...dedicated to...hmmm, we're still figuring that one out...



Free Stuff for Teachers, Homeschoolers, and Students - 2011
An Educators' News Feature
August 23, 2011

If you somehow wandered into the last page of this column, you may want to start with page 1.

April, 2011

Autism Curriculum

A CEC SmartBrief had a link to a T.H.E. Journal article, CARD Launches Grant Program To Develop Autism Curriculum. The report points readers to The Center for Autism and Related Disorders' Skills 4 America and Card Skills pages. According to T.H.E. Journal, the organization "is offering one-year scholarships to Skills, a Web-based tool for parents and educators to develop lesson plans and track students' progress in eight sectors of child development."

That's not a lot of information about the site or program, but it may point you in the right direction.

Teachers' Domain (Again)

Frozen frogThe Teachers' Domain monthly newsletter is always filled with interesting links from this fabulous site. (The newsletter comes as part of the free membership on the WGBH site.) But the April Newsletter really surprised me with its diversity of postings. It featured Frozen Frogs, "a video adapted from NOVA scienceNOW that shows how the common wood frog survives cold winters." But the first link on their Poetry Everywhere section, Selected Haiku by Issa, had "former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Hass reading a translation of haiku by the 18th century Japanese poet, Kubayashi Issa" and me laughing.

Other items of interest highlighted in the newsletter include:

  • The documentary film, Freedom Riders, tells the powerful story of a courageous band of civil rights activists called "Freedom Riders" which took brave and decided actions to dismantle the structures of discrimination through nonviolence.
  • Anatomy of a Tsunami examines how the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami was triggered, how its waves traveled and what happened on impact.  
  • Nuclear Reaction: Meltdown (Frontline) describes the events that led to the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster.
  • I'm Watching You 24/7 studies the characteristics of totalitarianism, using contemporary North Korea as a focal point.

I mention Teachers' Domain several times each year on Educators' News. It's one of those excellent, free, teacher resource sites that bears repeating.

Since writing the posting above in April, WGBH and PBS have begun folding content from the Teachers' Domain into a new site, PBS LearningMedia. From the Teachers’ Domain home page:

Teachers’ Domain is expanding into PBS LearningMedia, a next-generation digital media platform that empowers PreK-16 educators to re-imagine learning, transform teaching, and engage students. Look forward to over twice the content, plus new features and functions. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for more updates.

Educators' News Tenth Anniversary Edition

Happy Birthday, Educators' NewsHmmmI began publishing Educators' News on April 18, 2001. By simple math, that should have made us ten years old on Monday, April 18, 2011. But that would be a lot like a couple that says they've been married ten years, but were separated a bunch of years in between! I closed up shop for the most part on EdNews two years after its inception, making only occasional postings for several years when the caseload for my special ed class was simply overwhelming. After taking early retirement in 2004 and moving to work as a teacher liaison of a prestigious school of engineering's K-12 outreach program, postings picked up a bit, but still weren't what one could call regular. Becoming unexpectedly unemployed in 2008, I resumed regular publication of this site and have continued it as I moved into "full retirement."

I pulled out all the stops and used some old stuff and all of my canned filler items to make a whopping Tenth Anniversary Edition for our "birthday." The graphics at the top of this section were pulled from the old Claris Home Page application, an early graphical web page editor I quickly turned to after beginning this site. I also used them here a couple of years ago when we turned eight. I still fire up Home Page from time to time when the code in an old page is so munged that Dreamweaver can't figure it out.

Over the last ten years, the primary focus of Educators' News has been teaching and the technology we use to help us do that job. With the advent of the current school "reform" movement, some of that focus has shifted to news of what is going on in the name of improving education around the country and becoming a voice for reason in school improvement. I'm currently trying to throttle my political views a bit in favor of more tools and just plain cool stuff teachers may enjoy.

Anyway, it turned out pretty nice.

The Morning After Edition

"Then Tuesday morning dawned, and I once again started from scratch for the day's posting." After publishing a super posting for the tenth anniversary of Educators' News, the reality of daily publishing hit me the next day. I wrote a column about it, The Morning After Edition.

May, 2011

Middle School Chemistry Curriculum

Middle School ChemistryThe article, New online chemistry curriculum targets middle schoolers, pointed me to the American Chemical Society's Middle School Chemistry site. Their about page describes Middle School Chemistry as "a resource of guided, inquiry-based lesson plans that covers basic chemistry concepts along with the process of scientific investigation." The site delivers the chemistry curriculum in the form of lesson plans, related multimedia, and a downloadable teacher's guide (20.4 MB PDF Document).

