More Cool Tools: Comiqs and Jumpcut

Teaching summer school to students who were mostly retaking the course allowed for some experimentation over the last few weeks.

The first is My students used this tool to summarize their understanding of the events of the French Revolution. I provided links to a number of French Revolution-related images and gave them a basic tutorial of the tool (which I had played with for about 20 minutes before giving the demo). From there the students put together short comic books, complete with voice bubbles and other text. The only problem that they experienced was about 5 of 35 students were unable to save and therefore publish their project. Saving errors were displayed causing them to lose some or all of their work. That number of students who had problems is somewhat concerning, especially if I used it during the school year with 120 students. The main lesson: save often. So even if something goes wrong, you don’t lose much. Given the amount of time I provided them (about two hours), I was happy with the final products. Like many of the other online multimedia Web 2.0 applications, you can embed the finish comic in your blog, web site, etc.

Below is an example. There is a lot more here.

The second tool my students used was Jumpcut. For this project students had to first read a number of poems written by World War I soldiers and select one. Next they reviewed hundreds of images from WWI from a list of image sites I provided them. They were specifically looking for visuals that connected to the imagery described in their poem. Once they had their images, they set up an account at (owned by Yahoo so you need a Yahoo login). Then they could import their photos and add their poem to the images. It also does video, but because of our time constraints, I did not have them even look at some of the cool WWI footage out there on the web. The editing process went very smoothly – many of the students have iMovie or Windows Movie Maker experience, and Jumpcut is even easier to user. Overall the editing is a bit clunky and doesn’t allow for much finesse. Adding the text was also a bit difficult in that you could only add a limited amount of text.

Here is a sample, click here for a bunch more.

During the regular school year my students actually write their own poems add images to the text at my WWI Poetry Wiki. If I can squeeze the time in, I would love for them to use Jumpcut in this same manner. Perhaps I could set up a record station and the students read their poems (you can add sound to your Jumpcut video) that immortalize their poems even further. To keep all the poems in a centralized location, the finished products could be embedded into the wiki.

Better Student Searching – Cool Tool #7

This has been sitting as draft for over three months, I don’t know why I never published it…

Google continues to just make life easier. Now you can create a customize a search engine by including only specific resources. Using Google Co-op, you can simply add sites you want to include in a search. Here is a way for many teachers to teach their students to search in a safe environment. It also allows you to embed the search box into your web page, blog, wiki, etc. I hope to build one just for world history. I could then point students to it for research and enrichment.

It might also be a nice addition to the world of the WebQuests – generally the rule is that the links are included. However, if the teacher provides a customized search engine, you get the best of both worlds. Contained searching on a specific topic (let’s say the Holocaust) and the comfort that your students are still only looking at sites the teacher has verified as suitable.


Collective Memories – A Cool Wiki Tool

We all have our individual memories of shared events. I have clear memories of where I was when during the Challenger disaster, the death of Kurt Cobain, 9/11, the LA Riots, Columbine, and fall of the Berlin wall. I remember being in a small Baptist Church covering a visit of Jesse Jackson, a UCSD protest that actually moved onto I5 and stopped traffic for hours, and being one of thousands of screaming fans at numerous u2 concerts over the years.

Our individual memories might be recorded in a journal or blog.  We might tell our children or grandchildren, but I can’t imagine them lasting beyond a generation.  One of my biggest regrets in my life so far centers around one of my grandfathers.  He lived an eventful life, fighting in WWII and spending his career as a police officer in Chicago.  I never asked him much about his life.  When he passed 11 years ago, those memories were mostly lost to me.

Technology gives us a new window to our collective memories.  Holocaust survivors are telling their stories to various organizations who are recording them so that the generations to come can witness the testimonies of the witnesses.  What about the rest of us? The importance of our stories has a different importance.  They help define our era, interests, daily life, and  culture.

Well, you probably could have guessed, there is a cool newish web site that is doing just this – it is giving everyday people the opportunity to record their memories.  MemoryArchive is a site powered by MediaWiki (of Wikipedia fame) where anyone can write a story about an event or individual.  You simply add it to the wiki (they have instructions), they review it and then lock it so others don’t change your memory.   They even added a teacher section.  I could see some great potential here.  Students could go out in the community and write the story of a grandparent or neighbor.

