SES Satellite Fleet

The Post in Which I Remember Google Earth is Awesome!

I’m a HUGE fan of Google Earth. Ever since the terribly buggy and laggy days of its first incarnations, I’ve used the resources provided by it, oogled monumental structures from space, and found ways to encourage teachers to use it more in their classroom. Sometimes I get pushback from teachers wanting a resource that’s more accessible to students, doesn’t require the internet, and will always be there even if the power goes out (I believe they call these things maps, and they’re printed on paper). Other times I get teachers looking for ways to provide the sort of visuals that wouldn’t be possible with any form of conventional maps, and love all of the layers and information that the infinitely extensible Google Earth can provide.

Whichever is the case, I find that if I’m not actually teaching, I forget about how amazingly and ridiculously awesome Google Earth is, which is a shame. So it was with great delight that I found a really cool tool via the Google Earth Blog that encouraged me to dig through some of my past links for Google Earth resources. The result was a great trip down memory lane, exploring resources both beloved and lost, and uncovering new gems that are providing me lots of excuses to once again share Google Earth’s resources with the teachers in my building. I thought I’d lay out a few here to see if anyone else discovers (or rediscovers) something that might help rejuvenate your interest in Google Earth.

Check out the floating fleet of SES satellites above our heads

SES Satellite Fleet

Coming from the Google Earth Blog, this really great Google Earth browser plugin tool lets you check out all of the “geo-stationary” orbits of several of SES’s satellites. Besides being a fantastic excuse to pretend you’re a character from Star Trek and use the word geo-stationary, it’s a great way to help students understand how far out satellites are, what they’re communicating with on the ground, and the importance of “line of sight” transmission. Check out the SES Satellite Fleet here.

Use fantastic literature discussion guides embedded in Google Earth with your students

Google Lit Trips

Google Lit Trips is an oldie, but goodie! Imagine taking one of your favorite “journey” novels (Watsons go to Birmingham, Candide, Walk Two Moons, etc.) and embedding the discussion guide within Google Earth! You and your students can follow the journey taken by the characters in the book, talk about the setting with contextual imagery and street views, and include all sorts of opportunities to bring Social Studies content into literature discussions! Check out Google Lit Trips here!

Ancient Rome in Google Earth!

I am a total ancient history nut, so when you find a resource that shows you over 6,000 historical 3D buildings from the ancient city of Rome, I get really geeked. Interiors, high detail, and lots of other historical information is shared through this giant Google Earth map. Make sure you’re running a recently new machine to handle all of this content. Check out Ancient Rome in Google Earth here!

It's a global game of hide and seek!


Imagine playing Marco Polo or Hide and Seek on a global scale! Now mix in Google Earth so it doesn’t take several hours of plane travel, and you’ve got PlaceSpotting. It’ an awesome way to help students practice basic map skills, including latitude and longitude reading. The concept is pretty simple; you’re given an undisclosed location in Google Earth, and then you have to find it, using the clues provided. Once you feel like you’ve successfully located the “hidden” spot, you can check your answer to see if you’re right. Send “geo-hunt” quizzes to friends, or create your own, it’s like having you own mini version of Amazing Race! Check out PlaceSpotting here!

I could go on and on with all of the amazing resources shared on the web that tap into the power of Google’s virtual globe software, and the ways you could use them in the classroom, but the point is that it’s quite often a great idea to come back and revisit a resource or piece of software that you haven’t used in awhile, because you’ll never know how it might surprise you when given a fresh look. There’s more than enough here to get me fired up and putting together some Google Earth sessions for my teachers at our annual “tech camp” this summer, and perhaps go on a Google Earth binge into the next school year.

Lincoln Jefferson Triple Troll Attack

Hunting Trolls in History

Don't worry, everything about this digital artifact is supposed to be wrong.

