of seven stories high. The sweet haze of incense made this colossal scale seem dreamlike.

They entered a smaller, ornate chamber off to one side. On a raised platform in the room's center, a woman sat on a throne. Next to the platform, with their backs to Nebi, stood three men and two women. A shaft of sunlight angled down on them.

The guards halted in front of the seated princess. She was middle-aged and sturdy, with earnest eyes. Hand cupping her chin, she was presiding over a discussion of some affair of state. A bejeweled collar of many colors spanned her shoulders, and a blue sheath dress left her ebony arms bare. But what caught Nebi's eye was a peculiar gold ornament over her forehead that glinted in the sun shaft. Attached to the gold band encircling her head, it looked rather like a curled index finger.

The guards placed Nebi in a chair in front of the princess. Desiring privacy, she waited until both guards and their captain had departed. Then she said, "What is this about Setka?"

~ The Interrogation of Nebi by Princess Amonirdis ~

"Most Holy One," Nebi Said, "His Excellency Setka's last words were that I should see King Piankhy."

"Last words?" she said. "Tell me what has happened to the king's oldest friend!"

"Your Holiness, my master was killed by a traitor after his real mission was discovered."

She leaned forward. "We can trust my advisors and courtiers," she told the youth, gesturing to those on either side of her. "I knew of Setka's mission, but I need to know much more. Explain to me who you are and why you have come to me." Her voice was kind but commanding.

"My name is Nebamon. I am from North Egypt -- from Damanhur, a village in the Delta. My father was Egyptian, a farmer, and my mother is Mesh. I worked for His Excellency."

"In what capacity?" she asked.

"I was his servant -- at first. I felt from the beginning that my master was more than just a merchant from Kush exploring trade possibilities. He came to trust me, and he told me that King Piankhy had commissioned him to uncover what was really happening in North Egypt."

A murmur of interest came from Amonirdis's entourage.

"I know the Delta and its dialect, so I began to act as his guide and interpreter," said Nebi. "I would take him from village to village. He learned that Lord Tefnakht was quietly drafting young men into a large new army."

The princess's eyes widened.

Nebi went on: "Master Setka heard that Tefnakht was meeting other Delta warlords, some of whom had been Tefnakht's enemies until then. He learned that these new allies had amassed a fleet of ships with which they planned to invade the south. In the evening, he would dictate to me his notes for a report intended for the king."

"You can write?" she asked.

"I have received training as a scribe at Sais, Your Holiness. Events kept me from completing my studies."

Amonirdis nodded. "Yes, I thought you sounded well-spoken for a peasant." She looked at him with respect.

Only one of every hundred Egyptians could read and write. Almost all scribes were from privileged backgrounds; they were an elite group who looked after records, one of the most precious things for any administration. No profession was more exalted -- or more challenging. Scribes had to memorize more than a thousand hieroglyphic and cursive characters. Even the powerful "viziers," who ran each Egyptian domain on behalf of its ruler, always came up through the scribal ranks.

"Master Setka's report was for King Piankhy himself. He was murdered so that it could never reach the king."

"Who slew him?"

"The Mesh. They attacked him as he was preparing to return to Napata to give King Piankhy his report. The other witnesses were killed, including the police chief of Khmun and his wife."

The princess glowered.

Nebi plunged on. "Lord Tefnakht has North Egypt's lords on his side, and now he has made one major ally in South Egypt."

"Who?" said Amonirdis with alarm.

"Count Nimlot of Khmun." Nebi did not try to hide his bitterness as he almost spat out the name. "He has abandoned King Piankhy and joined Tefnakht. The person leading the Mesh thugs who murdered Master Setka and his companions was Nimlot himself."

A hush fell over the group on the platform. After a moment a loud sound erupted from among them -- a confident, sarcastic cackle.

The source of the laughter had been standing out of the light and behind the others, so that Nebi had been hardly aware of him.

Now this slender figure strode forward, hands on hips. A cape embroidered in his family colors, brilliant stripes of yellow and green, hung from his shoulders.

It was Nimlot.

