Tag Archives: tools


Edchat Twitter Stream

If you’re an educator, looking for a reason to get up to speed on Twitter, take a look at Edchat.  This is a live event that happens each Tuesday at  two times – 12pm EST/ 5pm GMT and 7pm EST/ 12pm GM – on Twitter.  Educators from all over the world chime in with their answers to a question, proposed by the organizers,  Stephen Anderson, Tom Whitby, and Shelly Terrell.

Here is Shelly’s blog post, describing Edchat. Each week, the Edchat topic is voted on by the group.  You can send suggestions to Shelly, Tom or Stephen and then, on Monday of each week, they post five possible topics.  The topic with the most votes becomes the Edchat topic for that Tuesday.  Any Tweet that bears the hashtag – #edchat – will appear in the stream.  You can either search on the hashtag to pick up the stream, run it through an RSS feed, or if you’re using Tweetdeck (a sort of dashboard for Twitter), you can set up a column just for that steam.  Here’s a video tutorial on how to use Tweetdeck to monitor the stream.

If you have questions about how it works, you can get in touch with the moderators. For the 12pm EST #Edchat the moderators are @ShellTerrell and @Rliberni. For the 7pm EST Edchat the moderators are @MBTeach, @KylePace, and @TomWhitby.

People pose questions and answer them. They contribute suggestions, links, anecdotes, and arguments.  It’s a very lively bunch. In addition to the quality of the Tweets (mostly quite high), what struck me most was the power of the medium.  Here I was, in my own home, listening to 1000’s of smart, savvy educators – from all over the world – chime in on a conversation about a topic that interested me.  It’s the kind of experience you live for when you attend a national conference – that chance meet up in hallway or over a beer, where a group of interesting professionals gather for a few moments and exchange really helpful ideas about something important.  But this “meet up” was scheduled and it included 1000’s – and I didn’t have to get on a plane to listen in. A global brainstorming session, with (according to “what the trend“) 3500 contributions.

I was also struck by the courtesy of the group.  People responded to each other, supported concerns, and thanked each other for suggestions. No flamers here – what a welcome change.

Of course, it’s not perfect.  During the hour that I sat, scanning my Tweetdeck stream, I found myself getting irritated over the number of retweets (people forwarding on a Tweet they liked), resulting in bombardment with the same Tweet over and over again.  As you’d expect, there are a few spammers or advertisers that get in there (not too bad).  There are a few ridiculous comments that don’t bear mentioning.  But, on the whole, there’s some extremely good stuff.  I would say that, over the course of the hour, I learned a large handful of things I’d never heard before, laughed over a few very poignant stories, linked out to at least 50 different web sites (most of which were extremely useful), and choose 4 or 5 new people to follow in my regular Twitter stream.  There were teachers taking polls (trying to get a feel for opinions or patterns), teachers trolling for ideas (first day suggestions, how to use classroom blogs,

Fortunately, the organizers have developed a wiki site to accompany their Twitter live event.  There, you’ll not only find a directory of all the active Edchat participants (including their email addresses and interests) but a complete transcript of each Edchat session, listed by date. Here’s the transcript from this week’s Edchat session, “Should teachers have students write blogs, develop class web sites/wikis, create student PLNs?”

To help with the retweeting problem, I turned to Paper.Li, which is a nifty online tool that turns a particular Twitter stream into an online newspaper, complete with categories and highlights.  You can read more about Paper.Li in this blogpost of mine, from a few weeks ago.  This was a great way to read the #Edchat stream because it eliminates the redundancies, promoting most mentioned items to headline status.  Great way to see all the videos together as well.  Here’s what this week’s Edchat looks like in Paper.Li:

The organizers have also started a Personal Learning Network (PLN), using Ning, for those educators who want to continue the conversation.  On the Ning site, I see that some educators have formed subgroups to start projects at their own schools or carry on a conversation about a related topic.  Nice. And here’s where I get to repeat a frequent (not-original) conclusion of mine – these participatory media tools are so much more powerful when they are used in combination with each other.  In this case…. Twitter, a Ning site, and a wiki.  Magic.


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Filed under Reflections on Teaching, Teaching with Technology

The Best Camera is the One That’s With You

Morning Glory Bud - Taken with BestCamera and My iPhone

Thanks to Kirsten Loza for turning me onto Best Camera – the title of this post is their tag line, which makes me smile every time I open the app.  It’s a very handy little iPhone app that gives you one-stop shopping for filters, cropping (och, only to a square), and sharing (Flickr, Twitter, email, and Facebook). I particularly like the way that you can stack the filtering effects to get something really unique.  Just took this one of the unruly morning glory vine that is conquering my back deck.

And here’s the same bloom, taken an hour later (at 8:40 am), using the blue filter….lovely.

