Tuesday, November 29, 2011

How Games Make Kids Smarter

Do you think video games result in learning difficulties, ADHD, increased violence, and the overall liquification of a child’s gray matter? Think again! These things are NOT true, according to this TED Talk video, by Gabe Zichermann:

“Gamification”– it’s a good thing…


Monday, November 28, 2011

The Technology of Storytelling

Take a walk through the pages of history with Joe Sabia, as he introduces us to Lothar Meggendorfer, who created the iPad of the 18th Century: the pop-up book. His video essay discusses how storytelling has changed over time as technology has advanced, while the stories themselves remain essentially unchanged. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Budgets, Taxes, and Deficits


Recently I read this post on the Voice of America Web site:

Students Debate US Budget Through Online Game

Budget Hero, mentioned in the story above, is an online political/economic simulation that would be a great resource for any high school Econ, Civics, PoliSci, or Social Studies classroom.  It’s also a great example of how kids can use simulations and games to practice solving real-world problems.

About a year ago, the New York Times published an article (“O.K., You Fix the Budget,” November 13, 2010) and a related Web site on a similar topic. There is also a link to various essays and research on the topic, so students can read about many aspects of the budget debate to help inform their decisions. On the simulation Web site, students check a series of boxes next to possible solutions and see how their decisions affect the overall US economy, both in the short- and long-term views.


There are several other free online resources that would offer students similar experiences.  Here are just a few that I’ve blogged about in the past. These would all be great for high school & perhaps even upper middle school social studies or life skills classes.


What We Pay For breaks down the federal budget into individual fund items that are easier to understand, using current budget figures. Students can also input annual income features and find out exactly how much taxes one would pay and where each dollar and cent would go in the budget. The site really takes the abstract concept of taxation and makes it concrete for kids.



Where Did My Tax Dollars Go? is a similar site that displays information in pie-chart format. That visual representation is a nice way to help visualize & understand how the government divides up tax revenue to provide goods and services to citizens.



SPENT takes budgets to a very personal level for a lot of kids and families. The premise of the site is simple: You’ve lost your job, exhausted all savings, and have $1000 left to get you through the month. How will you spend it? Kids must make very real and difficult decisions about their personal & family life, and how those decisions lead one down different paths in life.


Images used in this post are screenshots from their respective Web sites. Each image is hyperlinked back to its source – click the images to visit the sites.

World’s Worst Passwords

Internet securityFound this posted on Yahoo! Finance today.

25 “Worst Passwords” of 2011 Revealed

According to the article, a good password “…should contain at least eight characters. It should contain a mix of four different types of characters - upper case letters, lower case letters, numbers, and special characters such as !@#$%^&*,;" … It should not be a name, a slang word, or any word in the dictionary. It should not include any part of your name or your e-mail address.”

Keep in mind, though, that some Web sites will not accept certain special characters, so don’t get your heart set on just one password.

Another good tip from the article: Try turning a sentence into a password. “For example, ‘Now I lay me down to sleep’ might become nilmDOWN2s, a 10-character password that won't be found in any dictionary.”

Here’s a great video on developing safe passwords from Explania.com. It reinforces the tips in the article, and also contains a nice tool to help you test your new password idea at the end of the animation.

How to choose a safe password - Explania

Note that the article, which has a much more recent publication date, suggests that it might be okay to write down your password – or at least a hint to your password – and carry with you so you don’t forget it. The video, which has been around longer than the article, suggests that you not write down your password.

My advice (for what it’s worth): Do what works best for you, but don’t write down your passwords and put them on a sticky note on your monitor or under your keyboard, etc., and don’t write down your credit card PIN numbers and keep them in your wallet with your credit cards. Common sense and convenience do not always walk hand-in-hand when it comes to this stuff. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Khan Academy

I posted about the Khan Academy back in March, but in the months since then the site has really taken off and gained worldwide notoriety! (No, I’m not implying a causal relationship, just sheer coincidence… ) Take a few minutes to watch and listen to the video above.

