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Neat Things On the Web

Learning from Play

My grandson and I were playing on my new iPad the other day and we tried out the BrainPOP app for the iPad. I had looked at BrainPOP some time ago, but since it was for younger students I didn’t pay too much attention to it. As I played along with my nine-year-old grandson, I realized some of the featured movie potential.

Each day BrainPOP has a featured movie. The movies are available on the web at: http://www.brainpop.com/. You can even embed the movie in your blog, wiki, or website as I have done at: http://www.anewadventure.org/?page_id=366.

The movies of the day topics vary from the arts, science, history, economics and others. After you watch the movie you can take a ten-question quiz. I couldn’t help but think these would make great warm-up activities for upper elementary and middle schools. In Michigan we have our state test in October, and the movies would be a good way to review test-taking skills.

The questions usually contain the follow:

  • Defining a word by how it is used in the context of a sentence
  • Identifying if a sentence is fact or opinion
  • Facts on the topic of the day

I would use it with my class to look at all the multiple-choice answers and have students tell:

  • why some choices were wrong.
  • why some answers might be right.
  • what they think is the right answer

Not only would they review test-taking skills but the students would also have the opportunity to review the content areas. Try it and let me know what you think.



Last summer, I had the opportunity to work with a lovely group of educators from the Montcalm School District. They invited me to lead a two-day teacher workshop on using technology in the classroom. Recently I had a chance to visit their schools and talk to a few of the teachers that participated in the summer training. I’m glad I did. I was pleased to learn that the teachers were using some of the ideas and tools we had discussed in the workshop. It felt good to know that I had a small part in bringing about changes in their teaching strategies.

Mrs. Ruggles is an example of a teacher willing to change and take a risk. She had the self-confidence to tell her students she didn’t know everything! She took a risk and let her students use technology even though she didn’t know everything about the tools. She was willing to let her students independently learn how to use the technology. She is a great example of how to develop independent, life-long learners.

Mrs. Ruggles is a middle school and high school teacher. One of the assignments that she gave to her art students was to create a poster of an artist of their choice. She had different elements that needed to be included in the assignment: history, favorite work, impact and other information about the artist. She changed her assignment by allowing students to choose how they would present their artist. Imagine, giving the power of choice to students! She pointed them to some online tools and provided some ideas of what they might produce. The students could do the traditional poster if that was their choice.

I was amazed at some of the projects the students produced. Also, some students chose technologies that the teacher hadn’t suggested. The samples she showed me included:

· A presentation created in Prezi (prezi.com)

· A traditional poster board that the student took a picture of and posted it on the web.

· A mock website” for an artist

· A Glogster poster (glogster.com)

· A PowerPoint Presentation posted on Scribd.com

Choice is important to all of us. We want to have a say in our destiny. These projects illustrate the power of giving students a choice. They did excellent work and should be proud of what they have accomplished.

Teachers are often threatened by technology and change. They sometimes feel that they are being forced to change what and how they teach. This project illustrates how technology can be used in meaningful ways and is a small step in a much larger picture. I look forward to seeing more great projects from Mrs. Ruggles’ class.

Small steps lead to long journeys.


World Math Day Contest

Lights, Camera, Action! Are you looking for the ultimate class project? Now your students can show off their creative abilities and talents online in the World Math Day Video Challenge! Move over American Idol! In anticipation of World Math Day on March 4th, students from across the country are competing in this year’s World Math Day Video Challenge. While the contest is open to only U.S. classes, students and teachers from all over the world will have a chance to vote for their favorite videos! The World Math Day Video Challenge is free and open to all U.S. students. Does your class have what it takes?

How to Play 1.  Just record a two to three minute video highlighting how your students are preparing for World Math Day. Be creative. Tell your story with a song, cheer, rap, or narrative. 2.  Then upload your video to www.teachertube.com/worldmathday where it can be voted on by fellow teachers, students, and parents. Teachers can register for free at TeacherTube.com (only registered teachers can upload videos). Rules 1.  Video must be 2 to 3 minutes in length. 2.  Video must demonstrate how your students are preparing for World Math Day. 3.  Video and audio content must be suitable for all audiences. 4.  Video can include puppets, graphics, music, and voice-over. 5.  Only one class per school will be eligible for first prize.

See the Teacher Tube website for more information and prizes



Why Do I Twitter My Time Away?

