Sunday, September 27, 2009

In Defense of Twitter (or, why I Tweet)

A colleague recently asked me why I use Twitter and how I could possibly have time to read tweets and do my job. I told him that I see Twitter as a part of my job. You see, not only should we be using the applications the kids are so we understand what they are doing, but Twitter is an integral part of my Personal Learning Network. I don't have personal friends or family in my Twitterfeed, but through the feed I am connected to hundreds of educators all over the world. From them, I learn about issues in education, helpful tools, effective techniques and much, much more. I depend on my PLN for information about new trends and applications, too.

I follow several dozen people on Twitter. That could mean that I could spend a lot of time reading the tweets (they're limited to the number of characters that a text message can handle-140). I don't really. There are several folks that I know have really great things to say and I have their posts sent to my phone by text. The rest I check in on a couple of times a week. Who are my Twitterfaves? rmbyrne, kjarrett, jennyluca, and dwarlick. All are experienced and respected educators who are doing the same thing I do: trying to improve education by encouraging effective use of educational technology in our schools.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Wonder Wheel

Earlier today, our librarian and our Chinese teacher were working on a small project for one of the Chinese classes. I've recently won over our librarian to Clusty a search engine that not only brings back fewer and better hits than you usually get from Google, it also suggests related searches. Clusty and I have been search partners for several years now, but the librarian has just discovered it, too.

So, while the two teachers were working on the Chinese project and talking about using other search engines than Google, I remembered seeing the Google Wonder Wheel sometime last spring. It took me a while to find it again, but once I did, I started playing with it and I have to say, it's pretty interesting!

So, how do you get to the Wonder Wheel? Type in a search term, and when the results page comes up, you will see "Show Options" at the top of the page. Click on that and a menu appears with other ways to conduct your search. Wonder Wheel is one of those options. The wheel would be a useful tool for visual learners, plus it has some nifty related search terms that you might not have considered!

Another slick tool in the "Show Options" menu is the Timeline. This shows a nice timeline related to your search, and would be very useful to a student doing research, to help get an idea of the progression of events.

Great tools, Google!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Fun WIth Photos

Today's nifty web tool is called Tilt-Shift Maker. Despite what it sounds like, it is not a ride at the State Fair. It's actually an interesting tool to edit photos with. You adjust where you want the sharp focus to be placed and then the rest of the picture is in soft focus. It's really an interesting way to draw they eye of a viewer to a particular detail, and students could certainly use it in photos they make for lab journals, geography or history projects, or even for illustrations of their creative writing.

The website does allow you to change the width of the sharpness window, adjust the sharpness of the focus and to smudge the soft focus parts of your picture even more than the default.

You have to love all the great "toys" out there these days!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Back in the Saddle, Again!

After a three-month hiatus, it's time to fire up the old blog and get writing! There are a lot of things to share, but to keep from being too overwhelmed, I'm going to share just one.

Nik Peachey,whose teaching and technology blog I read from time to time, has just published a very, very handy guide for using Web 2.0 tools in the ESL/EFL classroom. In his guide, Nik talks about using such interactive tools as Penzu (a free, online journaling tool), and Voxopop. My favorite is Dvolver Movie Maker. Students in my lab have been playing with an earier version of this nifty tool for some time, now, and have always had a lot of fun with it. This upgraded version is much more flexible and allows for many more options in terms of characters and dialogue.

So, how to use these tools in the classroom? Penzu would be a great place for students to practice their writing skills in an environment they are already very comfortable with, the Web. Plus, teachers can read their student's work and comment on it without having to lug around a stack of papers! Save the planet!

Voxopop is similar to VoiceThread. It allows students to record speech, listen to it, and comment on their or others work. It's a very useful tool for allowing students to practice speaking, reading aloud or grammar skills. Similar to VoiceThread, it allows teachers to set up a prompt for students to respond to.

Dvolver has so many possibilities, it almost makes me want to go back to the classroom. You choose your setting, your sky, characters and then type in they dialogue you want. Check out the sample I made!