NECC in Our Neck of the Woods!

I had the privilege to be a part of a conference call (Yes, land lines. Oh the embarrassment.) with several other Texas educators who blog as well as a few of the important NECC people at ISTE. We spent an hour or so batting around ideas of what was going to happen at NECC 2008 and what could/should happen at NECC 2008, which happens to be in San Antonio this year. From an educator’s perspective, I do not think NECC could be more open and willing to meet our needs and interests.

With the online conference planner to pre-schedule your session and the online planner as a place to create this agenda to print or retrieve online (is this thing iPhone/iTouch friendly I wonder), any participant can be organized and prepared for a full schedule of events.

Check out these things on the NECC site:
Schedule at a Glance
Program Search (to find which sessions interest you, has one touch adding to Planner)
Featured Events
Volunteer Possibilities

One really neat thing that came out of the conversation was about the opening social. If you are going to be in San Antonio on that Sunday, do not miss it. If you are not going to be there yet, you won’t have to miss it. You see, ISTE has taken the steps to recreate the event in Second Life. Yep, you will see other SL’ers and the atmosphere, and my favorite part, even the band will be in SL. What a deal! These folks have gone out of their way to show the power of collaboration with these tools. Only if other organizations would pick up on that. Sigh.

So no matter whether you are into iPods, leadership roles, open source software, higher education, tech products, or even just online communities, NECC has a place or a session for you. EdubloggerCon and the Blogger’s Cafe are already in the works to make a return trip to NECC. I assure you, it will be very difficult to stand in the convention center (or any of the hotels) and ask out loud “Who wants to discuss (insert ed tech topic here)” and not find a willing participant or two. It is the perfect conference to unconference.

As for me and my conversations, we will be all over the Riverwalk. After dark, you will find me by the pool with some BBQ, Cokes, and great educator friends during the evening solving all the world’s problems (or at least Texas education’s). Welcome to Texas!

Here’s one for the math teachers!

Need some online quizzes to help your kids (K-12) get more practice with math concepts? Then ThatQuiz has the answer for you.

Go to the site, choose a math category to fit your needs, and practice away. Students do not have to register. If you just want their final scores, they can always print out the screen when they finish the quiz. Free is always a great price, especially when the product has as much value as this one.

Students will find practice in these categories with MANY subcategories:

  • Integers
  • Fractions
  • Concepts
  • Geometry

I know my 7 year old will be trying out the concepts portion this summer to stay in mental math shape.

Pick your author, any author

Okay, reading teachers and librarians. This site is just neat in so many ways, yet it only does one thing. It finds you an author.

The premise is simple. Go to Literature Map. Type in the name of an author you (your students actually) like to read. Literature Map goes out and does some crazy style of mapping and finds authors that write like your chosen author and about topics similar to the ones your chosen author writes about. Not sure how it does it.

It seemed to do a pretty good job of nearly all I entered (one or two children’s book authors were not in there). The funniest response I found was when I put in Eric Carle (not one of my fav’s, by the way) and it suggested Stephen King as one of the options. I could not agree more, because Carle’s story lines bore me to death (get it? Death, Stephen King…insert cricket chirp). Sorry. I know it is more about the art than the words in his case.

Anyway, here is what it looked like when I did Lois Lowry. Consider that the closer the author name is to your chosen author in the center of the screen, the more alike the writing styles and other attributes. In this case, Judy Blume was closest. It may not be perfect, but it will get kids reading new authors. Neat stuff. Should have one computer in the library just with this turned on.

Free the Reading!

For those who do not blog or read blogs, I truly feel that you are missing out on tremendous resources shared by other educators. I was skimming through my Bloglines account today and found this jewel of a post from Kevin Jarrett over at Welcome to NCS-Tech! Consider this reading site.

Free Reading is a site devoted to offering high quality reading resources for grades K-3. They define themselves as:

Free-Reading is an open source instructional program that helps educators teach early literacy. Because it is open source, it represents the collective wisdom of a wide community of teachers and researchers. Free-Reading contains a 40-week scope and sequence of primarily phonological awareness and phonics activities that can support and supplement a typical kindergarten or first grade “core” or “basal” program.

What you will find on this site is research-based reading materials, the research that support them, and a collaborative group of educators sharing their resources to make your classroom instruction the best it can be. To me, this is what Web 2.0 is all about. Share great material with like minded individuals, and you will find equally as valuable resources to partake from. Here is the mission behind Free Reading:

* To help educators worldwide teach kids to read
* To make quality, research-based, explicit and systematic instruction for early reading widely available and free (in two senses of the word “free”: “at no charge” and “openly offered so as to be used, reused, mashed-up and shared again”)
* To nurture a community of educators who share effective methods in a form that others can easily apply in their own teaching
* To disrupt spending in education away from traditional textbooks and towards more customized instructional materials, more support and training for teachers, and better tools for data and knowledge management.
* Ultimately, as Catherine Snow has said, for kids to be able to “read books with enjoyment while lying in a hammock under elm trees”.

Though no individual skill taught here may be an end in itself, we believe each is a step on the path to that ultimate goal.

You will find many skills covered in categories including:

  • Phonological Awareness
  • Phonics
  • Comprehension
  • Vocabulary
  • Fluency
  • Writing

So dive into their resources and see what you surface with. I bet you will find it more valuable than anything out of the textbook. Besides, that’s their goal.

PS – Feel free to share some of your great curriculum with them. It is the only way to make the collective grow.

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Jacques Cousteau is sitting in your classroom and you just don’t know it!

Let’s face it. Your students love nature. They love computers. They love media. Why not have them create short documentaries about cheetahs, water lizards, polar bears, and more using real video footage, authentic sounds, and background music?

What? Your kids don’t know how to make videos? You don’t know where to get the media for the film? Well, let Nat Geo step in and save the day. Enter the Wildlife Filmmaker. Your kids do not need to be professionals, but they just might turn into them. Using drag and drop technology, National Geographic has done a wonderful job of simplifying the process for teachers (I say ‘teachers’ because the detail could kill us if we had to walk our younger students through the process in MovieMaker or iMovie).

The students will be given a code to write down when they are through to allow them to retrieve the video once they are completed. Now, retrieve means it will bring it back up and play it in the Nat Geo site. I did not see a way to download the video yet, but I am sure it will not be long. A teacher could very easily write the numbers down to create links on his/her web page for parents and students to view their creations.

So, if you are lucky enough to have an administrator order you to teach the things you wanted the students to learn but testing got in the way of, then try this out. The students can preview the animal clips and make a short video or two to try the site out. Then, once they are comfortable with it, they can do some research on the animal of choice and return to the site to make their own Animal Planet documentary short. The side benefit of this is that they will gain some great skills using the video timeline window on the site. It is very much like the software programs such as Windows MovieMaker, Apple’s iMovie, or the more advanced Apple Final Cut Studio we use in our high school.

Awesome tools for science and literacy (digital storytelling), so go give it a try! Let me know what you think about it.