About this blog Subscribe to this blog

Freebee Friday: Inside Man (and Woman)

BiodigitalA great way to augment a biology lesson on human anatomy, BioDigital Human has a virtual 3-D animated person that students can explore inside and out, without spilling a drop of blood or the smell of formaldehyde. You can choose between exploring a man or woman, see the entire body or isolate any organ. To simplify things, you can turn on and off various details, like digestion, circulation and lymph. There are explanations as well as a handy interface that lets you zoom in and out or see the body with an X-ray view. The downside is that it’s still a beta Web service and requires OpenGL graphics, so it might need an update of your video drivers.



Accelerating Online Education

SDA_Screenshots_6 With projectors, smart-boards and computers in place in the digital classroom, what’s missing? There’s still a distinct shortage of compelling and engaging curriculum to teach a generation of students. Cerebellum’s Standard Deviants Accelerate is trying to fill the gap with courses on biology and algebra. More will follow and they will feature the free-wheeling and often quirky Standard Deviant’s method of using comedy, graphics, video and young actors to breathe life into the subject matter.



iPad on a Roll

Vernier video physics a Vernier’s Video Physics app for the iPad is a great way to not only show students how a physical phenomenon occurs, but help them graph it as well. All you do is use the iPad 2’s video camera to record the motion you want to analyze and the program marks the object’s position frame by frame and graphs its motion. It’s great for a rolling ball, a football field goal, a car’s acceleration and riding a roller coaster.



Freebee Friday: Summer Skin Game

Skin cancer I have one suggestion for you for the last science or health class of the year. Spend 45 minutes talking about the risks of skin cancer with the class. The Skin Cancer Foundation is a one-stop site that explains the different skin problems, why avoiding sunburns and using sun screen are so important and how to perform a self-examination to catch problems early. There’s even a summer-long bus tour of the Road to Healthy Skin Tour, which performs cancer screenings throughout the U.S. The content is sponsored by Rite Aid drugs.




Physics, Lab by Lab

Phys-am_small If updating your school’s Advanced Placement physics labs is taking up too much time, think about basing it on Advanced Physics with Vernier – Mechanics. The 48-page volume has 19 experiments, from center of mass and Newton’s laws of motion to pendulums and error analysis that help kids master the latest ideas in physics. Each lab comes with a variety of word processing files so you can adapt them to your school’s needs as well as follow-up questions and special teacher sections. You can try out an experiment to see if it fits your school’s curriculum and style.


Freebee Friday: Weather or Not

Contentpacks_may11 The latest addition to Mimio’s Connect teaching community is a great group of material on weather and natural hazards. It’s appropriate for kindergartners through high school seniors, includes 170 images and a slew of lesson plans for everything from the water cycle to observing the weather. It works with Mimio’s Studio 7 software. Whether it’s raining, snowing or you live in tornado alley, it’s all free.



Freebee Friday: Inside the Brain

Brain Having trouble telling the superior frontal temporal gyrus from corpus callosum? Try the Allen Institute for Brain Science’s new Web site. Funded by Microsoft founder Paul Allen, the institute has been mapping the brain for years and now opens its imaging archive to all. There are sections for the human and mouse brains as well as specialty projects, like its work on glioblastoma. The Brain Explorer program is the center of activity and is enlightening, to say the least. It is available in versions for PCs and Macs, but might require a graphics chip and the latest drivers that your computer doesn’t have. It lets you take a peek inside the brain and move a pointer around to identify certain key areas. The site can help students see what the schizophrenic brain looks like, for instance or just nose around.



AP Bio, Inside and Out

GH4360-2 While it’s impossible to cram an entire year of Advanced Placement Biology into a 45 minute video, Cerebellum’s AP Biology Exam Prep is a good start. It doesn’t attempt to teach the year’s worth of college-level curriculum, yet has a good review of the material and excellent printable worksheets. At $50 for the two disc set, it is money well spent to get a class ready for the big test in May.

Meant for 11-th graders, the set uses Cerebellum’s Standard Deviants troupe of teenage actors to tell the story of life. The program starts with a good overview of what to expect from the test, how it is graded and how the total score adds up. It is chock full of general test taking advice and specific strategies for success in the AP Bio exam.

The hallmark of the Cerebellum exam prep series is “30 in 30.” This section attempts to compress the details of 30 biology concepts in 30 minutes. In this case, it actually takes 45 minutes. The video goes through the major themes and ideas one at a time, from photosynthesis to genetics.

Ap bio disc From goofy to earnest, the video snippets are an effective communications tool for teenagers. The topics are comprehensive and presented in a quick-moving lively format that they will have trouble ignoring. Unfortunately, the onslaught of edutainment leaves some of the weightier subjects for the end when attention starts to waver.

As ambitious as the exam prep program is, it can only be useful as an outline to key students into what they need to review in depth and relearn. Happily, it totally ignores the controversy about evolution and deals with just the science.   

Unfortunately, there are several gaffes that mar it. On top of irrelevant backgrounds (like a skulls and bones pattern), some of the kid actors have trouble with the accepted pronunciations of scientific terms. The two most embarrassing faux pas, however, are when “Assortment” is spelled as “Assorment” in a headline about Mendelian genetics and the list of 5 major hormones that actually contains 6 chemicals. More important to teachers and prospective test-takers seeking a comprehensive look at biology, the program doesn’t even mention digestion.

The real gem is the second disc, which contains 5.4MB of worksheets and printable material to pass out to the class. The 42-page workbook has illustrations, fill-in-the-blanks exercises and lots of descriptive material that does a good job of summarizing the curriculum and quizzing students.

AP bio work book On the downside, like Cerebellum’s other text prep discs, these study aids are meant to be printed and not filled in electronically. To me, this misses out on an opportunity to integrate it into the emerging digital classroom with. An iPad or Android tablet version would be a worthwhile effort.

Unfortunately, the Cerebellum exam prep set has an inherent use by date on it because the College Board is revamping the format and material on the biology test. The new test is scheduled to debut in 2013, followed by new exams for history in 2015.

For now, if you have a group of kids anxious about the upcoming AP Bio test, Cerebellum’s Exam Prep set is a great way to let them get a handle on what they know and what they don’t know.


Cerebellum Biology Advanced Placement Exam Prep


+ Good review outline

+ Excellent printable worksheets

+ Lively quick-moving format

+ Insight about test format


- Can’t contain entire syllabus

- Typos and odd backgrounds

- Worksheets meant to be printed


Freebee Friday: The Sun Fights Back

Solar flare Over Valentine’s Day as your class was giving each other heart shaped cards, our son was getting a little hot under the collar by ejecting a major flare. After years of a quiet star next door, the sun is acting up with an X-class flare, the most powerful and potentially dangerous type. The reason we should care, and a nice physics and social studies lesson, is that when the remnants of this flare hit the earth later today and over the weekend, it can cause havoc with the power grid, sensitive electronics and communications networks. It’s already disrupting radio transmissions in China. For ideas, check out NASA solar flares page.

Freebee Friday: Full Body Scanner

Body browser Having trouble telling the clavicle from a cervical bone? Google’s latest app can help with an annotated full body browser. First, you’ll first need to load the beta of Google’s Chrome Web browser, which has extra software for the app. Pick what you want it to display (muscles, bones, organs, etc), decide whether you want labels and zoom in to show what is of interest to the class. As good as it looks on a desktop or notebook computer, it looks even better with a projector or large-screen monitor. It’s giggle proof because it doesn’t show genitals, and is appropriate for any class.



Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in Tech Tools are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.