Go check it out.  Add a memory to our collective knowledge base.


Darfur, Google Earth, Brilliant!

My experience with Googe Earth is somewhat limited. I’ve looked at my house, school, and various other cool places. All with the direction and attention span of my four year old.  I’d seen Google Earth Lit Trips and thought it was a pretty cool idea – for someone else to do.  I’ve shown the Great Wall and Forbidden City to my classes.  But, never did I really think about seriously applying it to my own classes.

Until now.  Seeing the new partnership between Google and the USHMM to illustrate the ongoing genocide in Darfur, has officially thrown the switch in my head.  I spent the last couple of days before spring break talking about Darfur to wrap up my Holocaust/Genocide unit.  I primarily used the information, images, and videos segments from the USHMM web site.  In the end, I had hoped for a greater response from the students.  When I said there were 200,000 dead, two million internal refugees, and hundreds of villages destroyed, I couldn’t quite illustrate it in a way that made an impact.  I spent about an hour yesterday moving throughout Darfur in Google Earth.  Reading first-hand testimonies, examining pictures of destroyed villages, and actually seeing the number of refugee camps in Sudan and neighboring Chad.  I’m pretty well read on the subject, but this truly opened my eyes to the conflict.  No doubt when I share this with my students on Monday, it will clarify their understanding as well.


Adding visuals like this will certainly enhance their understanding. (Image from Ogle Earth).

Now I can’t stop thinking about ways I could incorporate Google Earth into my classroom.  I envision students creating projects that trace the Mongol’s race across Asia, Alexander the Great’s army trek to India, the travels of Marco Polo and Ibn Battuta, and Mao’s Long March.  Don’t know if I can fit it in this school year, but definitely in the fall.

This is why I never sleep.

Cool Tool #2 – TeacherTube

I had planned to make this a regular feature on this blog, in part to get me to write more often.  Hasn’t really worked out.  I seemed to have just forgotten how tough having an infant is.

Anyway, while I haven’t been writing, I haven’t stopped reading.  Yesterday, Vicki Davis – the educational wiki queen (and I do mean that as a complement!), wrote about a new tool called TeacherTube.  Essentially, it is YouTube for teachers.  It has a similar look and feel, has a similar interface for uploading, and a similar method to embed videos on other pages.  The big difference – this site is dedicated to educational videos.  It appears that non-educational videos that are “flagged” will be removed.  I do wonder if that will become difficult to track, will we see “video spammers” try and jam up the service?

I know that many people have mixed feelings about TeacherTube in a YouTube world.  If we only place educational videos (both teacher and student produced) on TeacherTube we essentially remove them from the mainstream that YouTube has become.  However, YouTube is blocked at my school.   I can’t use it in my classroom, nor can I publish videos from my computer at school.  As an educational resource, YouTube is limited to what I do at home – where I can download videos and then bring them into school (I talked about this here a couple months ago).

Teachers definitely need to try it out.  Create, upload.  The only way to really increase the value of this resource is for all of us to contribute to it.  Here is my first upload… a video describing my Children of the Holocaust WebQuest.  Projects I should be grading right now instead of writing.

Cool Tools for Managing Knowledge

Last night I gave a short presentation to one of the Educational Technology classes at SDSU. I described the tools I use to try and organize the vast amounts of information I seem to so desperately need to survive. This post is going to quickly summarize the sites I shared and the role they play in my constant search for some sort of digital order in my professional life.

Educational Technology Personal Knowledge Management Project

I created this as one of the final projects for the SDSU masters program. It is essentially a catalog of all of the resources I acquired while earning the MA degree. I used a blog (Movable Type) as the engine for this project because I like the ability to categorize and tag each post (for easy searching), include a full citation if I wanted, and write a detailed abstact if necessary. I know that if I had not done this project at the time, I would not have an real listing of my ed tech resources. I would like to migrate this blog from Movable Type over to WordPress at some point. WordPress is free and growing as a blog engine.

Scuttle – Social Bookmarking

I initially included some key web sites in the KM blog mentioned above, but when I started going through all of my bookmarks I realized that would be too much of an undertaking and something that I would not continuous update. I decided that I wanted to use online social bookmarking site. I initially used, but then I came across Scuttle. It works similarly to, but you can install it on your own server. I opted for this because while I think the social part is cool, I was more interested in the tagging of links for easy searching. By having it on my own server, I can control who (if anybody) contributes and what links are included. I am starting to use this service with my students and having that control can be important.

