...dedicated to...hmmm, we're still figuring that one out...
Free Stuff for Teachers, Homeschoolers, and Students: Page 2
An Educators' News Feature
August 23, 2010
If you somehow wandered into the middle of this column, it may make more sense to start with page 1.
Sites for Teachers
I'm on lots of mailing lists and monitor quite a few RSS feeds from all kinds of education sites. April began with a bevy of emails about various site updates. The first was from the Library of Congress and led me to their updated Prints and Photographs Online Catalog. It has recently been redesigned to include "full-page galleries, savable searches, and easy-to-bookmark pages." I found lots of interesting photos and political cartoons. Many of the images can be easily downloaded, although some don't seem to work that way. Since I'm now retired from full-time teaching and an avid gardener, I gravitated toward their page of World War I Victory Garden images. The Sow the Seeds of Victory image at right really caught my fancy. Sow the seeds of victory! Plant & raise your own vegetables was created in 1918 by James Montgomery Flagg.
eSchool News's SEN Teacher promotes free resources for special needs students led me to the SEN Teacher site that specializes in free "teaching & learning resources for students with special needs and learning disabilities."
I ran across what I think is an excellent free image site for teachers and students several years ago. When I began to cut and paste daily postings from Educators' News to make this column, I found that I mention the Pics4Learning site quite often. Their site descriptor may give an idea of why I like the site so much:
I like the idea of a site of free images for teachers that doesn't require login or requests for permission to use images. Teachers developing materials don't need one more thing to do when preparing materials for their classes. Of course, fair use allows us to use a lot of copyrighted material, but can sometimes raise legal questions that we often lack the expertise to solve.
One can just browse the site, search by keyword, browse their 100 Most Popular, or even find all the images by one contributor. My page of contributions is shown at left. It generally takes a week or two for images contributed to be posted to the site, as each image is screened by the site.
Sharing images on the site doesn't invalidate copyright claims you may have on photos, other than allowing students and teachers to use the images you share "in print, multimedia, and video productions. These could include, but are not limited to, school projects, contests, web pages, and fund raising activities for the express purpose of improving student educational opportunities." (See image use statement.) If you lack a web site or are limited on bandwidth, Pics4Learning can provide an outlet for your images for other educators to use.
Since I really am retired now, I get to go out and do some of those things working folks have trouble getting around to. When I was clearing out some nasty, scrub thorn trees that threatened to take over part of our East Garden this spring, I noticed a nest of very fat, healthy, baby birds. By the time I got my camera, the mourning dove was back on the nest protecting her brood...and watching me very closely, so I grabbed a shot of her and shared it on Pics4Learning and our Desktop Photos page. A few weeks later, I got a shot of earthworms mating, something science teachers often cover, and again shared it on the site. Finding the squabs (mourning dove babies are also called squabs, as are domestic pigeon babies) made me think of pleasant days reading Johnny Tremain with or to some of my classes years ago.
About School Gardens
A 2008 posting about school gardens, especially school vegetable gardens, told of Sowing the Seeds of Gardening in which Jacqueline Mroz tells about the successful Princeton School Gardens program. The Princeton Regional Schools have 15 garden plots that are "being used to teach subjects like math, science and language arts." One of the schools, Riverside Elementary, has a great page of photos and descriptions about their various garden plots. The Princeton School Garden Cooperative has "written a guide (3.1 MB PDF document) that contains the steps for composting, planning and planting your edible garden as well as lesson plans and curriculum links for math, social studies, language arts, science, visual arts and health."
Those thinking about a school garden of some type should find the guide linked above and some of the links below helpful.
Serious Skin Disorder?
I guess I could write about all the space and astronomy images available online any month of the year. It just seemed that I wrote about most of them last March. I threw in the image above, A Burst of Spring, from the NASA Image of the Day Gallery because it looked so unspacelike. It really is "streaks of dark basaltic sand [that] have been carried from below the ice layer to form fan-shaped deposits on top of the seasonal ice" on the surface of Mars.
I frequently feature photos from the NASA Image of the Day and the Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) sites on Educators' News such as the galaxy photo (banner) below. Both sources have a well written explanation of each photo posted.
Panorama of the Whale Galaxy, which appeared as the Astronomy Picture of the Day on May 17, 2010, is a 3000 x 753 pixel composite of NGC 4631. The spiral galaxy's slightly distorted wedge shape when seen edge-on led to its popular moniker of the Whale galaxy. The dimensions of the photo (41.667 x 10.458 inches, according to my copy of Photoshop) immediately made me think of its potential as a banner to go above one's chalkboard or whiteboard (if you have a banner printer ). The Whale galaxy is about 30 million light-years away and spans about 140,000 light years. It can be seen with a small telescope toward the constellation of the Hunting Dogs (Canes Venatici). (Full size image)
Another NASA Image of the Day from January was this stunning shot of Saturn. The moon on the right in the image is Rhea. The photo also shows the shadow of another moon, Tethys, on the left. Multiple images were taken using red, green and blue spectral filters and combined to create this natural color view. "The images were obtained with the Cassini spacecraft wide-angle camera on November 4, 2009, at a distance of approximately 808,000 miles from Saturn." As with all images from the NASA Image of the Day Gallery, this one was available for download in a variety of sizes.