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Tagxedo: A New Word Picture Tool

My Blog on Tagxedo

I just discovered a new tag cloud creator (or word-picture tool) – Tagxedo.  This is a free online application that allows you to make word pictures (or clouds) where the most oft-used words appear largest.  This is a good way to get a visual “feel” for a particular text chunk, document, or web site.

Tagxedo is similar to Wordle, but much more powerful with many additional capabilities. First off,  as you roll over the online Tagxedo with your mouse, the words come to the front and you can make them live links.  You can also spin your cloud, choose different themes (many available), select different colors & fonts, and constrain the word-picture by shapes (hearts, ovals, circles). The cloud to the right (made up of my blog’s contents), is made from the same words as the cloud at the top of the page – this time in the shape of a flower. You can structure it so that you skip words (removing unimportant words, like “the”). Apparently, you can also use photos to create the shapes – like this one of Abe Lincoln.  I haven’t tried that yet, but it certainly presents some interesting possibilities. Once you’re created your Tagxedo cloud, you can save it as an image – in both jpg and png formats – at a range of resolutions.  What fun.

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Sue Mullican’s Biology Students

Through the wonderful world of the web, I’ve recently gotten to know an incredible high school biology teacher – Sue Mullican. Sue teaches at Jenks High School, in Jenks, Oklahoma. We first met at the National Association of Biology Teachers (NABT) meeting, when she attended a workshop on using participatory media tools in teaching biology.  Since then, Sue and I have been corresponding, exchanging ideas, and sharing favorites sites and tools.

Sue was new to all of this but, true to her creative roots, she took to it immediately.  The first thing she did was to build a class wiki.  As you can see, she uses it to post biology in the news type stories, give assignments, feature student projects, and make announcements.

What really strikes me about Sue is that she’s completely internalized the idea of her students as “producers”.  She sees these new media tools as vehicles for her students’ to demonstrate their understanding in new ways.

Take for example this video, created by one of Sue’s physiology students, Alexis Miller.  The assignment was to build a human homunculus out of clay – one sensory area at a time.  For those of you not currently enrolled in Human Anatomy and Physiology, the word “homunculus” is Latin for “little human”.  In biology courses, it refers to a scale model of a human, distorted to represent the relative space occupied by human body parts on the somatosensory cortex (somatic sensory homunculus) and the motor cortex (motor homunculous).  In other words, on a sensory homunculus the tongue would be HUGE.  In the original assignment document, Sue suggests that the students take photos, each step along the way, as they build their clay homunculus, and showcase their photos or assemble them into a PowerPoint deck.  A clever assignment by any measure – but Alexis took it a step further and created this video. Gotta love Alexis.  Gotta love Sue. Gotta love Jenks High School for being smart enough to hire a teacher like Sue, support her, and send her to national conferences.

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Filed under Reflections on Teaching, Teaching with Technology, Uncategorized

The Digital Camera Reconsidered for Classroom Use


At the National Association of Biology Teachers (NABT) conference this year I caught the tail end of a workshop about using digital cameras in teaching, given by Brian Gross, Mike Kittel, and Brian Heeney (all from Delcastle Technical High School in Wilmington, DE). They had some terrific ideas for using digital cameras in the classroom.  Here were a few gems:

– Taking pictures of students on the first day of class

– Photo record of a field trip of lab experience.

– Pictures of models or maps that students create.

– Photo a day project.

– Five-Photo Stories.


The New Eye-Fi

One of my favorite tips of theirs was a new piece of hardward I’d never heard of called the Eye-Fi. This is an SD memory card (for your camera), companioned with a USB wireless device that allows you to automatically and wirelessly download photos from your camera to your computer. No more cables, no more fussing around. It means instant access to the photos on your camera. There’s a range of options – these guys recommnded the Eye-Fi Pro (which is $140) which functions without a router (the others, that are less expensive must traffic through a router). With this technology, you can use the pictures you take in class and instantly have them up there on the screen – “Look at Suzy’s concept map!” or “Everyone look up here to see what group 3 figured out.”

As for digital camera recomendations – Brian says it’s hard to go wrong these days. You can get a perfectly good camera for $99. If your camera is capable of taking photos at 8 or 10 megapixel resolution, they recommend reducing the resolution to 3-4 mega pixels as that is perfectly sufficient for most classroom or web use and the photos download much faster. If you are buying a bunch of cameras for student use, they do recommend getting cameras that take double A batteries, so that it’s easy to replace them (without having to recharge). Tiger Direct is a web site they recommend for good deals on electronic equipment. They also provided the link to their wiki site that is chock-full of helpful teaching resources related to the use of digital cameras in the classroom.  Good stuff.

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Screenshots – How to Make Them and How to Use Them

Do you know how to take a picture of whatever is happening on your computer screen (known as a “screenshot”) and then play around with it and fancy it up?  If you do, find another entry on my blog to browse.  If you don’t — read on!