The Khan Academy know houses thousands of videos on topics too numerous to mention here in the areas of Math & Science and now Economics, the Humanities and others! There is no sign-up required at all, and all the videos are free-of-charge to use in any classroom.

The Khan Academy resources would be a great way to help you “flip the classroom,” allowing students the opportunity to learn independently and focusing more of your valuable class time on applying their newly-developed knowledge to solving real-world problems, etc.

Learn more and explore topics covered by the Khan Academy

Cleaning SMART Boards & Projectors

MP900448582[1]Sometimes I forget that people want to know answers to some of classroom life’s simpler things.  I often hear questions like this:

How do I clean a SMART Board?

You can really use anything. Glass cleaner works nicely for quick touch-ups. The stuff that the custodians use to clean regular white boards actually works really well too!  BUT WAIT! Before you unleash your inner Mr. Clean, here are the DO’s and DON’T’s:
  • ALWAYS spray the cleaning solution onto a soft cloth and then wipe the board
  • NEVER spray cleaning solution onto the board – the cleaning liquid could drip down the Board and fry the circuitry in the pen tray, causing you and your building principal’s budget a very bad day, because that kind of problem is not covered by anybody’s warranty
  • ALWAYS wipe and NEVER scrub – scrubbing leaves shiny spots on the Board and is really distracting when an image is projected onto it
  • NEVER use anything abrasive. Cleaners like Comet, Soft Scrub, etc., or a Magic Eraser or “scratchy-pad” like the rough side of a kitchen sponge are all fine products, I’m sure, but they should never come close to a SMART Board
  • NEVER use anything containing bleach
  • UNPLUG things from outlets near the SMART Board during cleaning. Electricity and cleaning solutions are not good friends

How do I clean a projector?

The projector that goes with a SMART Board is easy to forget about since it is usually hanging from the wall or ceiling and is harder to get to. However, keeping it clean is really quite easy! 
  • Once or more each week, remove the filter by the lens and blow the dust & crud off it before reinserting.
  • If you see dirt or dust on the housing, use a vacuum (ask your friendly building custodian for assistance with this if needed) to remove it, but NEVER use compressed or “canned” air.  That will just force the dust and dirt into the mirrors & lenses and can virtually destroy the projector.
  • UNPLUG the projector before cleaning it.
  • ALWAYS ask for assistance from a custodian, tech staffer, etc., when working on techie-things out of reach. Avoid standing on chairs, tables, student desks, etc. Find a ladder or grab a step-stool.


NEVER allow helpful and well-meaning students to clean your SMART Board or projector for you

There are no more germs on a SMART Board that there are on your classroom door handle. Kids touch the door handle… kids touch the SMART Board… it’s all pretty much the same…

Friday, November 18, 2011



Branches of Power is a great Web resource I blogged about back in 2010. When I originally posted this, either I skipped over the teacher resources, or they hadn’t been fully developed yet. Visit them today and prepare to be impressed!

Please read the iLearn Technology post to learn more about the features of the game and what others think about it.

iCivics, the group that designed this game, also offers lots more resources to help any Social Studies or Language Arts classroom. Their Branches of Power Curriculum Units page has resources for Foreign Affairs, State and Local Government, Politics & Public Policy, Budget, Foundations of Government, and Citizenship & Participation. There are even Persuasive Writing lessons, so you can support your local English/Language Arts teachers as we all work together toward mastery of the National Common Core State Standards! All of the games and simulations include extensive lesson plans and supporting materials.

iCivics also has games to help students in a variety of areas:

  • Citizenship & Participation
  • Constitution & The Bill of Rights
  • Budgeting
  • Separation of Powers
  • The Executive Branch
  • The Legislative Branch
  • The Judicial Branch

The games are also divided into time-frame categories: Some take less than 15 minutes, some take 15-30 minutes, and some take more than a half-hour to complete. While I haven’t looked through all the games on the site, I would expect most of them to be geared toward the Middle School and High School grades.

