Saturday, March 29, 2008

Blurfing in the Blogoshpere

Thanks to Lori, a student in my graduate class, who taught me a new vocabulary word the other day—“blurfing” or blog surfing. I was so excited to have something to describe one of my favorite pastimes, just clicking on links from one blog to another. I decided to finally do something practical with all of my blurfing and let others know about some of my favorite blogs and blog posts related to education and accessible technology.

Since Karl Fisch is one of the 1st blogs I started to read, I must mention 2 of his great posts:
2020 Vision is a profound reflection on the state of technology in the year 2020.
Is It Ok To Be Technologically Illiterate? is a frank discussion of the need for educators and others to develop media literacy. His statement,
“If a teacher today is not technologically literate - and is unwilling to make the effort to learn more - it's equivalent to a teacher 30 years ago who didn't know how to read and write.”
is thought provoking, to say the least.

Another thought provoking blogpost, is Will Richardson’s URGENT: 21st Century Skills for Educators (and Others) First where he discusses the need for technology to be a focus in Educational Reform. The comments to this post are as interesting to read as the post itself.
Karen Janowski’s Free Technology Toolkit for UDL in All Classrooms - Spread the Word! post from her EdTech Solutions: Teaching Every Student Blog is a gem, filled with free tools for creating a UDL classroom is updated regularly, most recently on 2/14/08.
Let me know what your favorite blogposts are!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Free clip art, photos, and other media for educational use

This week I was helping my daughter create an ABC book on China for her World Studies Class. She has learned in school how to use Google Images to search for pictures, but doesn’t really understand that many of these pictures are not legally free for her to use in school projects. It is a common misconception made by many individuals, including educators and parents, that if they are using an image off the web for educational use, that it is fine to do so. In reality, many, if not most images on the web are not free to copy, download, or print, even for use in school projects by students. However, there are a growing number of graphics, images, and other types of media that are available legally for the public to use. These public domain, copyright free, or Creative Commons licensed images are out there for individuals to use, without charge for a variety of purposes.

As educators we often look for images to use for a variety of purposes, from graphics from multimedia presentations in PowerPoint, to use as picture graphic symbols for augmentative communication systems and adapted curriculum materials. Here is a list of some of my favorite sources for images that are free and legal to use.

  1. Microsoft Clip Art Gallery: If you have a MS program on your computer (Word, PowerPoint, etc) you have access to this huge (over 150,000) assortment of clip art images, photos, sounds and animations. You can search by keyword the entire collection, or within specific categories of media and collections. When you download the media, it will automatically store these images in your Microsoft clipart folder in My Pictures. You can then search these images at any time within Microsoft applications.
  2. Flickr: This online photo sharing website is filled with tons of photos and images. Be careful, though, as many photos are not free to use. To be sure you are only using images that are made available for public use, search for images licensed under Creative Commons, at . Creative Commons licensing allows individuals to set parameters on the use of their work, such as attribution or no modifications, without having it copyright restricted.
  3. is a great website that has 25,000+ clip art images that can be used without restriction.
  4. has royalty free clip art that is great for picture graphic symbols for adapting curriculum or creating communication boards. The clip art is generally simple and uncluttered, without backgrounds or distractions. It is where I found a likeness of me (the cute redhead pictured above!).
  5. For historical images, go to The Library of Congress’ American Memory collection. The American Memory Collection provides free and open access to written and spoken words, sound recordings, still and moving images, prints, maps, and sheet music that document the American experience, such as this advertisement for Spalding baseball equipment.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Switch SlideShow on Picasa

Kate A. who is a member of the QIAT listserv, has created a great Picasa web album featuring switches from a number of different manufacturers, as a resource for AT providers and others. Check it out at

While on Picasa, which is a great online photo site, I saw this blog post by Todd Bogdan, a Google Software Engineer

Quick tip: super-fast full-screen previews

If you spend a lot of time in Picasa, here's a keyboard shortcut that may come in handy: When you're in Library View, move your mouse cursor over any picture thumbnail, hold down the 'ctrl' key, and then press 'alt.' You'll instantly get a full-screen view of that picture.

Obviously, this wee bit of trickery isn't meant to replace a full-screen slideshow -- the moment you take your finger off the 'alt' key, you'll be returned to the regular Library View. But it's a great way to quickly jump in and out of full-screen zoom so you can preview pictures in detail. This trick also works on the current photo when you're in the Edit Room.

If you're looking to quickly compare a few adjacent thumbnails with the benefit of a full-screen view, simply scroll the mouse wheel when using the ctrl-alt key combo. (This is especially handy if you've just imported a clump of similar photos and want to quickly decide which to keep.)

Friday, March 7, 2008

Webkinz—Just a Kidz Craze Or Is There Educational Value?

