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Free Stuff for Teachers, Homeschoolers, and Students
An Educators' News Feature
August 23, 2010
When I was working as a regular columnist for various Mac-centric websites, I found my most popular columns were often ones that featured free stuff. Off and on over the years, I've continued to put out various columns that are compilations of freeware, free web sites, and open source applications that have appeared on Educators' News and might be useful to teachers and students. The columns usually appeared as a year-end roundup sometime in December. This year I decided such a column might really be more useful to teachers at the beginning of the school year (although I'll probably do one in December as well).
The following is a look back at the freewares, free web sites, open source applications, and a few other goodies that have appeared on Educators' News over the last twelve months (with a few extras thrown in). It's roughly organized by month in reverse chronological order, although I have frequently combined similar postings to make a more coherent and less redundant read. (Can you guess how many times over a year OpenOffice gets updated...and mentioned on Educators' News?)
I hope you find something that may be of benefit to you and your students.
A New York Times article by Ashlee Vance, Slow Progress for Open Source Textbooks, tells of Scott McNealy's efforts to expand the use of free, open source textbooks through the non-profit site, Curriki. Vance does a nice job of summarizing where the open source textbook movement is right now, along with a few good McNealy quotes. What the article doesn't say is that Curriki appears to be a good source for lots of free curriculum ideas for teachers well beyond just textbooks. I quickly got off on a unit from their Monthly Most Popular list, Dynamic Earth Pop-up Book. It's definitely worth a look.
While messing around with Curriki and doing some searches about it (Wikipedia entry), I ran across Mashable Features Editor Josh Catone's Back to School: 10 Terrific Web Apps for Teachers from last fall. Looking it over, many of the apps listed might still be beneficial for teachers today.
And while I was messing around, I couldn't help wonder how I missed Curriki when I did my Resource Sites for Teachers and The Freewares of 2009 features articles last year. Other candidates for my "Oops" award might be the Connixions and MIT Open Courseware sites.
An eSchool News article, Oceanographer touts deep sea web surfing, led me to an interesting site for students and science teachers. Nautilus Live uses live feeds from cameras on the Okeanos Explorer and Nautilus to share their exploration this summer of ancient wrecks in the Black and Aegean Seas and the Pacific Ocean. The site is the creation of Dr. Bob Ballard, the explorer best known for the discovery of the Titanic.
When I checked the site one morning, one of the ships was recovering the submersible vehicles after a dive in the Aegean. On another visit to the site, I caught one of their dives and was impressed with the live feed from the submersible with sound from the vehicle and the controller on the surface.
Another Ballard site, Immersion, has lots of science info that could be useful to teachers.
June was pretty much a washout for free stuff on Educators' News (and around the web). But a funny cartoon that apparently had been floating around the web for months caught my attention when it appeared on Michael Doyle's excellent Science Teacher blog. The cartoon is a parody of a Three Stooges movie poster with images of Arne Duncan, the Rev. Al Sharpton, and Newt Gingrich superimposed over Stooges' photos with their names beneath. I thought the cartoon was a riot, but it also has some soberingly accurate text about what the Obama Administration's "reform" plan for education will do. (Click on the image to see a larger view with readable print.) While the link above is just to the cartoon entry, I think Mike Doyle's Science Teacher blog is one of the best teacher blogs online today.
Note: Maybe I was missing something, but the image that appeared on Mike's site and elsewhere on the web omitted Arne Duncan's photo. I photoshopped it in.
Teacher Appreciation Day
I wonder how many teachers would know when National Teacher Appreciation Day occurs if their union or parent association didn't remind them in some nice way? Teacher Appreciation Day is part of National Teacher Appreciation Week, as designated by some entity or other. I try to stay current with important dates and Hallmark Holidays using The Teacher's Corner monthly calendars. In May this year, I almost missed the big day, as I forgot to do my irregularly published Looking Ahead feature at the end of April. Fortunately, a posting and link on An Urban Teacher's Education led to an item about Teacher Appreciation Day on The Dark Side of the Chalkboard.
I'd guess there are probably hundreds of such calendars available online. I settled on The Teacher's Corner because it was free, and I probably was too lazy to hunt for anything better. Beyond monthly calendars available well ahead of time, the site has daily writing prompts and do-it-yourself printable calendars.
BTW: Teacher Appreciation Week for 2011 is May 2-6 with May 3 designated as Teacher Appreciation Day (courtesy of Apples4theTeacher).
While we're talking about calendars, let me tell you about a good freeware I found years ago. I used to watch folks at school struggle with spreadsheets and such trying to create printable monthly calendars of events. Since the folks struggling with the task had switched over to PCs, I didn't bother telling them of a dandy, free, and at that time, Mac-only, application called Mom's Calendar that I've had posted on the mathdittos2 Freebies page for years.
