Saturday, October 31, 2009

Web Kindness

Rmbyrne tweeted about a TED Talk video entitled, “The Web as Random Acts of Kindness.” The speech is delivered by Jonathan Zittrain, and the topic is altruism on the internet. I found Jonathan’s presentation to be informative, interesting and humorous.

Photo by 8Dave.

Friday, October 30, 2009


In an effort to reduce the usage of paper in my classes and to streamline the assessment process, I wanted to find a way to administer quizzes online.

The first site that I signed up with was ProProfs Quiz School.  This is a good site.  I wrote about it on this blog a month ago.

I have a couple of criticisms of ProProfs.

Firstly, students do not create accounts.  Therefore, the marks that a particular student receives on a series of tests are not centralized.  Therefore, finding the scores for a student requires examining the scores for each test one by one.

Secondly, students cannot go back and review their answers.  One of my students complained that he hated my online quizzes because he could not go back.  If a student accidently clicks the wrong button, then their mistake is irreversible.

I found a new website that has all of the features of ProProfs, plus it solves the two aforementioned problems.  Students must create an account; therefore, all their scores can be viewed on a single page.  And, there is an option to allow students to go back when they are taking a quiz.

The site is ClassMarker.

Thursday, October 29, 2009


chartgoToday, in Geography, the students created charts to display on their blogs.  They graphed statistics such as population and literacy rate for four cities.

Chartgo is a simple website that produces aesthetic charts.

Did you know that every month, 30,000 new people move to Mexico City?

Did you know there are about 90,000 homeless people on the island of Manhattan?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


For some time, I have been looking for an online alternative to Microsoft Movie Maker. Essentially, I wanted a tool to create slideshows, with music (created by the students) and photos. Additionally, I wanted a program that would allow my students to import public photos from the web, such as, from Flickr. This would alleviate the hassle of downloading photos and then uploading them again.

My search was more difficult than I anticipated. I assumed that there would be many online slideshow applications that would suit my needs. I began to collect them on Diigo. However, with each app that I tried, I found something lacking.

Photosnack does not include music.

Clipgenerator only uses music from their own library and does not import public photos from Flickr.

Magtoo and Rockyou let users import public photos from Flickr, but these websites only use songs from their own library.

Vuvox allows users to use their own music and to import photos from Flickr. Strangely though, the final product requires viewers to advance the photos manually.

Photopeach allows users to upload music and pictures, but does not import public pictures from Flickr.

Masher uses their own library of music and video clips.

I was about to give up, when finally, I found Stupeflix. Stupeflix is the only slideshow application that does the two simple things that I want it to do. Users can upload their own song, and users can search for public photos on Flickr to import. Now, about the name…

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Symbolya my History class, the students located on a map where different agricultural products originated.

They used the website Symbolya to create maps, which they then embedded on their blogs. Here is a student exemplar.

Symbolya lets users create place marks on a Google map. They have a collection of different icons that can be utilized. Nice.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Place Spotting

We did a fun little activity we did in Geography today. Here are the instructions I wrote on Engrade:

Go to

Click on "Create.”

Select a Canadian or a World landmark. (Use Google to research one.)

Enter the name of your landmark in the entry field of the Place Spotting website and click "Jump To Place Or Address.”

Input at least 3 hints.

Input the Captcha code and click on "Store.”

Embed the image link (#3) on your blog.

Repeat this process until you have created 5 puzzles.

Here is a student exemplar.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Library of Congress

One of the requisite skills in any History class is the ability to analyze photographs.

In a previous post, I wrote about a website, called Image Detective, that provides a great activity for students to practice analyzing photographs.

I will describe another activity that practices this skill.  The students in my History class completed this activity and they seemed to enjoy it.

Step 1: Create an account at

Step 2: Go to

Here you will find thousands of historical photographs.  Flickr users can highlight sections of the photographs and post comments on the photographs.  It is actually amusing to read what people have written.

