Saturday, 31 March 2012

QuestGarden WebQuest Collection

WebQuests were a hot topic a few of years ago, but now that the initial novelty value has worn off, they may well be worth a second look for promoting independent enquiry and self-paced learning. QuestGarden offers a huge bank of WebQuests for free (as well as additional resources for paid members) so it's a great place to start if you're looking for one to supplement or kick-start a topic.

Friday, 30 March 2012

Geonames: Find Yourself on the Map!

Geonames is an interesting little site where you can type in your name to see if there are any places in the world called the same. I tried it and was surprised to find 6 places called Abena, including one in Spain.

When considering the educational value of this service, I though it might be an nice way to get learners exploring a range of possibilities. Rather than spinning a globe and pointing a finger, this could be an engaging way of launching a topic. It could be used as part of a research project, a writing prompt, a starting point for exploring any data on landscapes, populations or anything else that is to be the subject of study.

Mee Books & The Story Home: Audio Books for Kids

MeeGenius offers a range of free (and paid) books for kids that they can listen to and/or read along with on the site. The stories are beautifully illustrated to engage younger learners and although the range isn't great, it's another place to find free reading content for kids; add them all together and you have a lot of choices to keep them busy!

The Story Home is another site where kids can listen to tales read by a guy named Alan. Unfortunately, there is no read-along option on this site. However, there is a wider range of stories than the previous site and they can be browsed by category, so still lots of useful stuff to keep younger learners engaged and occupied. Given the lack of illustrations, why not get your learners to create their own visual responses?

Research Reliability

Here's a video you might want to show your learners about the need to cross-check results from search engines and collaborative encyclopedias before taking it as fact. It could be used as a jumping off point for discussing effective research skills, as well as how search engines actually work on popularity rather than reliability.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Kadoo Private Video Sharing

Youtube is a great place for putting videos to share with the world, but if you cannot access it or require even more control over your privacy, Kadoo might be a good option. You could also use it to supplement the space provided by Google Video and have the ability to set your sharing preferences so only those you want to see the videos can do so. 

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Zac Browser for Autism

"Over the past 3 years, Zac Browser has helped over 2.5 million children from around the world with autism by providing a free software solution filled with activities and videos." 
Watch the 5-minute introduction to see if you could make use of, or contribute to, the Zac Browser project.

NB Unfortunately, Zac Browser is only currently available for PC, but a Mac release is coming in July. In the meantime, you might like to try out ZacPicto, the "virtual assistant for people with autism."

Moonbase Alpha

"Step into the role of an explorer in a futuristic lunar settlement... 
Your mission is to restore critical systems after a meteor strike cripples life support equipment."

Moonbase Alpha: An education guide is provided with lesson plans for this interactive game where survival depends on teamwork, use of resources and learning from mistakes. Although tagged as a game for science subjects (ages 11-15), I think the immersive nature of the challenge would also be great for inspiring some creative writing. It only takes about 20 minutes to play an episode, so why not try it out yourself to see its applications in your classroom?

Tagul and Tagxedo Word Clouds

Wordle is well-known for good reason, but these two alternatives are well worth exploring too if you want more image options (with apologies for not blogging about them sooner).

Tagxedo allows you to create word clouds which form a recognisable image. Here's an example of a Michael Jackson Tagxedo. The resulting words are not clickable but the range of images and customisability is why you might choose it over other options. You can find 101 ways to use Tagxedo here.

Tagul offers a similar service to Wordle although each tag is connected to a url, so you can click on words to carry out a Google search on that term. If you'd like the word to point to a different site, this is an adaptation you can carry out on the site. Here's an example (image only) below. 

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Get More out of Google

A conversation with some of my learners surprised me as I learned that they had zero knowledge of search operators, even the most basic ones such as '+' and '-' preceding search terms. Coincidentally, this infographic on searching effectively came to my attention via a NY Times lesson plan on research the same day.

If you want to create a display using the infographic, you may have to fiddle with your page settings to prevent split text, but this one's certainly worth going through with your classes, even if only to make them aware that operators and Google Scholar exist.

