Typealyzer - Spooky insights into the mind of a blogger

Long time, no post. I guess that is what you get when you teach and have a family. Some things just have to come third.

I recently came across Typealyzer. It is a simple concept. Paste the URL of a blog into the box that appears and it gives you an analysis of the personality type or the author and a chart of what sort of brain activity was going on e.g. logical/mathematical, intuitive etc

Apparently it references some sort of database and applies an algorithm to spit out these results and for the couple I tried it seemed to be on the money. I don't know how much store I put into a lot of these left brain/ right brain things but it could be a great way to engage your students in metacognition and motivate their writing. What a great discussion point if someone who seems to be all hard-nosed and logical seems to be writing an emotional blog.

The creators point out that it is not necessarily profiling the personality of the writer, but of the voice that they are using in their blog. You could well have multiple blogs that each have a different assessment. I have included my brain chart for this blog... hmmm... do you think it matches a science / maths teacher?

Sproutbuilder - Grow your Own Widgets

Sproutbuilder is a platform that enables you to make your own flash widgets without knowing a scrap of code. It has an easy-to-use interface that enables you to drag, drop, resize, copy and paste elements on to your project, which can be any size from a micro button to a full webpage. These elements include buttons, text, shapes, images, audio, video (including Youtube clips), RSS feeds, Google forms, Polldaddy polls and more. Whats more, you can embed the sprouts just about anywhere: wikis, blogs (of course) Moodles, Facebook, Myspace, Netvibes etc. or just email them.

When it launched earlier this year I had a play around with it but didn't really have much of a purpose in mind when making my own sprouts. However, I started incorporating them into my wikis: Countdowns and slideshows mainly and when my school launched its Moodle recently I started to see the applications.

A standard Moodle looks pretty boring. 'Nineties in its outlook you might say. So I started using Sproutbuilder to add a little bling, some RSS feeds, slideshows and useful links at the top of every subject. Of late I have started using Sproutbuilder to make little interactive modules for the students. You can see these at a new blog that I have started called Edusprouts where I hope to be able to aggregate not just my sprouts, but the sprouts of other teaching professionals. Not all sprouts will be suitable, forms and countdowns will probably have little use outside the confines of the course that you build the sprouts for, but for general sprouts like the one I have included below, any (science) teacher could find a use. 

Down for everyone or just me?

With our ever-increasing reliance on internet based resources like wikis and blogs it becomes frustrating when the page just wont load. Is it a problem with the school's systems? My computer connection? Is the site down for some reason?

The easiest way to check is to use Downforeveryoneorjustme just type or paste in the address of your online resource and get independent confirmation like in the screenshot below:

The Whiteboard Challenge

Get over to the Whiteboard Challenge wiki and try your hand at one of the challenges being set for users of interactive whiteboards by teaching professionals.

Every two weeks a new challenge is being posted and participants are encouraged to blog about their exploits. What a great way to encourage both innovation and reflection in our practice.

There is a button that you can grab from my sidebar for your own blog or wiki in order to promote the event.

Handy classroom organisation tools

I was reading a post on Classroom 2.o the other day and came across a reference to two delightfully simple tools for classroom organisation.

Termites for creating seating plans and
Monkey, for creating productive groups

I have always wanted some tools for this purpose and had toyed around with Excel and just couldn't seem to get it right.

Termites allows you to input 'relationship' scores for your students. That is, if you think that they work well together you give them a score up to +10 and if you'd rather that they didn't sit together you'd give them a score as low as -10. The generator takes these values into account when allocating seats. If you have a student who has poor eyesight you can specify that they are placed at the front of the room. If you have a real firecracker you can even 'glue' them to the seat closest to you so that you can keep a wary eye on them and everyone else will be shuffled around them.

Creating the table layout is also blindingly simple. You are presented with a grid of whatever size you like. You then click on a box to make it a table and click on it again to clear it. Very easy to set up rows or pods.