Learn more about iCivics by flipping through their virtual brochure, below:

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Talking to Teens About Online Predators

I found this Tip Sheet on Talking With Teens About Online Predators linked to the November 2011 Netsmartz Five monthly mailing.


The tip sheet is from the University of New Hampshire’s Crimes Against Children Research Center. The tip sheet includes several “Dos and Don’ts” to keep in mind when discussing this difficult topic with kids, whether you’re a teacher, counselor, or parent. Here are a few examples of items to share with teens. The tip sheet obviously contains more suggestions, advice, and supporting research – this is just an overview:

  • Provocative and sexy names and pictures can draw attention from people you don’t want in your life.
  • 1 in 25 youth in one year received an online sexual solicitation where the solicitor tried to make offline contact
  • Be careful about who you give personal information to and what kinds of things you share
  • Internet offenders target teens who are willing to talk online about sex
  • Boys can be criminally victimized online, too
  • Using the Internet or a cell phone to send sexual pictures of yourself or friends can get you in trouble with the law
  • Don’t harass others. People may retaliate in ways you don’t expect.
  • … and many more…

There is also a list of Internet Tips for Teens at the end of the document that is perfect for displaying in a classroom or handing out to parents.

If Kids Designed Apps, from THE Journal

Here’s an interesting article from THE Journal:

Kids, parents, and educators were recently surveyed to gather ideas for “the perfect app” for mobile learning devices. This article outlines the top ideas:
  • An app that helps with music education, including music history, works of famous composers, and “songs that kids can jam out to.”
  • An app that would let kids view videos about school subjects or talk to professionals who use what kids are learning in real life.
  • An all-in-one app that would incorporate an planner, an information database, and a textbook archive, including a 3-D model viewer.
  • An organizer with different “folders” showing how the student in doing in each class they’re currently taking as well as student reactions to their own learning experiences.
  • A game-like interface that allows kids to interact with famous persons from history and share their wisdom with students.
Actually, those sound sort of “do-able,” don’t they! If you’re always wondering, “why didn’t I think of that,” and you’re always on the look-out for that next million-dollar idea, these would be great apps to develop!

… in all your spare time… LOL!


Monday, November 7, 2011

Veterans Day Resources

Yikes! Where has the time gone?  With Veterans Day fast approaching, I probably should have gotten these links out there sooner. Apologies to those who follow this blog regularly – I’ll try to stay a little more up-to-date on these topics in the future.

Here are some sites for teaching kids about the countless contributions made by the men and women in the Armed Forces. But before we get to that… ,

Thank you, Dad, for your service in Korea.

The United States Department of Veterans Affairs has produced the video below and a teachers guide to help educate children about the sacrifices made by men and women in uniform.

Tips for teaching kids about Veterans Day, from Military.com.

VetFriends has published a video essay entitled “What do U.S. Veterans Mean to you?”

CNN Video: Remembering veterans who have no one. This is a very moving video covering Calverton National Cemetery’s NOA (No One in Attendance) remembrance service. It will move the strongest person to tears.

The History Channel’s Veterans Hub offers a number of teacher resources and ideas to help kids get involved with honoring our nation’s veterans. We are also reminded that “It’s Never Too Late to Say Thank You.” Below is a History Channel Video on The History of Veterans Day.