If you do use Scuttle, make sure to delete the registration.php file so spammers don’t set up their own accounts and fill your database with undesireable stuff.


While I like the blog solution for my Educational Technology resources because I had a variety of types of resources (journals, web sites, and books), I found I also had 150+ books on various historical periods that I use for research (and for interest) when developing my lesson plans. The insertion of those on the KM blog seemed too cumbersome. That’s when I came across LibraryThing. Just type in the ISBN of the book and it magically finds the book (actually it searches through several databases, including You can tag the books and add comments (something I still need to do), plus you can see who else owns the same books and check out their collections.


I track about 120 different RSS feeds, mostly from blogs, through Bloglines. This site allows you to subscribe to an page with an RSS feed and see when it has been update – all in one place so you don’t have to visit each site to see what is new. I know a lot of people have moved away from Bloglines for newer clients and different online applications, but I still like its simplicity. Google Reader might get better as time goes on, but for now I’m sticking with Bloglines. One site I did recommend for anyone wanting to stay on top of new developments in the Web 2.0 world was TechCrunch. This blog tracks start up companies and developments at established giants.


I’ve done a number of wiki-based projects with my students, but this school year the world history teachers at my site have begun using a wiki to outline course expectations, objectives, and lessons that meet those objectives. We keep it private so I can’t link to it. The five of us all have the ability to edit. I love this idea of a living document that can evolve as we do. Originally I used two different wiki engines (TikiWiki and MediaWiki) installed on my server, but I’ve found that WikiSpaces (and other free wikis like PBwiki) are equal in quality and are probably easier to use.

If you have any questions please e-mail (danmcdowell at gmail dot com) or comment.


YouTube Blocked? Cool Tool #1

If you haven’t been to YouTube, you should go check it out. It is an amazing site. Anyone, and I mean anyone, can now upload videos. As a result, a lot of questionable material has made its way on to the site. Not really anything TOO bad, but it has created enough controversy that many districts (including mine) block it through a filtering/censoring system. I have mixed feelings about blocking the Internet in K-12 schools, but I’ve seen some outlandish and fringe videos on YouTube.

By blocking YouTube we are eliminating another possible educational tool from our toolbelt. The ability for students to easily share school projects is lost (at school). Additionally, there are videos on YouTube that potentially could be used in an educational setting. It could be video clips from a television program, an expert discussing a specific topic, or maybe just some nice home movie footage of a place you are teaching about. What then?

Well, you have options. You should not bypass your school’s filter, nor will you probably successfully persuade your district to stop blocking the site (though you might want to try!). So what is a teacher to do?

One easy solution is to download the video at home and then bring it to school to show your students. There are a number of tools and web sites that can help you with this process.

Downloading the video

KeepVid and Oyoom are sites that will allow you to download the FLV (Flash video) file to your computer.

  1. Find the video you wish to download on YouTube.
  2. Select and copy the URL of the video you wish to download.
  3. Go to either KeepVid or Oyoom and paste the URL into the specified text box.
  4. Hit submit.

A simple process to acquire the video.

Playing the video

To play the video you have a couple options.

  1. You can download a player that supports FLV files (like this one). I’m sure there are several others out there. This one is free and it works on Mac OSX and Windows.
  2. Convert the FLV file to a Quicktime or WMV player for easier use. There are applications for both platforms that will do this for you, but in the spirit of Web 2.0 and free, I am suggesting two online conversion sites. Zamzar and Media-Covert allow you to upload the FLV file and select one of several output formats (including MPG and WMV). Larger videos will take some time because of the upload/download time involved. Now you can embed it into a PowerPoint (or Impress) presentation or just show it through the player. Reposting the video will probably conflict with the YouTube copyright agreement.