Step 3: Choose a photograph and comment on some interesting detail of that photograph.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


I really like the philosophy of using fun and games to motivate the students; however, I always feel guilty whenever I use games in the classroom. I know I shouldn’t.

There is a website called JamLegend, which is a nice emulation of Guitar Hero. In my Music class, I asked the students to sign up at this site and take their character to Level 2. The students really enjoyed the activity.

Still, I felt uneasy about the task. Would my principal approve? Would the other teachers approve? Would the parents approve?

Were the students really learning anything, any skills? I had to convince myself that the game was improving their dexterity (for guitar) and developing their sense of rhythm and music.

Essentially, any time that my students are having fun or enjoying themselves in the classroom, I feel a tinge of guilt. School is not supposed to by fun. It’s irrational, I know; maybe it’s a product of my Catholic upbringing.

An event later in the week did nothing to ease my conscience. I decided to have my Geography class play SimCity, because I think it teaches a lot about the way a city functions. Unfortunately, I had to abandon my plan when I discovered that the SimCity website is blocked at our school.

There are many game sites that are not blocked. The filtering program seems to be quite haphazard. For example, an online game, Evony, is not blocked, and many of the students play it during their free time and during lunch. Evony is a medieval type game where the player must build up their town and army, and manage resources. Hmm, maybe I can incorporate it into my History class…

Photo by All Glass Photo.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Jill Bolte Taylor

The Reddit community is a great source of interesting information on the internet.

This morning, Reddit introduced me to the following TED talk.  Jill Bolte Taylor is a brain researcher who suffered a stroke.  She talks about her experience.

She delivers a very powerful, moving, and educational presentation.  Her speech is some 19 minutes long, which is an eternity in internet time, but I would highly recommend viewing it.

Friday, October 16, 2009


I found a website that has some nice webquests on it, by the United Kingdom National Portrait Gallery.

I asked my English students to try one of the webquests, in which they had to analyze a Rudyard Kipling “Just So Story” and write their own “Just So Story.”

However, it quickly became evident that the students would not be able to complete this task.  For two reasons.

First of all, they do not have the requisite skills to analyze a story, then write their own story in a similar style. 

Second of all, many of the students are only marginally motivated academically; and when the temptations of the internet are laid before them, they cannot resist surfing away to distracting websites.  I had been so focussed on incorporating the internet in my pedagogy, that I failed to acknowledge that IT can be a double-edged sword.  Access to computers can make students less productive.

So, today, we turned off the computers and went old school.  With me at the helm, modelling the process, we wrote a “Just So Story” together. 

I was worried that the students would be bored and resistant to the lesson, but they were involved, and I think most of them enjoyed it.  One student commented on her blog:

Today's class was really fun. We created a story about a retarded ghetto rhino with braces, horns, a laughing Hyena, and we laughed.

I explained to the students that the process of producing media always involves the same three steps: analyze, personalize, synthesize.

I was a bit anxious before the class started.  My plan was to have no plan.  I just wanted to write a story from scratch, using the students’ ideas as they threw them at me.  I think the students appreciated having the process modelled for them and enjoyed the spontaneity (and authenticity) of the process.  In the future, I plan on doing this again; hopefully, frequently, with other types of media.

It is good for the students to see me modelling the production process and to see me taking risks.  And it is good to spent time away from the computers.

Photo by Trzebiat.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


I started using Engrade a few weeks ago.  It’s great.

I had been using Edmodo, but I do not use Edmodo anymore.  Engrade does everything Edmodo does and more. 

Engrade is an online gradebook that allows students and parents to see the student’s grades at any time.

Also, it is an attendance book.

Also, there is a calendar on which I can post assignments.

Also, there is an internal email system, to conveniently communicate with students and parents.

My students consult their Engrade accounts several times each day.  If they think an assignment has not been marked accurately, they let me know.  If an assignment is missing, they want to know, so they can get it done.

Students who miss a day of school can check their work online.

Students can do their homework online.

