Keeping up professionally takes time and effort and sometimes seems overwhelming. Following a few well-chosen educators or organizations can really help lighten the load. I am a big fan of Twitter. I am amazed at the wealth of wonderful resources that I discover through tweets. If you are interested in delving into the world of Twitter or perhaps are just looking for a few, good folks to follow, check out the following collections from the Best Colleges Online blog.

50 Essential Twitter Feeds for STEM Educators

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Taking Advantage of Technology

The computer can be a distraction and a frustration, but it can also be a teaching tool. Usually, you hear that you should be using technology in your teaching, but no one gives an example of a site that works for middle school curriculum. Here are a few online resources that actually show the potential of the Internet as a teaching strategy.

The MegaPenny Project

This site shows arrangements of large quantities of U.S. pennies. It begins with only 16 pennies, which measure one inch when stacked and one foot when laid in a row. The visuals build to a thousand pennies and in progressive steps to a million and even a quintillion pennies! All pages have tables at the bottom listing the value of the pennies on the page, size of the pile, weight, and area (if laid flat). The site can be used to launch lessons on large numbers, volume versus area, or multiplication by a factor of 10.

Cynthia Lanius’ Fractal Unit
In this unit developed for middle school students, the lessons begin with a discussion of why we study fractals and then provide step-by-step explanations of how to make fractals, first by hand and then using Java applets—an excellent strategy! But the unit goes further; it actually explains the properties of fractals in terms that make sense to students and teachers alike.

The Pythagorean Theorem
[This site is temporarily unavailable – we are going to leave this link in place and continue to check back in case it revives – 6/26/2010]
This site invites learners to discover for themselves “an important relationship between the three sides of a right triangle.” Five interactive, visual exercises require students to delve deeper into the mystery; each exercise is a hint that motivates and entices. The tutorial ends with information on Pythagoras and problems that rely on the theorem for their solutions.

Fraction Sorter
A visual support to understanding the magnitude of fractions!  Using this applet, the student represents two to four fractions by dividing and shading areas of squares or circles and then ordering the fractions from smallest to largest on a number line. The applet even checks if a fraction is correctly modeled and keeps score. From Project Interactivate Activities.

Algebra Balance Scales — Negatives
This virtual balance scale offers students an experimental way to learn about solving linear equations involving negative numbers. The applet presents an equation for the student to illustrate by balancing the scale using blue blocks for positives and red balloons for negatives. The student then solves the equation while a record of the steps taken, written in algebraic terms, is shown on the screen. The exercise reinforces the idea that what is done to one side of an equation must be done to the other side to maintain balance. From the National Library of Virtual Manipulatives.

Geometric Solids
This tool allows learners to investigate various geometric solids and their properties. They can manipulate and color each shape to explore the number of faces, edges, and vertices, and to answer the following question: For any polyhedron, what is the relationship between the number of faces, vertices, and edges?  From Illuminations, National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Vision for School Mathematics.

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Podcast Tools for Students and Teachers

This article was written by Stephanie Chasteen and originally published in the May 2009 Integrating Technology column of Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears, an online magazine for elementary teachers. All versions of this article are licensed under a Creative Commons License. Stephanie is a science teaching fellow at the University of Colorado at Boulder. She is one of the creators of the Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears podcast series. Read her blog at http://expertvoices.nsdl.org/sciencegeekgirl.

Podcasts, audio recordings published on the Internet and played on computers and portable devices, are becoming popular among all types of audiences, including K-12 teachers and students. Classrooms are both consumers and producers of this technology. As consumers, you’ll find a growing amount of high-quality free educational content for you and your students in podcasts, right at your fingertips! We’ve identified some sources in the resources at the end of this article.

Now it’s easier than ever to make podcasts in the classroom, to become producers. You don’t need a media player, such as the Apple iPod, or specialized software to make or listen to a podcast – just your computer and an Internet connection will do. Though podcasts can be audio and video, audio podcasts will be featured in this article.

LISTENING TO PODCASTS
Podcasts are handy ways to get information – captured on your computer or media player, they are available to you when and where you want to listen. (I catch up on the latest science and education news every day while I bike to work.) And you don’t have to spend time checking the web sites of podcast creators for new episodes. By subscribing to an RSS feed at the web sites of your choice, you will receive new podcasts automatically.

