Saturday, May 23, 2009


WolframAlpha was just recently released, and it's taken me a little while to get my head around this. The description on the site reads "computational knowledge engine," and it looks like an amazing step towards having a website yield answers rather than search results. So instead of entering a search term, you enter data or a question, and WA attempts to compute and answer the question. Here are the details from my test drive.
Type "winston salem" (below) and WolframAlpha quickly delivers data about Winston-Salem.
Type in "winston salem weather"(above), and you'll receive an amazing amount of information about the current weather and how it compares to the data readings from past Winston-Salem weather.
Try plugging in your height and weight, and WA will give you data about BMI, basal metabolic rate, body fluids and typical organ properties.
Finally, type in a question and WolframAlpha will try to answer it. If your query doesn't include enough information, you'll get "Alpha isn't sure what to do with your input."
However, you might be surprised what WA will answer (see below).
So WolframAlpha is great at delivering a wealth of data on a subject or answering a question with amazing speed. This could be a huge step in the ways we (and students) interact with technology. And it's even friendly. . . sort of.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Classroom Connections with Skype

One of the best ways to introduce technology into the classroom without having to purchase a lot of equipment is to use Skype as a free video conferencing tool. Skype is the application covered in the Creating  Global Connections workshop offered by my department. And it really goes a long way towards making communication and collaboration with other classrooms or Skype users easy.  Many educators and classrooms in our district are already using Skype to connect with other classrooms and engage in some collaborative projects. Some are still looking for classrooms to contact. I'd like to help more classrooms get connected. If you are interested in getting started and would like to contact a classroom across the county before you communicate around the world, these are some folks who might be able to help.

Ms. Hutchens (Skype name leahhutchens) at Ward has been using Skype with her kindergarten class to contact places like California and Australia this year.  Sam Walker (Skype name swalker21) at Bolton used Skype to set up a guest speaker for his school and has teachers currently working with classrooms around the district—like Ms. Lee at Southwest (Skype name>heidi.lynn.lee) and Ms. Edwards from Diggs (Skype name mwedwards815). In addition to the contact with Bolton, Ms. Edwards recently skyped a classroom in Georgia she’d contacted through the Skypeinschools wiki. Her experiences are detailed on her blog.  If you are looking for a middle school class to get in touch with, Nanette Naylor at Philo (Skype name nmnaylor) is looking for Skyping partners for some of her classrooms. And finally, you can always Skype with me (Skype name emaiden3). At the very least I think I can help you get started finding another class to Skype with.

Recently I was shadowed for a day by a WSFCS student for the SLIDE program. I tried to think of a ways to have her use technology in a meaningful way while she was here in the department. That afternoon I had her Skype in with classrooms at Bolton and Diggs, and I bet that was the best part of her day with me. Using Skype she was able to speak to and engage with students around our district who got a chance to ask questions of a high school student in her last semester here in WSFCS schools. 

I think that is the real power of Skype—to engage students and create connections with other learners and classes far outside the walls of the building. 

Monday, May 18, 2009

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Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Ahead in the Cloud

I love cloud computing. Cloud computing refers to having your files and content stored not on the physical computer, but rather "in the cloud" that is the Internet. In a cloud your information is no longer tied to a specific computer or device but can be accessed from any computer. So you don't rely on the computer hardrive or flashdrive. In a recent workshop I commented to the group that if my computer fell in a lake I would be sad, but it wouldn't be the catastrophic event it would have once been because I have some of my content stored online.

Now there are drawbacks to being in the cloud. In order to get to your stuff you have to be online, and if you can't connect to the Internet, you can't get to your data. In addition, you must be willing to give into the idea that your data is online, and security for that data is in the hands of an online entity. There is a trust issue with cloud computing, so I don't plan to have all of my data online. But if Google wants to scan through my Google docs for my Powerpoint presentation files or my fantasy football draft 2008 spreadsheet, so be it. If the price for having all my delicious bookmarks available to me all the time from any computer is having them available to everyone, then count me in. And many of us have used some form of web-based email account (or accounts) for years. Now most of the applications I use on a daily basis could be described as cloud applications.

I'm not the only one that is onboard with cloud computing and thinks it could impact the future of education. The 2009 Horizon Report, which identifies emerging technology trends in education, listed cloud computing as one of the six technologies likely to enter future mainstream adopted use in K-12 education within the next two to three years. Part of the draw is how easy it is to collaborate using cloud applications, but another benefit that might drive this will be the money saved. When data is in the cloud (in most cases) you're not paying to store and back it all up. At this time I am using 24 MB (0%) of my 7323 MB inbox. And in a cloud, you don't spend funds on software. I'm not sure I would spend any money on programs that need to be installed on a workstation or server because in many cases there is a good web-based alternative that is often free.

Sometime soon maybe all students will really need on a computer will be a browser; everything else could be up in the cloud.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Revisiting Some Great Presentation Tools

As a kid I used to hate it when my favorite TV show would have an episode full of flashbacks to previous episodes. But this is completely different. :)
I'd just like to give a second look at a few presentation tools reviewed in earlier posts on this blog that I've used and enjoyed. Sometimes I will use Powerpoint for a presentation - it's comfortable but predictable. I've enjoyed using the following web-based tools as an alternative to good old Powerpoint and think you might as well.
  • Vuvox - Vuvox was reviewed by Brian on the WSFCS blog this past January , still has the linear feel of Powerpoint but with more flow and pazazz. You can create "hotspots" within the sliding presentation images to include hyperlinks and different forms of media. You'll need to set up a free account to start using, but I think you'll find it is a nice alternative to Powerpoint while still being similar in nature.
  • Prezi - Evan blogged about Prezi back in March on our dept blog calling his post "Presentation 2.0." And part of Prezi's appeal is its presentations offer a nonlinear feel to them. You still create a path or map to text, pictures, media, etc... but the movement in Prezi allows the presentation to spiral, zoom and spin around the content. When used properly this produces a very engaging presentation. Like Vuvox you just need to setup a free account with Prezi to get started.
  • Pageflakes-Pageflakes was the subject of one of my blog posts earlier this month. Although Pageflakes isn't exactly intended to be a presentation tool (like Vuvox or Prezi), it offers a great way to present information. In Pageflakes you can set up an entire page with content related to a subject. I tried this out in a Google Earth workshop recently, where I created a page filled with content related to Google Earth (links, RSS feeds, video and text) instead of a Powerpoint. I don't think I'd try this with every presentation, but I think it worked well for this workshop.

So there they are; a few flashbacks errr..."gems" from past blog entries to help change the ways we look at presentations.