Monkey works on the same principle of entering relationship values but also gives you the opportunity to input an 'ability' score from 0 to 100. You then have the opportunity to group according to ability as well as taking into account the relationships. Group size and number is customised in the same way as for Termites and so is 'glueing' a student into a group.

Try them out, they are as educational software should be. Easy, simple, created by an educator, useful and free!

It takes the hassle out of making new seating plans and you could choose to have a different plan ever week if you so desired with a press of the button.

Why you need a start page. Netvibes is my pick.

Start page, home page, whatever you like to call it, it is the the page that greets you when you start up your browser.

Many people leave it at he default, which for a school is usually the school website or learning platform. This isn't necessarily a bad place to start, but is it the best?

Many other people keep it simple and start off with the basic Google search as their starting place. Let me tell you: that is sooo 90's.

These days it is all about personalisation of information sources. Why go looking when you can make the information come to you? Customisation is the key. It enables you to make the information come to you.

Google, Microsoft and Yahoo! all have customisable start pages in iGoogle, MSN and My Yahoo! iGoogle and My Yahoo! work pretty well and both allow you to add and remove different elements like search boxes, RSS feeds, calendars, games and widgets.
MSN is the most restrictive of the three allowing only basic changes to content.

I was a long time user of iGoogle and you can see my start page below:
Read this document on Scribd: iGoogle

You can see that I had customised it so that I was getting the latest news from New Scientist, Science Daily, Techcrunch and others and that my latest emails were also on hand. For fun I had a pregnancy countdown for my new baby-to-be.

If you look closely you can see the option to add more tabs which means that you can effectively customise any number of pages and have them close at hand.

However for the past few months I have moved over to using Netvibes, which along with Pageflakes, makes the customisable homepage more of a social experience. You can save and share tabs and even your whole 'universe' ie all of your tabs together. You can browse other peoples tabs and add them to your home page.

Here is mine below:

Read this document on Scribd: Netvibes

At first glance it looks the same as iGoogle. But here's why I like it better:
  • You can customise the number of columns
  • More colour options
  • You can fit more information in the same amount of space
  • The social side of it, browsing and sharing tabs
  • A huge gallery of widgets to choose from
  • French people made it, so of course it is magnifique!
Imagine using it with your students. You could make a tab with feeds and links to resources for a course or assignment to get them going in the right direction. Students could share tabs that they create with peers. As a minimum, students will be able to group all of their educational links on one page.

If you zoom in on the top left of my example you will see an RSS feed from the discussion forum of a Wetpaint wiki that my students are working on. I have a constant eyeball on what they are doing. My professional reading comes to me. I have all my science feeds and web2.0 feeds on hand.

I would be interested if there is anyone out there using Pageflakes who can let us know its benefits...

Use Widgetbox to embed any web page

You may already know of Widgetbox, it is a great place to find useful widgets to put in your wiki, moodle or other online learning platform. Calendars, countdowns, maps, video, it has it all.

You can make your own widgets without even a skerrick of code and this includes embedding pretty much any web page so that students don't have to open another tab and get off track. You simply follow the links to create your own widget by putting in the URL of the wep page in question and setting the size you would like.

Voila! Then it is simply a matter of copying the code and inserting it in your wiki, moodle etc.

I have to retract the above couple of paragraphs, I got an email from Widgetbox rejecting my widget :( I should have read the fine print a little better, it turns out that they don't allow full page embeds. I guess it would slow down their servers too much.

Instead have a look at the Blidget (Blog widget, isn't that great? A new word made from two relatively new words) I made on Widgetbox. Neat huh?

IWBs in Secondary: Where is the Interaction?

Here is a presentation I made for the 21st Century Learning conference in Hong Kong.

The key idea is that IWBs are a great tool, but they aren't inherently interactive. Interactivity really depends on the teacher and the pedagogy used.

Make your own newspaper clippings

Wikis and Blogs in Education

As well as presenting a professional development session on VoiceThread last week I also presented the following session:

The title was a bit of an 'in' joke. I was going to present on screencasting as well but it was just going to be toooo much.

