As I've mentioned before, I think one of the big problems with making best use of technology in the classroom is the richness of the possibilities. They can be overwhelming, as I described in an earlier Edutopia.org post.
So with summer here, I am going to make a suggestion: Forget about the kids! Instead of looking at all the digital possibilities and trying to bring them into your classroom, think about you and see what you can do with some of these tools in your own life. And you know what? After discovering how effective they can be, I bet this fall you will find yourself using some of them in your classroom.
Here are ten suggestions including ideas for classroom use at a later date:
Create Your Own Video Vault
Miro is like iTunes for video. With it, you can download videos from sites like YouTube and TeacherTube and save them on your local hard drive. So, now you can load up a flash drive with some of those viral videos you just have to show your sister and not worry about finding them online when you get to her house.
Oh, and when school is back in session, this will mean you can arrive in class with a host of content specific videos loaded on that same flash drive or on your laptop. You'll never waste precious teaching time waiting for downloads or fighting filters again.
Have Fun with Photos
I just love BigHugeLabs.com. Going to a wedding or other special event this summer? Head here either before or after the big day, and come armed with some pictures. You'll be able to make posters of various kinds, badges, trading cards, and more.
And because the results are JPEG files, you can easily pass them on to friends and family. Too much fun! In the fall, how about using this great tool as a way for kids to make content projects come to life or to celebrate a special day or a special student?
Plasq makes a piece of software called Comic Life. Now, I have to believe that you are going to take your digital camera with you this summer to the beach, to the mountains, horseback riding, to a barbecue, or out in the canoe. Imagine being able to easily -- yes, easily -- turn those pictures into a comic book?
This tool will have your friends saying, "Shazam! How'd you get so creative? This is great!" Meanwhile, back in the classroom, you'll want to use this handy tool as a way for students to create graphic novels that clearly demonstrate their understanding of key concepts, or even as a way to make your own customized lab setup instructions.
Whip up a Wiki
Everyone is going to attend an event or two this summer, like a birthday party, a wedding, or a anniversary. If you're a planner of one of these, then set up a wiki to share all the information about the event.
If you are an attendee, set up one of these babies as a way to organize that group of friends who will also be there, and then use it to maintain your connections after the event. In the classroom, come fall, your summer experience will have you ready to establish a classroom wiki.
Form a Questionnaire
Need to find out who is going to bring potato salad to the family reunion? Want to choose a restaurant for a group to meet at without making a civil case of it? Use a form from Google Docs or a survey from SurveyMonkey.com and ask your questions online. You'll be able to send out a simple Web address to folks and they can answer your questions online, and you'll get the data right away.
Both sites require registration, but they are free. Oh, and if the URL for your survey or form is one of those terribly long things, head to TinyURL.com and shrink it before you send it out.
Use these great tools for asking questions with your kids to help them understand content more deeply and get ready for the tests. Kids who know how to ask good questions are better at answering them, and in order to ask good questions about a curriculum topic, the kids have to understand it first.
Summertime is when so many memories are made. And photos help us hold onto those memories long after the sand is vacuumed out of backseats of cars and mustard stains are washed out of T-shirts. If you aren't already using an online photo-storage site to share your pictures online, go to Google's Picasa. There are lots of others, so ask you friends what they like.
What you'll appreciate is the ability to take snapshots of your children doing silly jumps into the pool and then -- at no cost -- share them exclusively with family members and friends you select. When school begins again, how about starting a project with that friend of yours who teaches a few states over? You and your students could share images and information about where you live and the class from away will do the same. What a great way to spice up geography.
Survey the Situation
Going back to where you grew up for a visit this summer? Head to Google Maps before you go, and take a look at the old neighborhood in a whole new way. Sure, the ability to see either a map or an aerial photograph is cool, but wait until you see the street-level views! "Hey," you'll say, "I wonder whose truck that is parked in from of Luanne's house?"
No, they are not images in real time, but you'll be so ready for the real visit after digitally cruising the area. Using maps is powerful across all the curriculum areas, so once you see how easy these are to use, you'll want to explore the settings of novels you're reading as a class or places where historical events took place.
Geocaching is a great way to learn more about a place you and the family are traveling this summer, or even about your home area if you are going on a staycation. You really have to visit the site, but basically, through the use of a global-positioning-system receiver, you will find your way to places where folks have tucked away a small waterproof box. Might sound silly, but people who get involved love it!
Search this site by ZIP code and you'll find where geocaches have been hidden in places that only the locals know about. GPS makes latitude and longitude come to life. Geocaching has super possibilities, so if you do anything with maps in your classroom, go geocaching.
Know the News
Visit Newseum to read the front pages of newspapers from around the world -- a great way to see what is worthy of the front page in a place you are headed toward for a visit, or to keep up on the front-page news back home while you are away. If your students are going to be players in a global economy, knowing what is on the front page in a newspaper kiosk in Beijing, Beirut, Houston, London, New Delhi, or Toronto is important.
If you have a road trip planned, a good audiobook can be a great thing to have along. This is the best free audio collection of public domain books out there. The readers are excellent, and you'll find many classics.
How about having The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn or A Christmas Carol read to you as you drive? Put them on your mp3 player or burn a set of CDs, and you're good to go. In the fall, consider making CDs of classic literature and sending them home to families as a gift. They will love them, and exposure to high-quality readers and classic literature will help all learners.
Well, there you go, ten of my favorites. But I know you have favorites of your own. Give us a shout and do some sharing. Thanks in advance.