When I briefly delved into the site, I found well-developed, age-appropriate lesson plans that were easy to understand and included a number of online and downloadable videos to illustrate concepts. The plans include all the usual parts of a good lesson plan, and clearly denote necessary demonstration and activity preparations and safety precautions.

Note that the teacher's guide lacks both a table of contents and an index. If you wish to cherry pick lessons or lesson parts, searching the guide in the Adobe Reader or browsing are your only options. The site's lesson plans and multimedia are very well organized with the online equivalent of a table of contents.

As I looked through the information provided, I was reminded of the original AAAS Science: A Process Approach we used in the 70s, minus the materials kits (which we often had to combine and augment to make work for our classes). The AAAS Archive notes, "Despite evidence that SAPA was more effective than traditional teaching methods, the program never achieved the market penetration that had been hoped." Frankly, the program scared some teachers to death, so it got watered down a bit and heavily scripted in its SAPA II iteration. But hey, we had kids using hydrogen generators in sixth grade and doing the classic chemistry experiment of identifying oxygen, carbon dioxide, and hydrogen!

Lesson Plan Multimedia Teacher's Guide
Lesson Plan
Teacher's Guide

My perusal of the site was limited, but what I saw looked very useable.

iPad Site(s)

Crestview iPadsI found a gem at the end of Five ways readers are using iPads in the classroom on eSchool News. The writers of an otherwise so-so article inexplicably leave mention of Beau Barrett's Crestview iPads blog to the last page. A quote from Barrett caught my attention, though, as he really seems to have his act together in using technology to help his students:

I placed iBooks, Kindle, and USA Today on the bottom bar of my iPad, not in a folder. I put these apps here [because] reading on our iPad is one of the most popular things the students use the iPad for. This way, students are able to easily locate the reading apps with no searching necessary. In a nutshell, I organize our classroom iPad for the convenience of student use and somewhat my own. This way, the students feels more like the iPad belongs to them, rather than something the teacher lets them use.

Barrett has a lot of good info on his relatively new blog about iPad apps and organization of the devices. He also highly recommends the AppAdvice site.

While I published this notice in June, it fits better with the item above. The Accelerated Readericon now has an iPhone (iPad) app.


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Rough Draft of DeclarationJune, 2011

The Library of Congress Steps Up Its Game

The Library of Congress site began to effectively promote their primary source sets available for teachers (and the general public) this year through their email advisories and some well written columns about their collections. While one might think of the LOC as a dusty old museum of documents, it can be a treasure trove for social studies teachers.

Join or DieIn June, I first noticed their promotion of Jefferson's Rough Draft of the Declaration of Independence: A Primary Source Starter that could be useful in the classroom...if you're teaching summer school.

A few days later, an LOC email told of Stephen Wesson's Political Cartoons: Seriously Funny that led me to the Ben Franklin image shown at left.

The Library has begun a Primary Source Highlights blog that is certainly worth a look. But...

...the Library of Congress posting that really blew me away was about their National Jukebox.

Stars and Stripes Forever PosterThe National Jukebox: Historical Recordings from the Library of Congress contains more than 3 million historical sound recordings available to the public free of charge. According to Long-unavailable recordings go online via National Jukebox project, the Jukebox includes recordings from "Enrico Caruso and Fritz Kreisler; the first blues recording, Livery Stable Blues, made in 1917 by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band; a comedy skit by the vaudeville team of Gallagher and Shean; speeches of President Teddy Roosevelt; and music of the John Philip Sousa Band conducted by its namesake."

Not wanting to just take the eSchool News article at face value, I poked around the Jukebox's Sousa recordings early one morning, enjoying favorites such as Stars and Stripes Forever and the Washington Post march.

Teachers (and webmasters looking to pad their postings) may appreciate the ability to embed the recordings into their web pages or CMS/LMS courses.

Something that would make the Jukebox a bit more useful would be a short description, or a link to one, about the content of each recording. Lacking that information, I tried Wikipedia and found the Sousa poster shown here illustrating their entry about Stars and Stripes Forever. And the little boy in me was glad Wikipedia included an "other lyrics" section with the well known parody that "was sung at the end of every episode of the popular 1960s TV series Sing Along with Mitch."