At the great risk of people thinking that I am either a very poor student of history, or a closet racist (both of which I can strongly assure you I am not), I created this digital artifact as an example of how you could stir a debate, a discussion, or prompt a deeper exploration of an issue in a history course, specifically one dealing with Antebellum America. In the interest of full disclosure, I created this work based on a Design Assignment for ds106 entitled “Triple Troll Attack”, in which an image of a character or individual (Lincoln) is juxtaposed with a quote from a related individual (Douglas), and provided credit to a third individual (Jefferson) who may or may not be loosely related. The idea of being a troll on the internet is simple; post and/or create something so inflammatory that it evokes some emotion from others (either good or bad). But what if you were to take the idea of being a “troll” and flip it on its head, and instead create a digital artifact that would spur conversation, questioning, and discussion around a topic?

What if you presented the image of Abraham Lincoln above, with the included quote and attribution and challenged your students to “find the lie”, or “go troll hunting” (to use the vernacular that many gamers and online forum users are used to seeing)? What would happen if you were to create something so untruthful, so filled with mis-attributed quotes juxtaposed with the image of some other historical figure that is equally inaccurate? What if you choose the quote, the attributing author, and the image of three related individuals and/or topics so that at first glance it might actually appear to be truth? Could you use a digital artifact like the one above to challenge your students to “uncover the lie”, and push a deeper understanding of the topic through their careful detective-like examination of resources and materials in an attempt to “slay the troll”?

Quite often history is presented to learners in a linear fashion, typically with events outlined in a cause and effect manner. My own World History teacher was notorious for making the entire class outline, annotate, and then rephrase the text in our books from the start of a unit to finish. While I was always studious and made outlines until my eraser was worn down to a nub, as I learned more about the past I wondered about how events, cultures, and societies influenced the present, and possibly the future. What if the exploration of a new unit or time period in history was presented not in a linear fashion, but as an amalgam of all of the preceding events, societal practices, and common practices surrounding the issue or time period?

In this case, the entire idea of slavery, a bit of the thought surrounding it, and a few of the people that wrestled with its existence (Lincoln, Jefferson, and Douglas) were smashed together to present something that would hopefully give your students a chance to discover the truth behind the issue. The goal would be to use it as a jumping off point to discuss the major themes, events, thoughts, and individuals that pertain to a historical topic, without having to follow the bread crumbs from the beginning of the issue to the very end.

SPECIAL THANKS goes to Shawn McCusker for helping edit this post and consulting on the content. You can follow this amazing high school History Teacher on twitter: @ShawnMcCusker

image – Abraham Lincoln (from the Library of Congress Flickr Photostream)

Wordle - Create-1

3 Ways to Use Wordle for More Than Fluff

The visual word clouds created by Wordle and other word cloud services on the web aren’t anything new, they’ve been around for a few years. However, like a great many newer web 2.0 tools, I quite often see a lot of ineffective use of these tools in the classroom. That’s not to say I think the teachers themselves are ineffective, in fact it’s usually the most tech savvy and educational effective teachers that are using tools like Wordle.

However, as even these tech savvy teachers keep up with the changing landscape of educational tools, not enough time is often available to closely examine a new website to carefully dissect what the tool is capable of, and how it might be used most effectively. Too often a larger number of teachers get caught up in the “wow” factor of some great new ability of the read/write web (does anyone still use that term anymore?), and immediately starts working the new-found website into a class project. Again, I’m not trying to call out poor practice, but rather the lack of time and priority that teachers have when it comes to wrestling with all of these ever-changing and growing arsenal of web tools that have excellent use for the classroom. Before I get started on a rant about how little time teachers have to work on their craft outside of instructional time, I’ll get back to Wordle.

The most common use I see for a website like Wordle, that allows you to input any text and create a frequency word cloud (see image at beginning of article) is to “creatively” display student’s work out in the hallway on a bulletin board. This is what I like to call “fluff”. Sure, it’s good stuff, it makes the kids feel good about creating something so pretty, and every teacher has to produce some amount of fluff each year. Whether it’s to display during conferences, or just to showcase some student work, teachers use fluff in all sorts of forms; bulletin board, video, presentations, etc.  The problem is, Wordle often never gets past the fluff stage in the classroom, so here are three ideas that I’ve seen teachers use to get a bit more use out of Wordle.