If you're teaching Earth and Space Science, the many online sources for space images can be a real gold mine for instructional material. But even for classroom teachers, the images can add a lot to science instruction and for classroom decoration. I used to print and hang in the hall the Astronomy Picture of the Day each day until so many students were stopping to read the photos that I was asked to take them down! I continued printing them daily, hanging them in my room and later putting them into binders. During down time, I'd often find a group of my struggling readers sitting together looking at the APODs of old.
In 2002, I put together a feature story, Out of this World Desktop Pictures about using space photos in the classroom and as computer desktops. While the article is getting a bit long in the tooth, I do go back occasionally and update links on it and keep the list of sources of photos current. For your convenience, here's that list:
Dr. Tony Phillips's Science@NASA Headline News sort of disappeared off my radar last year. I found that there had been a reorganization at NASA, with his old link now leading to NASA Science, a very good source, but not what I wanted. The RSS feed for iTunes versions also went dead (and is still down). But once I found the right link, I was back to posting links to the excellent articles on his site written by Dr. Phillips and others in vocabulary appropriate for middle through high school students. The postings include audio files and other language versions.
Some of my favorites this year on Science@NASA include:
I also find Dr. Phillips's site a good way to stay current on happenings in astronomy so I don't miss writing about something like the Perseid meteor shower or the recent and very cool alignment/conjunction of Venus, Saturn, Mars and the Moon.
My favorite, free planetarium and astronomy software, Stellarium, is a great tool to illustrate how the sky will look at a certain time for your students. I used Stellarium to help me locate where in our night sky the recent conjunction of Venus, Saturn, Mars and the Moon would be. Since we had cloudy skies on the night said to be the best viewing, the Stellarium projection at right for August 13, 2010, at around 9:30 P.M. (EDT) allowed me to zero in on the exact location to watch. I had my camera gear ready for the conjunction and wound up with some smashing and surprising shots, including one of the moons of Mars.
Stellarium is absolutely fantastic for answering student questions such as, "What was that bright 'star' last night in the west?" Setup involves putting in the current time and date if the application doesn't automatically pick it up from your computer (it should). The application offers an extensive list of locations so that you can localize the display to accurately show your area's night sky. If you're like me and want to set your exact locale, you can enter your latitude and longitude, which are easily found in Google Earth.
Options in the software allow one to add (or leave out) star and planet names and even adjust which ones to show by brightness. Constellation names and lines may also be displayed. At left and right are Stellarium projections from last February of the constellation Orion.
I noticed the latest version of Stellarium now displays the Milky Way! It's available for Windows, Linux, and Macintosh, and in my experience, will work on some pretty old, clunky equipment. And since it's free, I really think it's one piece of software every teacher should have on their hard drive.
Poetry for Oral Reading
Another one of those mailing list emails took me to Ginny Thompson's tip on daily poetry reading. Ginny has "one student a day read one self-selected poem a day." She allows time and support for preparation, of course. Ginny recommended several poetry books in her tip and a link to Bruce Lansky's Giggle Poetry site. Her tip appears on the NEA Works4Me site.
My favorite poetry books for oral classroom reading remain the works of Shel Silverstein. Where the Sidewalk Ends and A Light in the Attic were always available to my students from my personal book collection, along with other Silverstein works from the school library. Photocopied pages of the poems often were used as coloring sheets by students.
OpenOffice for Kids (OOo4kids) is a relatively new, open source project that has created a slimmed-down version of the OpenOffice.org productivity suite. The project provides a word processor, spreadsheet, draw, and presentation modules with simplified controls targeted for children between the ages of 7 and 12. It could also be quite useful for older computer users who might appreciate the larger than standard controls and a simplified interface.
I've tried all the modules and found them all quite responsive and workable. The word processor can open .doc format files, but isn't yet up to .docx files. The presentation module looks and feels like PowerPoint or the presentation module of OpenOffice. I imported a large PowerPoint file without difficulty in about the same time the full Open Office takes.
The spreadsheet is limited to 128 lines, but for me, imported and opened a file with large, easily read entries. I'll leave any review of the draw module to others who may possess some artistic talent. Technically, it works.
OpenOffice for Kids is available as a free download in versions for the Windows, Linux, and Mac operating systems. I've added it to our Freebies page of free software for educators.
Since I'm writing about OpenOffice open source software already, I'll insert that the full OpenOffice.org suite is currently at version 3.2.1. Obviously, it's a good, free alternative to Microsoft Office. NeoOffice, a full-featured set of office applications (including word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation programs) for Mac OS X based on the OpenOffice.org suite, is at version 3.1.1. I did mini reviews on both OpenOffice and NeoOffice in The Freewares of 2009.
