Here's a place to find creative, educational ways for your children and students to use the computer and lots of online tools. They'll have fun and be learning about computers at the same time. Adults will have fun too!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Potato Song

Want a laugh? Want to learn more about potatoes? Wonderopolis is a fabulous site that highlights a new topic everyday for kids to learn some fun facts.  Of course, you can browse back through their 78 categories containing hundreds of fun vidoes to learn about all kinds of things.  Wonderopolis is run by the National Center for Family Literacy and its sponsors and brings another aspect of learning through play to the internet.  Here's my favorite Wonderopolis video right now.


Thursday, December 8, 2011

Here Comes the Snow!

It's getting to snow season outside and when you're done playing in it you can come inside and make snowflakes in the warmth of your home.

Barkleyus.com has a very good online snowflake maker.  Just click on "Make a Snowflake" and use the scissors to cut the paper.  Check as often as you want to see how your flake is coming along.

Once you're done you can save them, print them, email them or just let them go back into the ether.  And you don't have to pick up all the itty bitty clippings.


If you have access to Brainpop there's a great video about how snowflakes are formed at http://www.brainpop.com/science/weather/snowflakes/.  These two sites together make for an informative and creative exploration of snowflakes.  But it's no replacement for getting out there and playing in the real snow!

Credit for these finds goes to amazing 4th grade teacher Stephanie Venerus.  Check out her blog at http://mrsvenerus.blogspot.com/.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Mesmerizing Sand Art Fun

Here's the most simple thing available (from a user standpoint) available right now and yet amazingly fun and hey, no messy clean up!  Go to thisissand.com and you may think your screen is not loading!  But in fact you'll see a small grey square in the upper left corner and that means you've arrived at online sand art.
This is so simple to use that preschoolers and kindergarteners can try it to get used to clicking a mouse and moving around the screen.  And yet, the colors filling up the page will mesmerize children and adults alike.
When you click and hold down your mouse or trackpad "sand" starts pouring out of your mouse pointer into piles right below it.  Move the mouse around to get even distribution or hold it still to make a mountain of one color or another.
Speaking of colors, click on that small grey square in the upper left corner to find the sparse, simple control commands.  Everyone's favorite is C for color.  Click and drag across several colors to have the sand automatically change along a gradient or choose just one color.
If learning through play is a child's job then this fun app is made for working.  If you're an artist or an art student you can explore color and the color wheel in new ways.  If you're learning about gravity watch the sand slide down the mountains.  See where it pools and where is doesn't and figure out why that is.  If you're a skiier, imagine winter.  Can you make a flat line?  I found that very hard to do.  Can you make clouds?  Check out the gallery for zebras and more. Have fun!

My First thisissand - not my last.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

It's a new school year and I'm discovering a host of new, fun, creative sites and applications to play with.  Today I found DifferenceBetween.net and I love it already.  It's a simple, online site.  Click to the home page and enter a single term or two words that you know are related.  DifferenceBetween will give you an explanation of either the two terms you entered or the one you entered and a word or concept that is close in meaning to the search term.  This is a pathway to critical thinking right at your fingertips!  


For example, I showed it to a 3rd grade teacher today whose immediate response was, "Does it have map versus globe?"  Yes, it did.  And this teacher was thrilled with the explanation. She could see right away that with her computer handy she could answer questions and prompt discussions without missing a beat.


The vocabulary in the site is somewhat challenging.  The 3rd grade teacher I showed it to said she would probably need to paraphrase a few things but, on the other hand, it would prompt her to introduce some new vocabulary that immediately related to the students' question and exploration.  For independent reading it probably applies to middle school aged students and older.


DifferenceBetween is a wiki in the sense that they take contributions from readers but they do filter everything before it goes up.  They will sometimes pay for submissions.


This is a great way to study or explore words or topics of interest to you!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Lingro

I happened upon lingro one day when doing some browsing for work and I tell you this site is simply amazing and its applications are endless!  Let's start with this: it's free and there's no login.  You know that's my favorite kind of site.

Here's what it does.  First, you find a site that you want to read.  Let's say you're an 8 year old kid who loves ninja and you want to read more about them but you read at a 3rd grade level and the Wikipedia article on ninja is written at an 8th grade level (I don't know, just guessing).  Go to the Wikipedia article and copy the web address.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ninja.  Then go to lingro and paste the Wikipedia address into lingro's search bar.  Lingro then runs the web address you've pasted in through its programs and gives you an online, one-click dictionary for any article or document on the web!  At least as far as I've been able to test it so far everything has worked very well.  Here's the ninja article put through lingro with a word clicked on to show you what it will look like when you're done.