Visual Data

Making data visual is nothing new, and it’s something that any teacher of mathematics does whenever talking about graphing, probability, and frequency. Sure, there’s a lot of straight lines and chart paper involved, but doing something as simple as creating a bar chart to visualize data helps learners tremendously. And you could do the same thing with Wordle and frequency. Take the example of pulling M&Ms out of a bag and recording the frequency of each of the pieces of candy in the bag. By putting the recorded data into Wordle, you’re given nice visual cues as to the frequency of colors in the bag. In this case, blue was the color pulled most often from the bag denoted by both it’s size (the largest of all the words), and it’s color (the darkest of the words). You could play with the color scheme for different effect, but the result would be similar. Whether you have computers for all of your students, or just a few classroom computers, it would be very easy to have a few students responsible for creating word clouds in addition to the traditional frequency charts or other data collections methods (think about polling students and creating clouds from their responses). It would be quick, and the result could be printed out, or just have a screenshot taken as a reference for later.

Improving Student Writing

In many schools I’ve been in I’ve heard about using “juicy adjectives” to spruce up a piece of writing. Rather than rely on a view adjectives over and over again like “good” or “bad” while writing a narrative piece, the idea is to have a battery of “juicy” words that could be substituted (synonyms that is) so the writing isn’t quite so monotonous. I like the idea of using Wordle to weed out over-used adjectives (or verbs, or any other part of speech for that matter), because it’s fun, it’s quick, and it’s easy. I went ahead and quickly copied everything in my post thus far and pasted it into Wordle. In a little less than 30 seconds I had an easy to read road map of which words I’ve used most heavily in this post thus far, and have an idea of which I should stay away from. If I were a student I wouldn’t have to go to the teacher, or have any peer editing done yet. With a few clicks on the mouse, and a copy paste I can know see that I’ve used “creating” and “classroom” quite a bit, with “teachers” and “wordle” fighting for top usage. There’s not much I can do about getting around using the term Wordle, but I could always adjust my writing, or go back and do some editing to introduce words like “learning environment”, “construct”, or “educator” in order to “juice up” my writing. No printing, and not much time needed for a quick writing tweak. You could compare the progress of a student’s writing by saving the wordle of each draft, or periodically throughout the writing process.

Comparing Oratorical Messages

With the State of the Union Address still fresh in the minds of a few political pundits here in America, I thought I’d do a little experiment and see what would happen if I were to compare the top 50 words from two different state of the union speeches given by two different presidents (Wordle allows you to limit the word cloud to a certain number of top frequency words). You could apply the same example to famous speeches performed throughout history, but in this case I think it would be interesting from a political and societal standpoint to compare in what direction the country is headed, or rather what is consuming our collective thoughts, by taking a look at one of the few speeches that is held an an annual basis that is meant to reflect upon the sentiment of the nation and our current direction as a country. Notice the difference in the state of the union address given just this year, versus the one given 80 years ago in 1930 by Herbert Hoover.

speech text

speech text 3

More common place words like “American” or “people” don’t even appear prominently in the 1930 speech (the bottom word cloud). However, words related to jobs, work, spending, business, and the economy pop up frequently in both. Sure, any decent history teacher could simply point this out to students, or include this in a lecture, but that’s not exactly a 21st century educational mindset. Allowing students to quickly, and easily, create a visual comparison of two important speeches in a country’s past can help create not just a lasting impression of the message being conveyed, but a great way to skim future texts when comparing. Getting a grasp of the nation’s mood based on the oratory of the day would be an interesting exploration in a history or civics class.

Have an idea of how Wordle could be used for more then “fluff” in your classroom? Please share via the comments below!