As with the VoiceThread I wanted to focus on the why rather than the how of wikis and blogs. So much professional development is about how to put an image in or how to embed content but doesn't address the "show me the educational value" side of the equation.

I got good feedback, other than a couple of people who wanted more time to do the how. Oh well, I guess I will have to organise some follow-up sessions.

Picnik, minus the ants

I have come across an excellent online photo editing tool. Picnik offers all of the basic editing features that you would need for touching up photos. Resizing, cropping, rotating, colour manipulation plus added effects make this a very convenient application. There is an addon for Firefox and an extension for Explorer available so that with a click of the right-mouse button you can be editing any online image in Picnik.

Educational use:
Any time you have students working on wikis, blogs, VoiceThreads, Photostory, PowerPoints, you name it, there is a use for this application.

V is for VoiceThread

What an amazingly simple concept is VoiceThread:

- Upload images

- Comment via microphone or keyboard


I am presenting the educational rationale for using VoiceThread to staff at my school tomorrow. Here is the slideshow:

China shoots off own foot

Not really a newsflash but something has got me thinking: China is sabotaging the education of it's children.

I sit typing this in Urumqi (Wikipedia link), I am lucky enough to be on a school trip here. I won't be able to view this post when I am finished because the Chinese government blocks access to Blogger and Wordpress blogs amongst others. http://www.blogger.com/ isn't blocked, just everything with blogspot in the URL.

Last year during the Summer holidays I went to Beijing to do a Mandarin short course, I had set a wiki based assignment for my science students to work on. However, the Chinese government was also blocking PBwiki so for two weeks I could not give my students any feedback on their work.

The Chinese government blocks blogs and wikis because it fears them as tools of freedom of expression. There have been a number of high-profile cases where Chinese citizens have been persecuted for what they have written. I don't wan't to get into the politics of right and wrong. That is the Chinese government's decision to make.

However, while the growth of use of Web 2.0 tools in schools in other countries is proceeding apace, China, with its reluctance to give people access to these tools is potentially cramping the educational opportunities for its students.

Of course, students could access these tools through a proxy so why does the Chinese government bother?

This post might be flagged by some bot and read by a member of the communist party because of key words in the text. So if you are Chinese, and reading this in China as part of your job as an internet sensor. Think about how this restrictive policy may affect the future of your country and have a word to your bosses about it. Maybe it is time to change.

Tools in my pocket: 7 Things I take into the classroom

There is a lot said about all of the web 2.0 tools that we can now use in our teaching (well... I can't stop talking about them). But what about the physical knick-knacks that make life easier? Well, here is what I have taken to carrying around in my pocket at school and what I consider a minimum for any self-respecting connected teacher.

  1. Sony Ericsson K810i: My phone.Where would I be without it? Alarm, timer, stopwatch, calculator, calendar, camera, voice recorder... I've used all of these functions and more. There is a whole other post there waiting for me to write it.

  2. Jawbone Bluetooth Headset: Yes, I look like a dork. But I am just starting to explore using it with my interactive whiteboard to screencast parts of my lessons. I can also use it to amplify my voice through the computer and class speakers if I have a hearing-impaired student.

  3. Omiz Bluetooth Dongle: So that the headset can connect with the computer and so I can zap photos straight to the screen from my phone.
  4. Interactive Whiteboard Pen: My interactive whiteboard isn't much use without it.

  5. 8GB Imation USB Flash Drive: When there is a software failure on my classroom computer; browser trouble; Adobe reader isn't working; Office won't start up; Media Player on the fritz. I plug in my trusty stick loaded with PortableApps and fire up Firefox or Sumatra PDF portable or Open Office or VLC media player. I also carry the installation files for various pieces of licensed school software so that I can easily repair or reinstall components.
  6. Multiformat Card Reader: For getting student's photos off of their cameras and phones and onto the server for their PowerPoints and reports. Okay, maybe this isn't always in my pocket, but when I know that we are doing something with photos, I chuck it in.
  7. Regular, Garden Variety, Whiteboard marker: For when all else fails... always have a plan B

Encyclopedia of Life

Hooray! As a science teacher I am of course very happy that the Encyclopedia of Life is up and running.

