Visualize Your Text with Wordle

Visuals can be a powerful means of expressing lots of information. Teachers who increasingly migrate their knowledge in the form of text to the web through blogs and wikis have a cool new web 2.0 tool, Wordle. Wordle is a web-based program running javascript that transforms lists of words, websites, rss feeds, and tags into pictures.  I ran the program on my blog to generate the above image.  Some websites use a similar technique to create tag clouds, where the most frequent words are proportionally larger than others.

The Boston Globe’s Ideas section recently published (Sunday, 8/3/2008) a Wordle comparison of John McCain’s blog to Barack Obama’s blog and discovered that the most used word on each blog was “Obama.”  Some Wordle lesson ideas for students:

  • copy and paste a student essay into the “bunch of text” feature to analyze vocabulary use
  • compare the use of words used on several websites about the same topic
  • create word collages as art projects; color palettes, fonts, and backgrounds are fully customizable.

What are your ideas for using text visuals in the classroom?

Adobe Education Leaders Institute Report

What does a technical education guy do for summer vacation?  Answer: Spend a week at the the third annual Adobe Education Leaders Institute in San Francisco July 22-25, 2008.  Adobe Systems Inc. has continued to generously fund this unique gathering of educators from the United States and across the world.  We spent three and half days collaborating, learning about new Adobe software tools, and providing feedback to Adobe product developers.  I was especially honored when Bob Regan, Adobe’s Director of K-12 Education,  choose to show the Ferryway School’s recent Edutopia movie, Turning on Technology to kick-off the institute. Regan remarked that he appreciated how students were empowered to use technology as a tool for learning – the focus wasn’t on just using an application.

I’ll be sharing these resources in my school district this year:

  • The Encyclopedia of Life – Adobe’s XD Project group took on the challenge of creating a web-based system for visualizing the Earth’s living organisms. Here’s an image from one of their designs. I think it’s interesting that life can be visualized like a microprocessor. I’m excited to incorporate the EOL into our grade four science unit, Biome Breakthrough.
  • A new free word processor tool has been launched as part of called Buzzword.  The program is a beta, meaning that it still being developed, but you can register for a free account.  Buzzword renders pages using the Flash engine so your documents appear exactly as you expect on the monitor and from your printer.  The AELs were especially interested in using Buzzword to support collaborative student writing projects.
  • From the under-resourced teacher perspective, Photoshop Express – Beta, had to be the most exciting software development shown.  Our students have increasing access to digital tools for taking pictures, think cell phone and ever smaller and cheaper digital cameras.  Last year, I taught a photojournalism lesson as part of a field trip experience where students had to take photos based on categories such as engineering and colonial life.  We used a wiki to share images, but with Photoshop Express, students can perform basic edits on their photos in a Web 2.0 world from home or school.
  • Fellow AEL and art teacher from across the pond (England), Ross Wallis, presented an amazing body of student work.  (Digitial Creativity – Flash) Ross’ philosophy is to treat computers and software as just another tool in the art room.  He requires that his students learn basic art skills before using the technology.  The talking portrait project was particularly interesting since it required students to research historic people by selecting a painting and learning about the artist.  Students then used Photoshop and Crazytalk to make their portraits talk using their own recorded voices.
  • Why become an Adobe Certified Associate?   Because you know a lot about Adobe software and digital work flows and want an objective evaluation of your skills.  Adobe now offers teachers and students the opportunity to receive certification in the following areas:
    • Web Communication using Adobe Dreamweaver CS3
    • Rich Media Communication using Adobe Flash CS3
    • Visual Communication using Adobe Photoshop CS3

    Yes, you have to pass an exam.  The exams are administered by Certiport.

The Chihuly exhibit at the de Young Museum was fun to photograph!

My LinkedIn Professional Networking Profile

After receiving several email invitations to join LinkedIn I finally decided it was time to check out the site.  My first reaction was that I really didn’t want another site to login and maintain especially if it was just a ploy to sell my personal information.  I dutifully populated my profile with the basic facts of my professional life; education, job history, and skills.  Once I concluded that there was enough information in my profile I was ready to connect to my colleagues.  I used two methods to connect:  (1) The “Are you feeling lucky?” approach where you simply type the name of someone you think already has a profile.  If they are there, it’s like opening a door to reveal a surprise. You see the person’s name and enough info to recognize that they are the person you know.  Click on their name and select Add {colleague} to my network. or (2) Enter the email addresses of everyone in your address book and let Linkedin tell you if there are matches.  I found (1) to be more efficient, especially since my web-based email program doesn’t allow the export of my email contacts.  By the end of my first LinkedIn day I had 5 connections and 5 pending invitations.   One thing that took me some time to figure out was how to add bullets to lists of items in the various fields.  Since LinkedIn doesn’t allow HTML tags to create list with <ul> <li> <li> </ul> you need to use text symbols.  On MAC OSX Option + 8 will create the appearance of a bullet using plain old text.  Navigating to the Promote your profile page I found the code to add this button:

