Every teacher has a mental treasure chest filled with useful items. These can be strategies, book titles and projects – but my cache also includes little-known web gems. These are the sites that I couldn’t live without.
Web Favorite #5
It’s important for students to not be exposed to unmentionable parts of Tommy Lee and Paris Hilton, but more times than not, filtering software does its job a little too well. For example, blogs fall into the “free website” category. So, even though kids still manage to skirt around filtering blocks and download the latest trial of Halo, I can’t browse readwriteweb while at school. I try to play by the rules, but sometimes playing the game is outweighed by doing what’s best for my students. What if a science teacher needs to look up rock cleavage? Or if an Social Studies teacher wants the kids to research the love canal? Normally these topics are blocked for sexual connotation. This is where proxies come into play.
There’s nothing illegal about web proxies, but the IT department would probably issue a slap on the wrist should they ever dig into my browsing history. A proxy is a “server that provides the resource by connecting to the specified server and requesting the service on behalf of the client” (wikipedia). Basically, it makes the filtering software think you’re visiting a site that isn’t blocked. There are countless proxies on the Internet, however most filtering applications block them as soon as they are discovered. Perhaps because of it’s name, this is not the case with iheartbeargrylls.com. No, it’s not a tribute to the legend who eats anything put in front of him. However, if it was, I’d probably still support it.
Web Favorite #4
Blogs and message boards have become the standard for creating online student conversations and dialogues. People forget, though that these concepts started in 1996 with the creation of ICQ. So why not go full circle and bring chat rooms into the classroom?
That’s basically what Chatzy does. Teachers can create password protected, encrypted rooms for students to discuss class topics. And at the end of the session, for a small registration fee, teachers can print out the conversation. Instead of having a class where only one student can have a say at a time, Chatzy turns class into a social gathering where students are free to start side conversations with each other while still participating in the large group discussion.
Web Favorite #3
A kid started a project at home using WordPerfect but your school only runs Microsoft Word? No problem. You want to use a .wma file in Audacity, which does not support proprietary formats? No problem. You’ve updated to Word 2007, and are plagued by constant .docx compatibility issues. Yes, it can even convert that. It can even create screen shots and send images, movies, and sound files to your mobile device. This is the Swiss Army knife of file conversion sites.
It should probably be mentioned, however, that this site isn’t the most student friendly. Since it’s free, the service generates revenue through selling adspace and allowing pop-ups. Many of these are of scantily-clad models praising the results of dieting pills – not exactly the message you wish to promote in class. Similarly, it may take some explaining if you are using the site, and a student happens to glance at your computer screen.
Web Favorite #2
Ridiculous media frenzies and legal troubles can really scar popular sites such as myspace* and youtube* rendering them unacceptable for school use. Even though there may be valuable content, the muck that must be waded through outweighs the argument to keep them unblocked at school. While you could risk penalty and use my web favorite #5, a much safer approach is keepvid.com
Keepvid allows the option to save video files from more than 40 video hosting sites that do not typically offer download links. From there, they can be inserted into presentations, sent through email, or shown on computers that lack an Internet connection. You get to save what you want, and leave the questionable content behind.
Videos are saved as .flv files which require a program such as FLV player or VLC player. If you’d rather work with a more familiar format, use the every-handy media-convert.com to change it to a .wmv, .mpeg, or .mp4 file.
Web Favorite #1
As media-rich projects become more common in schools, so does the demand for quality free content. Whether it’s for presentations, podcasts, or video productions, freeplaymusic is a one stop source for royalty free audio. This is certainly not the only place to find audio clips free of royalties, but few others can compete with the quantity available on freeplaymusic.
Because of its popularity and the needed bandwidth to host such a large number of files, the site often experiences some server lag. Once it loads, music can be chosen by feel, style, or keyword, making it extremely easy to find the file that best suits your needs. Each audio file is available at different lengths and download formats (mp3 or AAC) and offers a streaming preview as well. Nearly all the clips are instrumental which is perfect for unobtrusive background music. (Of course, if you really must have that popular top 40 hit and you don’t want to download Kazaa or Limewire, Google may be of some service.)