So, my 9 year old and 11 year old are not on Facebook or MySpace, yet. They have email accounts, but don’t really use them very much—mostly just to send each other a Hi and I love you (sort of the same excitement of getting snail mail cards), or to email their teachers with a question they are too shy to ask them f2f at school. However, they are OBSESSED with Webkinz, the stuffed and virtual pets by toy company Ganz, and the Webkinz website. Time on Webkinz has become my bargaining tool—they have to have all homework done, read for at least 20 minutes, practiced their flutes, taken their showers, etc before being allowed on, and if they fight with each other or don’t listen to me, it is the first thing they lose.

At first I thought it was just wasted time online, but that it was ok as a reward. Then I looked a little deeper. They were working (ok, playing arcade type games) to earn Kinz Cash to purchase clothes, furniture and treats for their virtual pets. When buying these items they have to make decisions about the best way to spend their money and how much time it was going to take them to earn more if they spent all they have. They are learning some social networking skills and how to look for their friends user names online and send a “hi” or a gift to them, and how to never, ever respond online to anyone they don’t personally know. There is a craft corner where there are ideas for offline Webkinz crafts and activities, and a gallery where they can post pictures of what they have done offline (pictures do have to be snail mailed in, unfortunately). The Kinz Chat area only lets kids chat with pre-constructed messages from menu, which means that not only is chatting a safe activity, but that kids with developmentally younger literacy skills can participate with minimal support. Many of the games require only the use of the space bar or enter, so it is easy to set up access for students with physical disabilities (some timing skills are still needed). There are even grade leveled educational games (that they earn Kinz Cash for playing) in the areas of reading, math, science, and social studies that I found to correspond well with my daughters’ curriculums at school!

Do I want my daughters spending endless amounts of time playing on Webkinz when they could be reading, playing with friends, or riding their horses? No, but at least I feel better that the time they do spend is not a total loss. I even plan on using Webkinz to work on literacy skills with some of my students at school (unless I find the server has blocked the site, as not educational in nature!)

What do you think of Webkinz? Take a minute and let me know.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Creating a Web 2.0 Classroom

A really successful UDL classroom integrates a range of digital tools to support learning. With that in mind here are:

10 Ideas for Incorporating Web 2.0 Tools into Universally Designed for Learning Classroom

  1. Plan for podcasting your classroom lectures and discussions. Be sure to get permission from school administrators if you allow students voices to be a part of the podcast. Then allow students to download lectures from the school website for review and reteaching
  2. Create scaffolded notes using Google Docs, print them for in class use and post to your school website/broadcast the link in an email to parents—take it from one who knows, parents will love being able to see the notes! This is also a convenient way to easily provide materials for students who are absent, disorganized or are just poor note takers. In addition, the materials will be readily available in a digital format for those students who have text to speech accommodations or just benefit from being able to pull up notes on their computer.
    1. Start out with a thorough set of notes, with all points covered, and the least notetaking needed. Save
    2. Working with the first version, delete key vocabulary words or key points, creating a fill in the blank set of notes, for students that can add these key points in as they listen to the lecture.
    3. Working with this next version, keep sentence starters or key points for notes to be filled in by student and delete the rest, creating lines for students to continue filling in the information as they listen to the lecture.
  1. Use a social bookmarking site, such as or diigo to tag resources for projects or units. Utilize features of the bookmarking site, including notes to highlight important things for students to pay attention to on the website.
  2. Start a classroom wiki and have students post drafts of projects or papers for peer review and editing. PBwiki is a good place to start for a kid friendly wiki.
  3. Use Flickr for young students to create a photo portfolio of their work, including activities and actions across the year. Be sure to have a digital camera readily available at all times.
  4. Using cooperative learning groups, have students plan and write a podcast script based on a curriculum topic. Utilize UDL tools such as Intellitools Classroom Suite, Write Outloud or Kurzweil for writing the script for those students who benefit from text to speech software. Record the podcast and post to the school’s website.
  5. Have students plan, write, and create multimedia poem using Flickr or Picasa Web based on a theme. Each photo in the sequence would be accompanied by a line or stanza of the poem.
  6. Create a classroom blog to post curriculum related discussion and questions from students to the teacher and to each other. Students comments should always be moderated by the teacher.
  7. Use a classroom blog to create an online book group. As an introduction, show students the blog created to discuss the book The Secret Life of Bees, by Sue Monk Kidd.
  8. Use Google Earth and Maps to create a virtual field trip to a geographical area being studied. Create placemarks and keep track of where you have visited for a school year.
For more great ideas on integrating Web 2.o in the classroom take a look at this post from Langwitches, on the Best Web 2.0 Applications for Elementary School Classrooms.