Last WWI Veteran on Video

Storming Juno, focusing on experiences of Canadian forces at Juno Beach on D-Day

The Best Websites to Learn About Veterans Day, by Larry Ferlazzo

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Help Your Computer Run Faster

Here’s a great article from Yahoo!s Y!Tech blog, listing “5 ways to make your Windows computer run faster.” These are good tips for both home and school computers: MP900433180[1]

  • Run the essentials – Close down programs that you aren’t using (CTRL-ALT-DEL and “End Task” works wonders) and limit the number of programs that automatically start when you start your computer. Read the article for specific instructions, and always ask a technician if you’re not sure exactly what to do.
  • Fluff not necessary – Uninstall things you don’t use, but DON’T uninstall things like anti-virus, anything in the System folder or Microsoft folder, etc. If you have questions about this when you’re at a school computer, just type the word “support” in a browser window to create and submit a Tech Help Request to schedule an evaluation.
  • Safe and simple browsing – Internet Explorer and other Web browsers offer MP900422412[1]you the ability to turn off various “extensions” that are supposed to make your browsing experience easier (blah, blah, blah). My advice: DO IT! Many of these are garbage that just slow things down. All those stinking toolbars are just mucking up half your screen! Kill them by going to Tools –> Add-ons and unchecking the crud you don’t need. …which means most of it…
  • Timing your anti-virus scans – Here in the District, anti-virus scans are automatic, so you probably don’t have to worry about it.  Also, DO NOT install MP900422409[1]extra anti-virus software on your school computer! You’ll want to avoid running multiple anti-virus programs on the same machine – they can often conflict with one another and bring your computer to a screeching halt. If you have a computer or laptop at home, time the antivirus scans when you’re away or sleeping, etc. (You may have to leave your computer running – depends on the machine & the software.)
  • Add a physical boost – More memory can often make some older computers run faster, but this is usually best left to a trained technician. This is good advice for a home computer, but NEVER try to fiddle with the memory on your school computer, please!

For more details, please Read the Article on the Yahoo! Y!Tech Blog.

Images from Microsoft Office Clip Art Gallery: http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/images/

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Morning Calendar–SMART Exchange

Elementary Teachers – Here’s a nice resource I stumbled across while looking for a lesson in SMART Exchange.

This Morning Calendar template is a nice way to start your day with students. All of the text and objects are locked, but you can easily unlock them and customize this form for use in the classroom – just left-click! This would be simple to adjust to make a lunch count chart, etc., too.


In the template file you’ll also find a calendar chart, a daily weather chart, and activities for shape recognition, addition, place value, and number words. It’s a great resource, AND IT’S FREE!

Check out SMART Exchange today!

SMART’s EdCompass Nov 2011 issue

The latest issue of SMART’s EdCompass Magazine focuses on how to use SMART products – and other technologies – to assist learners with special needs, whether you’re a Special Education teacher or a regular education teacher.


There are several great articles inside, including:

  • Tips for use, including how to fix the dreaded “gray bar” issue
  • iPad apps to use with students
  • Ways to use SMART Board technologies to help students with communication disorders
  • A sampling of pre-made SMART Board activities and question sets for Senteo/Response “clickers” to help diverse learners, available at SMART Exchange

imageClick to download the free PDF of EdCompass Magazine, November 2011.

Click to view this issue in your browser.

Great Story of High School Sportsmanship

As November begins, so do the Dark Days of Doldrums in many schools around the nation. Days are shorter. Winter is coming. It’s several weeks until break, and May seems like a lifetime away.

But here in the Midwest, we like to think of ourselves as a tough lot. We’ll get through it… we always do… Even so, its always nice to hear encouraging stories to remind us to pull ourselves up and keep fighting the good fight, teaching kids how to do the right thing whenever the situation calls for it.

So, for those of you who need a little pick-me-up to renew your optimism in the work we do to help students, I hope you’ll enjoy this article as much as I did this morning. It’s a great reminder that there’s more to school than books and computers and homework and tests. In my book, these guys should get an “A” in The Test of Life. 

Well done, Gentlemen. Well done.

Teen Rowers give up medal dreams to help capsized foes, by Cameron Smith on the Yahoo! Prep Rally blog.
Episcopal Academy rowers James Konopka and Nick Mead
Image from http://rivals.yahoo.com/highschool/blog/prep_rally/post/Teen-rowers-give-up-medal-dreams-to-help-capsize?urn=highschool-wp7953

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