# # #

Copyright 2007 by Henry T. Aubin. Excerpted from the book, Rise of the Golden Cobra. Published by Annick Press, ISBN 9781554510603 (library binding), ISBN 9781554510597 (paperback). Reprinted with permission. For more information, please visit http://www.annickpress.com. Thank you.
__________________________________________________

ASSIGNMENT

"Family Tree"

Henry T. Aubin, author of RISE OF THE GOLDEN COBRA, was inspired to write about the Kush civilization by his adopted son. Henry is Caucasian and one of his four children is Black. A Harvard-educated journalist, former reporter for The Washington Post, and currently a columnist for The Montreal Gazette, Aubin put his research skills to work looking for historic role models for his adopted son.

What Aubin found was an advanced civilization living along the Nile River in Africa that has been nearly forgotten by history books. Kush was known for racial tolerance and advancements in government, the arts, and the sciences. The greatest of all Kush rulers, King Piankhy, was Black, as were most Kushites.

Your assignment is to research your own family's history and tell us about someone you discover who has an interesting story. You don't have to become a genealogist -- chasing down birth and death records -- if you don't feel like it. You can find the story of someone with your same family name and tell their story -- even if they're not related to you.

Who did you find? What kind of life did they lead? What are the most interesting facts you uncovered about him or her? Does learning about this person's life inspire you to try something new? What? Did you discover any other interesting people or family facts during your investigation?
__________________________________________________

QUIZ:

NOTE: Quiz answers are available to teachers upon request from LIVEbrary@annickpress.com. Quiz answers will also be revealed during LIVEbrary chats and made a part of chat transcripts.

1) Which word, below, most closely matches the definition of the word, "vizier," as used in the reading?

A. Vizier = a seer, one with clear vision into the future
B. Vizier = an "advisor," one who analyses and reports to the king
C. Vizier = a member of royalty, descended from Amon
D. Vizier = a goatherder

2) Multiple Choice: What race was princess Amonirdis?

A. "White" -- most likely European
B. "Light" -- most likely from North Africa or Arabia
C. "Brown" -- most likely Egyptian
D. "Black" -- most likely from Kush

3) Multiple Choice: Where is Thebes, in relation to Memphis and Napata?

A. Thebes is south of Memphis and north of Napata
B. Thebes is south of both Napata and Memphis
C. Thebes is north of both Memphis and Napata
D. Thebes is north of Memphis and south of Napata

4) Multiple Choice: Can you guess the meaning of the word "Amon" from close examination of the reading?

A. Amon = King, the ruler of the Kingdom of Kush
B. Amon = Priestess. Amonirdis = "high priestess"
C. Amon = Prince. Prince Shebitku is the Amon of Kush
D. Amon = The god who gives the King the right to rule

5) Multiple Choice: What race are the Mesh?

A. "White" -- most likely European
B. "Light" -- most likely from North Africa or Arabia
C. "Brown" -- most likely Egyptian
D. "Black" -- most likely from Kush
__________________________________________________

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:
  • Amonirdis ruled South Egypt from the temple at Thebes. She was a Kushite -- a black woman. It was not uncommon to have women holding positions of power in Kush society. Can you name some countries that have had female heads of state? How about Black heads of state? How many can you name?

  • In the reading, 14-year-old Nebi is taken to Princess Amonirdis to tell his story. He is called a liar by Count Nimlot -- a member of the royal family. Has anyone accused you of lying when you know you didn't? How did you defend yourself? How did it work out? What advice do you have for Nebi, who must convince the Princess he is telling the truth? His life depends on it.

  • In the reading, Nebi says the ruling class of "viziers," or advisors, were drawn from the class of scribes -- those who know how to read and write. Don't you think it's unusual that the rulers were chosen from scribes rather than from military officers, priests or clergy, or blood relations of the current rulers? What profession do most world leaders come from today: teachers, clergy, military, business, lawyers? What's your guess? How can you find out?

  • In the reading, Nebi is carried to Thebes by goatherders. Do you remember what it was like the first time you saw a really big city or gigantic skyscraper? How did you get there? What did it feel like? Have you ever been on a working farm where someone tended livestock, such as goats, cows, or chickens? What was that like? If you had to choose between living on a farm or living in a skyscraper, which would you choose? Why?