I have received several emails from different parents who have commented on their child’s grades.   It is transparent from the behaviour of some of the students that their parents have talked to them about their grades.  Some of the parents have told me so.

In my entire life as a student and a teacher, I have never seen a more useful, more useful tool and more effective motivator than Engrade.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

New Blog

I decided to start a new blog.

I wanted to create a blog that emulates the types of blogs that I like to peruse. 

I like blogs that:

* Introduce me to a new and useful website.

* Provide brief, impersonal descriptions.

* Include a thumbnail.

So, these will be the mission statements of my new blog.

Check it out!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Image Detective

One of the skills that I must teach to the students in History is how to analyze a historical photograph.

Today, I instructed the students to complete the activity at the Image Detective and to post the results on their blogs. 

It is a nice little activity that is well constructed. 

Students are guided to choose a historical photograph.










Then, pose a question and search for clues to answer their question.










Then, draw a conclusion.

As I stated, the final results produced by the students showed that they had effectively analyzed their chosen photographs.

Monday, October 12, 2009


Today, I was prospecting my Twitter mine, when I happened upon this tweet from Larry Ferlazzo:

RT @ShellTerrell: RT @izadmajid: RT @ITJil: Finding the Right Web 2.0 Tool for Education

I followed the link to WebTools4U2Use.

At the bottom of the page is a section called, “Keeping Up!”  There are about a dozen websites listed that provide news and reviews of Web 2.0 websites.

The first one I clicked on was AppAppeal.  I received a very good first impression from this site.  It provides a thorough, yet compact, review of each Web 2.0 website, and includes useful information; such as, whether registration is required, whether the site is free and how it compares to similar sites.

Last week, I found a similar site, called Zippa, which also provides links to Web 2.0 websites.

I was excited by Zippa at first.  I posted a link to it on Facebook.  However, after using Zippa for a week, I am not impressed. 

The interface is tedious, requiring multiple clicks to access the reviewed website; the reviews are brief; and the server is torturously slow.

My only criticism of AppAppeal is that it does not appear to have a large repository of websites.


Oh, novel study.

So far this year, I have not commissioned my Secondary English students to study a homogenous novel.  Instead, I let them choose their own novel.  They are supposed to read a chapter for homework after every class, then comment on it on their blogs.

This experiment has had mixed results so far.  About half the students are completing the journal entries regularly; the others are not.  I wonder if the students who are not participating are affected by the lack of structure associated with this task.  Would they produce more if I followed a more traditional model of assigning a novel along with accompanying worksheet?  Or would they abstain anyways?

For those students who are participating, I fear that their summaries might become stale after awhile.

I found a website that I hope might make the task more dynamic.

Shelfari lets users catalogue the books they have read and are reading. are multitudinous ways to comment on and categorize your books.  The interface is very nice, with a bookshelf that can be embedded on your blog.  I created my own bookshelf and embedded it on this blog.

I think that the inherent nature of Shelfari; that is, collecting read books, might encourage my students to read.

Each book has a wiki-style page, called “Details.”  Here, anybody can make comments in various categories.  (Summary, Cast of Characters, Memorable Quotes, etc.)  I will ask my students to write a comment on the “Details” page after every class. 

I was hoping that Shelfari would provide a place for private comments, but this does not appear to be the case.  I have my hesitations about asking the students to comment on a wiki page; but then again, maybe it is a good way to encourage authentic writing.

There are two websites similar to Shelfari, and they allow for private comments.  They are Readernaut and Librarything.  However, Shelfari has the most aesthetic interface, so I will stick with it.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Fun Theory

A nice demonstration that encapsulates my philosophy of motivation.

They say, you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

Saturday, October 10, 2009


You can’t hit a homerun every at bat.

I was feeling self-satisfied because I had invigilated a few successful, popular lessons.

Yesterday, the History class was not such a big success.

I teach two levels simultaneously.  Both levels were assigned web-based research activities.  The younger group had to complete a worksheet based on information from this website, Mysteries of the Catalhoyuk.