For more on this and for info on automatically taking a YouTube video and adding it to iTunes, see TechCrunch. For an interesting teacher perspective on YouTube in the classroom, read this post over at Education Wonks.
(Inspired by Dean Shareski’s post)

[tags]web2.0, youtube[/tags]

Cool Tools Series

I am really big on usability. I have been to too many conferences that discussed big ideas, but never really described how to implement that big idea. For several years I did an hour long general social studies and technology presentation for various groups at the local county office of education and a number of conferences. While I think the content was powerful and they were always well-received, they were far from practical. I would go through 20 or 30 slides and talk about different strategies and assignment types. I would show off some of my projects and would usually end with WebQuests – explaining why and what, but there was never any time to explain how. No doubt, many teachers walked out of those sessions thinking there are some really cool ways that this guy uses technology, but I don’t know where to start.

Web 2.0 changes that. I no longer need all day to explain WebQuests and how to get started making one (although it would be nice). We have QuestGarden. Back when I was doing those presentations anyone could create online content – as long as you knew how to use Dreamweaver (or could code html), had access to a server, knew what ftp meant, was able to successfully ftp your files, and didn’t get stuck anywhere along in the process. Now anyone with a computer can really create content. Today’s tools (mostly) take the technical difficulties out of the equation. I do think that during those early years a lot of teachers passed on technology projects because of the hassle factor – who can blame them? It was a tremendous hassle. Now that the road block is gone, we have find ways to find those teachers we lost along the way and make sure the new ones keep current.
In that spirit I am starting an irregular series of posts on how teachers can practically integrate and use technology. For each post I talk about a specific idea or activity, the technology tool it uses, and any logistical issues you need to consider. Some will no doubt be more technology-based and others more conceptual. I will also hit upon teacher productivity and curriculum.

If you have any suggestions, please comment or e-mail me at danmcdowell at gmail dot com.

Why WordPress?

I recently made the switch from Blogger over to WordPress. This move has been planned for a long time, but I didn’t really find the time until a couple weeks ago. Based upon the comments and occasional e-mails I receive, I think my audience is blend of educational technologists and teachers with varied amounts of tech savvy-ness. So the rest of this is aimed at the teacher with some knowledge of blogging, but probably not the high end user.

While Blogger was great, I felt limited with the number of features. Even with Blogger-Beta there is still limited potential. WordPress can be as simple or complex as you want it. Use it as a simple blog or transform it to a content management system.

There are two ways you can use WordPress.

  1. Install it (or have it installed) on a server. By doing this you can have a specific domain name, but you have to have access to a MySQL control panel. The installation is pretty easy for the moderate techie, but if you have any doubts either have someone help you or go with option two. You can download it at
  2. You second choice is to set up a free hosted account at Like Blogger, you can have a blog set up in minutes. You can still upload images and documents with the hosted account and there are NO ads. Your address shows up as

Regardless of the option you select, you can import ALL of you posts and comments from most other types of blog engines (I brought over almost 200 posts and 400 comments). Once you have your account up, there is an import option in the administration section.

I’m going to go through a handful of the major features that distinguish WordPress from Blogger.


It seems like I always come across one of the five decent templates available from Blogger. If using the hosted WordPress account, there are some 60 templates to chose from. They are much more sophisticated, but still have a simplicity that is essential for a blog. If hosting yourself, then there hundreds to select from at (you just have to download them and then upload them to the templates folder).


This is one of the best features of WordPress. You can add “static” pages to your blog with information you don’t want to put in a regular post or to disappear into the archives. This feature allows you to make WordPress a simplified content management system. I will go into more detail about how to use WordPress as a classroom web site in a future post.


This blog is a smorgasbord of topics. I’ve discussed politics, teaching, technology in general, wikis, blogs, Moodle, my kids, my students, labor issues, and probably a number of other items. With WordPress, I can now categorize each post.


At the site are numerous addons, including templates and plug-ins to increase the functionality of your blog. They range from adding a calendar, password protecting your entire blog, or adding Technorati tags easily.

Should you move?

The moving process for me took about 15 minutes plus the time to customize the template (about two hours). You have to change address which might cause your readership to drop, but most who were reading in the first place should follow (that’s what I’m hope at least). In the end, it is personal preference, if these features don’t matter, stay where you are! As I discovered more about WordPress, I just felt like I needed to move.

I’ve also used Moveable Type which has a similar number of bells and whistles as far as plug-ins are concerned (it does not the pages feature), but the hosted service (TypePad) requires a fee and the free individual license limits the number of contributors you can have on your own server.