As you can see, you're on the lingro website but the wikipedia address has been linked through lingro.  As I read the article I decided I didn't know what "unorthodox" meant so with a single click lingro popped up a definition of unorthodox.  THEN, you can bookmark the lingroed version of a website for future use for your children or students to look at if they're too young to go through that whole process by themselves!  Fabulous!

One thing lingro doesn't do is automatically put additional links through lingro again.  For example, if I click on the link to "Shinobi" in the first paragraph of the Wikipedia article I will go to Wikipedia's Shinobi link but it will no longer be through lingro.  I would have to put it through lingro separately.  Hey, you can't have everything.

On the plus side, if you're studying a foreign language, lingro will translate 11 different languages.  When switching languages, lingro doesn't give you a definition but instead gives you the word in your translate language.

I think this is a really incredible site that I plan to use with my children and students.  I'll probably use this in combination with Twurdy to really pinpoint reading levels and readability for individual kids.  These are great sites that make the information on the internet even more accessible.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

CoSketch.com! Collaborative Drawing.

Imagine this, you moved to New York and your best friend still lives in Connecticut.  You both love to draw and do artwork but you don't get to see each other much anymore.  Enter http://cosketch.com.  This is collaborative drawing online.  It's not the most powerful online drawing tool but it's got a built in chat room and enough to do to keep my 8 and 13 year old kids busy for a long time.  Plus, if you e-mail the web address of the cosketch room you're in to a friend, they can paste it into their address bar and join you!  Then you can work together on a sketch, take turns adding to a sketch, or play any other online drawing game you can think of from tic-tac-toe to creating a masterpiece.

Here's one my son did yesterday.

Both my kids committed to the drawing for 365 days in a row game yesterday so this day 1 of 365.  My son wasn't too excited about the idea until I told him he could draw online and all of a sudden it was a cool idea!

As with all my favorite online sites, it's free and has no log-in. 

Try it with your kids!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Mythology Movie Fun

It was a rainy summer day and I had 4 kids ages 6 to 13 around the house all day.  Not surprisingly, they wanted to watch a movie and chose Clash of the Titans (2010) or Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief.  Imagine their surprise when I said, "Let's watch BOTH movies and we'll make a Venn Diagram for what is the same and different in each movie."  They loved the idea!  We watched Clash of the Titans in the morning and they needed a little prompting.  I typed their thoughts into a readwritethink venn diagram.  We took a break for several hours and came back to Percy Jackson and the Olympians in the afternoon.  By that time they were ready to start typing their own thoughts into the diagram - which is so easy to do on the readwritethink template.  Then the wanted to know if Perseus was Zeus' son or Poseidon's son in the original myth so they did some research in Wikipedia too.
All in all a great, rainy, summer day.

Friday, June 10, 2011

TWURDY - Google Search Results Sorted by Reading Ability

Twurdy is an interesting new search engine currently in Beta. Twurdy's premise is that it searches the internet but then "grades" the results by reading level. This could come in handy!
Here's Twurdy's own description of itself.


About Twurdy
The name "Twurdy" comes from a play on words with the question "Too Wordy?".
The philosophy? Everyone has different reading abilities. Some people searching the web are university professors and others are 5 year old children. Twurdy has been created to provide people with access to search results that suit their own readability level.

What does it do? Twurdy uses text analysis software to "read" each page before it is displayed in the results. Then Twurdy gives each page a readability level. Twurdy then shows the readability level of the page along with a color coded system to help users determine how easy the page will be to understand.

The Goal? Twurdy's goal is to provide web searchers with information that is most appropriate for them. This will mean that 10 year olds doing school assignments don't have to click through difficult material to find something they can use. It will also mean that phd students do not have to click through websites designed for kids in order to find what they are looking for.

I love that Twurdy gives a reading level both by number and by color coding the entries. The lightest shade of orange is easiest to read, the darker colors are progressively more complex to read. They have created an algorithm that uses number of syllables, number of words on a page and average sentence length. Then they apply this algorithm to Google search results for the same input. While this seems like it will be most useful in educational settings you do still get the advertising components of a Google search so teachers should be aware of that. However, this could be a big timesaver for teachers and students searching on the web.

Find Twurdy at http://www.twurdy.com/index.php.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Creative Google Searching

My 8 year old just discovered a very fun set  of options for searching on Google as we were looking at pictures of bedroom decorating ideas for her room.  Do a Google image search for anything but preferably something colorful - like paint ideas, artwork, paintings, knitting, flowers, etc.  Then check out the lower left hand corner of the page and look for squares of different colors.
Click on any of the different color squares to have your search sorted by color.
What a boon to interior decorating!  Not to mention fun and creative for kids and adults.  There are other options for searching too such as the size of the image, whether or not there are faces in the picture, line drawings and clip art.

