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Monday, January 31, 2011

Qwiki: The Information Experience

Wow. This is what the Internet promised to be.

Qwiki is an information portal that aggregates text, photo, and video sources on almost any topic imaginable, and creates a near-instant multi-media synopsis on that subject.

Instead of listening to me babble about what you need to experience for yourself, go there now. Type in the name of your hometown and learn something you didn't know already, even if you lived there thirty years. Type in Where the Wild Things Are. Type in Holocaust. Type in Glee.

In Qwiki's own words:
Qwiki's goal is to forever improve the way people experience information.
Whether you’re planning a vacation on the web, evaluating restaurants on your phone, or helping with homework in front of the family Google TV, Qwiki is working to deliver information in a format that's quintessentially human – via storytelling instead of search.

We are the first to turn information into an experience. We believe that just because data is stored by machines doesn’t mean it should be presented as a machine-readable list. Let's try harder.

Think of asking your favorite teacher about Leonardo Da Vinci, or your most well-traveled friend about Buenos Aires: this is the experience Qwiki will eventually deliver, on demand, wherever you are in the world… on whatever device you’re using.
We've all seen science fiction films (or read novels) where computers are able to collect data on behalf of humans, and present the most important details. This is our goal at Qwiki – to advance information technology to the point it acts human.

Currently, Qwiki's technology has been applied to describe millions of popular topics - but soon we'll do much more. Our team needs your help in reaching our goal: join our alpha now to help test Qwiki and shape the future.
Very cool, and this is just alpha testing.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Too Good to Be True: Truth in Advertising

At Alphaila, Dario D. has posted a fantastic photo comparison of fast food burgers (and tacos) versus their advertised ideals. I would have laughed, but unfortunately I've been face to face with these same atrocities.

What to do with this site? Use it in conjunction with my previous post As Seen on TV: Media Messages UnMasked from my Teach with Picture Books blog. That post discusses how advertising's main purpose is to persuade consumers; it persuades them to think a certain way, act a certain way, and buy a certain product. And it's not always 100% truthful.

If you teach persuasive writing or critical thinking, definitely give these resources a look.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Technology Integration, Somewhat Simplified

If you're curious to see what an organized approach to integrating technology might look like, search no more. The awesome Arizona Technology Integration Matrix comes via a link shared by Kevin Jarrett on the Diigo Educators group.

Kevin explains that this resource is "Arizona's answer to Florida's outstanding tool of the same name. If you are interested in seeing what technology infused teaching looks like at a variety of integration and curricular levels, you will love this resource. Highly recommended."

Couldn't agree more. Go check it out. The introduction at the site tells you all you need to know. Compare it with the Florida Technology Integration Matrix; seems like Arizona simplified things a bit. (The screenshot below shows one row expanded; the grade level links lead to lessons and video segments of those lessons).

Monday, January 3, 2011

New Prompts from Make Beliefs Comix!

Via the awesome Making Curriculum Pop ning, I learned that William Zimmerman has released 100+ free printables on his online comic strip site, MakeBeliefsComix. Some of you who have attended my workshops know I'm a big fan of the site, which I've included in my collection of Interactive Writing Sites.

Regarding the resources, Zimmerman says

As an author of interactive books to help young people find their writers' voices, I often am asked by educators and parents for help in reaching reluctant writers.

With this goal in mind, I have added more than 100 free PRINTABLES on my online comic strip site, Now you can print out, at no cost, interactive pages from my comic books to use for writing, reading, drawing and telling stories.

This enhanced MakeBeliefs PRINTABLES feature is the latest addition to the four year-old online educational comics site where educators and students from 180 countries come to build their own comic strips and practice language, writing and reading skills. The new printable pages are taken from my popular Make Beliefs books and drawn by cartoonist Tom Bloom, who illustrated the best-selling Children's Letters to God.

Now, a teacher using the web site will be able to distribute graphic handouts to students in English-as-a-Second Language or literacy programs that ask for written or drawn responses to such imaginative questions as:
  • Make believe you possessed a magic flying carpet. Where would your travels take you?
  • Make believe you had a net to catch a favorite moment in your life. Which would it be?
  • Imagine you could talk to your favorite book character. Who would that be? What would you say?
  • Make believe that with the snap of your fingers you could change yourself. Who or what would you become?
  • Make believe you could create your own set of holidays. What would they celebrate?
These and other great resources are yours for the taking! Thanks again to Ryan Goble at Making Curriculum Pop ning for passing this along!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

To Make a Long Story Short...

I don't know about you, but I spend a lot of time and energy encouraging my students to produce not just quality but also quantity. One way I've found to do that is to let them compose online; this seems to exponentially increase how much they write.

But there's a time, too, for writing less.

Let's face it; getting a point across in as few words as possible is just as important as being able to write or talk at length. How many of us have endured a two hour staff meeting or workshop to hear only fifteen minutes of actual content (that could have been emailed)?

Below are some fab web sites that will test your students' ability to "cut to the chase." Some offer models for writing, while others can be used as interactive platforms for student writing.

One Sentence: True Stories, Told in One Sentence challenges writers to submit single sentence stories. "Insignificant stories, everyday stories, or turning-point-in-your-life stories, boiled down to their bare essentials" is what this site seeks. Readers vote stories up or down, and even unapproved stories are given the chance to be "rescued" by readers.

One sentence isn't enough? Try some Two Sentence Stories. Interesting that, for the most part, these don't tell much more than the One Sentence Stories.

Chances are that many of your students already know My Life is Average. Submitters post short stories (which are allegedly true) and readers can, again, vote. Some of these are pretty good, even if contrived. Three recent examples (click on the image to see the whole thing):

One Word is simple. According to the site's equally simple instructions, "You’ll see one word at the top of the following screen. You have sixty seconds to write about it. Click ‘go’ and the page will load with the cursor in place. Don’t think. Just write." When you click the go button, you're presented with a blank text box and a timer bar at the page's bottom. Once your time runs out, the site allows you to complete your last sentence and then post. Once you're posted, you're able to scroll through other writers' creations (which is cool since, after all, you were all writing on the same word). Each day presents a new word, and you can also scroll back to previous prompts to read what's there. You can, of course, do your own version of this concept (even off-line), but some of your writers will dig sharing virtually with others.

Things get a lot more interesting when you're allotted Six Sentences. This is where true talent surfaces as writers flesh out characters, motives, events, and settings.

Looking for a text to further inspire you or your students in the search for brevity? Try Not Quite What I Was Planning. These Six Word Memoirs by Famous and Obscure Writers feature fantastic thoughts on life, captured in just six words. Stephen Colbert’s six-word memoir, for example, “Well, I thought it was funny,” can be read to mean different things when emphasis is placed on different words. If you search YouTube with this book's title, you'll find many videos where teachers have compiled students' sentences in response to this challenge; definitely a short, simple tech project there for the taking!

This last site is for those of us living within evacuation distance of NYC. Overheard in New York is a fun and revealing collection of brief dialogues overheard in the boroughs and recorded for all time. Some of these conversations are hilarious, while others are simply puzzling. Depending upon tone and timing, they can be read and understood in so many ways. Great for a dialogue about emphasis, context, and point of view. Warning: some are not school appropriate, so you may wish to browse the site to choose for yourself. (It seems this site has expanded to include Overheard Everywhere, which might be more useful to my readers in general).

So encourage students to write less, and see if they're not newly inspired.