It is an ambitious project aimed at compiling information on every catalogued species, that's no small task when there are 350,000 documented species of beetle alone! Nonetheless they have made a start with 25 exemplar pages like the one for the mosquito below.

"That doesn't sound ike much of an achievement!" I hear you say. The exemplar pages are rich with knowledge: text, images, video, and are the 'ideal' that the EOL is aiming for. There are also tens of thousands of species pages that are on their way to getting there and 1 million 'minimal' pages that need fleshing out.

They have put a call out for people wiling to be 'curator' for one or more species from their field of expertise. Why not sign up if you have the chops?

In the meantime this is another blow to the development of student research skills. It's all there for them.

Comparison: Google Sites vs Wikispaces vs PBwiki

The battleground is set: Google has finally unleashed it's version of what a wiki should look like after buying one of the, at the time, major players, JotSpot, back in 2006.

How does it stack up when compared with two of the current most popular wiki providers to educators?

Read this doc on Scribd: Google Sites vs Wikispaces vs PBwiki

PBwiki: I have used PBwiki on the past, it was my first 'wiki love'. I administered a wiki that was used by 80+ students who created over 600 pages. It was mostly stable but the major problem was that students had difficulty with formatting. They kept expecting it to act like Word and for all that the editor is supposedly WYSIWYG: WYS is not always WYG. In particular they found tables tricky and formatting around images.

I spent quite a bit of time on their forums, there were some helpful users but the prevalence of spam made it look like the support staff were not keeping on top of things. They have since migrated the forums to a more professional looking provider so let's hope that support has improved.

I am now really looking forward to PBwiki 2.0. I received notification of an impending invite to the beta so I'll let you know how it goes once I have signed up and played around. One of the most highly anticipated features is page level access which seems to have been implemented with teachers in mind. It will enable the admin to restrict a student's access to only their pages, their group's pages, or their course pages depending on what you want the wiki to do.

Wikispaces: I have been using Wikispaces more often than PBwiki of late because I like the clean lines, all of it's components seem better integrated and because they give so much more storage space. It also looks a little like Wikipedia so students have that instant recognition of what it is for.

The lack of variety in fonts and colours is a double-edged feature. On the negative side, pages can look downright boring, on the positive side, students spend less time mucking around with formatting and concentrate on the content. Embedding HTML elements has always gone smoothly for me, unlike once or twice when PBwiki did not like what I was trying to embed.

Google Sites: What can Google possibly have to this offer in this already mature field?

  1. Seamless integration of Google Apps

  2. A huge wealth of expertise in making things just work

  3. A nice interface

So far, in the limited time that I have been testing it out, the WYSIWYG editor has worked as advertised. Tables have behaved properly and uploading files has been a cinch. Embedding Youtube videos was, of course, effortless.

But then they have gone and done something weird. Google sites is only open to organisations signed up to Google apps. I can't just sign in with my Google ID. As an individual I can't make my own Google site, to organise a family reunion, say without buying a domain. You need a corporate or education domain so as a teacher I was able to set one up using my school email address and the domain of my school. Its odd but I guess they have their reasons. No doubt the news is out there and I just haven't read it yet.

An Oldie but a Goodie: xlmarks

Now this app is not web2.0, its not web1.0, heck, its not even web beta. It is seriously old school.

I have been using xlmarks for a number of years because:
- It works
- It's simple
- It's small
- It easy to retrieve / mine student data
- Multiple class results are easily combined
- It does pretty much all I need it to

What is it?
As the name suggests it is an Excel template that can be used to track student results in a course or subject. It was developed by Efofex software who incidentally make great graphing and other mathematical / scientific software. Xlmarks is freeware, anyone can distribute it so long as they don't make any financial gain.

Read this doc on Scribd: XLMARKS

If you are a whiz with Excel and wish to customise it you can, Efofex will give you the password if you ask them nively. They do warn you, and rightly so, that the formulae used are pretty tricky. I hhave messed with it in the past and have had to start all over again due to unintended domino effects.