You might listen to podcasts of personal interest, use them as an informal source of professional development, or have your students listen to them (as part of class research on a topic, for example). Of course, not all podcasts are appropriate for students. If you are using iTunes, you can use the Parental Control feature (in Preferences) to prevent students from previewing or downloading podcasts marked with the “explicit” label. But don’t assume that iTunes will do all the work for you! Be sure to listen to the entire podcast before assigning it or using it in class.

SUBSCRIBING TO PODCASTS
There are a number of free programs for automatically downloading podcasts to a computer. iTunes and Juice are two such programs.

In iTunes you can find and subscribe to podcasts in several ways:

1. Through the iTunesstore. Click on “podcasts” in the left column of the iTunes store, and then “podcast directory” on the lower right-hand corner. You can then “browse” or “power search” to find podcasts.
2. Drag the podcast’s RSS icon into iTunes. Most podcast pages display the RSS icon. You can drag that icon into the podcast window in iTunes and the program will subscribe you.
3. Type in the URL. In the “Advanced” tab in iTunes menu bar, choose “subscribe to podcast.” Put in the URL for the RSS feed for that particular podcast.
4. Click on a “subscribe” link on the podcast’s web site. Many podcasts will have a “subscribe via iTunes” link that will open up iTunes on your computer.

MAKE A CLASS PODCAST
Creating a podcast in the classroom can be a great way to incorporate writing across the curriculum. Narratives like personal stories, drama, history, and music all lend themselves well to audio presentations. Plus, students can be more motivated to create a podcast that could be heard across the world, rather than just within the classroom.

Classroom podcasts will take some time. Start small. Consider divisions of labor for student-created podcasts (writer, editor, voice actor). You will likely have to do the final production of the podcast and help with the equipment. Your students should use stage names and never give any personal information about themselves. Podcasts on web sites are publicly available.

You can find many examples of elementary class podcasts on the Education Podcast Network or on Podcast for Teachers. You can find information about using and creating podcasts in KidCast: Podcasting in the Classroom. The creator of the KidCast site, Dan Schmit, is the author of books on the subject as well. He gives an overview of classroom podcasting in this podcast: http://edcommunity.apple.com/ali/item.php?itemID=9973.

Briefly, here are the main steps in recording and broadcasting a podcast:

1. Record the audio using recording software such as Audacity (free!) or Apple Computer’s GarageBand for a Mac. Students can also record via telephone for free at Gcast.com and Gabcast.com.
2. Edit using the recording software (Audacity or Garageband) to cut out anything you don’t want.
3. Add music and sound effects, make volume fades, and so forth. Free sound effects and samples are available at FindSounds and Sounddogs.
4. Compress the audio to an MP3 file. This makes your audio file smaller
5. Upload your file to a class web site or other host sites such as Podomatic or Podbean.com. The host will make your web page automatically!

When using sound effects and music in your podcasts, it is important to consider copyright and terms of use. Most podsafe music is licensed under Creative Commons, which allows educators and others to use music as long as they give attribution.

Some ideas for class-produced podcasts are:

1. Interviews: Students can talk to people who use science in their jobs.
2. History:”This day in science history.”
3. Podcast drama: A recorded version of a classroom skit.
4. Pet podcast: Give kids a chance to talk about biology and nutrition using observations of their pets
5. Outdoor observations: Use cell phones or a portable recorder to note observations during urban science walks.
6. Where in the World: Submit a podcast to this worldwide geography quiz show – http://www.intelligenic.com/where/.

In the resources below we’ve included links to web sites that will be helpful sources as you create classroom podcasts and to other sites that provide science news and information in podcast format.

KidCast
A community of educators who are podcasting in K-12 schools. Books and workshops are available.

Education Podcast Network
Directory of podcasts produced by educators.

Listening to Themselves: Podcasting Takes Lessons Beyond the Classroom
An article from Edutopia.org describes podcasting in a fifth-grade classroom.

Tips for Podcast Fans
Apple’s iTunes site gives helpful tips on creating and subscribing to podcasts.

Podcast for Teachers
Articles, blogs and podcasts about podcasting.

PodSafe Music Network and PodSafe Audio
Find music that is license-free and legal to put in a podcast in these two directories.

