Curriki: Open Source Curriculum

by Tim Cushman

curriki_logo

Technology has played a significant role in the way we live, play, and most importantly – learn.  The social networking model has migrated to the world of education to create an outstanding, open source community for developing and sharing curricula at www.curriki.org.  Curriki is not “another cool site” worth glancing over some weekend.  In my opinion, it is the premiere destination on the Internet for any educator concerned with reaching all learners in his or her classroom.

One may assume the Curriki is simply another repository for lesson plans.  Curriki is so much more with over 20,000 resources and 50,000 members.

The reality of an open platform is long overdo.  The current paradigm of “educational knowledge” distribution limits the access of quality content to a select group of users.  This access is limited primarily by cost, but also by media type (we love our bound textbooks) and distribution method.  In contrast, Curriki is free and centers around the idea that content is “living” and should be exchanged and discussed.  That’s why Curriki includes a user rating system (similar to the idea of YouTube or Amazon) and a range of resources including lesson learning objectives, unit scope and sequence, multimedia to enhance instruction, and tools for creating content.  Differentiating instruction has never been easier.

The video below provides an overview of Curriki.  Watching a video clip does have its limitations.  Be sure to head over to www.curriki.org, create your free account and get started!

Google Earth Professional Free For Educators

gep Google Earth is often pigeon-holed as niche software for those teaching geography or for the hobbyist with a keen interest in GIS applications. Google Earth has much more to offer the classroom teacher than the obvious geography connections. I will not attempt to enumerate all of the uses in this post. I did find the following links to be very helpful for incorporating Google Earth: http://www.shambles.net/pages/learning/GeogP/gearthplan/, http://bbs.keyhole.com/ubb/ubbthreads.php/Cat/0, http://googlelittrips.com/, and http://www.google.com/educators/p_earth.html.

According to Google, Google Earth Professional offers “high-quality printing, image export, movie maker, data importer, premium support, and measurement tools.” (http://earth.google.com/support/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=21407) The real advantage of Google Earth is the resources you can incorporate into the software. Look for “Google Earth Pro plug-ins” with your favorite web browser if you would like specific functionality from the software. You can start with perusing http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/top-plugins-and-resources-to-make-google-earth-more-fun/ and http://www.gearthhacks.com/downloads/. All of this comes at a price though – $400 a year to be exact. However, Google is offering the professional version of their software absolutely free to educators.

Be sure to check out the Google Earth “how to” from Hall Davidson at http://www.halldavidson.net/GoogleEarthHD.pdf.

Steps For Applying For a Free Educator Account:

1. Download the Google Earth Professional trial version at https://registration.keyhole.com/choice_kh_initial.html. Make note of your Google Earth trial account user name and license key.
2. Send an email to GEEC@google.com from your school email account expressing your interest.
3. Wait for the reply from Google. They will send a short application for you to complete in email format.

Digital Resources for the Classroom

by Tim Cushman

We live at a time where all of the world’s knowledge is accessible through a singular and ubiquitous platform.  This is the unimaginable reality of the day in which we live thanks to the evolution of the Internet.  One would think that educators would be on the cusp of the knowledge revolution.  The fact is, many classroom teachers do not leverage the potential of the Internet.

A major barrier for the busy teacher is finding appropriate resources in a timely manner.  It is easy to spend several hours at several different websites looking for resources for a single lesson.  The incessant “needle in the haystack” searching for meaningful content gets old quickly and is abandoned in due course.  There is hope for bringing the best of the Internet into your classroom thanks to some great collections of digital resources.

I will not attempt to enumerate the “Top 10” most useful teacher websites.  I would, however,  like to share a handful of sites for finding some really great resources.

  1. Thinkfinity (free) – a very well organized, easy to use portal for instructional resources
  2. Discovery Education Network (free) – register yourself and start collaborating with 25,000 other educators; browse by category
  3. Nettrekker (by subscription) – available for all GCSD teachers; a search engine customized for schools that returns educationally relevant results to keyword searches; well worth the money

What other repositories of good educational resources have you found?

Professional Development in a Flash

by Tim Cushman

The primary challenge in the successful implementation of technology in the classroom is the buy-in from the individual teacher.  Many districts elect to channel all of their technology funds into the purchase of hardware and software at the expense of end-user training.  This short-sighted approach leaves many teachers floundering to learn the new technology on their own time, often with limited access to self-study materials.  This frustration is enough of a roadblock for many teachers to ignore technology tools all together or to use them only at a very basic level.

I do have to wonder, at one point do we as professional educators include the pursuit of learning technology under the umbrella of personal growth?  I am not referring to simply staying current with a variety of new products in order to continually “wow” a group of students as a means of crowd control (listen to Wesley Fryer’s “Strive to Engage, Not Enthrall”).

Single Image Set
Image details: Single Image Set by picapp.com

Technology is a tool that serves as a powerful conduit to learning in the hands of the master teacher.  A colleague of mine, Tim Van Heule, often quips that, “the effective use of technology makes a good teacher better, but the misuse of technology makes a good teacher poor.”  Like a master craftsman building a house, it is about using the right tool in the right way.