Download it from Efofex

Screencasting made easy: FreeScreencast

There are many different screencasting tools out there, read Alix E. Peshettes' recent post on Classroom 2.0 for a rundown on some of the best. Sean P. Aune has also created a list on Mashable of twelve of the best with screenshots.

FreeScreencast is a free, integrated software + hosting solution that has recently come onto open beta that shows promise.

After registering you are prompted to make a small download and install the software. It is very quick. Using the software is simple, you have the option of recording full screen, a window or a user-defined region. When you hit record your screencast begins, when you stop you have the option of previewing, saving and/or uploading it straight away. There is a link to the website from the uploader and once there you can manage your screencasts; change the name, description, and tags.

Of course the gravy in all this is that you get to search other people's screencasts and use the now obligatory comment system. Embeddable, my new favourite unrecognised-by-some-spellcheckers word, is what these are; so of course I have included an embedded screencast below... on how to embed a screencast in Moodle.

Part of their getting started tagline reads: "No tech degree required" and it really is true. Its simple, clean and easy.

How you could use it in your teaching:

- Screencast yourself performing a process on an interactive whiteboard e.g. Solving an equation, drawing a diagram, highlighting verbs (your imagination is the limit here) and embed it in a wiki/social network/ Moodle etc for your students' revision or distance learning
- Illustrate how to use an application for fellow staff or for your students

Quizlet: Rote learning can be fun?

Quizlet is an excellent resource for those students trying to remember definitions, dates, conjugations, names, places, formulae….whatever

Put simply is a site where you input questions and answers and it then tests you on those answers after first familiarising you with them using 'guess and check' type strategies. It will keep hitting you with the things you get wrong until you get them right. It tests you in several different ways, type in the answer, multiple-choice and true or false. There is also an embeddable 'Scatter' activity which is my favourite.

Here is one that I whipped up with a measley 3 terms:

There are already many such quizzes that have been entered by other students and teachers. A look at the home page shows quizzes with titles like: French colours, The industrial revolution, Latin Vocabulary and Geometry Rocks. You can of course search for relevant quizzes

Possible ways to integrate it into your program:

- Individual learning: just alert the students to its existence
- Allocate groups to create quizzes on topics that you allocate or they nominate and try them out on other class members
- Language teachers: conjugate –er verbs in French. Pin yin to English for Chinese
- Students evaluate existing quizzes for accuracy and relevance to your topic
- Set up a glossary for the unit you are working on and have the students complete it and send a screenshot to you of their best scores
- The whole class contributes to a quiz on your thematic unit. Have each student add 2-3 terms.
- Make the construction of an accurate quiz part of an assessment task
- Next year, have the students do one of the above tasks and compare it to what your class did the year before. Students can evaluate their ideas as a comparison. Did they miss things? Did they think of something beyond the last class?

Comiqs: Create comics from photos and art

Engaging some students in literacy tasks can be difficult. Comic books have long been recognised as an effective way of getting students, particularly boys, to read. Now, a web 2.0 site in beta, Comiqs, provides a simple interface to create comics from any images that you fancy. You simply drag across the layout you would like for a page, upload and drag across photos and add speech and thought bubbles. Added functionality includes the option to access your Flikr account from within Comiqs.

Making your own comics is nothing revolutionary, you have always been able to make make comic strips using Word or PowerPoint (or pencil and paper!). However, Comiqs includes the functionality of comments, sharing and embeddability. Here is my lame attempt, created in five minutes from one of my own photos, it is only one page, but multiple pages are easy to set up:

It is not the only site that enables you to do so. I should also mention Comeeko, but a word of caution, some of the advertising is not suitable for children.

Educational applications:

- Junior science: Students could make a comic highlighting lab safety; create a
- biography of a scientist
- Primary/Secondary Literacy/English: Create short stories; develop characters for everyday objects; create biographies or autobiographies
- Art/Design: What layouts work; Colour combinations; Scan and upload work
- History: Biographies
- Languages: Dialogue