I’ve asked myself that question several times. At one point, I even said that Twitter is the biggest waste of time and technology I have ever seen. I’ve talked to several other Twitter users that felt the same way when they started using Twitter. My attitude about Twitter has changed. I now like, enjoy and use Twitter every day. More importantly the value of Twitter in my professional life has changed.

Why do I Twitter my time away? Here are my top ten reasons for using Twitter.

  1. Twitter connects me to my face-to-face and virtual friends.
  2. It builds my network of professionals from around the world.
  3. I stay in touch with people who have attended one or more of my workshops using Twitter.
  4. It connects me to well-known gurus and experts in my field that I would never get a chance to talk to or visit with on a regular basis. These are two gurus I follow: Guy Kawasaki, David Weinberger and many others.
  5. I maintain contact with my friends and learn the little things that are going on in their lives through our short comments.
  6. Everyday I have up to two hundred and eighty two people exploring the web and telling me all of the great resources they find. They link to tools, great blog postings, news articles, resources and all types of fine gems.
  7. Also, they make me laugh. This was shared on Twitter yesterday: Always check your child’s Work
  8. My friends/followers answer questions when I ask them.
  9. Twitter allows me to share my thoughts and ideas quickly and without a lot of efforts.
  10. Most importantly, my “friends” on Twitter share what they know and they care about others.

In reality, the last item is why I use Twitter.

My question for  you is: “Why don’t you Twitter your time away?”


(Follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/jimwenz)

Maybe I’m the Slow Kid

On the CAST web site they introduce Differentiated Instruction by stating:

Not all students are alike. Based on this knowledge, differentiated instruction applies an approach to teaching and learning so that students have multiple options for taking in information and making sense of ideas.

Teachers some times think they are being asked to “water” down the curriculum and that differentiated instruction is for the special education or slower students in the class. It is really for everyone. The recent cold weather brought me to a great example of differentiated instruction on a personal level. When I want to know the weather forecast for my city I always use the National Weather Service (NOAA) web site (www.weather.gov).

During may last visit to the site, I thought this is a great way to look at differentiated instruction. People like different representations of the weather. You may like one or more of the following four or more ways the weather is represented on the weather.gov site.

Method One:

Images and brief text:


This is a pretty typical way the weather is represented in the newspaper and on popular weather websites. It gives you a nice glance at the five day forecast.

Method Two:

More days, but all text.


Notice that you get a little more detail. It takes a little longer to read the forecast than to look at the images.

Method Three:

The big picture using radar and Satellite Images.

weather-3A bigger picture and more complicated. You have regional radar and wide satellite images and if you know weather patterns or watch the radar loop, you can see the movement of storms.

Method Four:

This is the forecast I use. It makes the most sense to me. You can find it under “Additional Forecast and Information” the third listing on the left, Hourly Weather Graph.


You will get these two graphs and five more. The two graphs shown here show an hour by hour view of the temperature, wind chill, dew point, wind speed, wind direction, and wind gust. The other five graphs show more data. I like it because I can view the change in the forecast over time.

How does this relate to differentiated instruction? If you read through this long-winded (pun intended) post, you most likely thought of the method you like best. You picked the one that gave you the information you needed to know and a way you can grasp what the weather forecast is for the next few days.

I happen to like Method Four. Then again, maybe I am just the slow kid in the class. Wouldn’t it be great if we took the power of technology to help represent information in different ways for different students? Instruction using audio, video, text, animations, pictures, or a combination of all of them. We don’t need to create all the content. Some is created and if we learn to share we can all create part of it.


PS Special thanks to Brian Montgomery from the National Weather Service for teaching me more about weather than any science teacher I ever had in school.

Screencasting With Jing

Jing Gets Even Better

TechSmith just released a Professional version of Jing. The good news is the Jing software we have all grown to love is still free. Just in case you haven’t used Jing, Jing is a free screen-recording program from TechSmith. It will record anything you do on your computer along with your voice. Besides recording movies it will also capture and allow you to annotate images. Both are excellent ways to create videos or tell stories. It is available for free at the Jing website. This week they introduced Jing Pro*. You can continue using the free version. So what do you get if you upgrade to the $14.98/year pro version. Here are four things I really like. I’m sure there are more.

1. It records in MPEG-4 instead of just flash. This not only decreases file size but allows you to edit the file in iMovie or using other video editing programs.

