phET : learn about science by using simulations

The phET site has brilliantly constructed, interactive, research-based simulations of physical phenomena and is designed by the PhET (Physics Education Technology) project at the University of Colorado.












These simulations are aimed at helping the learners with the understanding of some difficult science concepts. The simulations can be used online but can also be downloaded for offline use. This is probably the best option for use in classrooms. The simulations have attractive graphics and real time data can produced by the user. The site relies on formative assessment, with the user being able to repeat the simulation many time over. Note: if they do manage to set the equipment on fire at least it is only virtually!

Although the main purpose of the site is to develop an increased understanding of physics concepts, at all levels, topics in chemistry, maths earth science and biology have also been added.phet-simulations










phet-earth_sciOne example in Earth Science.

This allows you to play with options to see just how greenhouse gases affect climate.

This could be used in our science and our geography classes. The English classes have even had this as the basis for a debate. the simulation allows the students to get a much greater understanding of the topic.

Another great aspect of the site is that the simulations offer teachers teaching ideas (around this and related topics), sample learning goals and some offer teachers guides for using the simulation. Teachers are encouraged share how they have used the simulations by upload their ideas and activities.

Another site that is certainly worth a look.


Technology tips on video – Tekzilla

The school year has begun and today we had the year 7 and year 12 students back with us. The rest will join us for classes tomorrow. All the student computers have been re-imaged and they will get them back over the next few days. The Year 7 and year 10 students will be receiving new laptops. All will also have Windows Vista as the operating system. There has been a lot of concern about using Vista and 1/3rd of the staff have on their computers. I have not had a lot of time to work on my computer this week but, in some of the time I have had, I have been looking at to see what others have said about using Vista.

One of the things I have found is a site called Tekzilla.It had a tip on how to speed up Vista (episode 266). In fact Tekzilla provides daily tips on using all sort of digital technology and could be a great resource for tips on learning or teaching ICT use. The videos produced at Tekzilla produces videos that are short, very clear as well as being  interesting to watch.


At the moment, Tekzilla has almost 300 archived episodes available for viewing and can be added to your RSS reader. You also have a number of downloading and sharing  options.

 Episode 266 – Speed Up Windows Vista

Vista’s file indexing can even make super fast PC’s feel slow. So turn it off and speed up Vista’s look and feel.

 Whilst I am about it, I also saw in the Age Green guide a small piece about Encyclopedia Britannica. After its long history (almost 250 years) of providing information, it is changing its stance on user-generated content. Wikipedia and the like have obviously put pressure on the institution to change its age-old procedures. However, it is not going to be a free-for-all as those intending to be editors must register real names and addresses before they can do anything. After that their entries will be vetted before any changes will appear on the site.

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Another visualisation tool is Debategraph,which is an online global debate map. 

A wiki debate visualization tool that lets you:

  • present the strongest case on any debate that matters to you;
  • openly engage the opposing arguments;
  • create and reshape debates, make new points, rate and filter the arguments;
  • monitor the evolution of debates via RSS feeds; and,
  • share and reuse the debates on and offline;

debategraph-optionsTo fnd a map that you may want, you can chose to look at the gallery or do a “find map” search. There is also a blog that discusses current ideas.

debategraph-gallerydebategraph-findmapBoth these search options then allow you the option of looking at the explorer view or the mapper view and to share the result.

Once you have decided on the debate you are sent to the map.

map example

map example

An example of a map (in explorer view)  as I drilled down through the topic “The role of prison in 21st century society.”

When you hover over a point a pop-up gives you a longer explanation. Click on the spheres and you follow that point further.

You can also get an alternative view from the one above if you chose to look at the mapper view.debategraph2c-mapperview

The information can also be shared or embedded.

This tool offers teachers a tool to stimulate thinking, indicate the complexity of some topics that may seem simple on the surface and increase the understanding different global issues. This tool could be used in all sorts of subject areas such as legal studies, politics, geography, science, religion to name a few.

I have only been having a play around with it for an hour or so. It is well worth a look. Again, if anyone has used it in the classroom , I would be interested how it was used and what the students thought of it.

Useful Links (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Reading options and DailyLit

I have been doing a lot of reading in the holidays. It is nice to read widely and without feeling guilty about work for school that I could be doing. I have also been working on updating some tools I created for the crime fiction genre and I have been trying out some of the Flickr and Google tools to help students with (or give them some alternative approaches to) some of the class novels. I have also been doing some reading about e-books and books on-line

I tend to do a fairly good job of finding the time to read. I always have a book with me, in my bag. Any time I find myself waiting in a queue, I can pull out my book, rather than sitting or standing with nothing to do. (I really hate the loud mobile conversations that many others seem to have to have with whoever is on the end.) I also listen to audiobooks when I am driving, especially when I have 3 hour drives into the country. I am always looking for ways to encourage our boys to read, and for them to have positive reading experiences. I thought that I should have a look at the some of the other options for reading. DailyLit is just one option.

dailylithome2DailyLit is a free service that brings books (also free) (particularly classic books in the public domain) as excerpts, right into your inbox in convenient small messages that can take less than 5 minutes to read. For instance, reading The Count of Monte Cristo, via DailyLit, meant that the emails were about 500 words per day, about the size of an average email or blog post, and that title was free. This is not just an option for your computer, it also works perfectly well on a Blackberry or whatever other PDA you may have.  Sometimes there’s a small charge for the e-book (usually a modern book) but there are plenty in the free category.