Google provide the html to easily display the infographic on your site, so it could be published to your library's or subject's VLE, wiki or blog page for future reference.

Although Google has produced the infographic, the operators will work with many other search engines too.

Get more out of Google
Created by: HackCollege

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Stay Focused - Bye to distractions

This week, one of my learners asked me in her blog how she could self-manage her tendency to go onto sites such as Facebook when sitting down to do some work. It reminded me of an extension I'd read about a while back called Stay Focused. For those using Chrome as a browser (and why would you use anything else?), you can set time limits for particular websites and once the time has elapsed you will not be able to return to that site until the following day. The settings in Stay Focused can be customised so you can wean yourself off hours wasted on social networking or gaming sites.

The great thing about Stay Focused is it allows learners to set their own limits, thereby increasing their independence. If they're mature enough to realise they have a problem, why not give them the tool to sort it out, rather than resorting to teacher or parent monitoring?

Friday, 23 March 2012

Pace Recorder

Pace Recorder is an Android app that allows you to record yourself speaking. There are icons of a rabbit, a turtle and two thumbs up to indicate whether you are speaking too slowly, too quickly or at a reasonable pace for your listeners. A useful tool for teachers and learners to measure the appropriacy of their pace for presenting to an audience.

Here's a one-minute introduction:

  • Learners who have issues with speaking too quickly or slowly would benefit from using this tool as a visual reminder of hitting the right pace

Word Spy - A Guide to New Words

Wordspy is a great little find. It documents the meaning and usage of new words coming into the English Language. From browsing the front page, I learned that a 'piem' is a poem where the length of each word corresponds to the numbers in pi, thereby offering a mnemonic for recalling pi itself; one for me to take away and use immediately - great!


  • Entries can be searched in a number of ways including by category so learners studying language itself may well find this useful for a particular topic e.g. the language of insults or economics; as citations of where the words first appeared are included, it's a great starting point for a research project
  • The catalogue could be used to enrich writing; I particularly like the euphemism section and I can see how directing learners to it could support them in their attempts at injecting humour into their texts
  • In a world where new words are being coined on a daily basis, this is a great repository for simply keeping up with the lingo in a particular field, whether it be Science, Computers, Sociology or others

Thursday, 22 March 2012

The Write-n-ator

The Write-N-Ator is an interesting tool for getting younger learners writing. They watch a video and then take a linked writing challenge. Tips for writing are included as are U.S. standard alignments. The challenges span a range of purposes from descriptive to explanatory with some requiring only a sentence or two, and others more. Useful for Primary-school kids or perhaps even younger Secondary learners.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Next Up Scheduler

NextUp is a handy little tool. It allows you to enter a number of activities with a time limit for each. When you're ready, it displays the first activity and counts it down, then starts the next until they're all done.


  • I used this with one of my groups for learning stations; I set them a 7-minute slot for each activity with a 30-second transition time in between, leaving me free to circulate and support instead of constantly resetting the timer.
  • It could be useful for examination preparation in getting learners used to the amount of time they should spend on a question or section.
  • Use NextUp to set the pace for different stages of an activity to keep learners focused and reduce time wasting.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Hello Slide (& Wicked - Science and Maths)

Hello Slide offers another way of presenting information. It's similar to other platforms, such as Voicethread, but it incorporates a text-to-speech function which means that you don't need access to recording equipment. Here's an example:

  • Use to create self-access instruction whether for flipping the classroom, learning stations or a 'help yourself' section of a website or VLE.
  • Learners can produce their own presentations for sharing with peers or paired schools.
  • Learners could create stories with narration, explain mathematical/scientific concepts, illustrate geographical events or profile historic figures - consider applications for your own subject area. 
Like this? You might also be interested in these science interactives on plate action, rock formation and more from

Rhyme n Learn - Math & Science Raps

Rhyme n Learn offers yet another way to present math and science concepts. Around 25 concepts are presented in the form of a rap accompanied by scribblings on a board. The rhythmic nature of the lessons may certainly make it easier for learners to remember and recall explanations, even if only extracts.


