Friday, July 17, 2009

Is Your Child Obsessed With Webkinz World?

1) When your child wakes up in the morning, does he or she log into Webkinz before everyone else wakes up?
2) When you ask your child what she wants for her birthday, does she say, "Either a Webkinz, Zum, or Charm?"
3) When you go out to the store, does your child ask you for a Webkinz?
If you answered yes to any or all of these questions, you may have a child that's wa-a-a-y too into Webkinz.

As most parents know, Webkinz World is a wonderful and safe place for your child to play Online, but has your child become a little obsessed with the friendly and imaginitive enviornment lately? Because so many children find Webkinz so much fun, it can be difficult to limit your child's time on the computer. Here are some tips (straight from Webkinz' website):
1. Use Webkinz World as a reward. Your child will be able to play in Webkinz World AFTER he or she has finished homework, done a few chores, etc.
2. Decide what you believe is an appropriate amount of time for your child to be on the computer and discuss it with your child ahead of time. Set a timer, if need be. When the timer goes off, so does the computer.
3. Encourage offline play with the Webkinz plush toy; encourage your child to draw pictures of the rooms they'd like to design, make pictures of their Webkinz, and have parties for the Webkinz. Invite some friends over in the real world and celebrate Webkinz.
One mom I know recently implemented these tips with her own daughter. As she was walking by her daughter's room one afternoon, she saw something she hadn't seen in weeks: her daughter was actually playing with her Barbies. "It's been weeks since I've seen her actually playing with real toys again," she said. Visit to learn more about Webkinz World.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Meet Flip Video and Flip Share

If you're looking for sub-$200 camcorder for use in the classroom, one that you can take on field trips or hand off to one of your students and not worry about him or her breaking it, then you need an easy-to-use, solidly built camcorder. Enter the Flip Video Ultra and the Ultra HD camcorder.
I had the opportunity to review the Flip Ultra this week and I enjoyed the whole experience. In addition to its digital zoom, play and trash buttons, and a big red record button, there aren't any other buttons or menus to distract yourself with -- It's literally a point-and-shoot camcorder and it's refreshing not having to become immersed in a lengthy manual or having to learn a complicated (and often under-used, anyway) set of features. A student can borrow it, carry it in his or her backpack with their books, and you don't have to worry about it being destroyed.

Rugged Design and Innovative, Flip-Out USB Connector

Inside its durable body is a flash-based hard drive, which means there are no moving parts (so the chances of it surviving an accidental drop are very good). Sometimes I like to just flip the switch and watch the USB connector shoot out from its spring-loaded housing, just like a switch blade; however, I am a little concerned about the long-term durability of the USB connector. Since I tend to use the camcorder plugged into my laptop, the camera's weight adds a degree of stress to the interior hinge. I suppose one could always plug the Flip Video camera into an external USB hub to reduce the chances of it breaking off. Regardless, it's very convenient not having to search for a USB cord to plug the camera into the computer.

It's Quick and Easy to Share High Quality Videos

With the flip-out USB connector and simple uploading software, video clips can be easily uploaded to your blog, YouTube, or attached to an e-mail. I'm off-track at the moment, so I'll upload some more content from the classroom in the coming months. Until then, here is a video I shot at the Orange County Fair this Saturday. I have posted the YouTube link (Keep in mind, you can't get a feel for how well the video looks from YouTube due to how much they compress the movie files). Uploading to YouTube was as easy as typing my username and password. Whether you're a professional video editor or have never edited a day in your life, this software is fun and easy to use.

Convenient On-Board FlipShare Software

"On-board" means that as soon as you plug in the camcorder using that cool flip-out USB connector, the software prompts you to install it. This is nice, because there are no CDs or additional software to download. It's compatible with both Windows and Mac. Once installed, all your clips are displayed on the screen. I love how easy it was to edit the video. It was very intuitive, especially if you are familiar with Apple's older version of iMovie.