Using DailyLit with students.

There is something about DailyLit that I believe could appeal to a number of the students at school. I think lot of boys would like to like to read serial e-novels. It could increase the anticipation of what is in the next chapter. This might then really heighten the interest for a positive experience.  It could also make the idea of reading the classics less daunting.

A lot of boys don’t always read regularly. They read in spurts, often when it becomes necessary to write about something they have read for class assessment. This could encourage them to read each day.

It could make it easier to analyse the books as well. The strategy would be to write about each section as it is read, rather than trying to think of something after the book is finished. The boys could look at individual characters, quotes, or storylines, in easily digestible parts on a daily basis. They could also be encouraged to try to anticipate what might happen next or examine how they believe a character might react to the situation.

There is also the possibility of some sort of on-line book club.  A group of students could negotiate and choose to read the same book and have the same sized parts posted at the same time each day. (You can choose how often or on what days you wish to receive instalments). An on-line chat area /blog/wiki could be set up for them to share their reading experiences. This could be done within a class, across the school or with students from other schools.

genrelistThere are many genres to choose from and the numbers of books that are on offer is increasing all the time. You can browse by titles, authors or categories or enter in a discussion about some author or title, current piece of writing.

You can receive new updates with news of current offers and  has various features, including a To-Read queue, reader ratings and reviews, and a members page.

Have a look and try it out. I would be interested to find out if anyone has used this with students.

Real-time statistics – Worldometers

Today I have been preparing for the start of our school year next week. I have been going through files and clearing out old data files, reading and commenting on blogs that I have neglected reading over the last 6-7 weeks.

I made quite a mess and filled up the bins. I still have a lot more files to go through but still it was a start. It was interesting looking at some of the information that was once used often but is now out of date or has been superseded. In fact, as we all know,  the information available to us is growing amazingly fast.

This leads me mention to an interesting little tool called Worldometers, world statistics updated in real time. Have a look and see the birth and death rates click over regularly.

worldometersThe site divides the statistics up into different areas: world population, government and economics, society and media, environment, food, water, energy and health.

The watching the information change, sometimes so fast it is only a blur, makes you  very aware of the global picture. You can easily find the sources for the information, and the links are available for anyone to follow up the information. 

Worldometers is part of the Real Time Statistics Project, which is managed by an international team of developers, researchers, and volunteers with the goal of making world statistics available in a thought-provoking and time relevant format to a wide audience around the world.
Sources are carefully selected to include only data published by the most reputable organizations and statistical offices in the world.
The counters that display the real-time numbers are based on Worldometers’ algorithm that processes the latest and most accurate statistical data available together with its estimated progression to compute the current millisecond number to be displayed on each counter based on the specific time set on each visitor’s computer clock.

I like the idea of providing out students with world statistics, available in a thought-provoking and time relevant format, and having them realise that Australia is part of a very large and diverse world.

It’s not about the technology

“It’s not about the technology. It’s about the community and shared learning.” — Clif Mims.

I was talking to a fellow teacher today about students going into teacher courses at university. She spoke about a student buying exercise books for each of her different subject, not about the student using wikis, blogs or nings. The student did not seem to have any idea about any Web2.0 aspects in her course. I hope she will find that there is a shift to using web2.0 and social media tools in her course. In the past 12 months I have found an amazing world on-line, that offers me so much for my own professional learning, making me a better teacher and I hope that some of my posts/links have assisted others as well. Students, who are intending to become teachers ,need to be looking at educational uses of the tools that many of them are familiar with. They should be able to come into schools with a lot of ideas and expertise that older teachers, like me, can learn from. It should not be the case that they do not see a place for these web2.0 tools in the classroom, or, if they do, only in a limited way. 

So many courses in the US have information available on-line. They offer there students, and others, a wealth of information. For instance, from  Clif Nim’s blog  I found the amazing video below. From this blog I found a lot of ideas for classroom activities, that lead me to think about other adaptations of the ideas, links to other educational media and the comments that others had added to the posts offered other perspectives.  

Clif Mims is an Assistant Professor at The University of Memphis and an Educational Consultant, Educational Technologist, Instructional Designer at Clif Mims Consulting. “I’m interested in the effective integration of technology with teaching and learning.”

 The video below is a presentation about some research about ant life. This video shows what one of the subterranean ant structures looks like. A post on Clif’s blog talked about how it might be used in the classroom. The emphasis is always not on the the “gee whizz” aspect but how to make use of something interesting, in a learning capacity within a classroom, to show students that learning can, and should, be interesting. Watch the video and then have a look at how it might be used.