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!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Simplify Online Reading

Are your kids having a hard time reading or researching on the computer.  Try these tricks.

Text to Speech
Some kids like to have online materials and articles read to them.  Safari has a built in speech option.  Highlight the text you'd like to have read to you.  Then go to Edit>Speech>Start Speaking and the computer will read the highlighted text to you.

Mac computers will read anything on the computer to you and have a number of different voices and accents to choose from.  In the system preferences look for the little microphone for speech settings.  I set the option-L combination to speak any highlighted text, anywhere on the computer.  This is an easier speech option both to turn on and turn off than Safari but if you stop the speech and then restart it, the computer starts reading from the beginning of the highlighted text again.

Simple Language
Twurdy is a search site that sends a Google search through an algorithm to rate articles by reading level.  Lighter highlighter articles are easier to read.  We use this occasionally with students but only when we can search with them since we don't allow our students to Google topics on their own.  The algorithm works well but we've found that most of the sites that come up in the Twurdy search as easy reading are sites we already have bookmarked on our Library Research Tools web page.

Simple.Wikipedia takes regular Wikipedia articles and both condenses them and uses more simple words and more wimple grammar for the same topics.  These can be very useful but since they don't often go into as much depth as the full Wikipedia article they may not have enough information for a 4th or 5th grade student who would like deep information but doesn't have the reading skills for regular Wikipedia.

Cruxbot is a new program that runs on your computer from a bookmarklet.  It takes any web page and simplifies it.  this works well because although you can choose to have an article condensed into one or two paragraphs you can also keep the entire article but have in translated into more simple sentences.  We have had excellent success with this recently for 3rd grade and older students who want to do more deep research.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Have You Drawn a Stickman?

This quick, fun little site was created to get employees to think outside the box.  I don't think the creators knew how much fun the general public was going to have with it and how much fun kids are having with it.  DrawaStickman lets you draw online and watch the drawing move through a story that asks you draw new elements as it moves on.  The stories are short but the drawings can be different every time - which is the whole point.  Ask you kids to do it more than once and see how they can make it different each time.  They love watching their pictures become animated and you will too.

Here's my stickman starting his adventure.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

First Graders Make Space Movies

For this project, first grade students had been studying space and needed a way to present what they learned.  I used with them to make movies about space.  At six and seven years old the students weren't able to browse and choose images so I created a template for each student.  It was then up to them to fill in the text to describe each image.  As a final fun project we used and Mac's Photo Booth to make astronaut pictures of each student for the end of their movies.  The kids had a ball watching their movies and showing everyone what they learned.

Here's a sample of an astronaut picture.

And here's one of the final movies.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Don't read it - Hear it!

Click on the play button to check out Voki.

Voki is a marvelous site for people ages 7 and up to create a character and bring it to life by making it talk.  I really appreciate all the options Voki gives you.  First you pick a character from anime to animals to historical figures, holiday characters and current political figures. Then you go on to pick from plenty of options for clothing, bling and backgrounds.  You can even "tweak" the skin color, hair, mouth and eyes.  There are so many educational applications for Voki and at home it's a great way to be creative.  For example, would grandma like to hear her grand daughter's voice saying thank you for the Christmas presents?  In the Voki above I typed the script but there is a record option also.

Voki has a classroom option and they have just simplified their login system for students making it easier to use.  At home or at school, Voki is a clever way to explore and create.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


Here's a fun, free website great for anyone but especially accessible to creative little people just getting used to a computer.  It's Silk and it uses the mouse to create moving strands of color that are "blowing in the wind."  What a fun way for pre-schoolers to start using a mouse  I haven't tried it on the iPad yet but I bet that's fun too.  And the movement of the strands of "silk" is pretty mesmerizing to watch.

The pictures are more about color and movement than about creating a picture OF something.  There are very few controls and you don't need any of them to make the pictures work.  Here are the few instructions they give you.
  • Hold shift and move your mouse to control the wind.
  • Press S to instantly stop your silk.
  • Press X to start a new silk.
So sally forth and create a silk.  Let me know what you think of it.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Recently while working with first graders on a project about space I came across NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day site and I'm really enjoying checking in on it.  Check out this picture of a crater on the moon.
Image Credit:  NASA
Not only is it really neat picture but I love the single paragraph explanations for the pictures.  I can't claim to understand everything the paragraphs are explaining but for such a technical subject I think they do a good job of putting it in plain language.

So if you or your child loves space and space studies this is a site to bookmark and check back on often.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Star Wars Snow Flakes

In honor of the 3D episode of Phantom Menace this weekend AND because we have no snow on the ground in the northeastern United States maybe you'd like to make some Star Wars snowflakes!  Check out the blog Matters of Grey where they have designed and made available templates for Star Wars snowflakes like this awesome Admiral Ackbar. ("It's a trap!")

Photo Credit: Matters of Grey 2/10/12.
The cutting can be tricky but it's so worth it! 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

More Photo Fun - photoboother

Remember going to the Mall and taking pictures of yourself with your friends!  Now you can do it anywhere there's a computer and a webcam - and it's free and there's no login.

Go to  You need to have some photos on your computer before starting.  It asks for 4 photos but I don't see why you couldn't use the same photo more than once.  If you have a Mac you can use photo booth to get your pictures. 

Click on "Tutorial" for the 5 sentence instructions.  It's that simple.  Click on upload and pick your 4 pictures.  You need to click on upload separately for each photo.  There are a 6 formats to choose from too. You can download the final product to your computer, order prints or email the photos. 

Have fun and send me your Photoboothers!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Twister! Historical Tweeting for Students

This morning I found a very fun little project at called Twister.  The concept behind Twister is that you write a "tweet" that a historical figure might have said.  They have to use the figure's real nickname or make up a believable nickname for that person.  There's a perfect opening for talking about internet safety.  Then they add the person's real name and a 140 character statement that the historical figure might really have said.  Then also have to add a plausible date for the tweet which requires a little bit of research.  The site adds an appropriate background automatically.  ***PLEASE NOTE*** that although this site is intended for classroom use it's not all kid friendly so if you're just browsing through their examples you should pre-screen them before showing students.
Here's one I did for my good buddy Jaques Cartier.