View Robert Simpson's profile on LinkedIn

Instructional Changes with a Student Response System

Return the lost vertebrates with a SRSThink of how many times you have given PowerPoint presentations and had to stop to ask the audience if they understood what you were presenting.  Maybe you just trudged through the presentation just to finish in time to beat the clock.  What if you could capture the audiences thoughts and understanding?  Would it change the way you present?  Would your students connect with your content?

Student Response Systems (SRS) have made a major push into the educational world in the last year.  Last year at NECC 2007, I had the opportunity to test drive a few of these systems on the exhibit floor.   A SRS consists of a set of remotes that wirelessly communicate with a receiver attached to a computer and projector.    Coincendentally, I was involved in writing a Technology Enhancement grant proposal to the Massachusetts Department of Education focused on 1-to-1 laptop computing.  One grant outcome was to evaluate changes in student use of classroom technology and whether it would aid in the acquistion of content knowledge.  We decided that a SRS would be a useful tool for assessment.   We chose the Qwizdom system with Q4 student remotes and the Q5 teacher remote.  The system uses Radio Frequency (RF) technology to transmit meaning that you don’t have to be in the line-of-sight of the receiver.

Poster Q&A sharing student resultsTeachers participating in our Laptops in American History grant experimented with the Qwizdom SRS in a high school history classroom.   In preparing the PowerPoint presentations, teachers had to consider the effect of asking questions that probe student background knowledge to ones illiciting student opinions about an image.  The analysis of political cartoons and posters from the World War II era became a highly interactive and assessment rich lesson due to the SRS.  Every student’s response was recorded and displayed with summary graphs on the computer projector.  One especially powerful teacher outcome was the ability to assess student understanding of isolationism versus interventionism during the lesson.   The teacher was surprised that students had not mastered the distinction between the two concepts and choose to review the concepts at the start of the next day’s lesson.

What biome do I live in? Poison Dart frogAnother group of elementary teachers used the SRS to teach a new grade 4 science unit on biomes.  Students enthusiatically embraced the SRS and teachers were excited by the increase in student engagement.  In order to drive home the student inquiry nature of the biome unit, it was critical to capture student misconceptions about the world’s land biomes such as where they are located and their climatography.  The SRS enabled teachers to visualize these misconceptions and encouraged students to discuss their written observations.  Students also learned to use observational skills to predict which biome an unknown animal belonged to based on the their physical appearance.  Which biome do you think the red frog to right calls home?  If you said, Rainforest, you are as smart as a fourth grader.  Teachers were so impressed with the ability of the SRS to support student-centered instruction that they applied for a Qwizdom Educational Grant.  Good Luck!

Flickr Photostreaming and Slideshow How-to

Flickr is one of several web-based photo sharing websites.  Most people think of photos as belonging to a particular website.  Take for instance the New York Times website, the print edition contains many of the same photos as the onlne version.  The owns the image copyrights.

What happens when you take the pictures and post them to a site such as Flickr?  Welcome to the world of Web 2.0!  I began using Flickr because I wanted a single location to organize and share my photos.   Prior to Flickr, I was dependent on uploading the images to whatever server or media storage solution was provided by the site.  Using two different blog systems (blogger and EduBlogs) and contributing to 4-5 individual blogs meant that I needed a better way to keep track on my images.  By posting my images to Flickr I could still embed photos into my blog posts but now I simply point to the Flickr URL or web address.

simpson391 photostream screen capture

I used the free Flickr account version for a year until purchasing the one year subscription for $25.00.  The primary feature that I needed was the ability to create unlimited Sets.  Think of a Set as a basket that has a name and contains your image goodies.

Slideshows are one nifty feature you can create with Sets using the SlideFlickr tool.  Helpful Tip: Slideshows in Flickr are automatically generated.  SlideFlickr gives you control over selecting sets and customizing the slideshow format.  SlideFlickr is separate website.

  1. Enter Flickr username.
  2. Select Set – add tags to help search engines find your great slideshow!
  3. Select Preview

Three Steps to a Slideshow with SlideFlickr

The pop-up preview window will contain the embed code for placing your slideshow on a website, wiki, blog site.  Copy and paste it.  On EduBlogs I switched from Visual to HTML mode to paste the embed code.

Grab slideshow embed code in SlideFlickr

Enjoy the SIW slideshow!  Let me know if you found this post helpful.