Digital Writing and YWP

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So let me jump into your first question: Who is this guy?

My name is Geoffrey Gevalt and I am a new NL guest blogger. For 33 years I was a journalist; I believed it a calling, a profession, really, that was affirmed by the First Amendment and that necessitated long hours, low pay, dogged and sometimes unsuccessful journeys and greasy food consumed late at night and washed down with beer. I was lucky enough to work with superb editors and writers and along the way I picked up a few  awards as both a writer and editor. For two years I had the privilege of choosing the finalists for the Pulitzer Prize in Beat Reporting and, if pressed, could give you details from many of the entries I read. I am proud to say that three people I selected, candidates that I fought for, eventually won and if we ever meet and you’ve gotten your head around the math problem there, I’ll tell you the story.

As you can tell, I was born in the Early Jurassic Period, which fell just before the Late Great Newspaper Demise Period. And, if ever we meet, I will get into my rap about how the retraction of the American news business has been the primary cause of the decrease in our nation’s collective civic knowledge and the increase in our lack of civility in public discourse. But I will spare you that discussion here.

Because I am now a digital educator. And my life has a different mission. And I have different concerns: I believe that if we can get kids to write well they will gain confidence, learn more, succeed more and become better citizens. But we are woefully neglecting writing in our schools and in this new digital world, where writing is needed more than ever, we are doing a tremendous disservice to our kids — particularly disadvantaged kids — by not teaching them how write their way out of a paper bag.

Thankfully, many students, teachers and principals agree with me.

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Free Wolfram Alpha Back-to-School Webinars for K–12 Educators

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I just had the opportunity to sit in on the first of a few Wolfram Alpha webinars targeted toward educators. The session was focused on how this tool can be used in the classroom. While advanced users probably won’t get too much out of it, it’s a great overview for beginners. One part I was a bit excited to see was the Widget Builder. This tool allows anyone to build widgets that utilize the power of Wolfram Alpha.

If you think Wolfram Alpha is just for math and science, think again. There are many different ways to use this tool in other subject areas as well.

If you are interested in visiting one of the next sessions, simply follow this link. In addition, if you are interested in downloading the Wolfram Alpha app for your iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad, the tool is being sold at a discount for a limited time. An Android version is coming soon.

Purdue Launches Hotseat

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Alan November has mentioned the work of Harvard physics professor, Eric Mazur, on several occasions. Mazur pioneered ways to use social media and the backchannel in the lecture hall to improve his teaching and, ultimately, his students’ learning. See his video here.

Purdue University has announced Hotseat, a social networking-powered mobile web application that allows students and teachers to collaborate in near real-time using their Facebook or Twitter accounts, SMS or the Hotseat web app itself. It’s Mazur formalized. It’s not open to the public (yet?), but you can see more on the promising  Hotseat here.

Bringing Outsiders Into the Learning Process

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This past Friday, during a workshop I was giving in New York City, I was teaching participants how to podcast using Aviary. One of the district trainers noticed that the company is based in NY and not far from where we were that day. Everyone was so thrilled with the tool we were using that we thought it might be a great opportunity to bring someone in from Aviary to talk to us a bit about their product and the background of its development.

Using the support form on their site, we sent a quick email and asked if someone might be able to Skype with us the next day. Within hours, we were contacted by the CEO and Founder of Aviary, Avi Muchnick. He said he would be happy to join us.

Avi and his colleague Michael Galpert joined us the following morning and spent about 20 minutes with us talking about how their fantastic toolset was born. But then, when we were about done, they took the time to talk to the group of teachers in the room and ask them about their thoughts and what features were important to them as educators. They have real interest in the education community and in making their tool a good one for students. I really think that gave the participants a bit of a sense of ownership that they didn’t have prior to the call.

Now, the conversation was great, but during the process, I was able to emphasize an important point that I had been trying to get across during the 3-day workshop. We have the ability to talk to interesting people anywhere in the world. It’s easy, it’s inexpensive and it brings so much more interest into the teaching and learning process.

Click here for a related post about Aviary.

Web-Based Creative Toolset from Aviary

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If you’re looking for a little something to get your creative juices going during the holiday break, I have just the thing to try out. Recently, I’ve run across an amazing Web-based toolset from the folks at Aviary. This fairly robust toolset contains an image editor, an effects editor, a color editor, a vector editor, an audio editor, a screen capturing tool and an image markup editor.

Unlike the big boys out there (Photoshop, Illustrator, Garageband, etc.), this service is free, and from the bit I have used it, is fairly stable. Most of my experimentation has been done with the Audio editor. Being that I’m on a Mac and usually use Garageband for audio editing, I was quite impressed with the audio editor’s interface. It’s very similar to Garageband.

Probably the best part of this site is that it’s not only dedicated to providing the tools, but it provides a tutorial area where you can break down different creations to see how they were built. You’re even given all of the source files so that you can follow along. If you’ve never touched something like Photoshop before, the Aviary toolset will walk you through how to use all of the tools in context as you create your own masterpieces.

Try it out and let us know what you think. If you create something with one of the tools, post a link and share.

Tutorial – Using Overlays with Google Maps

We recently received an email request from Fran Stromsland of Watchung Hills Regional HS in NJ requesting information about a particular Google Maps overlay. This overlay demonstrates the effect of sea level rise anywhere in the world.

The tutorial below explains how to get a Google Maps account, find the Google Map overlays and add one of these overlays to your own map.

To view this video, I highly recommend that you click on the full screen icon at the bottom right hand corner of the video window. You will see it when the video plays and you hover your mouse over the video window. This video is also available on YouTube.

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