  • Rhyme n Learn could be used as another resource for flipping classroom instruction, with learners accessing the lessons independently and using class time to apply their learning.
  • The raps can be used as models for learner to produce their own mnemonics.
  • The site owner welcomes suggestions for content, so if you don't see what you need, email him and you might get lucky.

Build your own Volcano

Volcano Explorer from Discovery offers learners the chance to explore the different types of volcanoes before choosing settings to create their own to watch it explode. After the explosion you can see the consequences of the eruption with clear explanations. It certainly beats the 2D presentation from a textbook and even if presented on a whiteboard makes the learning experience that much more engaging - the sound effects are great! 

Boom Writer - Encouraging the Best Writing from your Learners

Boom Writer takes the idea of collaborative writing and adds in the important element of peer assessment with a requirement to do the absolute best writing possible.

Learners write a chapter and then, without knowing who wrote what, vote on the one that should continue the story.

Schools have the choice of then publishing the finished book, or simply access it from the website.

An example of what this can result in is here and the short, clear video below gives an overview of the process.

Zopler - Collaborative Story Telling

Zopler offers a platform for people to write stories together. Once the story's been started, you can invite others to contribute until it's finished. The video gives a quick overview.

  • Use Zopler for a whole school / class story or for creating a whole class response to an excursion or event.
  • Support reluctant writers by having them contribute to or start a story and see it grow into something much more comprehensive.
  • Encourage higher ability writers to contribute regularly to experiment with different styles, finding a voice and getting feedback from a writing community on Zopler.
  • Stories can be public or private (to an individual or group) so explore these options to avoid inappropriate additions or comments.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Blue Ribbon Readers

Blue Ribbon is a series of resources from PBS Learning designed to improve reading literacy at grades K-5 but it could be used for intervention with weak readers who are older too.

There are 14 activities in the set and skills covered range from inference and deduction to visualising.

Below is one of the activities which can be embedded into site by way of an iframe.

Whodunnit? A Forensics Unit of Work

The brilliant TeachersFirst has developed a unit of work around forensic investigations of a crime scene which "has been designed with an emphasis on laboratory activities." There are 20 45-minute lessons in all and they're targeted at Key Stage 3 (UK) or Grades 6-8 (US). They claim to be "appropriate for general science, science-technology-society (STS), or biotechnology classes." It seems to be very customisable by adding in or personalising particular aspects so it could be used for higher levels too. Some of the suggested applications are:

  • an introduction to the scientific method, the microscope, laboratory procedures, and maintaining laboratory notes.
  • an introduction to genetics and DNA.
  • an application of DNA technology
  • an "in between" unit before or after a vacation
  • an end of the year final unit.

I'm already wondering if it could be more cross-curricular by including an investigation into detective fiction. Check it out here.

Collaboration without Google Docs

A recent post on Edmodo made me realise that not everyone is fortunate enough to have access to the world of Google and all the educational benefits it brings. If the powers that be have blocked the use of Google Docs and you are looking for a way to do collaborative writing, some alternatives are below. (With thanks to Ms Hurst, Ms Quirk and Mr Boysen on Edmodo for these suggestions.) Click on the icons to go to the sites.

"Springnote allows you to create pages, to work on them together with your friends, and to share files. Springnote is also a great tool for group projects as it allows group members to easily collaborate. Advanced search, numerous templates, and 2GB of FREE File Storage are only few examples of how Springnote can help you. Of course, you already know that Springnote is an Internet service, meaning you can access it from anywhere anytime."

Inanimate Alice

If you're looking for something really different to engage your learners, Inanimate Alice is a fictional hypertext novel following a young girl as she grows up and relocates to various places around the world, beginning in China with her parents. The story is episodic and requires various levels of interaction although the whole experience is an on-screen one.

There are suggestions for how to get started with this in the classroom, but you can also register for access to a much more comprehensive educational pack containing lessons plans of a full exploration of the genre.

The video below introduces the novel as one teacher gives an overview of her "epiphany."