The older group had a similar activity, based on Renaissance Time Machine Adventure. Personally, I think this website represents a great deal of effort by its author, Russel Tarr, and it is well done. I thought that the students might find the game to be interesting; however, they became bogged down by the text.  One student commented on his blog,

today, i didnt like the course because the work was boring and it was hard but its nedd to be boring somethimes next i hope its going to be fun.

For a moment or two, I felt lost.  How was I supposed to teach about Sedentarization and the Renaissance?  Other than the aforementioned websites, I could find no activities dealing with these topics.  Then, I reminded myself that there are generic online activities that can be accommodated to any subject matter.  I just need to think creatively.

For example, students can use Brainflips to create flash cards based on the subject material.  They can use VoiceThread to find historical photos and comment on them.  The possibilities are endless.

Play ball!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Voice Recording

There are several web sites that will allow students to add their recorded voice to their blogs.

For example, Chirbit.  The downside of Chirbit is that it requires registration.








Another site is Vocaroo.  Vocaroo does not require registration.








However, the site that most intrigued me and my students, was AudioPal.  Whereas, the previous two sites require you to use a microphone, AudioPal provides a toll-free phone number that allows you to record your message over the phone.  Your message is then instantaneously available online.


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Project Dragonfly

Today in Geography, I asked the students to design their own dream bedroom. The purpose of the activity was to give the students the opportunity to enhance their mapping skills and spatial cognition.

The students used a home design website called “Autodesk Project Dragonfly” to create their designs.

The students really enjoyed the activity, especially this student.

Monday, October 5, 2009


Today in Music class, I asked my students to make music videos.

They used Masher, which is a rather simplistic site that provides video and music clips for users to mash together.  When I scouted the site beforehand, I was sceptical because the video clips seemed to be mostly outtakes from corny BBC documentaries.

However, the students really enjoyed the activity.  I thought they would just slap some material together and call it a day; however, they carefully crafted their productions, combining complementary music and video to create impressive results.  They surprised me.

In his  blog, one of the students wrote that it was his best class of music ever.  Wow.

It’s funny how sometimes, as a teacher, lessons that you feel the most excited about will often flop; and lessons that you find uninspiring will often be a hit with the students.

As I said, the videos were really well done.  Here is one of them.  Golf video.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Google Voice

You cannot sign-up for Google Voice yet without an invitation.  A search on Twitter will reveal the going price for a Google Invite is about 8 dollars right now.

I just watched the video below describing the capabilities of Google Voice.  It looks like it could be pretty useful. 

I wonder what features will be available in Canada.  Usually, telecom services are regulated and restricted in Canada.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Bombay TV

Larry Ferlazzo has some good lesson ideas on his Burbank High School blog.

One of the gems I found on Larry’s website was Bombay TV.

There are brief movie clips from India on this website, and users can write subtitles for the dialogue in the scenes.  My secondary English students had a lot of fun with this activity.  They embedded their creations on their English blogs.  One of my students even commented on his blog that he had fun in class.  This was nice to read.

Admittedly, some of the students pushed the envelope with the themes and language of their attempts at humour.  I had to tell one student to delete his unsuitable creation.  But, I suppose, every writer must wrestle with censorship and every writer must experiment with the sometimes nebulous boundaries of permissibility. 

As a teacher, too, I must try to balance what I believe to be acceptable within a school environment against my disinclination to stifle the creativity of the students.

Here is a movie I made:

<a href="">Agence web Graphéine</a>

Thursday, October 1, 2009

ProProfs Quiz School

One of my resolutions this year is to use as little paper in my classroom as possible.

To this end, I have started using an online quiz site called ProProfs Quiz School.  As you can see, ProProfs offers teachers many options when they create a quiz.

There is no registration required.  Students only need to enter their name to begin.

You can create multiple choice, fill-in-the-blank, and essay questions.

If I didn’t know any better, I would believe that my students actually enjoy taking exams online; more than on paper, anyways.