A little "meta-thinking" image...

A little "meta-thinking" screenshot...

Taking a screenshot (and then futzing with it) can be a very, very useful thing to know how to do. For instance, you might want to highlight a few key elements of the shot, draw an arrow to point out a particular event happening, write an explanatory call-out in your own words, or layer an additional image on top of the screen shot.

I use screen shots primarily to give people directions. For example, I use them to provide step-by-step instructions on how to edit a wiki or how to sign up for Second Life and get your avatar.  Using screenshots to illustrate your story is really helpful, but it’s even better if you can annotate and draw on them.  Teachers can use screenshots as a way to determine whether or not a student has completed an online assignment.  For example, if you ask your students to complete an online activity for homework, ask them to email you a screenshot of the finished activity.  There’s only one way they can get that.

So, just to review how to take a screenshot on your computer.  If you’re on a PC, you just press the “Printscreen” (typically labeled “PrtScn”) button. That will save the image on your computer’s clipboard so that you can then paste it into any editing software.  If you’re on a Mac, you have your choice – if you just want a shot of the whole screen, it’s “apple/shift/3” if you want to decide which segment of the screen to take a picture of, it’s “apple/shift/4”.  That last keyboard combination on a mac turns your cursor into a cross-hair and you can click and drag to the exact dimension of your preferred shot.  In either case, the image gets saved to your desktop. If you add space bar to that last keyboard combo, your mouse becomes a camera and you can move it to whatever application you want to take a picture of.  Add “control” to either of the two keyboard combo and you save the image to your clipboard, instead of saving the image as a file to your desktop. (gotta love it)

Now, here a few free tools to help you with the futzing part:

1.  Jing.  This handy little free app works with both PC and Mac and it can not only snap a picture of your screen but you can record short videos of on-screen action as well.  You just download it and the icon sits on your desktop, to be used whenever.  You can save your images/videos to your computer or you can take advantage of Jing’s ability to host your shots on their server and spawn links to your created items.

2.  Evernote.  This one is really a powerful tool and can be used for much more than just screen shots.  It’s really an uber note-taking device – a way to clip, store and organize all your various notes, lists, and ideas in one, handy online place.  So you can type yourself textnotes, clip a web page, snap a photo, or grab a screenshot. Definitely worth checking out.

3.  Irfanview.  This is a PC-only, free tool that’s quite powerful.  You can certainly do screengrabs with it but it also has an image editor so you can resize, add call-outs, arrows, whatever.

4.  Screendash.  With this one you can capture images from your screen, a webcam or an iphone.  You can draw on the captured images, enhance them, add clip-art, change sizes.  LIke Jing, ScreenDash will save your images on their server and spawn a link for you as well.  Free and very easy to use.

5. FireShot.  This is an add-on for use with the Firefox browser so youll only be interested in this one if you regularly use Firefox AND if you have a PC (since this little baby is not available for MacOSX).  This little plugin provides a sert of editing and annotations tools that can be saved to your hard drive or uploaded to a public server.

6.  Grab.  If you’re on a Mac, you already have this one (in the Utilities folder).  Very spiffy.  You just tell it what kind of a capture you want to do (selection, window, screen, timed screen).  With this one you can include a cursor or a pull-down menu in your shot.

So, now that you know how to take and augment screenshots – what are some of your ideas for using them?

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Filed under Teaching with Technology, Uncategorized, web resources

Build a Book Online


Here’s an online utility that you might want to consider using for student projects – – online book creation sites.  Sites like Lulu, XLibris, and Bookemon are free utilities that allow you to create a book, using your own assets (text and images).  These sites are well designed, easy and intuitive to use.


In order to build your own book, you go to the site of your choice, create a free account, upload your pictures or text (word documents) and the site creates the book for you.  On Lulu and XLibris, you can create your own cover design. In the case of Bookemon, you can go further and design your own layout, adding text boxes, borders, and frames.

Once your book is just as you want it, you can publish it and  – if you want – buy a copy.  The price of the printed book depends, of course, on a variety of factors (e.g. length, color, type of binding) but you can typically purchase a 50-page physical book for about $20.

On the Lulu site you can list your book in their online catalog for others to purchase and you can offer up ebook versions of it for people to download. On the bookemon site, you can share the online version of your book with others either by providing a link or embedding code into your web site or social networking site.

Here’s a 41-page book on Acadia National Park that one of Cheryl Hollinger’s AP Biology students (from York, PA) created using the Bookemon site.  The photos above are pages from this students’ book.  Her wonderful creation gives the reader a very good feel for the park – both scenically and biologically.  And she was careful to provide references and options for more information at the end.

Poetry, cookbooks, memory books, or books on a topic (like Cheryl did with her students) all sound like useful and creative ways for students to express themselves.


Filed under Project ideas, Teaching with Technology, Uncategorized