Sunday, August 29, 2010

Your Search Has Never Been Sweeter...

One of the challenges teachers face when teaching kids about content on the Internet is evaluation. It can be difficult for kids (especially the younger ones) to know or be able to see that even if a website looks fancy the information it contains can be misleading or flat out wrong.

Most times when kids are giving an assignment the first place they go is Google which can lead them to sites in their quest for information that might not be what we as educators want them to have or, again, could be just plain wrong.

Enter Sweet Search.

When students enter a search term into Sweet Search you know they results they are going to get have been vetted by an educator or librarian for their relativity and content. Results from trusted sources like the Library of Congress, universities and PBS appear higher in the search results.

When results are returned there aren't tens of thousands of results. What is returned is the 20 best sites for the term, again, all evaluated and ranked for their relevance and content. One of the neatest features is the ability to send search results right to Google Docs so if your students have accounts or you have Apps for Ed that is very handy. But there is also the ability to bookmark the results so students can come back later on. There are some really great widgets for your website also so kids can go to one location like a homework page on your website for easy access.

But Sweet Search isn't the only resource here. Sweet Search 4 Me is a search engine for early elementary students. Sweet Search 2 Day is a nifty site where kids can learn something new everyday. Sweet Search Biography has 1000+ bios of significant persons in history. And there are tons more sites and applications to check out.

Sweet Search is part of a larger site call FindingDulcinea. Calling itself the Libraian of the Internet, FindingDulcinea is a treasure trove of information for the classroom. From their great web guides on every topic imaginable (my favorite is the one on Internet Resources) to their articles that aim to take kids beyond the headlines and give them all the information, FindingDulcinea is a wonderful website that you should add to your list to give to kids. And if you have kids where Spanish is their native language or your are teaching Spanish, they have "EncontrandoDulcinea" for them!

FindingDulcinea has a Facebook page and a Twitter feed with lots of great information too. Be sure to subscribe to their blog for regular updates.

So as the school year is starting, be sure to check out Sweet Search and FindingDulcinea. Two of my favorite and "must use" websites this year!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

5 Sites To Explore This School Year

In my neck of the woods schools have already started or will be starting soon. As we are going back and thinking of new tools to try or sites to explore I wanted to give you a few ideas of each that you may find have a place in your classroom this year. These are quick and easy ways to do something fun and use a little technology along the way.

Think of Wallwisher like a corkboard and push pins. Basically you go in, choose a title, background color and custom URL and you are set up. You then give users the URL and they post digital stickies on the board. The catch is they only have 140 characters (like Twitter) but they can include links to other sites, sounds and videos. I have seen these used tons of way to collect information on what kids did over the summer to a ticket out the door where kids summarize what they learned or what questions they still have. This would be great for spelling words. Instead of having kids write out sentences that no one will see have them do it on the Wallwisher and share their learning. Mark Warner, creator of the Ideas To Inspire Website has created a slideshow showing all the ways educators are using Wallwisher.

What ideas can you think of?

Google Squared
I have written about Google Squared in the past but it is still one of those search tools that has yet to catch on. Great for research, put in any type of search term that might be part of a list. Baseball Parks, Presidents, Countries in Southeast Asia. You are presented with a table of information based on what you searched for. Below you can see an image of a search for planets. You can add columns of information or take columns away. Google Squared is a great, easy and fast way to compare items from the same general list. Think of it as a starting off point for good research.

It is easy to see how you could use this in science or social studies but what about an English or math class?

This is another tool that think every educator (and student) should be using. Think of all those bookmarks or favorites that you have. They live on your machine. If you save in Diigo you can take those saves anywhere. And you can organize them with tags (keywords), highlight and make notes on webpages that you can share with other teachers and students. And you can create accounts for your kids and they don't have to have email addresses. One of my favorite things to do is explore the many groups that are there to find new and interesting sites and articles for my teachers.

Here is a video that describes a little more of what Diigo can do.

Gone are the days of collecting old magazines from doctors offices and your grandmothers Good Housekeeping. The poster has gone digital. Thing of Glogster as just that, a digital poster. Instead of cutting out pictures from those magazines kids can get images from the web, video, record their own audio, to create a truly living document. Easy to use and easy to set up Glogster is a great way to get kids excited to show what they have learned.

Accounts are free for educators but there is a premium education account that you can pay for which gives you more options. How do you think you could use Glogster this year?

Creative Commons
One of the issues that seems to be forgotten by many educators is the issue of copyright. I think it has more to do with lack of understand than anything else. I often seen kids go on to Google Images or other similar sites and just copy images or use music in their projects that they did not create and do not cite. Even when they do cite it they may not have permission to use it. That is why I tell educators to use Creative Commons. By used the search engine at CC you can search all the CC images that people have posted on several different websites. It will also search audio and video files. Many of the file types you find you can remix and build upon, all depending on the licence.

The CC site is also good to learn about licensing your (and your student's) work so that others can use it and build upon it. After all, learning is sharing!

So those are the 5 sites I am going to share with my staff as we start the year. What will you share? Leave some comments below.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Help Us Get To SXSW!