Be kind to your web-footed friends
For a duck may be somebody's mother
Be kind to your friends in the swamp
Where the weather is very, very damp [pronounced to rhyme with "swamp"]
Now, you may think that this is the end...
WELL, IT IS! [abrupt cut to closing credits]

Reading freewareEducational Freeware

Marianne Wartoft's Educational Freeware site is a dandy for technology oriented but cash strapped teachers. Waltoft writes on her about page:

The line between downloadable, installable software and online resources is getting less and less sharp - both kinds of software often serve the same purpose. I include them both on this site. The downloadable programs all run under Windows, and in some cases under Linux as well. The online resources are, of course, generally available under any operating system.

To check to see if she was giving readers the straight stuff, I followed her links to K-12 reading sites and a was pleased to find the tried and true Starfall site second on her list. She also includes features stories such as Ryan Dube's 6 Great Educational Websites With Blank Maps for Teachers and 6 Great Websites With Money Games for Kids.

Tech Tools Site

K-12 Tech ToolsThe K-12 Tech Tools site is actually a wiki run by wikispaces owner, Tangient LLC, with the goal of making "it easier for you to integrate technology into your classroom." Like many wikis, the site is driven by a core group, but also relies on contributions and editing from its members. According to Free online tech resources grouped by subject and device, the site includes "more than 1,000 free online technology tools...categorized by subject, grade level, and standards."

I looked at Computers (acquiring, managing, and tips), Tips for Integrating Technology into Your Classroom, and their listings for K-5 Math tools (sites) and was impressed, if a bit overwhelmed, with their listings. Their advice on getting started with computers in the classroom show some experience in the area and good common sense.

Like any links site, K-12 Tech Tools is at the mercy of the sites they link to. Sites change URLs, go down at times, and generally can make life miserable for those linking to them. For the fun of it, I took their K-5 Math tools page out for a test drive with my link checking software and was pleasantly surprised to find that K-12 Tech Tools runs a tight ship. There were no dead links!

SophiaFree Tutorials

The Sophia "social teaching and learning platform" went active to the general public in March of this year. It includes many rated tutorials made by teachers and commercial ventures. eSchool News describes the site "as a mashup of Facebook, Wikipedia, and YouTube focused solely on education." Tutorials on the site, called "packets," include sound recordings, slide shows, videos, and text, often in combination, that cover a wide range of subjects.

When I test drove a few of the packets, I found the quality a bit variable, despite high ratings from the education person on the Sophia staff. Some packets were excellent, others just so-so, and some were downright skimpy. When I followed the Space Sciences link, I found no lessons were available (yet) in that category.

Obviously, Sophia is a learning community that has some growing to do. I've included it here as it appears that it may grow into another good source for teachers.

July, 2011

Amazing SpaceAnother Astronomy Site

Hubble Reveals OrionIn July, eSchool News featured Amazing Space as their site of the week. Classroom resources help students learn about space discoveries relates that the site "uses the Hubble Space Telescope’s discoveries to inspire and educate about the wonders of the universe. The site focuses on astronomy, math, and physics, and features lesson plans, printable images, and interactive online activities."

I found something I liked on the site with my first click to Hubble Reveals Orion in Picture-Perfect Glory. While I'm a sucker for almost anything dealing with the constellation Orion or the Orion Nebula, I liked that the Orion story was written at a reading level that intermediate students could handle. Their Zoomable Orion Nebula page was also cool, although I wish the authors had included a download link to the full size photo of the Orion Nebula and links to related sites such as the Astronomy Picture of the Day's Orion Nebula: The Hubble View.

While eSchool News chose to highlight the site, it appears that the site may have not been updated since last year. But there's still some good stuff there, especially for teachers of the intermediate grades.

Another Free HTML Editor (Yea!)

Low End MacI added another free HTML editor to our Freebies page in July after reading Dan Knight's Death and Rebirth of a Power Mac G4. Dan gives BlueGriffon some high praise in his Low End Mac article. BlueGriffon is a WYSIWYG content editor powered by the Gecko rendering engine of Firefox 4. It's available for Windows, Linux, and Macintosh. Unfortunately for me, the Mac version is for Intel chip machines only (See: No Lions or Snow Leopards), so I'm going on the strength of Dan's recommendation. (Note: I worked with Dan at the now defunct MacTimes News Network and began my old View from the Classroom series on his Low End Mac site.)

August, 2011

An Interesting Resource I Missed (for years!)

Sample Jottit PageI somehow have missed the Jottit site over the years, but Michael Zimmer's Resources From Twitter got me back on track. Jottit is an extremely easy to use free web page host and creator. Demo Girl's screencast tour of the site pretty well tells the basics of how to use Jottit. While the site doesn't host images or videos, one can use them on pages on the site if the images are available elsewhere on the internet.

