Once again, my colleague Jill Malpass showed me this free Web 2.0 tool that is KILLER for education. It MIGHT be the most amazing thing I've seen this year. Jill made the comment that it was not easy to learn to use, and I agree in part. There are no text-based on-screen directions, though there appears to be a lot of tutorial info, which I ignored. I like to learn by doing, so I dove right in. Once I let go of the expectation that words were going to pop up and tell me what to do, I found the controls to be intuitive and even smart. I think students (Digital Natives) will have a MUCH easier time learning to use this tool than Digital Immigrants. Here's a screencast showing the basics of how to use it as well as what it does for the rest of us:
I'm guessing I don't need to tell you how this is educationally relevant, but just in case you want to hear it anyway, here are some things I'm thinking of . . .
1. Organizing thoughts on any topic. History? Not all events fit into a timeline, but even if they do, you can show that using this tool. What about connected events? Music from the time period? Put it in. Make it logical. Show how it "goes." Literature? How do two authors/works relate to each other? You can make two or more areas in your infinitely large presentation space, then show connections among elements both by how you connect the elements, how you place them, and how you use the arrows/connectors. AMAZING possibilities for making thoughts visible. (Apocalypse Now and Heart of Darkess anyone?)
2. Use this tool instead of a linear presentation tool (like PowerPoint--please, NOT PowerPoint! At least use Google Presentations or OpenOffice 3 if you just need some download & installation action in your life), to connect different subject areas. For example, if you're a science teacher studying the water cycle, students should make connections between that topic and the current drought we're experiencing (at least in my neck 'o the woods), and how does the water cycle relate to a hurricane? We've had a couple of those lately! Check that link up yonder to see what it looked like around my abode after Ike.
3. I bet you've seen Visual Thesaurus (lots of $) and Visuwords (free, but use my link or make your own, don't use the default or you may get a not so nice word). What if students made their own vocabulary maps like the ones found on those sites but with personal connections? They could even insert their own links, drawings, and music. They could show how their words relate to each other. What if I were trying to learn the word "obnoxious" or "noxious"? I could define them in my own words, but then I could also put in that I think Bart Simpson is "obnoxious," and that my Grandma's perfume smells "noxious" (no offense Grandma; it doesn't). In addition, I could add pictures that connect my own personal ideas. It might take Digital Immigrants 3 hours to do one word, but give your 3rd graders a shot. They'll pick it up MUCH faster than you or me and be adding each word in minutes.
I have about a million more ideas, but I'm guessing you're not still reading this. By now, you're probably playing with Prezi.