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Write and Revise Routine

Revision assistantTurnitin’s Revision Assistant takes advantage of a very important part of the writing process: revising an original to polish and finish it. Aimed at sixth through twelfth graders, Revision Assistant provides valuable feedback that appear in the margins next to highlighted text. The most interesting aspect of the program is the unique Signal Check that provides a visual record of the work’s language, focus, use of evidence and organization.

Discovering Science and Social Studies

Kids DiscoverThe latest online curriculum comes from Kids Discover Online, a repository of online science and social studies content. Because it’s browser-based, Kids Discover can work with just about any recent computer and delivers 100 common topics with material at three different reading levels that range from ancient Greek to ecology. Aimed at K-through-8th grade, the service starts with the latest news items in each area and the content is chock full of interactive elements, infographics and visual representations of the relationships between topics.


Freebee Friday: New York, Then and Now

Smithsonian NYCEver wonder what New York City was like in the early 19th century and how it compares to Gotham now? The Smithsonian has the answer and it can be a history and geography lesson in and of itself. Thanks to David Rumsey and ESRI, the Smithsonian has overlaid the 1836 Joseph Colton map of NYC, parts of Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens and the Jersey shore on the other side of the Hudson River with a present day satellite view. You can zoom in on any place and see what’s changed (the actual shoreline) and what hasn’t (Castle Clinton in lower Manhattan).


Teaching in Space

Solarwalk planetsForget about building an observatory because the sky above has been virtualized in Solar Walk 2. Vito Technology's app is not only inexpensive and allows you to explore the cosmos in great detail, but it works on both iOS systems and Apple’s new TV device.

Setting it up is one of the easiest experiences you could ever want. Once you’ve paid for it, the app downloads, installs automatically and is ready for teaching. Schools that rely on PCs or Androids will be disappointed because Solar Walk is iOS only. Plus, those with early iPads with 16GB of storage space may not like that the app takes up more than 500MB of space, but it’s worth it.

A word of advice, though: spend some time getting familiar with it, because Solar Walk 2 is an incredibly deep program that is easy to get lost in. The app opens with a short tutorial on what you can use the program for and then leaves you staring at the sun, solar flares and all. The interface lets you adjust its rotational speed, pause it or reverse its direction. It starts with today’s date and time, but you can roll the calendar forward or backward at a variety of speeds to see the stellar relationships past and future.

The app is finger friendly and works well with the Apple Pencil stylus. With the ability to zoom in and out by pinching or spreading your fingers and change your perspective on orbits by scrolling up, down, right or left, you are the master of the universe. Click on any celestial object and you get a close up of it and an infographic page for most of its astronomical details, such as relative mass, length of day and gravity. It alone can be a good starting point for a variety fo science reports and presentations.

Solar walk info graphixUnfortunately, none of the page’s items are live links to more information, although the app does have links for some items to Wikipedia entries. All the items don’t fit in landscape mode, so you’ll need to do some scrolling up and down. Unfortunately, the app won’t work in portrait mode.

With the right adapter, you can connect the iPad to a projector or monitor, but Solar Walk 2 has one big thing missing: there’s no way to mark up a screen or draw on it to show a relationship or make an educational point.

There’s comparable data on the planets, dwarf planets, asteroids and comets; as is the current practice, Pluto is relegated to dwarf status. Plus, if you get the Premium Access package ($8.99 or $1.99 per month), you can home in on a variety of satellites, like the SOHO solar observatory. I was able to manipulate a realistic image of the satellite, watch a video of its launch and track its path.

While there are no lesson plans, Solar Walk 2 has a multitude of teaching potential. For instance, go to the calendar and choose Winter solstice, 2016 to show the relationship between the sun and earth, including the relative positions and the earth’s angle. There’s a nice illustration of where the sun’s light goes and a short description.

Solar2-pic-4-bigThroughout, the program plays ethereal (some would say spacey) music to get you in the mood, but it misses out on an opportunity to have a narrative overlay that explains things, such as the expected 2017 Pluto opposition. As is, there’s only bland text. My advice, either turn the volume down or break out the headphones.

While each copy of Solar Walk 2 costs less than $3, to really get the most out of it, you need the Premium Access package that can triple that. You can get it through Apple’s App Store’s education pricing program. Still, even for a class it’s less expensive than a telescope or a trip to a planetarium and you can do your observing at any time, day or night.



Solar Walk 2

$2.99 and $8.99 for premium access


+ Inexpensive

+ Single app for iPads and Apple TV

+ Beautiful imaging

+ Navigate through space and time

+ Infographics


- Landscape mode only

- Audio is only for music

- No annotation mode

No More Keyboard Tears

HwtearsFrom forming letters to keyboarding, the handwriting without tears site can make it easier for all sorts of students to make the most of their first years at school. There are sections on writing upper and lower case characters as well as cursive and block letters. Aimed at K-through-fifth grade, the Handwriting Without Tears site also has a typing section to help make the transition to computer text. There’re lesson plans, standards alignment and a lot of free teaching materials, although some curriculum items cost about $10.  


On-Screen Economics

Classic economicsBecause it stands at the intersection of math, psychology and human desires, economics is one of the hardest subjects to teach in middle- and high schools. Still, it can be done, with a little help from the Classic Economic Models Web site. The site covers both Micro- and Macroeconomics with a variety of graphs, explanations and access to the underlying math models so the class can play with different variables to work through the theory. There’re printable exercises and links for further study resources. The best part is that it’s a free lunch.

Freebee Friday: High Finance in the Classroom

Bulls and Bears Screen ShotHow does the economy, finance and investing work? You’re never too young to learn these valuable lessons that are taught by the Bulls & Bears Web site. A complete course for teaching about personal finance and economics, the curriculum is disguised as an investing game. You can try out the beta version for free.


Freebee Friday: 5 Free STEM Lessons

IEEE1Electronics might not seem like a likely class in high school, but the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, IEEE, has 400 online eLearning classes on a variety of STEM subjects. Each has been peer reviewed and is self-paced. They have glossaries, tests and many of the course are available in three levels. For now, five of them are available for free: Cloud Based Solutions for Big DataCloud Computing Enabling Technologies4G Broadband LTETransportation Electrification: Applications of Electric Drive Trains;Smart Grid: From Concept to Reality.

Freebee Friday: A Helping Hand for Writers

CB_Drafter2Getting students to read and edit their work critically has gotten a lot easier with SAS’s Writing Navigator. The free writing and editing tool works within an HTML 5 Web app that can work with everything from a PC and Mac to Android, iOS and Chromebooks. It starts with creating writing plan, continues through drafting the essay and helps students to revise, proofread and share the work with the class.

Freebee Friday: Wilderness Power

Minetonka damA cool new lesson plan, complete with multimedia material from the National Park Service goes over the history of the Bureau of Reclamation's Minidoka Irrigation Project. Built during the 1920s, the dam on the Snake River not only irrigated 120,000 acres of desert land, but produced power for the area as well. The curriculum includes everything from the geography and overall context to building of the first dam (there are now seven) and the laying of the pipes and power lines. There are photos, videos and activities.



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