UPDATE (April 17th, 2011):

This post has been particularly popular in the few months since posting, so I wanted to include a link or two to some iOS apps for creating Word Clouds on your iPod, iPhone, or iPad. They’re both nice native platform solutions for quickly creating word clouds, that are specifically NOT for fluff. While not providing HUGE amount of special color themes and other options, each of the following apps can get you creating word tag clouds quickly and easily.


iconWord Clouder – At only .99 cents at the time of this posting, Word Clouder isn’t going to break the wallet. With limited visual options (font and background color, font size, and minimum word number are about it), this app is perfect for getting past the “fluff” of Wordle, and using word tag clouds as an immediate learning tool embedded in your lesson or activity, rather than just a way to make your students’ work look pretty. Copy and paste any text on your iOS device into Word Clouder, and you’re good to go!




iconWord Map Free! – While this app is free, it comes with a huge limitation from the Word Clouder App. Word clouds created using this app must be created using only internet sources, no copying and pasting of text from documents, e-mails, or other iOS applications. While it does produce some interesting clouds based on search terms, and allows you to rearrange, edit, and delete words, altering the existing word cloud, the content it pulls from must be online first before using it to search for frequency. Either type in a URL, or enter a keyword for searching the internet to create clouds here.

The Evolution of Classroom Technology - Interactive Feature -

The Evolution of Classroom Technology

Found via the Twitter stream today is a link to The New York Times visual timeline of classroom technology and how it has evolved over the last few centuries. Starting in 1650 with a simple Horn-Book (the finest schoolroom technology of the American Colonial Era), the interactive time line covers 26 of some of the most significant changes in classroom tech, all the way through the 2010 introduction of Apple’s hugely popular tablet computing device, the iPad. Each new invention is displayed with a brief description of the learning tool, and either it’s year of invention, or roughly the years it was used widely. For example, the “Magic Lantern” was once all the rage in Chicago Public Schools between 1870 and World War 1. However, that’s just about where the usefulness of the time line runs out.

Scantron MachineWhile it’s interesting to see the progression of instructional technology, or rather the lack there-of in the 17th and 18th centuries, there’s not much to this timeline beyond a few simple facts. Which got me to thinking; surely a large news media organization like The New York Times could create a much more useful tool for exploring how technology has helped shape instructional practice during the 19th century, or how the rapidly increasing adoption of newer technologies in the later half of the 20th century gave way to a complete inundation of new tools like the interactive whiteboard, the internet, personal computers, and more. Or perhaps, rather than rely on the news organization to provide those details, bring the interactive timeline into your classroom, and start asking some probing questions of your students, and guide them through a deeper exploration of how technology and education have been intermingled in the U.S. in the past 300 years.

For example, according to the timeline of classroom technology, Thomas Edison was quoted as saying that with the invention of the filmstrip projector “books will soon be obsolete in schools. Scholars will soon be instructed through the eye.” Given the filmstrip projector was being used in the classroom in 1925, I’d say Mr. Edison was more than a tad off, considering the majority of students both in k-12 and higher education settings still rely on text, worksheets, and books for their primary means of educational materials. That’s not a critique of his vision, but rather an observation that could lead to an examination of effective instructional modalities, and how technology has played a role in supporting them, or hindering them. Film was rapidly adopted as an entertainment medium in the early 1900s, and while engaging in the theater, many students, and teachers, can often recall sitting through mind-numbing “educational” films that were no better than a dryly written textbook.

If I were to use this timeline in the classroom, I would most likely use it as an assignment for students to choose one of the pieces of technology and delve deeper into the social, educational, and economic impact these pieces of ed tech had on not just schools, but society as well. I would include a few more inventions as well, such as the internet, mobile phones, portable music devices, the CD-Rom, etc. and would probably give the students a road map starting with a few guiding questions:

  • “What existing technology did this invention replace or improve upon?”
  • “How was this device used in the classroom in it’s own time, and how might it be perceived by students and teachers today?”
  • “Did schools struggle to find ways to effectively use each of these pieces of technology when they first came out?”
  • “How has this particular piece of technology exist today?”

I’d love to know what other educators think, so feel free to add your own probing questions in the comments below. I’d be even more tempted to create a lesson or two around this topic with a bit more input :)

images: Horn-Book – Spencer Research Library/University of Kansas, Scantron – Benjamin Innes/The New York Times