  • In the reading, when Nebi is laid at the temple gates, the people who brought him are silent. Nebi must speak up and ask to see the Princess, even though it's a preposterous request, before the Captain of the Guard retreats back behind the temple gates. Can you remember a time when you did not want to speak up but you had to find the courage to say something, even though you were scared to death? Did you speak up? What happened next? Did it work out okay for you?
__________________________________________________

Copyright 2008 by Annick Press. All rights reserved. Printed here with permission of the publisher. Please request permission from LIVEbrary@annickpress.com before posting this lesson plan in any public place. Thank you.

The Empowered Education Awards Finalists!

To make the case for educational technology to skeptics in Congress and elsewhere, eSchool News joined with leading experts to create the Empowered Education Awards (EEA). Meris Stansbury reports for eSchool News on this contest which asks those most affected by educational technology -- students -- to make the case for it.

EEA, with funding from the Pearson Foundation, challenged elementary, middle and high school students to create three- to seven-minute videos on "How Technology Helps Me Learn," a theme meant to show how schools are using technology to complement and enhance student learning. The winners from each grade category, plus their teachers, get free trips to Washington, D. C., with guided tours in D. C., recognition at an awards ceremony, prizes for the winners and their schools, and more. The biggest part of the prize is getting a chance to meet with state representatives and senators on the importance of technology in education and its boon to learning.

The entries have been narrowed down to three finalists in each category: elementary, middle and high school. In the middle school category the finalists are:
  • "Satellites and Us" from Yokota Middle School, Tokyo, Japan -- "Student reporters from Japan give a glimpse into the world of satellites at the Miraikan Museum of Innovative Science and Technology."
  • "One Pretty Cool Movie" from Creative Connections Art Academy, CA -- This video"shows how students in California use technology to create classroom magic."
  • "How We Use Technology to Learn" From Frederick H. Tuttle Middle School, VT -- "Reporters for South Burlington Network News (SBNN) travel back in time to 1983 to show the differences technology has made in the classroom."
You can see the middle school finalists, plus the finalists for the elementary and high school categories, at the EEA webpage. You can also rate them and help eSchool News decide on the winners. The winners will be chosen and announced in September.

SOURCE: "Student videos demonstrate ed-tech's value" 06/13/08
photo courtesy of brockvicky, used under this Creative Commons license

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Writing Matters for Middle School


There's been recent concern about middle schoolers and writing, especially boys, and what schools can do under some of the real and difficult conditions they face. One nonprofit has created a program it thinks will help middle schoolers, especially boys, with writing and teachers with the teaching of writing. Writing Matters promises an engaging interactive curriculum that uses humor and models to help middle schoolers with their writing and professional development for teachers to help schools keep up a consistent program of best practices even under difficult conditions.

At the Writing Matters website, you can take a guided tour through the features. The program is based on three specific challenges in education: how to engage middle schoolers at a time when performance tends to drop; how to engage boys in writing, especially as boys continue to be less likely to meet state writing standards than girls; and how to prepare teachers to effectively teach writing especially as schools experience rapid teacher turnover. An important part of using Writing Matters is the professional development offered. Teachers are offered a one-day workshop that addresses the writing process and the most effective use of Writing Matters in the classroom. Literacy specialists and coaches take a multi-day workshop.

Writing Matters basically has four components:
  • Eight writing genre study units that are research-based and address specific genres of writing, like editorials, test prep, and responding to literature. The units are "developed by nationally-recognized author-educators," like Georgia Heard for poetry and Heather Latimer for short fiction and memoir. Each genre contains multiple mini-lessons on craft and mechanics specific to the genre and the writing process in general.
  • Animated Story-Based Lessons are a second component. These are meant to make the abstractions of the writing process more concrete through modeling and humor. Two students, DD and JT, model the thinking process and ways to approach writing projects, specific challenges and concepts.
  • The Interactive Online Writing Room is a place where student writers at any part of their process can get peer and teacher feedback. Each student can develop a portfolio that can be accessed from any computer with Internet access. It's a collaborative environment also and includes tools for teachers to track student progress.
  • The Class Publishing Tool is a class e-zine where student writing can be published. Teachers design the e-zine and decide whether to keep it private or allow other classes to also access the e-zine.
There's a guided tour at the Writing Matters website but it has no controls, so you can't pause, rewind or fast forward. The Program Overview page is pretty informative and has links to demo lessons and clips of animated lessons.