We had fun playing with this and we hope you do too.
I always recommend adult supervision for children browsing the internet and especially Google images.  It's amazing the pictures that will show up with the most innocent search. 


Monday, May 30, 2011

Snappywords

Do you like to play with words?  Are you a visual learner?  You'll love Snappywords!  Snappywords is an interactive, visual, online dictionary/thesaurus.  It's great for learning and studying and finding words when you're writing but it's also very fun!

You type in a word and it get a bouncy result showing your word and connections to other words.  I typed in "Happy" and got this:

As you can see, it's not easy to print or save the results but it's still super fun to use.

You can get the definition for each word just by mousing over it.  The different shaped/colored lines have different meanings which are explained in a key on the page just below the snappyword.  In a classroom setting I think this is most useful for exploring the meanings of vocabulary words and I find the connections for scientific words and social studies words to be very interesting and great jumping off points for discussion.

At home with the kids it's just a great way to explore words and study vocabulary except that they have no idea they're studying vocabulary!  The Random option is fun - you never know what you'll find.  I haven't found anything inappropriate for young children on the site although some of the words and concepts just wouldn't make sense to younger people.  My only gripe with the site is that unlike most online dictionaries which give you choices if you enter a word that is spelled almost correctly but not quite, snappy words doesn't respond to "almost" spelling.  So if you don't already know how to spell a word you'd have to look it up first.

I highly recommend Snappywords.  Have fun!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Animoto

There are a number of slide show creation sites available not to mention what you can do with a Mac or Picasa.  One I've found recently that I really like is Animoto.  As always, it's got to be easy to use.

Animoto Lite is free (yeah!) and gives several easy options for creating simple videos but the videos have a certain polish to them that I haven't found with other sites. There is currently a free offer for educators for Animoto Plus and a $5.00/month option as well as an option for a yearly subscription.  I like that they offer the monthly option too so you could do a project for an incredibly reasonable price and then be done.

You do need an e-mail address in order to sign up for Animoto so a teacher or parent will need to help younger students.  In my class, I was able to create multiple copies of template under my own log in so when the 6 year olds came in all they needed to do was enter the text that went with each picture.  I was able to open my account on several computers (20 in fact) at once with no problems or slow service which was wonderful.  You just can't have more than one person working on a single video at a time.

I liked the way the program is set up into 4 simple steps for creative a video.  First you choose your background and then you get this screen:

Older kids could upload their own pictures.  In the case of the young students I was working with, I did step one for them and uploaded the pictures into the template.

Then you get a template that looks like this:

The menu line along the bottom allows you to simply click to add pictures, text, delete slides and more.  Once you've added the slides you want it's easy to drag and drop them into the correct order.  This is the screen that confronted the first graders when they made their space movies.  All they had to do was click on the squares with a letter T in them and type their text into this:

There is only space for 52 characters which isn't much.  A couple of students needed more space so they added more text slides and created more space.  It's also a great vehicle for teaching editing as most students were able to reduce their character count to make it fit.

There is a sample on the site of an alphabet video that I really love too.  I think the creative possibilities for Animoto are endless and I hope you and your children and students will enjoy it too.



Image credits on the Animoto Screen Shot: Animoto Stock Photos

Monday, March 21, 2011

Shape Poems

Readwritethink.org has lots of great ideas for teachers, parents and daycare providers and lots of great online templates for kids to use.  One of my favorites is the Shape Poems, especially for younger children - maybe 1st through 3rd or 4th grade.  There are 4 categories of shapes to choose from, Nature, School, Sports and Celebrations.  This is just enough for young kids to enjoy choosing but not so many as to be overwhelming.  I like readwritethink's format because it allows for a little bit of brainstorming before the "writing" on the page where students put words they think of in relation to the shape they've chosen.  I find that the brainstorming section takes the pressure of the student to "write."  Children who are nervous about writing a poem or choosing the correct words for their poem don't have as much trouble just making a list of words that come to mind when they imagine the shape they've chosen.  And once they have some words  typed in that's half the battle.  All they need to do now is string them together and voila, they are poets.

The one thing I wish the template would also do is allow copy and paste or some other transfer of the words already brainstormed into the spot where you type your poem because it's not easy for little folks to type those words twice.  So if your student or child already has a handwritten list of brainstormed words I would skip typing them into the brainstorm page and go directly to typing into the shape page.

Here's one that I did.