The Jottit site suggests that "Jottit makes getting a website as easy as filling out a textbox." Adding images and formatting text do take a couple of minutes of reading (Jottit FAQ), but certainly aren't rocket science. I created the page at left in just a few minutes (images hosted from my Senior Gardening site).

Start hereJottit may have some interesting possibilities for collaboration, as one can use it as a wiki, allowing unlimited editing of a page by users with a history included.

Also see:

  • Mashable: Jottit's (Too) Simple Website Creation Tool by Kristen Nicole
  • Educational Technology and Mobile Learning: Jottit : a new collaborative space for your students by Med Kharbach
  • Sample Site: Alan Jacobs' Home

I really don't know where my head has been, as Jottit has been around since 2007!

Scientists @ the Smithsonian

Scientists @ the Smithsonian

The Smithsonian has added a new area to its web site, Scientists @ the Smithsonian. eSchool News tells of the attempt "to make science come alive for students" in Smithsonian website puts a human face on science. The site includes videos of 20 Smithsonian scientists and a few related materials. Some of the videos, such as the one embedded at right, are quite engaging and should catch students' interest.

The site guide implies there are videos, profiles, and extras of the folks highlighted, but only the first four scientists listed have those features. The rest are just videos, sometimes simply dreadful minutes of "talking heads."

I found some interesting stuff in the videos I watched, but as is, the site is incomplete. Someone at the Smithsonian needs to get on the stick and get the job done. They made a good start, but...

365 Days of Astronomy365 Days of Astronomy

Another site I've spaced on for several years is 365 Days of Astronomy. It's been around for several years, but I just got around to mentioning it in August. The site features daily astronomy podcasts written and recorded by contributors from all walks of life. If you're into astronomy, it's definitely worth a look (and listen).

Individuals, schools, companies and clubs are invited to provide 5-10 minute audio recordings for the daily podcast.

No Lions or Snow Leopards

Mac OS X Lion

While I really like the icon photography shown at left for Apple's Mac OS X Lion (10.7) upgrade, you won't find any lions, or for that matter, snow leopards (10.6), running around my office. Educators' News, Senior Gardening, and this feature story are all written on machines far too old to support Apple's latest and greatest operating systems. So while the image has an ad link embedded to the iTunes download for Lion, I can offer no review of the new operating system here.

No, this story wasn't written on my fantastic Mac IIfx shown at right. I just thought I'd throw that image in for the fun of it. The IIfx served faithfully for several years in my classroom before being replaced by newer equipment. For its screensaver when not in use, it ran a rotation of planet images, as we did a lot with astronomy in the classroom to catch our students' interest. The IIfx now resides in my computer workshop, occasionally getting fired up for one task or another. It also is still internet capable!

Since I spent most of my teaching career filling my classroom with computers other folks thought were junk, and even wrote for a time for the Low End Mac site, I should be quite content working on machines that are computing antiques by today's standards. We were able to do some amazing things for our kids' learning with a collection of cast-off computers from other classrooms plus the few I could afford to purchase. But I'm finding more and more apps and applications I can't run, and thus, can't review, on our current equipment.

EdNews OfficeThe workhorse for our sites in a six and a half year old G5 Power Mac, backed up by an identical unit that can serve as a parts donor as needed and my five year old 12" G4 PowerBook, also affectionately known as my Slab-O-Mac (thanks to Andy Ihnatko). All three run Mac OS X, versions 10.4.11 and 10.5.8 (Tiger and Leopard), but their PowerPC chips were left behind when Apple released its Snow Leopard upgrade. Even my iPhone 3G won't run a lot of the new apps available from the App Store.

Other than running a bit hot on occasion (when my office catches the afternoon sun), the G5 is still in perfect working order. It does what I ask, doesn't act up if I leave it on for days on end, and is still up to processing the graphics and images I throw at it. Video is another story, but I don't do much of it. So the G5 remains in use as a complete rebuild of our garage, a new well pump, reroofing the back of our house, and new carpet for the living room take priority. For now, this aging writer will continue to use his aging Macs to publish this and another web site. I bet you couldn't even tell you were reading text written on an antique, could you? But then, I still look at my 2000 GMC pickup truck like it was new, ignoring the creeping rust on the bumpers, quarter panels, and wheel wells. And of course, I still see my sweetie as the young woman I met in 1992. Smile

I hope you've been able to find something to enhance your teaching experience on these pages.

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©2011 Steven L. Wood