Friday, January 30, 2009

The Technology-Rich Classroom for Free

There are an amazing number of technology tools available for teachers to support their classroom, and even more services purchased by our district for teachers. This tools aren't just websites to visit, but tools for instruction. And workshops in all of these are currently offered by our department. So although we hope all classrooms will eventually have interactive whiteboards, projectors, document cameras, newer computers, etc...these are some tools you can use now. And if your classroom is outfitted with good tech equipment these tools will enhance what you can do in class.

Blogs provide a great way to engage students using technology. Whether posting assignments or showcasing class events, blogs using Blogger are free and relatively easy to set up and get going.Photostory is a great program that can be installed on all computers, but if it preferable to use a service that allows you to communicate with a much broader audience and house digital stories, take a look at Voicethread. Accounts are free, and we have several teachers and schools in our district using this with students. If you need a kid-safe search engine, we have a district license for netTrekker. You can also use DEStreaming for finding digital media that we also have a site license for. If you want a way to organize bookmarks try delicious; for organizing RSS try out Google reader. If you'd like to videoconference but don't have a big budget, see if you have a projector and webcam in your school, and use Skype (part of the Creating Global Connections workshop). If you need to collaborate with a group in a website set up a wiki.

The great thing about using these tools is that most are web-based and don't require installation. So start working on that technology-rich classroom, on a budget, with some of these free and worthwhile options.

Friday, January 23, 2009

There is no shortage of sites with great digital pictures on the web, but gigapan seems to offer something a little different. The images offers a panoramic view composed of many picutures allowing the viewer to move around the picture as well as zoom in to areas. The photo resolution is amazing. The only drawback I found was because the resolution is so impressive and the image is huge, it may take some time for it to load in your browser. But the payoff may well be worth the wait. 

One of the recently featured panoramas is David Bergman's President Obama's Inaugural Address. This panorama was created from over 200 images with a final size of 1,474 megapixels. I was able to zoom in on the President as well as the snipers positioned on rooftops on buildings in the distance. The panoramas can even be downloaded and viewed in GoogleEarth (version 4.2 or higher). Check out the image from the Mount Rushmore panorama in Google Earth below.

This site can allow you bring images into the classroom in stunning detail. 

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Free Audio and Podcast Directory

As America waits for the inauguration of our 44th president how about reviewing some other great speeches in history or audio files that might peek your students' interest or supplement your class instruction? The site offers a wide array of podcasts and audio files for free download. The podcast directory offers everything from Great Speeches in History to Learning Japanese to Aerobics. The site also links to other providers of media where you could find both the video or audio of Barack Obama's speech from the 2004 Democractic National Convention (complete with the transcript) on boasts "the Internet's largest directory of free audio & video learning resources." And you might be surprised at the variety and selection, which is the one drawback of the site. I found it time consuming to locate some of my files of interest. I didn't find an easy way to find my files, but once I did it was very simple to stream. So take a few minutes check out some of the audio offerings on Learnoutloud. 

Monday, January 12, 2009

Tales from Tech Workshops

Last Tuesday afternoon I journeyed out to Moore Elementary for a technology workshop. And besides my frustrating (and self-imposed) exile to the stationary car-rider line prior to the workshop, I had a very good time. I was impressed at the turn out for this workshop. Twenty-three teachers converged on the "cozy" setting of the computer lab, some sitting on the floor in order to watch me give an overview of the interactive whiteboard and software for an hour after school. Most of the these teachers don't even have the boards in their rooms, but they hoped to get a head start on next year, as Moore Elementary will move into a new building outfitted with many interactive whiteboards in classrooms. I don't think these teachers were required to attend but rather wanted to get some early instruction or a refresher on using this technology in their future classrooms. I was pleased at their desire and willingness to learn about technology that for many of them won't be in their classroom until next year.

Sometimes installing new tech equipment is much easier than getting people to learn to use the technology to impact their classrooms and instruction. In this case, early indicators show this may not be a problem at Moore Elementary.


The was setup by the Instructional Technology Department to provide educators with easily accessible online resources. I've used it during workshops and recommended it to teachers who were seeking more information on a workshop topic. It includes some helpful teaching resources, as well as district examples of technology being used in the classroom. I hope that as the wiki grows we will be able to include more collaborators and take advantage of some of the great ideas in our district. See something you could add to it? Check it out and let us know.

Doodle: Easy Scheduling

Need to set up a meeting? If you're tired of sending out "reply to all" e-mails, calling or trying to meet with each member to see when they can meet, then Doodle might be for you. Within minutes you can send a "poll" to gather responses from the group on when to schedule a meeting (see below) or where to eat dinner. This site is very easy to use and e-mails you when group members respond to your poll. Each member can reach the poll and see the responses of the other members. You can even try it out without setting up an account.