2. You can export your video from your desktop to YouTube right from Jing Pro.

3. Jing now provides the embed code for you to use to insert video from their storage site,

4. You can create new buttons for controlling the output of what you create.

Those are four things I like and I have only had the program for a few days. I’m sure you will find other great features. If you haven’t used Jing give it a try. Also, if you are using Jing and like it, you should consider upgrading to Jing Pro.

* Disclaimer: TechSmith was nice enough to give me an account to try out the pro version. I’m writing this because I think it is a great program not because of saving a few dollars. Just wanted to be up front about it.

Student Storybooks

Student publishing and writing for an authentic audience has been a theme of many of my blog posts and my presentations. That’s why I was excited when I discovered Tikatok.com. The lead sentence on their web site is “Tikatok™ is where kids channel their imagination into stories – and publish those stories into books for you to share and treasure with friends and family.” I looked at some of the books and they were lovely. They are short stories illustrated with crayon and pencil drawings and some photos. The image below shows two pages of a book from their site. I thought this was a great concept and wanted to learn more.

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of talking to Katie Cowan Porro from Tikatok, Inc. about their website. She is the VP of Marketing and School Programs at Tikatok.com. Tikatok is a web site that helps students create storybooks. They have over 800 elementary teachers registered for their site and the company is only a year old. Their main audience is classes in grades 2-6. However, any level could create a book. You can use their site for free to create stories and publish an online book. Parents or the school can purchase printed copies. Katie indicated they do give discounts if you are ordering multiple books.

As Katie explained the process to me, it sounds fairly simple. The teacher signs up his/her class on the site. Then will get a temporary username and password to share with your students. The students then log in and create an individual username and password. They will use their personal account to create their book. All of the student accounts are linked to the teacher account so the teacher can view their work and decide when the book is ready for publishing. Once the book is published parents, friends, and relatives can view the book online or purchase a print copy of the book. I can imagine the excitement in a classroom on the day all the books are published and students could read each others books online. It would be a fun day.

I fell in love with the drawings and the stories that I read on their site. What a great way to engage students in writing at an early age. Let me know if your students publish books on Tikatok. I would be glad to send them a review.


Is there a Monster Under the Bed?

This is a great little project for second or third graders. It is coordinated by Ann Oro and Anna Baralt’. Both of these teachers are active in the K12 Online Conference and Twitter. Is there a better way to learn about adjectives in elementary school than drawing and describing monsters? Anna and Ann have designed the lesson, created a sign up page and even have a movie you can watch to learn more about the Monster Collaboration Project. You will be teamed up with another class. Take a look at the sign up page for more information. I just wish I was in the second grade again.

This is their description from their presentation:

“Learn how our Monster Project encourages creativity and the development of reading and writing skills while integrating technology into the classroom. Using monsters as a vehicle, students across the United States exchange written descriptions and recreate their partner’s monster without ever looking at the real thing. Teachers will discover free tools available online, connect drawing and writing tools, learn how to work with multiple files in a wiki, and equate various goals of the revised Bloom’s Taxonomy with an electronic platform. Lesson plans, tips, and resources are shared.”

To learn more visit the following links:

Overview from the K12 Online Conference – http://k12onlineconference.org/?p=338

Movie talking about the project and the curricular goals – http://k12online.wm.edu/k12online08ki08.mov

Sign up page for the 2009 project, Helpful Hints, books, and lesson plan – http://monsterproject.wikispaces.com/

Another Collaborative Tool

Inspiration  and Kidspiration are two great programs for teaching writing and for concept mapping. Numerous schools use these two programs. I recently visited a school for students who had problems with writing. One of the seniors told me he was planning on buying Inspiration to have with him in college. He used the outline mode in Inspiration when he was writing reports and the graphic mode when he was writing fiction. He was very excited when I told him there was now an online version of Inspiration that he could use for free.

MyWebspitation is a very complete version of Inspiration. I haven’t used Inspiration since I started with November Learning, but as far as I can see it has the same features as the commercial version (See Screenshot above). Most importantly, it has added the ability to share and collaborate on a concept map. You can invite people to work with you on your project by emailing them access to your project. You can invite multiple people to collaborate using one message.

If your students have used Inspiration, they will be able to use the web version without additional training. Great for planning group projects when they are working with other students from beyond they school walls. Also, it allows students access from home or school without parents having to purchase the softare.

MyWebspitation is another excellent collaboration tool to add to your toolbox. I hope you enjoy it.