I like how the shape and title even have cutout lines around them because shape poems are a great way to combine technology with old fashioned, tactile, cut and paste and glue and paint.

Readwritethink.org doesn't require a login or a subscription which is another great plus.  If you use this resource I'd love to hear your comments.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Glogster and Glogster Edu

A couple of weeks ago I saw this tweet by @PracticalWisdom, "How would you define interactive and digital technologies to Luddites?"  My response was that technology is just another tool like paper and pencil but with increased options for learning, creativity and information sharing.  Glogster and Glogster Edu are quintessential examples of this.   Glogster is a program that creates an online poster.  You can include pictures, graphics, links, video and audio with your poster.  Both the paper poster and the Glogster give the viewer information.  I like paper and pencil(marker, crayon, paint)for the physical action of drawing and combining colors and the way it is different in its permanency than digital creations.  I like Glogster because in addition to the static visual presentation, the viewer has audio, video and immediate access to further information through links.  This is the aspect of technology that a creative kid can fly with when they use Glogster.

Unfortunately, Glogster Edu at least seems to be riddled with bugs and I did not find it particularly user friendly.  I tried to create a Glog of all the schools in our school district thinking it would be cool to have a picture of each school with its name and the link to its homepage.  Unfortunately, I couldn't load two of the pictures for unknown reasons and some of the title templates I tried to use shut down the program every time I entered them.  I was also disappointed that there is no search option for the pictures that are included in the site.  After several hours of trying, the best I could come up with was a half finished Glog that I would not be proud to submit as finalized work.  It shouldn't take that long or be that frustrating.  And in the end, neither the embed code nor the share on Blogger options worked to actually put the Glog into this post.  Each time I backspaced to correct a typing error I got pushed from my finished Glog to the edit screen again.  The best I can give you here is a link.  Let's hope it works.

Glogster is a bit of a mixed bag in my opinion.  I hope they keep working on it because in concept it's a really great way for kids to be creative with computers if they have a personal interest they want to explore or express or if they have a school project they need to present information about using technology.  That said, I would not use it with my kids at home or at school yet because I believe they would find it frustrating.  It's important to note that I was working with the free edition of Glogster but if I don't enjoy the free edition I'm not likely to pay money to try again.

Parents and teachers should also be warned that if browsing regular Glogster as opposed to Glogster Edu there may be some objectionable material for younger folks.  I didn't see any problems on Glogster Edu but adult supervision is always recommended for children on the internet.

If you have used Glogster or Glogster Edu and have a comment, please leave it.  I'd love to hear about other experiences with it.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Giggling to the Toons

My 13 year old son and I just spent a fun and funny 45 minutes exploring ToonDoo.  While I haven't spent the hours and hours on it that I can foresee, it was intuitive enough to create this cute guy in our first 45 minutes.


You can use the preset characters, backgrounds and props or you can create your own characters.  The extent of free options to choose from seems endless but the very best part is that the characters can change poses and facial expressions.  Even the characters you create yourself can change, which surprised me.

The storytelling, retell, artistic, body and facial exploration options with this are so endless that I don't need to expound much on the ways kids can be creative with ToonDoo.  Younger kids can do a simple one frame face and explore different emotions without having to add text.  Older children can write full comic strips and then convert them into books.  I love the idea ToonDoo offered to have language students write a comic strip in the foreign language!

The site is free for individual users with an option to buy for easier use in schools and groups.  The paying option is called ToonDoo Spaces and allows for security and content moderation as well as creating multiple users without needing e-mail addresses.  Teachers and parents, in the paying option there is a note that says you can, "block inappropriate content."  I didn't see any inappropriate content but I didn't look at every single picture so you may want to explore it more fully than I have before you show it to students or your children.

I hope you enjoy this idea and let me know what you do with it.

Monday, February 28, 2011

BeFunky - Photo Fun


http://www.befunky.com/ is a photo manipulation site and what I love about it is that there's no download onto your computer and no login so it's super easy to use. Here are a couple of projects my kids did.














I recommend this program for children as young as 4 or 5 because they can use mouse skills only to drag and drop stickers onto their pictures.  Another skill they can learn is how to click on a "sticker" and find the corners to make it bigger or smaller.  This will translate to lots of future computer programs and they'll have a ball doing it.  The sky's the limit for older kids who can play with their photo and their artistic side to create all kinds of pictures.  I've seen some very creative work done by 3rd through 5th graders.  If your computer has a webcam let them take the picture sitting right there.  Or you can use any picture that's already on your computer.
Be Funky is free although if you get hooked and you love it there is an option to buy the premium service which includes lots more options for each picture.
Have fun!