Thursday, January 22, 2009

Classroom Technology Resource Reviews

Big Huge Labs

For the Greek unit of 6th grade world history, the students have been studying, among other things, Greek mythology. One of our culminating projects in mythology was for the students to create trading cards of different characters from Greek mythology. To do so, we used the Trading Card Maker from The whole process is super easy and the kids REALLY enjoyed it. They got something slick and professional looking while at the same time retaining the ability to customize their work.

The website, run by Flickr, has several preprogrammed templates for playing with photographs, a few of which have some pretty cool applications in an educational setting. The trading card maker can easily be put to use showcasing student understanding and creativity. I've also had the kids use the Movie Poster Maker to create promo posters for our upcoming production of Homer's "The Iliad". While not all of the applications at Big Huge Labs are usable in the classroom, it's definitely worth checking out as a way for students to learn to use technology in a creative and educational way.


This coming week I start teaching sixth grade mathematics, which is rather outside my social studies comfort zone. I do, however, have several resources in my toolkit to make this an exciting, rather than a daunting, challenge. One such resource, which my host teacher introduced me to, is, a site created by textbook giant McDougal-Littell as an online extension to their family of printed texts. Classzone offers a host of services meant to be used in conjunction with McDougal-Littell textbooks, but some of their features offer learning engagment opportunities for everyone.

At the homesite, you simply select your grade level, subject, and state and the site brings up a list of McDougal-Littell texts commonly in use in your state. Once you've selected your text, it takes you to that book's homepage where you'll find everything from
homework help to activities, learning games, and animations that help explain the concepts you're teaching in class. The site also breaks down by chapter so you can easily find and access resources directly linked to the specific lesson the student's are studying.

My host teacher went over the use of with the students last semester, specifically in reference to the homework help feature and games designed to strengthen basic computation skills. Another helpful feature that I've found useful in breaking down the lesson in order to think about how best to teach it is the
@HomeTutor feature. The HomeTutor is designed to provide an overview of the lesson which is accessible to students while at home or away from the classroom. I've found it helpful to look at the way the HomeTutor breaks down lessons and to then compare that with the way that I'd been thinking of tackling the lesson myself. It provides another perspective that sometimes provides insight into other ways of explaining a key concept that I might not have thought of myself.

Obviously, Classzone is most effective for teachers using McDougal-Littell textbooks in their classrooms. However, with a little time and exploration, even teachers who teach from other books could use this resources to come up with games and ideas for activities in their content area.


While might be best known for its alien commercials and archives of popular TV shows like The Daily Show and the Simpsons, it also provides access to a treasure trove of educational videos from acclaimed sources like National Geographic, NOVA, CNBC and a host of others too numerous to list. In fact, the sheer breadth of archived video material available at Hulu is staggering. From an educator's perspective, having free access to all these educational videos at the click of a button is an amazing resource.

For example, a few weeks ago we were looking at the history of ancient Rome and slavery. The slave revolt of Spartacus in 73 B.C. is the stuff of legends and, with a few keystrokes and a click or two of the mouse, I was able to pull up an extremely well done video from National Geographic that brought the story vividly to life for the students. Having access to such educational materials is a priceless tool to help engage students with quality re-enactments from trusted sources without having to go through the hassle of ordering a video and waiting for it to arrive. Perhaps the key benefit is that it enables educators to bring up information quickly and easily and at the spur of the moment. If, while planning a lesson where a video resource would be helpful, you can find it at your fingertips in mere moments and incorporate it quickly into your teaching. This is where Hulu truly shines.

The only real problems that I've encountered using Hulu is that it takes up a significant amount of bandwidth and that some form of projector is needed to transfer the video from the computer to a larger screen. Therefore, in a school with limited technology resources, Hulu would not be a viable option. However, if you work in a district with good bandwidth capabilities and some basic technology like a digital projector, Hulu functions smoothly and allows access to a mind-boggling amount of educational videos.

A much smaller issue is the commercial breaks that allow Hulu to function. They are generally about 30 seconds in length and come about every 15-20 minutes, meaning that in an hour long documentary, you can expect to lose a couple minutes to commercial interruption. This time need not be wasted, however, as the projector can be blocked and the audio muted to enable class discussion while the commercial runs.

Videos have long been used in the classroom to enrich learning and to provide visual reinforcement of the concepts or events being studied. Hulu is a tool for the modern digital age that allows educators to access a wide variety of educational videos from their own classroom. If you work in a district with good internet connectivity and decent bandwidth, and have some means of transferring the video to a larger screen, Hulu might be a tool to help you easily find and incorporate educational videos into your instruction. It's definitely worth checking out. Click here to visit it yourself.