Each clip is editable: simply grab the handles at the beginning and/or ending of one (or all) of your clips to trim them as you see fit. You can upload one clip, or string them together in an easy-to-use movie editor. With click and drag ease, simply place the clips in the order you want them to appear in your movie. Type the text you want to appear for the title and closing slides and then choose your music. You can choose from among Flip Video's seven royalty free songs or select from your own collection of MP3s. I used the song "Bouncin' Round" from Flip's selection of loops, just to keep the project enclosed inside the Flip ecosystem. I opted to use the "music only," setting, even though I had the option to duck the sound (making it either softer or louder than the audio from my clips).

The Price Is Right

The Flip Ultra (2nd Generation) Details:

• Easy-to-use, handheld camcorder featuring one-touch recording and instant playback

• 4GB of built-in memory captures up to 120 minutes of video

• Dimensions: 4.25" x 2.19" x 1.17"

• Bright, larger 2" no-glare screen

• Includes two AA batteries

• Watch videos instantly on TV with included connector cable

• Available in four different colors: black, white, pink, and yellow

• Full VGA video at 30 frames per second progressive scan

• Records high-quality H.264 videos that work with most video applications, including Windows Media Player, QuickTime Player, and iTunes

• Pre-loaded FlipShare software works on any PC or Mac:

• Save, organize, and edit videos with ease

• Email videos and video greeting cards

• Upload videos directly to MySpace and YouTube

• Capture snapshots from your videos

• Order DVDs and have them shipped anywhere in the world

Where to Buy:

Available at, Best Buy,, K-Mart, Sam's Club, Sears, Staples, Target,,, Wal-Mart,, and other leading retailers.

Suggested Retail Pricing: $149.99

More Camcorder Reviews

If you're setting up a video production studio for your school, visit and read in-depth reviews about a wide range of camcorders. There are a myriad of features to consider: such as mic input vs. the on-camera mic; tape or hard drive; HD or Standard; the list goes on.

Check out this great post about how one teacher uses his Flip Video Ultra in his classroom.
Mr. Warner writes about using it to record performances, school trips, interviews, and impulse recordings. He also shares a couple tips that include how to make a makeshift tripod using nothing more than blu-tac. He also shares some fun recordings, including a pet rat and a finger puppet show, recorded by his first graders.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Innovative Teacher Summer Camp Winners Announced had an overwhelming number of applicants, many of them with outstanding project submissions including innovative concepts for cross curriculum lessons and units. Although I was not selected for Teacher Camp, my project demonstrated "significant originality in topic and design" (according to my rejection letter -- at least that's what I thought it was). Therefore, I was delighted to learn as I read on, that my letter had a little surprise. I was invited to be part of the Innovator Finalist Team, a select group of fifteen teachers that will receive product offerings and services free of charge during the 2009-2010 school year. The focus of the Innovator Finalist Program is to support me in additional development of innovative lesson plans and cross curriculum units that will be useful in my classroom, and shared through my Digital Learning Environment (DLE) to a national audience of educators.

As part of the Innovator Finalist Team, I will receive thirty, one year, free of charge student subscription licenses to's award winning Easy Tech, Aha!Math and Aha!Science products. will also provide free of charge Webex’s throughout the school year to provide me with professional development and training on utilizing’s curriculum content and the tools of their Digital Learning Environment to create innovative lesson plans and units for my classroom students. I'm looking forward to using and reviewing's product offerings and sharing insights with educators on how they can get the most out of this new set of tools.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Engaging Students Using Robotics

All humans must share some innate fascination with robots. Who among us hasn't imagined a future with robot housekeepers, butlers, or personal servants? Robots have certainly captured the imagination of Hollywood with movies like iRobot, Disney's WALL-E and DreamWork's Robots. Kids and adults alike can't seem to get enough of them.

In an effort to both satisfy my own interest in robotics and hopefully inspire some of my students along the way, I requested two robot kits to review from two different companies. To my delight, both companies sent me kits to try out, so as soon as they arrived, the fun had begun. The first was the Lego Mindstorms NXT. I quickly passed it off to a couple of students who volunteered to assemble it, but I wasn't sure how long the kit would hold their interest. First of all, since it's made by Lego, I figured it's kind of a toy, so I didn't know if it would be too juvenile for them. In addition, they would be giving up their lunch recesses to work on it (and sixth graders love their recesses as much as anyone). To my surprise, they wanted to work on this robot week after week for over a month! Every day, the boys made more and more progress. I remember the first time they programmed it to move. They were so excited.