If you're looking for software for your classroom, be sure to check out osalt.com for free, open source alternatives to commercial programs. It has an easy-to-use interface that allows one to look for open source software by categories or by specific commercial program.
Sandra McCarron published an incredible list of periodic tables in February on her Reflections of a Science Teacher blog. A Dozen or so Charts of the Elements is a chemistry geek's Christmas. There are links to standard, online periodic tables, interactive ones, printables, periodic tables augmented with videos "demonstrating properties of the elements and describing them," and an interactive periodic table game.
Gosh, I wish there were blogs back when I was teaching. Heck, I wish these resources existed when I was struggling through chemistry class!
iPhone (iPod Touch) Apps
One could obviously do a whole series of columns on applications for the iPod Touch and the new iPad. It appears the iPad could be a game changer in classroom technology, but it's still a bit early to throw out ones desktops and laptops. Here are the free apps I've featured since January on Educators' News, often gleaned from the App Store's Top Free Applications RSS feed. Ethan Productions Today in History, The American Museum of Natural History's Dinosaurs, Space Images from NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and Dr. Tony Phillips's 3D Sun all proved well worth the download and might have some use in the classroom.
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory's 3D Brain has also made the iTunes Top 10 for free apps. It's getting some pretty nice reviews from users and might be useful in the classroom on iPod Touches or iPads. It also works well on my iPhone 3G.
Another app, Color Me !!! Lite, is really just a two coloring page come-on for their full app, Color Me !!! The come-on definitely worked on me, as I bought both the full version of Color Me !!! and SID's Hidden Stories apps. I found the small screen coloring experience pretty good, despite my old, fat fingers. Hidden Stories presents a series of animated images, but no audio, and requires the user to wipe the screen to expose the images. One is left to add their own story line. Both apps could use a bit more development, but were worth the 99¢ download fee. I expect to get some good use out of both with our grandkids.
Working with Color Me, I was reminded of Robin Landsbert's excellent classic Mac OS application, Mirror Paint. One of my granddaughters always wants to color with its kaleidoscope effects on my G5 Mac. I had erroneously assumed the free application remained in the classic-only category, but found upon checking, that Robin has produced an excellent OS X version of it for both PPC and Intel based Macs.
When I wrote about Mirror Paint in February, there wasn't a handheld device version out. But when I checked today while doing the final edit on this piece, I found that Robin has cranked out both a MirrorPaint Lite and a 99¢ MirrorPaint version for the iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad. (And yeah, you can guess that little piece of information cost me 99¢. I'm a sucker for apps for my grandkids,)
Mirror Paint was one of the applications we put on every one of our take-home Macs for my special education students.
Museums on the App Store
While on the subject of apps for handheld devices, I noticed that a number of museums have apps in Apple's Top Free Apps listing. MoMA for iPhone by The Museum of Modern Art in New York allows users "to find out about current exhibitions, plan a visit, browse or search tens of thousands of works in the collection, take multimedia tours, or learn about artists and art terms." The Library of Congress - Virtual Tour gives users "a virtual tour that mirrors the Library of Congress Experience, an award-winning group of exhibitions and features that has drawn record numbers of visitors." Likewise, AMNH Explorer helps folks find their way around the American Museum of Natural History.
The Smithsonian takes a bit more creative tack with their MEanderthal app, asking, "Do you look like your relatives? Your prehistoric relatives? Try morphing yourself backward in time with MEanderthal. You might be surprised when you see your face transformed into the face of an early human with the Smithsonian Institution's first-ever mobile app." Obviously, you can also transform others, as I did with the image of a public figure at right. (Click on the image to reveal the Smithsonian output along with who the image really is.)
From the posted comments, it would appear the iPhone (iPod Touch) application has been pretty helpful for those going to Haiti to help with relief efforts. There's also a free online version (free registration required) for Haitian Creole on the company's site.
Math Dittos 2
We started off the year at mathdittos2.com by announcing that the MATH DITTOS 2 series of unique, fact supported worksheets for teaching basic computation were being re-released as freeware. Each page in the series presents a limited number of problems with plenty of workspace. The facts necessary to complete each problem are always presented on the page in a fact reference and practice section. The MD2 series currently consists of three complete "workbooks" and one pre-release incomplete workbook published as computer documents in Adobe Acrobat PDF format.
The Addition & Subtraction workbook and the Division pre-release pages have been reworked and are available for download as freewares. Subtraction and Multiplication have not, but the unlocking codes for the shareware downloads are posted on their individual pages.
These materials were written for students in my special ed classroom. They and other teachers and students have pretty thoroughly shaken the bugs out of the program. It takes a good bit longer than the traditional approach to computation, but for kids who have real trouble retaining math facts, they're a godsend.
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©2010 Steven L. Wood