Thursday, December 11, 2008

Custom Searches With Google

My 1st grader is about to embark on his first "research" project. He has chosen to explore the skeletal system. We picked out some library books and tonight I went online to see what he would find using a basic Internet search. The answer: too much with too much text. I decided to try one of Google's new features, a customized search engine. I selected 9 sites with appropriate reading levels and/or plenty of pictures. You can view the search engine here. While it unreasonable to expect a teacher to create individual search engines for each child, it is reasonable for parents to do this for their children. It is a straightforward process, a simple way to become involved in your child's schoolwork and a way to have some peace of mind as your child begins to learn about Internet-based research.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Photoshow-ing a road trip

We just spent 2 weeks visiting family and friends. We drove and, despite the price of gas, our total bill (food, gas and all) was less than it would have cost the four of us to fly anywhere in the USA. Even better, our 12-year old SUV averaged 21 miles per gallon and worked flawlessly except for a minor inconvenience with the wheel alignment traveling through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Very good news since we are not interested in buying a new car anytime soon!

Best of all, we were able to see many different people and places in a relatively short amount of time. In addition to catching up with old friends and seeing our kids with their grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts and uncles, the trip motivated me to attempt a blog revival. I tend to assume that everyone knows what I know but I realized on this trip that there are a lot of really cool resources Moms should know about but don't have time to find. I have reviewed several tools in previous postings but I thought I would test out some other tools as I mourn the end of vacation and the beginning of another school year.

I started out tonight using PhotoShow because it is incredibly easy. I simply uploaded some pictures, selected a few aesthetics and an online show was ready to go. This tool reminded me of a less flashy, more calming version of Animoto. I loved the fact that I could create my whole show and preview it BEFORE I had to set up an account. Not surprisingly, I had to set up an account to share the show but it was a painless process and it seamlessly allowed me to post the show to this blog (or Facebook or MySpace or just about any other online tool).

Despite the ease of use, the free version of this tool is limited. There are 6 stickers to spice up your photo and 5 relatively blah music selections from which to choose. More choices (including video upload options) are available for $39.99 per year. Given the vast number of digital storytelling tools available and the fact that new ones are coming out everyday, I think the price is pretty steep. The site also provides an option to buy a DVD of the show. I suppose this is an okay option in some cases, however, iDVD provides much more flexibility and customization in true Apple-easy fashion. I would encourage anyone wanting a DVD of pictures to explore it before buying from a site like this.

As far as I can tell there are no narrative options with this tool which was disappointing since I had our kids tell about their vacation via Audacity throughout the trip. Despite some clear shortcomings, the free service provided by PhotoShow is easy to use and definitely worth a Mom's time to explore especially if you have friends or relatives living far away; just be careful about getting sucked into paying for additional services unless you have explored other options first.

Stay tuned for more tool testing and enjoy the PhotoShow........

Sunday, January 13, 2008

When kids create digital content

I spent some of my weekend at a meeting hosted by the Bureau of Instruction and Innovation within the Florida Department of Education. I always love going to these meetings because I get to connect with others who are passionate about students using technology and because I get to keep my pulse on where technology is going in the State.

Of course, there is also the Mommy Guilt of not being with my boys for part of the weekend and the messy house phenomenon to deal with when I get home. (Yep, you Moms know!!)

Nonetheless, a major topic of the meeting was the importance of getting students to create their own digital content (sometimes also called media assets). In fact, the DOE is currently processing grant proposals designed to support such creations and has some very forward thinking plans to help teachers support the process.

As I was listening to all the talk about the power of having students create digital content I kept thinking about how many Moms would interpret the phrase "student created digital content." It sounds a bit daunting. In fact, I bet it is daunting to more than a few professional educators too!!

Yet, it doesn't have to be complex and it can be FUN. So, I have decided to devote the next couple posts to examples of digital content created by my boys using free, simple web tools. (Of course, if you have looked at dates on my postings this may take me until summer to get done :)

But, Drew (4) and I created one this evening before he went to bed. We used a program called VoiceThread which is amazingly simple to use. It is basically a combination of a very simple online presentation tool and an audio discussion forum minus the threads.

Drew selected some pictures he wanted to tell a story about and then talked into the internal microphone of our computer to tell the story. Drew practiced his story once and then we recorded. Older children could write simple (or elaborate) scripts to narrate a story. They could even illustrate their story.

Interestingly, before every story I reminded Drew to start with "Danny and I" rather than "Me and Danny" but he got so excited to start talking that he forgot every time :) However, this is a still a great opportunity for Moms to talk with their children about proper grammar, story structure and elaboration. I didn't do much of this with Drew because of his age but the opportunities are there.

It is also a great opportunity for relatives and friends to communicate with a child. It is simple to create an account and comment. Go ahead, give it a try!! Drew would love to hear from you!! (If you want to comment you will need to access the presentation directly so you can create your account)