  • Use with younger teens to give them a new way of experiencing texts and use as a model for creating their own
  • I see this having applications for post-16 courses such as English Language A-Level and IB; the educational pack explores the idea of multi-sensory, multimedia texts so it's a very guided route into this genre for those who are unsure or just looking for some additional materials to add to their repertoire
  • The cross-curricular links to be exploited make this a potential project to span several subject areas

Thursday, 15 March 2012


Zooburst is one of the most exciting story-telling tools I'm using at the moment. It is not new but since its 2010 launch it has been developing bit by bit and today it offers a pretty unique and exciting product. I could say Zooburst is a platform that allows you to make your own virtual pop-up books, and I'd be telling the truth, but that would be massively understating its potential. Have a look at the 2 minute video below and be blown away.

  • Zooburst allows you to create 3D pop-up books that you can use your mouse to navigate 360 north, south, east and west. Zoom around and over the story before coming up behind one of the characters or to the front door of a house. The possibilities are only as limited as your imagination.
  • You can upload your own pictures to include in your story or use any from the well-stocked library that's already there so it's possible to produce not only stories but also scientific presentations, historical reports, geographical tours etc.
  • Add text to pages, as well as speech bubbles that can be clicked for interactivity and exploration to add another engaging dimension to the experience.
  • It's great for collaborative projects as there are different elements to be planned out from the storyboard to the text to the images used as well as the thought/speech points and finally putting it all together and presenting it.
  • Zooburst uses augmented reality which means that if you have a webcam you can view the virtual book floating in front of your very face and all you have to do is wave a hand to turn the page. Brilliant for storytelling and learners literally gasp in delight - even the older ones!

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Image Maps Made Easy

A colleague today asked me about inserting an image map into a Google Site. For those wondering what this is, it basically means a picture with clickable areas that are hyperlinks. Check out this example which is an interactive version of the picture below. (Hover over the menu options once you've followed the link.)

I initially thought that inserting a Google Drawing would do the trick but alas, I was wrong. So, in a bid to make it as easy as possible, my research has led me to 2 tools for the job.

The first is here and, despite the visually unattractiveness of the site, it does the job.

The second is another no-frills page here and is perhaps a bit more user-friendly. It also has the added advantage of allowing you to resize the pic by pixels.

  • Learners can create interactive pictures with hotspots e.g. maps with links to information about particular places marked or profiles linked to a class photo
  • Images could be used to create a choose-you-own-adventure type story or a route through a particular topic, making it visual rather than typeface
  • Create visually attractive image maps for your site, wiki, blog or other web presence
  • Using image maps will make navigation of sites easier for younger learners who are still developing their literacy skills or SEN contexts where reading is a challenge


Sidevibe is a useful tool which is now totally free making it eligible for a slot on this blog. It takes the idea of a shared notepad that floats on top of webpages and enhances it with the ability to add links, discussions, prompts and much more. Other tools might be alternatives to some of the features, but it negates the need to click between two media e.g. a webpage and a note-taking tool, thereby saving time and keeping the 'flow' of work going.

Having a test-run with it, I found out that it is not currently supported by Chrome or the latest version of Safari so you'll have to use another browser such as Firefox or Explorer when creating 'vibes.'

Here's an intro below which gives an overview, but really you need to go and experiment with it yourself, and perhaps explore the forums, before its potential applications become fully clear.

Sidevibe can be used for many activities; below are just a few:

  • turn any webpage into an online activity by providing questions or instructions to follow when visiting a specific URL;
  • collaboratively collate websites related to a topic;
  • prove discussion / thinking prompts for a webpage containing any type of media from print to video;
  • take notes on a research topic as learners move through various websites;
  • structure / plan / write an assignment with the criteria / rubric open on the page in front of them;
  • receive immediate feedback at the side of a presentation by using Sidevibe as a backchannel.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Shorten & Bundle URLs with Bitly

Bitly isn't exactly news to anyone keeping their finger on the pulse of IT tools, but it's one that I've ignored for too long now, much to my own detriment. Hold back the "doh" but I only realised today that you can actually customise the shortened url to something that might actually be recognisable or memorable. So from

I can now choose something much less mind-boggling like 

When I'd tried it in the past, I was bemused at the odd scientific-looking url that was generated and didn't really see the point, but the customisability changes all that.