I recommend the following method for staying current: read blogs, listen to podcasts, watch video tutorials.

Start Here
David Jakes provides an excellent resource on his wiki for teachers interesting in deepening their understanding of an array of technologies.  The tasks are straightforward and can easily be completed in fifteen minutes.  David’s site is full of great resources and is worth a thorough examination.  Do this if nothing else.

Blogs
Click here for a clear explanation of blogs and here to learn how to get blogs automatically delivered to your computer.

A few of my favorite blogs are dy/dan, edu.blogs, Ian Jukes, Steve Hargadon, The Strength of Weak Ties, and 2 Cents.

Podcasts
Click here for a clear explanation of podcasts.  iTunes is a great way to manage your podcasts.  Click here for a video tutorial on how to subscribe to podcasts through iTunes.

Video Tutorials
More video tutorials on the use of hardware and software packages are being posted online thanks in large part to the YouTube revolution.  Atomic Learning is well worth the money if you can afford it because of the volume of tutorials and the speed at which they load.  You can find some decent user content on sites like YouTube or TeacherTube if you don’t mind putting in extra time searching.

Super Stories: Comics and Digital Storytelling

by Tim Cushman

Comics and education?  Can their be a more juxtaposed pairing?  The idea of using comics to teach is inconceivable for many like me who spent tedious hours in the elementary classroom listening to a lecture on this historical character or that scientific principle while nervously eying my best friend the next row over as he drew the story playing out  in his head.  Inevitably, he would be caught and would face the full ire of a peeved teacher.  The fact is, telling a good story is a very difficult thing to do.  I don’t mean telling a story that simply entertains (although there is a place for that).  Rather, using storytelling, and in this case comics, as a means to communicate a powerful idea in a concise way.

The standard needs to be set high.  I like to make the comparison to Hollywood films.  A good movie that tells a powerful story in a powerful way wins an Oscar.  Movies that may enjoy a certain amount of the mainstream spotlight and are in some way sensational may generate revenue but do not necessarily reflect good storytelling.  We need to get our students to produce “Oscar-worthy” digital stories.  This is very difficult and requires a great deal of thought and creativity.  The challenge to be creative and innovative is what our students need.  Jobs requiring knowledge are outsourced.  Jobs requiring innovation and cooperation within a diverse community never will be.  This is the future we are preparing them for.  Enough pontificating from my soap box…

Comeeko.com offers a new take on digital storytelling by turning your digital photos into a comic-style format.  The effect is appealing.  All you need is a digital camera for taking pictures of the “characters” in the comic.  Comeeko will add the unique comic-styling.  What could you do with Comeeko?

Don’t Just Say It, Screencast It

Supporting student learning has gotten easier with modern tools like TechSmith’s Camtasia Studio 5 ($179, educational price) and Matchware’s ScreenCorder 5 ($189, educational price). Camtasia allows you to record your on-screen actions, add narration, pop-up speech bubbles, and illustrations to a video in a variety of shareable formats. Both Camtasia and Screencorder are very good if you are looking to purchase desktop recording software. You can download the Camtasia or ScreenCorder 5 trial to find the solution that work best for you.

Creating screencasts can be a great way for teachers to maximize instructional time by making technical explanations and classroom lessons available for students to review outside of class.

Screencasting would also be a an effectual means of individualizing instruction for struggling students. How much more productive could the middle school math teacher be if a series of step-by-step instructional videos were created on solving equations or working with integers? Students can also create videos to either demonstrate knowledge of a process or as part of a classroom project.

Camtasia and SreenCorder are good, but money for software may not be in the budget. There are two free alternatives for you to consider – uTipu and CamStudio. Both programs are completely free and easy to use. I prefer uTipu, but both will do the job. Be sure to check your district’s policy regarding the installation of software.

Screencasting does require a time commitment. Consider using students to create and produce the videos. The result is mutually beneficial.

Musopen! Copyright Free Music

MusOpen! (www.musopen.com) is a growing collection of online music, completely free of all copyright restrictions. MusOpen! is maintained by a non-profit organization with the express goal of “setting music free” by making recordings of sheet music in the public domain. In short, MusOpen! works with artists that are interested in making copyright-free music available to everyone. You can read more on the legal stuff here if you are the curious type.

The quality of the songs is surprisingly good (320kbps bit rate) and is available for streaming or download. Sheet music is also available for download and may be of interest to music teachers and students alike.

MusOpen! is “setting music free” as claimed, but it is hardly a large scale jailbreak. The collection is currently limited to roughly one hundred, classical performances. The sparse library is a bit disappointing, but the idea is innovative and has potential.

I am pleased to see sites like MusOpen popping up on the Internet. It is difficult to find no-cost, legal audio sources to direct students to as they create technology-based projects. You can read more about sources for multimedia in the classroom in a previous posting.

You may also have occasion to use a copyrighted work for instruction or in some way to promote your school. Copyright law still applies, regardless of your intentions. There are several good sources on the web for educating yourself on your legal limits of fair use. I found one good site here.