When I was updating an archive page on Educators' News, I checked the link for Lucky Me Software and found that Mom's Calendar is now available for Macs and Windows! You can print out just a blank calendar, add info, and even have the calendar rendered in HTML. For the price (free), you can't beat it!
While I was rummaging around my old school files, I ran into some coloring calendars our kids had done the last year I was in the classroom. I put together calendars based on DLTK's Free Printable Custom Calendars page. They have lots of themed calendars, but I chose to put together eight different cartoon character calendars and let the kids choose which one they wanted. They included dinosaurs, Dragon Tales, Hello Kitty, Pooh, Strawberry Shortcake, Veggie Tales, and a couple of mixed character ones that picked up SpongeBob SquarePants, Monsters Inc., and a few other kid favorites.
The activity was a great success, but it took a bit of time to complete. After choosing their calendar, the students colored the outline drawings on each page. Why color (heavily) with crayons? It's like weightlifting for special ed kids' fine motor control. Then we stapled the individual pages together and sent them home before Christmas vacation.
I'm not sure how the folks at DLTK get around copyright issues with the images, but the site has been there for years without much change. Do note that when I tried to recreate a few calendars for this posting, I found that I needed to grab a screenshot of each calendar page, rather than printing a hard copy or saving them to a PDF file.
And if you're wondering by now about what I taught, my last assignment was K-3 special education. Over the years, I also taught regular sixth grade, a class for developmentally delayed third graders, and multi-age and grade grouped 4-6. My college student teaching was in U.S. and World History!
Tom Rademaker of Oak Hill High School in Indiana sent me an email and link about a new, "free," online polling tool. Poll Everywhere allows users to set up a limited online poll, such as the sample at right that I created this morning. More extensive services are available for a fee, of course.
Tom was looking for "an inexpensive [free?] student response system [clickers]" when he "stumbled" across the Poll Everywhere site. While he concluded the tool probably wouldn't fit his needs, he also saw some interesting possibilities with it. Polls can be embedded in web pages or in PowerPoint presentations. Tom successfully embedded a Poll Everywhere question on one of his Moodle courses. The PowerPoint feature seems pretty cool, as such embedded polls can dynamically update and can be used for audience questions. People may respond by "sending a SMS text message, using a smartphone's web browser, sending a 'tweet' on the Twitter service, or on a computer via the web."
Poll Everywhere offers a first free poll to all users that sounds a lot like "The first hit is free." They also have a limited free option for K-12 educators that looks to be workable for a daily, weekly, or monthly class poll. I can see more opportunities for using this audience response system at workshops or conventions than in the classroom. But it's an interesting idea.
NASA Shuttle Launch Simulator
NASA is offering a free computer simulation program that allows students "to take on the roles of NASA engineers and launch the shuttle from their own classrooms." The KLASS (Kennedy Launch Academy Simulation System) program "is based on software used for training at the shuttle Launch Control Center at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida." Designed for sixth- through 10th-grade students, it gives "students the chance to monitor important shuttle systems during a launch countdown and decide whether they are 'go' for liftoff. They will work together as a team and learn about the different responsibilities behind-the-scenes of a shuttle launch." Lesson plans and interactive resources for teachers are also available.
I haven't tried KLASS as yet, as it's a Windows-only application that is a bit beyond my old PC's capabilities. It sounds interesting, although the narrator of their promotional video is a bit "over the top" in her enthusiasm.
Oil Spill Resources
Pensacola Junior College's WSRE (PBS) has created what looks like a good web page of resources for parents and teachers to help children understand the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill Crisis. It has links to lots of related information along with a brief glossary of new vocabulary words students may encounter when learning about oil spills.
An eSchool News posting alerted me to the rebranding of the Our Courts site inspired by former Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O'Connor to an expanded version now called iCivics. Free, online role-playing games on iCivics include “Do I Have A Right,” in which the player runs a virtual firm specializing in constitutional law; “Executive Command,” which offers a chance to play president; “Supreme Decision,” about the Supreme Court; “Branches of Power,” which gives the player control of all three branches of government; and “LawCraft,” in which the player is a member of Congress.
Fair Use Help
The Library of Congress has a new online professional development interactive, Copyright and Library of Congress Primary Sources. It's an excellent introduction to the fair use doctrine that can allow teachers to use copyrighted material on web pages, printouts, and in other ways without payment of royalties.
The 20 minute tutorial provides an excellent framework for teachers to evaluate their use of LOC and other published materials. I liked that it provides several specific examples of how teachers may or may not use copyrighted material.
Fair use is obviously a sticky wicket for teachers. I've written about it several times over the last year. The LOC interactive is one of the easiest and most understandable tutorials I've seen on the subject. Other LOC online modules currently available include Introduction to the Library of Congress, Analyzing Primary Sources: Photographs and Prints, and Analyzing Primary Sources: Maps.
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©2010 Steven L. Wood