Internet Safety: A Different Approach

I spoke on the topic of Internet Safety at Vienna Elementary's PTA meeting last Tuesday. I appreciated the warm reception I received from the PTA members and those who stayed for the discussion. I felt past Internet Safety workshops/ presentations I had attended had occasionally been disproportionately negative in dealing with Internet safety. The presentations would sometimes outline all the "doom and gloom" of the Internet and leave the audience feeling they should cancel their ISP and disconnect the computer. I opened with a short clip from the PBS Frontline series "Growing Up Online" (included below) where Danah Boyd addresses the need for us as a society to deal with the fact that living online is an inevitable part of life in this age. I tried to frame my presentation around this idea. Internet Safety needs to take a balanced approach and deal with the education to create responsible digital citizens rather than just outlining the dangers on the Internet.

video retrieved from youtube

If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

If you post to a blog and no one comments does it make a sound? In an effort to get more feedback on our blog entries I am offering a special limited time offer. If you post an appropriate comment on the wsfcsintouch blog, Brian will come out to your house and wash your car*.
Perhaps I should reflect on the subjects of my posts. Maybe no one is fired up by printing or programming, but there has to be some post that will provoke you (dear reader) into a thoughtful comment. C'mon let's post some comments and put Brian to work.

Photo courtesy of

* Brian will be under no obligation legal or otherwise to come to your house to wash your car. This was a trick.

Making Every Page Printer-Friendly

Do you need to print just a section of a webpage? Want to save some toner or ink? Then you will love This free web page editor allows you to print only the area of the webpage you choose. Just enter the URL of the page and click start and begin to remove, isolate and move sections of the page until you have the page you'd like to print. Simple, effective and green.


Alice is a free software program that can be used to create computer animation. Although that might sound complex, I was impressed at how easy it was to use. Its "drop and drag" nature made it very simple to select 3D models and begin creating a series of moves they would perform. This might be a great way to allow kids to tell stories or present ideas, while gaining a introduction into programming.
Here is a short example of a clip I created using alice.


Educators at several schools have been setting up some great blogs that not only engage kids in blogging as a tool for instruction but showcase some of the great things they are doing in their classes and school. Blogs can also be a great way to share a quick video with your students, parents and visitors to the blog. I've included a short video clip from a recent blogging workshop.
Although it is not a comprehensive list, we have included addresses of some of the blogs in our system at Interested? Sign up for a workshop and start blogging.

In Search of a Video for Class?

Looking for a video clip to use in class? Youtube blocked? Try Teachertube (which Marlo blogged about last March) and Schooltube, which are two sites that strive to offer video clips for the classroom. The clips are screened for inappropriate content, and both can provide sources for video to support your lessons. Check out the Animaniacs 50 States and Capitals song included below. 
Teachertube and Schooltube can also be utilized to get ideas for lessons and see what other classes are doing. Both sites are free, but supported by ads.

If the network or the site is slow (which is my one complaint about Teachertube) or you'd like to pull in video from another source, the site will allow you covert an embedded video into a video file that can be played in Windows Media or Quicktime. There are some formats that are not supported but many are, and once you complete the process the link for downloading the file will be emailed to you when it is done converting. When I've done it, I've successfully gotten the email with the link in under an hour.


I've used a presentation tool for some time called ZoomIt, which I have downloaded on my flashdrive. This free download from Microsoft’s Windows Sysinternals includes a screen zoom, an annotation tool and a countdown clock. Many of these features are similar to parts of other software for interactive whiteboards, but ZoomIt's portability, simplicity and ease of use separates it from the others. The program will run on any PC and hide in the tray after you launch it. If you think this tool could help focus or emphasize parts of your lesson or presentation I’d suggest you download it and give it a try. Check out the short video beneath to witness the power of the zoom.

The Hole in the Wall Experiment

A physicist in India had a radical idea when he offered new opportunities to some of India’s poorest children. What would happen if they were given access to a free high speed Internet computer? Director/Reporter Rory O’Connor filmed some of this experiment forFRONTLINE/World and a video clip is available on the PBS site at Additional clips are available at This inspiring story addresses issues of the digital divide and shows the power of what can happen when new doors of information are opened.
Picture from

The Waiting is the Hardest Part

Since the beginning of the last school year I have been anticipating the release of Activarena, the software package that will allow multiple pens on an Activboard. The Promethean website describes the Activarena as a pack upgrade that allow classrooms to “become dynamic arenas for team-based activities, projects, competition and group projects.” That sounds great… When can I get it?

The software updates of Activstudio which included the addition of a “Multi-User” section on the dashboard gave me the impression a release was imminent. The site currently lists it as being available for your classroom in mid 2008 and says to “Imagine the potential of two, three, or more students working together, or teachers working collaboratively with students at the same time.”

I can imagine it; when can I get it?

I watched the countdown on the prometheanworld website and assumed it was for Activarena, instead it was the new version of the prometheanplanet website.

The last update I heard was Activarena would be built into the new version of Activstudio set for release sometime early 2009.

Of course I want them to get it right before they release it, but at this point my expectations for this new software will be high given the wait.