I'd love to hear from teachers using Writing Matters or who have experience with it.

SOURCE: "Program Overview" 2007
SOURCE: "Guided Tour" 2007
photo: screencapture from the Writing Matter's Guided Tour

Monday, June 16, 2008

Marshall Space Flight Center Comes to Nevada


Amanda Sanchez of 13 Action News in Las Vegas reported on an interactive videoconference between a middle school and NASA late last month. It was a dream come true for many of the students who got to attend.

Thirty-seven sixth-graders in a computer literacy class were able to take part. The lesson was led by a staff member at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama and took students through a general overview of what happens at NASA. It ranged from space science to astronauts and rockets. Video, graphics and other tools were used in the lesson.

Students loved the experience:
  • "It was a great experience especially for sixth graders, I know that probably not even students in high school could do this back then."
  • "I liked that we got to learn about what people do at NASA, it is pretty cool."
  • "I am really into space stuff, because I like to float."
The Wells Fargo "Grant A Wish For Your School" Program and the Nevada Public Education Foundation paid for the videoconference and this amazing chance to get close to the goings-on at NASA. There's hope that this program and others in the future will help students make future choices that will benefit them and the world around them. It's also another great example of what NASA offers to students wherever and however it can reach them.

SOURCE: "Valley Middle School Students Video Conference With NASA" 05/27/08
photo courtesy of jurvetson, used under this Creative Commons license

Friday, June 13, 2008

FreshBrain!


Emilie Doolittle reports in The Mercury News on a new site for teens that mixes social networking with learning in a secure space. The goal is to teach teens more about business and technology. And it's a nonprofit, so the site is free.

Dale Ferraro of Saratoga, CA, came up with FreshBrain for teens 13-18 years old. He wanted to help teens learn about new technology and to help schools keep up with all the rapid changes. Ferraro worked for Sun Microsystems for 20 years and when "he told them he was quitting to start a nonprofit...Sun offered to help him out and is currently one of FreshBrain's leading partners."

Kids can register for FreshBrain by entering their birthdate and making up a profile. Then they can try out activities and projects on the site and compete in contests. Parents have to complete a form that is emailed, faxed, or mailed back to FreshBrain before students can participate in any project or contest. Once registered and approved, kids can find activities and projects in several categories: Eco/Green, Gaming, Graphic Design, Music, Videos/Movies, Web, and Development. Projects are featured every week on the homepage. Users rate projects and activities and can even create their own projects.

On June 9, FreshBrain started its roster of summer activities and projects called Summer Splash 2008. Contests challenge students to create the best Facebook application or the funniest YouTube video or to design headphones. This is a great site for your project-oriented and gifted/talented students for the summer.

SOURCE: "Saratoga man's networking Web site enhances education" 06/09/08
photo courtesy of technochick, used under this Creative Commons license

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Collaborative Word Processing: 4 Tools


Julia VanderMolen has a great article in techLearning on four Web 2.0 tools that make collaborative writing easier. They can be used by students in different locations or countries or can give students in the same class access to a shared document anytime, anywhere.

Google Docs handles word processing and spreadsheets. Nothing needs to be installed. And documents can be password protected. Google Docs is similar in look and feel to Microsoft Word and Excel versions up to 2003. It's pretty simple to use. VanderMolen offers screenshots and some basics to get you and your middle schoolers started.

Zoho Writer is a Web-based word processor that also lets you post to a blog and import and export documents in lots of formats -- Word, PDF, RTF, HTML, SXW and others. You can also lock your documents. To use Zoho Writer, register at the website. Zoho Writer has a Template Library with basic formats for documents like newsletters and quizzes. You can find other Zoho products like spreadsheets, chats, organizing tools and presentation tools.

Writeboard works as a collaborative writing tool. To use it, just log on. Documents are called "writeboards" and are password protected and, therefore, all private. Unfortunately, there's no WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) editor and no toolbars like in Google Docs or Zoho Writer. Writeboard gives students a basic text area. Formatting text is done with codes. VanderMolen writes, "You will find it easy and fairly intuitive to use."