LINKS TO SCIENCE NEWS PODCASTS

Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears Podcasts
Each month Robert Payo and Stephanie Chasteen trek across the poles to find ways to help you teach science in your classroom. They tackle common misconceptions your students might have about science using stories, teaching activities, and the latest news related to the poles.

Teaching Tips
A podcast series by the author and produced by the Exploratorium Teacher Institute.

60-Second Science
Daily (Monday-Friday) one-minute episodes from the staff of Scientific American, who also produce the weekly Science Talk podcasts.

One-hour shows about science produced by New York public radio stations.

NOVA Science NOW
Brief audio stories from the NOVA series.

Krulwich on Science
Podcasts from a correspondent for NPR’s Science Desk series.

The Naked Scientists: Science Radio and Science Podcasts
Science podcasts from the British Broadcasting Corporation. Check out the kitchen science portion for ideas on classroom activities.

Slacker Astronomy
Podcasts and blogs about astronomy.

Science Update Podcasts
Daily and weekly podcasts from the Science Update radio program, produced by AAAS.

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Teacher Tools that Integrate Technology: Wikis

This article was written by middle school science teacher Todd Williamson for the Integrating Technology column of Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears, an online magazine for elementary teachers. All versions of this article are licensed under a Creative Commons License.
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If you’ve used a search engine like Google or Yahoo anytime in the past two years or more, you have undoubtedly run across results from Wikipedia. If you haven’t been exposed to Wikipedia, the idea may surprise you. Wikipedia is a user-created, -edited, -maintained, and -patrolled encyclopedia. Anyone can sign up for an account and add information about the topics covered in the encyclopedia. That information is then reviewed by other users, verified when possible, or marked as unverified if necessary. Wikipedia is a shining example of the collaborative power of the Internet. It is also possible to have that collaborative power in your own classroom, usually for free!

What Is A Wiki?
Wikipedia is just a large example of this month’s teacher tool: the wiki. The name comes from the Hawaiian word for “quick.” In its most simple form, a wiki is a web site that can be edited by multiple users. Wikis in Plain English, a video from Common Craft, gives a quick overview of a simple form of the wiki.

The wiki web page starts in a very simple, very blank form. It resembles a blank word processing document. Anyone with basic word processing skills can get started working on a wiki. Learning to use the “Link” button is what makes the wiki come to life. In Wikipedia, terms in each entry are linked to their corresponding Wikipedia entry. In your classroom wiki, you could have one main page that contains an outline of an intended course of study for the year, with hyperlinks to pages with information about each topic. What makes a wiki different from a static web page is the fact that you, as the teacher, will not be the only person entering information.

Wikis in the Classroom
Let’s take the course of study mentioned above as the example: Start with a single wiki page that outlines the concepts that will be covered throughout the year. Focusing a little more specifically on science, let’s say you intend to cover: weather, systems of the body, and electricity. Obviously there is a tremendous range of information that can fall under each of those categories.

As with any teaching strategy, wikis can exist as teacher-directed or student-directed exercises. On the teacher-directed end, some teachers choose to use their classroom wiki to seed their students’ learning. An example of this would be finding several web sites or videos online and linking or embedding them into the page for weather. This page can be used to give students an overview before they start the unit. The teacher controls the layout of the wiki, perhaps even locking the page for editing by others.

On the student-directed end, other teachers use the same idea, but allow their students to scour the Internet for the information. This allows students to choose what information is important to their learning.

Another idea involves using the wiki to summarize class information. For example:

After completing a section on the water cycle, Jeffery goes in the wiki and posts information about each of the stages. Jeffery happens to not be your most studious child, and he mixes up the concepts of evaporation and condensation. Allison logs on and reads the water cycle page, catches the error, and is immediately able to go in and fix the mishap. Allison also notes that there is more than one type of collection, giving details of surface runoff and percolation. Brittany, who hates to read, logs in and embeds a video from YouTube showing the stages of the water cycle.

But What If
The exchange between Jeffery, Allison and Brittany above probably sounds like the ideal. The reality is, at some point, Angel is going to log in and post some colorful explanation of a system of the human body, or delete someone’s hard work…or any number of other scary possibilities. The great thing about a wiki is that all changes are archived. As the teacher, you are capable of seeing just who made each and every change, when they worked on it, and go back to a previous version of the wiki before Angel’s little stunt.

