BEST OF S'COOL TOOLS Q1 2012: It's that time of the year and we're taking time to reflect on the evolution of ES-Instruct over the last 43 editions. In less than a year, we've mentioned, marveled, raved, and reviewed over 300 s'cool tools with a strong emphasis on free and beta products that can be immediately adopted in the classroom. This week we're recalling some of your favorites from the first quarter of 2012. Some tools have grown from simple 'alpha' products to highly regarded classroom resources while others have undergone name changes and small pivots. But they all had you clicking away (or is it tapping these days?!) to learn more. Stay tuned for the Best of S'cool Tools Q2 and Q3 as well as a comprehensive guide to every tool that we've mentioned in 2012.
GOORU LEARNING is organizing all the digital media elements that could be poured into a lesson. Sound a bit, well, Google-esque? It was indeed started by a former Google researcher. It's a nonprofit (and well supported). Next time you're hankering for some nuggets for a lesson--a video, a website, an interactive element, even a slide--mosey over to Gooru for a look at what's on their virtual shelves.
QUESTION CLOUD: With the flavor of the week being all about assessment and evaluation (when is that not the case!), it only seems fitting to see who's working on a technical solution. Enter QuestionCloud developed by KnowledgeStreem, Inc. Their ambitious goal is to "develop the Learning Genome, a single uniform system of measuring learning in any context." QuestionCloud is a free, web-based knowledge assessment tool that lets you create questions based on very specific core-concepts that you define. Presumably, such data is being used towards decoding the aforementioned Learning Genome. QuestionCloud is in private beta but you can request an invitation code here.
WIFFITI (try saying that five times fast) lets you send messages from your cellphone to a large display. The technology wasn't really designed for schools. (The company's example on its website involves sending a message to a display screen at a local pub.) That said, it's a nifty way to to engage students (or staff) in discussion or reflection without the pressure of group-think or fear of being incorrect. Even better, people can take part equipped only with a cell phone. Wiffiti, which has been around for a few years is currently undergoing a facelift. The new features (including improve filtering to keep nasty stuff out) look promising . You can request a beta invite to their redesigned site here.
INFORMATION != KNOWLEDGE: CompSci stars will spot the geekspeak we slipped into the title here. The programming operator, '!=' is the symbol for 'does not equal.' Minus that context, however, and title looks like a typo. And context is just what the Dimensions project at BBC hopes to give to students who may otherwise feel bombarded by the information on the Internet. It can compare the size and scope of historical events to people's social network or geo-location. Just imagine how ancient Egypt might come alive if you could plunk down the Great Pyramid and Sphinx on top of your local neighborhood. Here's another way to put the the scale of the universe into context. And one more piece of context: this second resource was created by these two 9th grade brothers. Have a cool tech tip for transforming information to knowledge? Shoot us a note or tweet all about it!
CRITICAL THINKING FOR DIGITAL NATIVES: Here's a cool set of animations explaining critical thinking from the folks down under at Bridge8. The six-part series takes viewers on a journey from the merits of a valuable argument to the upper bounds of the precautionary principle. Of course with cool animations and an Aussie narrator that makes it much simpler than we can type it!
EDTECH CLEARINGHOUSE: Wow. Got to give it up to the folks down in the Sunshine State. This smorgasbord of a directory put together at the University of South Florida points to online information sources, professional organizations, and lesson plan resources for every grade and every subject, period. Not to mention the tens of thousands of images, pictures, map, and presentation templates available for educational, non-commercial use. Put this in your bookmarks, asap!
INSTAGROK: From Merriam-Webster’s, to grok is to "understand profoundly and intuitively." Accordingly, InstaGrok combines a simple search interface and interactive mind map-driven results to provide 360 degrees of understanding. We haven’t "grokked" everything, but string theory and mechanical turk searches did not disappoint. It did take us a long time to load Instagrok. Apparently understanding takes time!
"LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, LET THE HUNGER GAMES BEGIN!": This one’s surely a student attention-getter: Lions Gate Entertainment has partnered with nonprofit curriculum creator, Educurious to present a one-week critical reading and writing unit around New York Times best-selling literary trilogy and box-office mega-hit, The Hunger Games. It’s aligned with the Common Core. You can download it for free here.
REALLY BIG HISTORY: What were you doing, oh, say, 4.5 billion years ago? (Ok, it was a trick question: the earth was just taking shape.) For most of us, trying to get our minds around the concept of that much time is challenging. It gets a bit easier with a nifty tool released last week (on Einstein's birthday no less!): ChronoZoom aims to give a truly panoramic (or perhaps chronoramic?) sweep of time. Microsoft Research had a hand in concocting this. Consider pairing up a visit to ChronoZoom with a peek at the Worldwide Telescope Project or for a more curriculum-oriented view, the Big History project. (Microsoft or Bill Gates had a hand in these, too.) All are free.
SPENT: A great way to start a safe and honest conversation with students around current economic times. Spent is an online interactive flash game that puts players in the shoes of the unemployed and challenges them to survive a month.
ZONDLE: Zondle is a games-based learning platform that allows teachers and students to create, play and share educationally-adaptive games. Based in the U.K., Zondle launched in January 2011 and pledges to be "free and always free." Content is separate from games so questions may be presented through the context of any of the 40 games. Tony would call these "casual" games, very much aimed at giving students a fun environment to practice vocabulary, math facts and such. Founder Ben Barton tells EdSurge: "We're trying to facilitate teachers to use games to support the learning that they want their students to learn! They can enter their own topics, exactly as their students' need. They also get to use far more than multiple-choice, we have about 15 different types of questions that they can use, they can monitor progress, and the students can even create their own animations." There are currently 10,000 sets of questions available. Get it for free via web browser, Android, or iOS.