VanderMolen calls ThinkFree "Office without the Microsoft." ThinkFree offers applications that have most of the features of Word, PowerPoint and Excel. You get 1 GB of free online storage. Online collaboration is just as easy as with Google Docs and Zoho Writer. Once you create an account, you can use the Write, Calc, or Show components. The site is supported by banner ads and search ads. There's a premium service that offers more storage and no ads for a fee. ThinkFree also has a link that tells you ways teacher and others are currently using it.

VanderMolen includes helpful screenshots and a comparison chart at the end of the article that gives a quick overview of the features of all four tools. I can see using one of these tools for peer editing and group work, making it easier for on- and off-campus students to complete projects and share ideas.

SOURCE: "Four Web 2.0 Collaborative-Writing Tools" 06/01/08
photo courtesy of Zesmerelda, used under this Creative Commons license

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Kansas on the Cutting Edge


Thanks to an "aggressive technology program" in the state of Kansas, students can almost regularly communicate with peers around the world. Marjorie Landwehr-Brown of Douglass Public Schools writes in T.H.E. Journal about the Global Learning Program she created with Jim Keller, the superintendent of Douglass Schools. The program started in the elementary school, expanded to the middle school, and will be used in Douglass High School this fall.

The Global Learning Program brings Kansas students together with international peers to work together on projects. At each level, the projects differ according to grade level; in middle school, the projects focus on music, science and art. Landwehr-Brown writes that teachers in the schools "introduce students to the technology fairly slowly, and...give students across the world a chance to get to know each other before starting the heavier conversations or more elaborate projects."

In a December 2007 exchange between middle school students in Kansas and Cairo, for example, students discussed their divergent definitions of the word "jihad." No matter the project, students on both sides of the ocean were changed by the dialogue between them. Another great example comes from a project with fourth and fifth graders in Hong Kong and Kansas on rain forests:
The kids were responsible not only for producing a report, but for explaining the guest mural, from the cultural context of whoever created it. My kids had to explain why Hong Kong kids draw faces on trees and that trees in Hong Kong have a whole different historical reference than they do in the United Sates. [sic] Because there are good and bad spirits in trees, according to Chinese culture, and our kids have to know that.
Part of the inspiration for the Global Learning Program came through Landwehr-Brown's and Keller’s conversations with businesses in the area. Representatives of companies like Coca-Cola, Cessna, Learjet, and Boeing said over and over that they wanted workers who could "not only...communicate with different cultures but...go a step further and be able to create a product with them." With help from Kay Gibson and Glyn Remington from Wichita State University, a curriculum was created to bring students and technology together for collaborative projects in art, music, math, science and language arts.

Landwehr-Brown's article gives more great detail on the programs and partners used. There's great advice and more examples. And there are the details of the high-definition conferencing equipment partly underwritten by Conference Technologies Inc. (CTI), "a LifeSize high-definition conferencing codec, two cameras, two 60-inch plasma displays, touch-panel controls, and an installed sound system." There's a picture on the article; it looks really cool.

SOURCE: "Global Learning Initiative Helps Kansas Students Collaborate with Peers Around the World" 06/09/08
photo courtesy of hive, used under this Creative Commons license

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Do Virtual Field Trips Cheat Your Students?


Previous posts have mentioned available virtual tours and lists of links but not how specific schools are using them or the controversy involved. Ben Arnoldy reports in The Christan Science Monitor that as more and more schools see virtual field trips as options, educators are asking themselves if this is this a good thing for students or if it shortchanges them.

The state park system in California reaches almost 20,000 students every year through virtual field trips. Students at Marshall Middle School, for example, teleconferenced with a state park guide on the CA coast to see and learn more about elephant seals. The park system uses these virtual tours as a way to engage a new generation and increase visits to and investment in state parks.

A third grade class in Citrus Heights, CA, had a teleconference with a NASA educator when Pluto was deemed not a planet. Students can go places that were impossible before or with far more focus than is possible in a real field trip. "Take the kids to the zoo and they are all over the place. Take them the Bronx Zoo, virtually, and they can go behind the scenes and see the hairs in a buffalo's nose," says Ruth Blankenbaker, executive director of the Center for Interactive Learning and Collaboration (CILC), which helps organize virtual fields trips through its website.

