Tag: tools (page 3 of 6)

New: Threaded Comments!

I just activated a new plugin that will better facilitate our conversations by creating threaded comments. This means you can reply to comments left by other users, and they will list them underneath the original replies. Hopefully, this will be yet another way to make our conversations more engaging and powerful. Thanks to the folks at Edublogs for the great, new tool! Give it a try!

Google News

In the past couple of months, Google has added some really useful features and tools to their already massive list of Web 2.0 resources. Among them:

  • Reference materials have been added to Google Documents. Under the Tools menu, users can now access online dictionaries and Encylopedia Britannica. Also, basic web and image searches can be done for specific terms in a document.

Google Docs

  • GAudi represents an attempt by Google to use new technology to actually index the audio from YouTube videos. This would allow users to search for clips where specific terms are used. For example, users could look for videos of politicians discussing “environment” or “national security.” This will be interesting to watch evolve, as it has the potential to be a very, very useful resource.
  • In Quotes is currently set up to offer comparative quotes from the two main presidential candidates on a variety of issues. The site features a Spin button, which acts like a slot machine, generating random quotes on a particular topic. This would likely be a useful resource for class discussions of the campaign and election.
  • Custom Search is a tool that holds some very interesting promise for educators. We are all familiar with the ever-present Google search box that is embedded in just about every site we visit. Custom Search allows users to create a search box that will focus on specific websites. An elementary teacher doing a unit on biology, for instance, could create a search bar that would only search sites that the teacher had already determined to be at the appropriate reading and content levels. (View video demonstration) The search bar could then be embedded into the teacher’s blog, wiki, or web page.
  • Google News Archive Search features newspaper headlines, articles, and advertisements from archived copies of newspapers, including the New York Times, Washington Post, and North America’s oldest newspaper, the Quebec Chronicle-Telegraph, which has been in circulation for 244 years. This should be a useful resource, particularly to social studies teachers. While many of the references are only available in complete form if purchased, Google has scanned many, as well. These are indicated by the label Google News Archive under the main article link. An example is seen below.

Google Archive

3 New Tools for a New Year

Some useful tools that are either new or at least that haven’t been mentioned here…

Diigo (http://www.diigo.com) –Social bookmarking site that puts greater emphasis on the social aspect than other, similar sites. Users can create friends lists or groups. Saved bookmarks can be shared with all, some, or none of the friends and groups. Additionally, sites can be customized with highlighting, sticky notes, and more. Envision creating a class group, then having student members studying a topic such as geology find and add resources to the class’s list of bookmarks, including notes telling how the resources are useful.


Slideboom (http://www.slideboom.com/)–Finally! I have found a site that will support my PowerPoint 2007 presentations, INCLUDING ANIMATIONS! Slideboom is very similar to Slideshare, my old favorite. Users can add friends, mark favorites, leave comments, and more. This tool can be used to allow students to post and share PowerPoint presentations, then to have classmates make comments or ask questions on the site. The user agreement also prohibits pornographic images, which should keep content safer for children.


Weebly (http://www.weebly.com/)–I found Weebly a few months ago, but only yesterday actually began testing it. This is a fantastic site for creating free webpages. The site offers numerous page designs, uses a point and click method for adding page features, includes the ability to create blog pages, and more. Additionally, users can associate existing domain names.  The site very easy to use and allows children as young as 13 to join. Site traffic statistics are available, and users can choose the option of including Google Adsense, making it possible to profit from site traffic.


Time to Rethink Blocking IM?

clockThe New York Times has an article today describing a research study conducted jointly by Ohio State University and the University of California. The study examined the use of instant messaging and produced some interesting observations, particularly with regards to the time element. In summary, the study determined that IM actually encouraged users to be more “strategic” and concise in their communication. Additionally, IM required less time than phone conversations or email communications. Further, users often utilized IM as a “less intrusive” means of determining whether their colleagues were available than more traditional communication tools.

The traditional route for schools has been to ban IM. It is viewed as a distraction and a time-sucking diversion, rather than a communication tool. Maybe this needs rethinking in an era where teachers’ time demands are higher than ever. So much resistance to revolutionary changes in practice has been attributed to a lack of time for learning new approaches. If IM can squeeze a few spare minutes out of a teacher’s work week, might its use in our schools be worth reconsidering?

What Is Essential?

At the Decatur Jump! event last week and, for that matter, anytime I share with any group a sampling of Web 2.0 technologies, I reminded participants not to be overwhelmed, but to consider their own curriculum and their own students and to try to identify 2 or 3 Gary Larson--my brain is full.tools which would be most beneficial to them. Certainly, I can identify with the thoughts expressed by some, that their brains were filled beyond capacity. As I read countless blog articles detailing one new site after another every day, it can be numbing, to say the least. In truth, while I do join many sites and give them a test run, the number I use on a regular basis is much smaller sample. My list of tools that I would hate to give up (until the next, better thing comes along) includes:

  • RSS (Bloglines and Google Reader)–Absolutely critical to anyone who wants to keep abreast of the latest tools, news, issues, discussions, etc., without spending hours on end visiting site after site. After a lot of reflection, I’d say this is THE most important tool I use.
  • Blogs (Edublogs and Blogger)–Blogging has not only given me an outlet to share information, but it has connected me to some great educators, who have shared some wonderful ideas and made me think things through.
  • Wikis (WetPaint, Wikispaces, PBWiki)–The best tool for collaborating and creating online stores of information and resources that I’ve found. They are particularly great for students, given their simplicity of use and variety of tools. Plus, who doesn’t like saying “wiki?”
  • Microblogging (Twitter, Twhirl)–When it’s working, Twitter has expanded my network of fellow educational technology practitioners dramatically, and it has been both entertaining and educational. This is a tool that seems to inspire love or complete dismay, I know, but it can be very powerful.
  • Social Networks (Ning, Facebook)–Ning is a remarkable tool for communication, collaboration, and the sharing of resources. In the larger groups, such as Steve Hargadon’s Classroom2.0 group, the amount of information can be staggering, but the ability to create communities focused on one particular area is invaluable. Facebook has become an addiction for me, too, due to the connections I’ve made with lost friends, but also due to the educational opportunities I’ve had through group membership.
  • Online Bookmarks (Del.icio.us, Stumbleupon, Diigo)–Having the ability to access my bookmarks from any computer, anywhere, and to share useful sites with other users has been a powerful organizational and informational tool.
  • Skype–While email, Twitter, or blog discussions are powerful, the ability to talk by voice or video to anyone in the world for FREE continues to amaze me. I feel like George Jetson!

That’s all for my top tools, although I certainly use others. Were I still in my own classroom, I know without a doubt that I would have to include tools for digital storytelling, such as Kerpoof! and Voicethread, and podcasting tools (Gcast, Jott, Podomatic, Audacity, etc.) as both are easy to learn, highly effective means for fostering student creativity and literacy. Digital video and image creation/sharing sites would probably also rank high on the list.

The key, again, is to know your kids and know the needs of the curriculum. Technology can be as ineffective as any tool of the teachers’ trade there is, when it is used simply for the sake of using it. However, it also can allow our students to accomplish things that we never imagined as children. The key is putting the right pieces into the puzzle.

As always, any input on what is essential would be highly appreciated to me!

Expand the Capabilities of Firefox with Extensions

Firefox is continuing to grow in user numbers, with over 8 million users downloading the 3rd version of the browser on its June 18th release day, a world record for a software download. The worldwide market share of Firefox topped 19% by the end of June (story). One of the biggest appeals of Firefox for me is the number of ways the browser can be customized, particularly with the use of add-ons, called extensions, which have been created by a worldwide collection of web-based companies, software designers, and Firefox users. I wanted to share a few of the extensions which I have found particularly useful, in no particular order.

  1. Del.icio.us Bookmarks–This extension includes a toolbar and browser buttons, which make adding new Del.icio.us links much faster, through a popup window that requests a site description and tags, then automatically adds a link to a Del.icio.us account. The toolbar lists recently added sites.
  2. Google Notebook–This very handy extension opens up a Google Notebook in a popup window, allowing easy note creation while browsing.
  3. Clipmarks–Another note-taking tool, this extension allows desired pieces of web pages to be highlighted and “clipped”, then saved to a Clipmarks account.
  4. Scribefire–A very handy extension, Scribefire allows users to create blog posts for a variety of sites. Posts can be published immediately or saved for later. The interface opens in the bottom half of the browser window, allowing other sites to be viewed simultaneously. Users can add most of the content which is possible in the standard blogging platform, such as hyperlinks, images, video, etc.
  5. Trailfire–This extension allows users to add custom notes to web pages and to create linked “trails” for visitors to follow. Marked pages are given a unique URL, which can be shared with students or others. Users must have a Trailfire account (free, of course!).
  6. WOT (Web of Trust)–I recently added this extension. WOT uses user-generated ratings to evaluate sites on categories including trustworthiness, privacy, vendor reliability, and child safety. Links of rated sites display a circular symbol ranging from green (very safe) to red (very unsafe).
  7. Zotero–This is a very useful tool for conducting online research and generating citations or bibliographies. Sites and offline resources can be added to users’ collections. The site supports all of the most common citation formats, as well, including MLA, APA, CMS, and more. Absolutely keeps me from running back to the manual as often!
  8. Adblock Plus–Adblock Plus is an extension which blocks most embedded advertising in web pages, which results in much faster download times. As a teacher who has dealt with inappropriate ads in surprising sites, it also offers a good deal of peace of mind in the classroom.
  9. PicLens–Interesting and fun add-on which allows users to view all of the images within a site in a 3-dimensional window.
  10. Stumblupon–Stumbleupon is another example of a social bookmarking site. The Stumbleupon extension allows quick access to users’ accounts, and offers the Stumble! button, as well. This will open a random site which is geared towards the interests of the user. While some are not of much use, I have been very surprised at the wide variety of useful sites I have found using this extension.
  11. HyperwordsHyperwords–Another extension I recently added, Hyperwords allows users to right click on any word on a website, then access reference information on the word, such as common search engines, online dictionary entries, wikipedia references, etc.

This is just a small taste of the many extensions available, of course. I use several more, including Forecastfox, Weblin, ReadItLater, and Me.dium, to name a few. One of my favorites, Gdocsbar, which allows drag-and-drop adding and retrieval of documents to Google Documents, has not been updated for Firefox 3, but users of previous versions should check it out. If you have other extensions you would like to share, please do so!

Students Talk About Blogging

I finally was successful at uploading a video of some interviews I conducted this spring with students who published their writing to a class blog this year. In just six months, the students’ blog had over 1,000 visitors from six continents! What an effective way to motivate our students to write! The blog also includes some good insights by the teacher.

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