I am very excited to be a part of a great group of educators who have an opportunity to present at South by SouthWest (SXSW) about using Social Media in Education.  However, the event uses crowd voting to determine which proposals make the final cut and get accepted.  In short, WE NEED YOUR HELP if we are going to make it to Austin next year.
Here are the other educators on the panel, please support us by following the steps below:
Richard Byrne who tweets under the name @rmbyrne
Cory Plough who tweets under the name @mrplough07
Mary Beth Hertz who tweets under the name @mbteach
Kyle Pace who tweets under the name @kylepace
Please take a couple minutes to sign up and vote.  Here are the steps:
  1. Click here to create an account (this account allows you to vote and make comments about the presentations)
  2. Go to your email account and respond to the email from Panel Picker (sxsw)
  3. Click here to go to our Panel page
  4. Click on the Thumbs Up button right below the title
I hope you can take 5 minutes and help us get to SXSW to tell the world about Social Media in Education!


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Just How Valuable Is Your Face-To-Face PLN?

Last night on #edchat the conversation turned from talking about how valuable student blogging is to whether or not students should learn or have their own Personal Learning Network (PLN). There has been a lot of talk lately of whether or not we should even use the term "PLN" and what place it has in education. (Frankly, a PLN is what you make it. Mine is different, from yours so I dunno why we continue to argue over semantics. But I digress....)

I got into a really interesting conversation with @wmchamberlain on Face-to-Face relationships with students. His comment was that because of the location of many of his students access to digital resources was a problem. Others said the same things. And I have to agree. It is still a fact that in many places, even at school, access to digital resources is a problem and encouraging students to connect through digital means might be a bit of a challenge.

That got me thinking last night. Are we pushing too much (either with kids or adults) the use of the digital PLN. Now before you go thinking I am losing my mind I am not. I still believe that educators (and kids) should use things like Twitter and other social networks to create, communicate and collaborate with colegues. But I just wonder, what about the face-to-face relationships. Aren't those equally as important?

I have a great group of people in my school and district that I am lucky I get to work with on a daily basis. I see these people regularly and consider them valuable members of my PLN. There are others that I know virtually that I feel equally about but many I have never met face-to-face. In both of these situations I feel like I get some major value out of my relationships.

I just wonder...when we are talking to teachers about collaborating and growing our network, are we jumping right in and showing them Twitter or Nings or other social networks? Or are we taking the time to tell them that they already have a network of professional learners that they collaborate with (hopefully) everyday?

I love my digital PLN. The connections there are some that I feel will last as long as my career. But I love, too, my face-to-face relationships and the professional connections I make mean a lot to me.

So what do you think? Are we placing too much emphasis on the digital aspect of PLN building? Just enough? Not enough? What about your face-to-face relationships compared to your digital ones? Leave me some comments below and help me sort this all out.

Friday, August 6, 2010

How Educators Connect With Kids On The First Days Of School

Last week I asked for your ideas on how you make connections with kids on the first days of school. I am overwhelmed by the response. With right at 80 ideas there is surely something here for everyone, or at least a new idea to try.

I wanted to highlight a few of my favorites:

  • On day 1, I introduce my new gr. 7 students to their Google Docs account, along with the help of the my gr. 8 students who used it last year. All students fill out Google Forms  (What are your interests?  Learning Styles, Class wiki scavenger hunt). By the end of the day, we all know a lot more about each other and they are comfortable with Google Docs.
  • I teach third grade and I am going to use backchanneling with them on the first day using TodaysMeet.  I am hoping that the students will connect with each other and not feel intimidated by some students that are more outgoing.
  • On the first day we play the name game, going throughout the room telling each student's name and something cool about them.  They get to pick the style of voice.  The next student has to repeat everyone before them then their own name and something cool until we get through the whole room.  I have to bat cleanup and repeat everyone.  We also get right into the computer lab to make Wordles for each student to use as a locker poster.
  • I plan to do an activity where we make paper airplanes individually - no help, all quiet, fly them, then do it again only this time with help from whoever and fly them again.  Then discuss that the difference and how they learned the second time. I have done this activity a couple of times and it usually works pretty well.
  • I take digital photographs of all the kids and we create a get-to-know you presentation that runs during the first couple of weeks as a journal prompt.  We continue to add to it throughout the year.  They love it! So do the parents by the way :)

You can view the rest of the responses here and I have them below also.

Did someone leave out something? Do you have an idea to share? Leave it in the comments below.

Have a wonderful start to the school year!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

What Do You Do On The First Days Of School?

Well, Summer, at least in my part of the world is coming to an end. In 3 weeks our kids will be back in school. Others have either already started or getting ready to start and others will wait until after Labor Day.

Last year around this time I ran a post asking for your tips, tricks, ideas and resources for the first days of school. There were so many cool and neat ideas for starting the school year. I want to do the same thing again this year...with a twist.

Those that know me and have heard me speak I am a big believer in making connections with kids. We as educators can not know how our kids learn if we first do not make connections with them. So what I would like to get is a collection of ways that you guys connect with kids. Is there an activity that you do? Is there a website or piece of tech that you use. How to do you get your school year started.

Below is a Google Survey. Simply fill out the form and then in one week I will publish all the results.