Another cool feature is that you can also 'bundle' a group of URLs and put them under just one shortened url. Check it out here.


  • If you're using a third-party site host, as many teachers do, it probably means you have a long URL so will be great for creating something much more manageable
  • If you have a list of links related to a particular topic, bundling them is a great way to avoid sendin out a long list of web addresses

Be Funky Photo Editor

In the wake of the sad news that Picnik is to be no more, the hunt is on for viable alternatives. There are quite a few photo editors out there, but what I loved about Picnik was the no-registration, easy-to-use interface. Be Funky provides something very similar. As with Picnik there are premium options you can pay for, but the basic free version allows you to be experimental with your uploads and still do an impressive job. Here's a picture that I edited for our reading blog. Click here to visit Be Funky and get creative!

Monday, 12 March 2012

What do you love? (Search engine)

The What do you Love? search engine brings together Google's different search options and displays them on one page. You'll see results from images, videos, blogs, books, maps...the list goes on. To see a quick example of it in action, click here.


  • Using this will speed up learners' search times and give them much more visual access to results
  • Acts as a great reminder of the different ways you can use Google for research and perhaps gives learners another way of looking at their topics
  • Younger learners will find it easier to navigate to the content they require as the visual layout means less reliance on wading through text

Sunday, 11 March 2012

voTer script for Google Forms

voTer is a handy script that stops users from making multiple submissions of a Google Form. This is useful when you want to use forms for voting; great for class polls. The instructions are here and a very clear video is shown below.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Flubaroo script for Google Docs

Flubaroo is a highly useful script that is great for formative, as well as summative, assessment. By installing the script into your Google Docs, you can have the option of grading responses entered in Google Forms as well as emailing the result and grade to your learners. It makes the whole process of marking responses in Google Forms very straightforward and this script is much-praised on the Apps Educator forum. Well worth the 3 minutes it takes to watch the video or if you prefer to read through the intro click here.

Convinced? Click here for instructions.

Gooru Learning

"Gooru is a search engine for learning that allows you to explore and study over 2,600 standards-aligned and personalized study guides. Study guides cover 5th-12th grade math and science topics, and resources include digital textbooks, animations, instructor videos and more. All resources are vetted and organized by teachers or Gooru’s content experts, so you don’t have to sort through the mess of subpar educational resources available online yourself.
Gooru also makes it easy for you to connect with your worldwide peers to make learning a social experience. Post questions to an active community of students, teachers and experts, or find friends and peers to study with.

Gooru adapts to you. Based on the topics you study and your performance on self-assessments, Gooru suggests resources and study guides that will help you master the concepts. You can track your study habits and monitor your performance on any of the topics you study." 
I registered to have a look around and, at the moment, there are tons of resources for Math and Science only. The resources I dipped into were high quality and clearly marked as 'learner' or 'teacher' audience. A great resource for promoting independent learning, supplementing teaching as well as being a source of lesson plans and ideas.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Panoramas & Imagination

Since attending a Creativity workshop with Tim Rylands at ASB Unplugged 2012, I've been interested in using panoramas to inspire stepping outside of the classroom - at least in a a virtual sense.

The first of a few resources to help with this is Autostitch, the gallery of which is here. With Autostitch you simply input the pictures you've taken and it automatically detects the overlaps and stitches them together in one seamless panorama, which can be navigated with your mouse or keyboard to turn up to 360 degrees. Unfortunately, the demo software is only available for Windows at the moment, but you can still make use of those in the gallery.

CleVR also offers a free service for stitching pictures. The great thing about this site is that you can embed the results into websites, blogs and wikis when you're done. Again, no specialist equipment - other than a digital camera - is needed and the results can be impressive. What's more you can "add interactive hotspots to your panoramas. These let viewers click areas in the panorama for more information. They can display notes, photos or video. They can also be used to link panoramas together into a full virtual tour."