About The Lego Robot

The Lego Mindstorms NXT offers modern interfaces such as USB and Bluetooth (as for the Bluetooth interface, the cell phone we used was able to see the robot, but was never able to actually control it). They ended up using the serial port. This kit offers a cool set of sensors including an ultrasonic ranger, a sound sensor, light sensor, and touch sensor, along with three servo motors, designs, and software to program commands into the robot's main CPU.

Lego hosts an online store and offers volume discounts, a community of like-minded lego mindstorm fans, activities, support, and an education center for that offers lessons for teachers who integrate lego robotic products into the curriculum. One robot kit costs $249.99 from their website. To learn more, click here.

About Boe-Bot Robot by Parallax, Inc.

I released two other students to work on a more complicated robot kit by Parallax, Inc., known as the Boe-Bot Robot. These two students were tenacious, giving up not just their lunch recesses, but voluntarily coming in after school as well. This kit involved reading a fairly thick manual, connecting wires, assembling hardware, installing infrared sensors, resistors, capacitors, installing and running a computer programming application to assign commands, and more.

There were days when the boys were utterly stumped. They'd look at each other and wonder why a light wouldn't turn on, or a motor wouldn't move. But even though it was hard, neither student ever gave up. One day, I overheard one say, "I bet we hooked that wire backwards." The other responded, "I guess we shouldn't have skipped that part of the manual." One student summed up the experience matter-of-factly, stating, "This was challenging." The other student said, "It was frustrating, but in a good way."

The company's website suggests a 1-2 hour build time, but it took my two students easily twice that. One Boe-Bot kit sells for $159.99 and is available from their website. To learn more about Boe-Bot, click here.

This was a great experience for my students for several reasons. Both build teams became familiar with reading step-by-step instructions, following technical diagrams and charts, and learning the vocabulary of a new discipline. The process taught them the importance of trial and error, reading complicated directions, the value of teamwork, and the reward that comes from persistence.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Introduction to iTunes U and Mobile Learning

What Is It?
There's a lot more to iTunes than music and movies. iTunes U is part of the iTunes store filled with educational audio and video content you can take anywhere on your iPod or iPhone. Everything in it comes from top universities, museums, PBS stations and other cultural institutions. It's all free--so you don't have to be a student to benefit from some of the world's brainiest people. There are over 175,000 educational audio and video files from all around the world and new tracks and new providers are added all the time.

A Little History
iTunes U was announced at Cupertino, California in 2007. The service was created to ultimately control access to educational audio and video content for college students. Member institutions are given their own iTunes U site that makes use of Apple’s iTunes Store. The online service is free to use for everyone in the pipeline. Content varies from course lectures to sports highlights with plenty of material in between.

How Do I Use It?
When you come to iTunes U, you'll find lots of ways to explore. You can check out popular downloads or other featured content or check out a category you're interested in, such as business or fine arts. You can also explore by visiting individual universities and other providers on iTunes U.

To start learning about a topic, just click on it. You'll land on a course page with all the related files, called tracks, down below (video or audio recordings of each class session). If you want to download all the tracks, click "get tracks." To get just one, click "get" or "get movie." iTunes creates a folder with the provider's name in your playlists so it's always easy to find your tracks.

Many courses or series are ongoing and you can subscribe so you can automatically receive each new episode whenever it's available. iTunes will download episodes to the Podcast section of your library. Tracks will be waiting for you when ever you're ready to learn something new. You can play your new downloads in iTunes, or sync to your iPod or iPhone and learn on the go.

If there's something in particular you want to learn about, you can use the iTunes store search field to find it fast. Filter the results by iTunes U. You'll see all the tracks that are relevant to your search. You can also view the courses, series, or programs the tracks come from.

To learn more about how Apple helps teachers connect with their students, click here.