Wikis in the K-2 Classroom
The revision and editing ideas above are perfect for students who are familiar with the computer and word processing. For the younger student, a wiki is a wonderful tool for introducing word processing. The K-2 classroom wiki will likely be more about adding information than editing. For example, in a class unit on community helpers, students could be grouped together to come up with sentences about firefighters, police officers, doctors, and other community helpers. Once all students had a sentence about a community helper, they could add that information to the wiki.

Another possibility would be to use the wiki to keep track of weekly spelling lists. The teacher could post the list and link each word to a page where students could add the definition and sentences using the word. This would be a wonderful tool to use when new students move in during the school year. Parents could review the words that the class had studied previously. This, of course, would not be limited to new students; any parents could help their child review previous learning. Though the younger students might not get to use all the aspects of the wiki, there are still plenty of possibilities for this tool.

Setting Some Ground Rules
The ground rules you set from the beginning will determine the success or failure of a wiki. They must be put in place early and adopted by all users to ensure the greatest value from the wiki. These rules can include everything from how often changes should be made, to what types of content can be uploaded, and down to the nitty-gritty aspects, like what font sizes and colors to use.

One major issue in this new digital world is copyright. Wikis provide an excellent opportunity to focus on the topic of documentation. Here the issue is not so much plagiarism as it is verification of information. Students often think citation of sources is a way for teachers to “get them” when they don’t do it correctly. With a wiki, the focus shifts to documentation as a way for users to get more information about a topic.

Another slippery slope with technology tools like a wiki is equitable access and grading. There are ways of grading a wiki that involve students making “significant contributions” to the wiki during a certain time period. The key is to make sure there is a clear definition of “significant contribution.”

Ideally, the grade for the wiki is only a small portion of the student’s overall grade. It is difficult to know for certain when Allison and Brittany come to you and say they were working together over the weekend but only Allison logged in. Your relationship with your students is important in these situations.

Yet another major point is picking a wiki service that allows you to create the usernames and passwords for your students. Some services require that students have email addresses, others do not. Wikispaces, one of the more popular wiki providers, inputs the teacher’s list of usernames and passwords so the teacher can know who logs on and when.

Getting Started
Starting a wiki is a simple process. One big decision to make at the start is who will have access to your wiki. Some wikis are public, which means they are open for all users to read and edit, like Wikipedia. Others are protected, available for everyone to read but only registered users to edit. Some wikis are kept entirely private and only registered users are able to read or edit the pages. You can start your wiki as a private wiki until “things are rolling” and then open it up for outsiders to view.

One wiki service provider, Wikispaces, offers free/inexpensive ways for educators to start their own wikis (http://www.wikispaces.com/content/wiki).

The site walks you through the basic process. First you must create a username and password. This username allows you to access your wiki, as well as any others to which you may decide to subscribe.

Next, you will be asked some questions about your wiki. Create a space name which will become the URL for your wiki. Decide about the visibility of your wiki – public, protected, or private. Certify that you will use the Wiki for educational purposes and you’re on your way. Wikispaces provides a tutorial to get you started once you’ve registered.

Students may figure out that they can later change their usernames, but remind them that as you track changes to the wiki, you only know the usernames you set up. This can be played up as necessary to prevent changes, since you can’t give BabyGurl1229 a grade because you don’t know which student she is!

A Powerful Tool
Wikis really are one of the most powerful tools of Web 2.0. The implications for education are immense. We are teaching students who have grown up in a digital world and need to see the relevance of the topics we are covering. Wikis provide a way to make classroom content relevant as well as technology content. Students will be allowed to take part in a collaborative experience that will be useful in their later job experiences. Remember, however, since creating the wiki is a collaborative process, the ideal is that no one person has too much control over the finished product. Not even you as the teacher!

Two wiki service providers:

PBWiki
http://www.pbwiki.com/

Wikispaces
http://www.wikispaces.com/

WikiMatrix
http://www.wikimatrix.org/
A website that compares different wiki providers. You input features you are interested in, and it lists available sites.

WikisAcrossTheCurriculum
http://wikisacrossthecurriculum.wikispaces.com/
A wiki about wikis created for the North Carolina Middle School Association Conference in March 2008. Includes links to examples of classroom wikis and other resources.

Teachers First Wiki-Walkthrough
http://www.teachersfirst.com/content/wiki/
An overview of the use of wikis in all content areas.

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