Airpano offers 3D panoramas to move around and explore. I would have embedded one but as soon as I tried, the audio played automatically. Check them one for yourself here.

Photosynth is yet another online platform for creating static and interactive panoramas that can be shared a number of ways including by embedding. There is a comprehensive public gallery available if you don't have the time or means to make your own.

  • There's no substitute for the real thing, but if you can't take your class to a place of interest let it come to you via an interactive panorama; projected or displayed onto a whiteboard with the lights dimmed, learners can be transported to another place entirely - let their imaginations soar
  • As a prompt for creative writing, use one of the high res panoramas to zoom in on a smaller object of interest in the background; as you pan out ask learners to note the detail that is added before looking left, right, up and down to complete the picture and the subsequent writing
  • Learners can create their own panoramas to accompany projects on places or topics; add audio and text to create interactive webpages to engage audiences on almost any subject
  • If you're a bit of a techie - immerse learners in a fantasy world of their own creation; use the background panoramas for green-screen shooting

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

My Hero Project

This is such a worthwhile project that I just had to share it. The My Hero project has been around for a number of years, and aims to "use media and technology to celebrate the best of humanity and to empower people of all ages to realize their own potential to effect positive change in the world."

The project is a great way to expose your learners to a range of inspirational people (and animals!) and the site is packed full of lesson plans and resources to get you started. If you are looking for a project that really makes a difference, this could be your answer regardless of your subject area or target age-group.

Learners can contribute short films, artwork or essays on the heroes of their choice so it lends itself to cross-curricular approaches and's open to absolutely everyone from nursery to university and beyond. Teachers may well feel inspired to contribute themselves and that's all good. Below is one of the short films produced for the project to give you an idea of the moving stories involved.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Create your own Rollercoaster!

Coaster Creator is an interactive game that explores the science behind roller coasters. Learners use their knowledge of potential energy and kinetic energy to design their own coasters. If they get it wrong, there'll be a mighty disaster, but if they are successful they can create an account to be placed on the leader board. A fun game for even the most reluctant of learners.

Explore the site for lots more Science expeditions, challenges and adventures.

Thesis Builder

Thesis Builder is a great find for those of us trying to help learners with writing essays. From the tools available (see picture left) learners get very structured guidance on creating a thesis for a persuasive essay, choosing a topic and planning a cause and effect essay. All these guides might be available elsewhere but I've never seen it done so well or as interactively as this site.

Another highlight is the Tubeprompter tool which allows you to embed a video and then provides thinking prompts to consider as (or after) you watch.

Take 5 minutes to click around the site; I guarantee it'll be time well-spent.

More Flipping Videos for School is another great resource for videos for use in or out of the classroom. The content, from a range of faculties (see below), can be used to complement lessons or as another resource for flipping your classroom. Having explored the English section, I've already bookmarked several videos that I can make immediate use of - really worth taking at least 10 minutes to have a look through to see what you can make use of. The great thing about this site is it is aimed at schools so competent learners should find the content relevant and accessible.


  • Many of the faculties include videos on the differences between given subjects at school and university to prepare learners for their academic futures
  • Sections are available for A-Level, University and Careers so learners can explore the relevance of and resources for particular subjects in those contexts
  • Mini-lectures on specific topics abound, from how to form a convincing argument (English) to an exploration of obedience to authority (Psychology)
Like this? You might also be interested in Quality Courses for Free

Saturday, 3 March 2012

ESOL Courses

Esolcourses offers free content for learners of English including song gap-fills, IELTS preparation, vocabulary and listening practise. Although the site is rather UK-centric, there are lots of materials on here that any learner or teacher of English language could make use of. The visual nature of the activities may be suitable in some SEN contexts too.


  • Explore the site's different areas to find materials tailored to individual needs; great for personalised learning whether it's reading, writing, listening or speaking that's the focus
  • Direct learners to the site for independent study; it shouldn't take too much encouragement to complete quizzes on popular music from artists like Adele, The Beatles and Whitney Houston and immediate feedback is given for responses
  • The Signs & Symbols picture quizzes are great for developing visual literacy