The current growth in virtual field trips or virtual tours is fueled by costs. Gas is $4 or more a gallon across the country and the cost is a strain for school systems. According to Ryan Gray, who edits School Transportation News, about 40 states will have a deficit in their transportation budgets when the 2008-2009 school year starts. Other factors encouraging virtual field trips are the wider availability of broadband, an increase in virtual field trip options, and a reduction in costs for teleconferencing equipment. And with virtual field trips, far-flung visits like to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia become possible regardless of student family income or district wealth or poverty.

But there are objections to the use of virtual field trips. Some fear that the free or near-free virtual field trips will replace all field trips as schools face higher costs and reduced budgets. What students really need, according to Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, is "the hands-dirty, feet-wet experience in nature." Some educators are being judicious and using teleconferencing and virtual field trips to prepare students for real-life field trips or to interact with experts in a controlled way before or after a real visit.

How have you used virtual tours or field trips this school year? How will you use them next year? Will you, like some teachers in the article, not reduce the number of real field trips at all and simply add virtual field trips as supplements? Or will you face a slashed budget and have fewer options other than virtual field trips? What about in poorer school districts -- how are virtual field trips being used?

SOURCE: "Now students take field trips online" 06/06/08
photo courtesy of elemenous, used under this Creative Commons license

Monday, June 9, 2008

Introducing Henry Aubin

Henry Aubin was born in New Jersey. He spent his childhood there, as well as in France and Malta. As a child, he was fascinated by the Egyptian and Assyrian exhibitions at New York's Metropolitan Museum. Later, as a teenager, he was exposed to Mediterranean antiquity.

After graduating from Harvard with a degree in English, he worked as a reporter for the Philadelphia Bulletin and the Washington Post. In 1973, he and his wife moved to Montreal, where he went to work for the Gazette. He still works there today as a columnist.

Henry's exploration of Egypt's 25th Dynasty began when he was telling his eight-year-old son about African history. (Two of his four children are adopted, and one is of African-Canadian origin.) The astonishing but little-known story of Egypt's 25th Dynasty, and its subsequent exploits in the Middle East, revived his long-dormant interest in ancient history. After writing a non-fiction book on the topic, Henry wrote Rise of the Golden Cobra (Spring 2007) so that he could share his fascination with young audiences.

Future plans include writing sequels to Rise of the Golden Cobra, which will focus on the next two generations of the 25th Dynasty's pharaohs.

The Honorable Sandra Day O'Connor's...Video Game?


More and more, educators and game designers are seeing the benefits of using the games middle schoolers love as teaching tools. Students have fun and can mix different skills and subjects in a way that feels more true to life and sometimes masks the immense amount of learning and work going on. Claudia Parsons reports for Reuters at MSNBC.com on the involvement of former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor with a project that will soon release free online games for middle schoolers.

Surprised? Probably as surprised as O'Connor to find herself addressing a digital gaming conference, Games For Change. But her involvement in the Our Courts project stemmed from her concern over public views of and growing hostility toward the judiciary system. From "vitriolic attacks by some members of Congress, some members of state legislatures and various private interest groups," to Senators vetting Supreme Court nominees on their possible decisions in court cases, to special interest involvement in state judicial elections, O'Connor has seen a deteriorating atmosphere for "fair and impartial judgments from the judges who are serving." The only way to preserve an independent judiciary and blunt the growing hostility is to better educate the public about all three branches of government, their roles and relationships to each other.

The first part of the Our Courts project will be an interactive online civics program for grades 7-9. It's meant to stand alone or be part of a curriculum or unit of study. The game will feature scenarios that reflect real-life legal issues and encourage students to debate and come to a decision on matters like First Amendment rights or freedom of the press. Some initial materials will be available in September at OurCourts.org. The second part of the project will be a game that engages students in their spare time and aims to "get them thinking about government and civic engagement rather than playing shoot-'em-up video games." Both components should be fully operational by September 2009. And free.

O'Connor saw the educational potential of technology while watching her grandchildren engage with it. But, she said, "I don't play videogames. Sorry."

SOURCE: "Retired justice O'Connor unveils video game" 06/04/08
photo courtesy of dipfan, used under this Creative Commons license