The World Wide Web as Interactive Learning Tool

[Editor’s note: The staff writer forgot that last post he promised to write this week about why subscription databases like Big Chalk E-Library are better for academic research than the general Internet … that post is still coming]

               I love checking out the on-line resources that teachers use when they come into the LMC, so that I can share them with the rest of the school. Most times, teachers talk with me about those websites, but sometimes we either forget to share or are too busy during the period to have a discussion. Even when we don’t talk, however, I do take notice of the kinds of interactive sites that teachers are incorporating into their lesson plans. Here is a small collection of some good sites I’ve seen teachers using, and others I’ve found myself.

              Interactive Writing Resources: I believe Ms. Sullivan first introduced me to the Read Write Think.Org site. I saw her students using Essay Organizer recently in the LMC and it reminded me that there are other tools at this site to help students organize their writing and research assignments. This site is dependable as it is hosted by the National Council of Teachers of English.

               Interactive Math Resources: I don’t recall which math teacher recommended I visit The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics website (sorry), but it is a great site with a number of on-line activities and lesson plans for grades k-12. The NCTM’s Illuminations site is not only for math teachers as some of the calculators and graphing tools lend themselves to lessons in other subjects, such as science, social studies and art.

               Interactive Geography Resources: I’ve always loved maps, but like most Americans I’m not a geography whiz. I know much of the obvious information; the continents and oceans, important mountain ranges, rivers and deserts. I can name the fifty states of my country, but not their capitols (any longer). I can identify all the countries south of my homeland, but don’t really know all the provinces (territories?) that make up Canada. It’s a good thing there are some great places online to brush up on these skills. Here are three worth checking out.

  • United States History Maps: These offerings from Annenberg Media are full of challenging and interesting maps that chronicle the history of the United States. Some maps focus on the natural landmarks of the country, while others are about Native American tribes and the history of settlement and expansion.
  • Games at Sporcle: I’ve mentioned this little site before, and while there are many games/ quizzes that are rather silly (Kate Winslet Oscar Nominations? The Lost Quiz?) a few allow you to brush up on the names of the U.S. States, Countries of Europe, South America, Asia and Africa, and the U.S. Presidents  (Warren G. Harding and Rutherford B. Hayes, why do I always forget one or the other?)

               Interactive Biology Resources: I’ve seen biology classes on various sites learning about DNA, chromosomes, and heredity. Not too long ago, Ms. Willwerth’s classes used PBS’ DNA Workshop to explore replication and protein synthesis. One of my favorite finds is the Dolan DNA Learning Center website. According to the website’s information, part of their mission, “is to prepare students and families to thrive in the gene age.” Its many interactive offerings range in difficulty, and the resources I sampled were well designed for a novice scientist such as myself.

               Interactive Chemistry Resources: I know that many textbooks nowadays come with discs and access to on-line activities that supplement the book. Unfortunately, I haven’t had a chance to explore any of these electronic resources, yet. Instead I offer three activities that I found interesting. Please remember that I am a chemistry tyro.

  • Match the element to its symbol. It’s not as easy as it sounds. Sure many elements reveal their hand with their unimaginitive abbreviations, but there are some tricky ones (I’m looking at you Potassium (K) and there are A LOT of elements.
  • It’s Elemental is a “game” that challenges you to pick the correct coefficient to balance chemical equations. You can choose up to fifteen equations to challenge yourself and the difficulty ranges from beginner to advanced. (I didn’t explore beyond beginner because I got three right in a row and wanted to feel like a winner.)
  • Interactive Periodic Table. I know that there are many of these out there, and I have seen and used quite a few. I found this one from the American Chemical Society (ACS) easy to use and recommend that you explore its features. I’m pretty sure it’s very good because it comes from the ACS and there was a lot of information I didn’t really understand.

               Thank you for stopping by and I hope you find something worth using in your classroom if you’re a teacher . If you’re a curious student, I hope you explore the many links for yourself. Have a safe and great Super Bowl Sunday and I’ll see you all tomorrow.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2010. All rights reserved.

A trove of free software

I love being a school librarian for so many reasons. For one thing, the term bibliophile made it sound like I had a serious condition and becoming a librarian was cheaper than seeking professional counsel. Of course I love reading, not just books, but newspapers, magazines and on-line sources, and as a librarian I get to share all that information with students and teachers. Lastly (and perhaps most importantly nowadays) being a school librarian gives me a real reason for spending so much time on-line (I’ll be off in a minute, honey – not now, kids, daddy is working).

Spousal and parental negligence aside, I really do try to do something productive with my time in the connected electronic world. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I am always thinking like a school librarian; wondering if something I have found or read or linked to could be useful to someone I know. Many times, when I find useful resources on-line, they are disconnected stories or links that don’t make much sense when they are lumped together. Occasionally, however, I store away a few good finds long enough to gather a real trove of resources that compliment each other. Thus is the following annotated list of free software that every student and teacher should have and learn to use for school. Links to download these programs come from respected sites trusted by the Internet community to be safe to use and virus free.

Open This is an absolute “must own” for anyone who doesn’t have another hundred dollars to buy MS Office. Open Office provides the five programs most users are familiar with (word processor, spreadsheet, database, drawing and presentation) as well as a look that resembles Office. It took me less than twenty minutes to download and install the program at home. I used the word processor program to prepare this post and it worked flawlessly. According to a few reviews that I read, Open Office is dependable and all the programs work as well or better than their counterparts in Office. Open Office will work on a variety of Microsoft operating systems, including VISTA, as well as other OSes such as Linux.

Open Office Suite
Open Office Suite


Paint.Net: I already recommended this program in an earlier post, and I still believe that it is a great piece of free software. I discovered Paint.Net when I went looking for a replacement for my old PhotoShop which I couldn’t transfer to my new computer. Paint.Net worked mostly well for what I was doing, but I missed having more powerful tools. So, I continued searching and found …

The GIMP: Despite its rather un-PC acronym (it stands for GNU Image

Paint.Net tools vs. GIMP toolbox

Manipulation Program) and its sort of infantile looking desktop shortcut icon, GIMP is a fully functioning, high quality program with more filters and other bells than Paint.Net. A quick comparison of the tools/toolboxes from the two programs shows just how many more options GIMP has to offer. I haven’t had a chance to really play around with GIMP too much, yet, but just having a smudge tool again is enough to sell me on it. I was able to download and install the software in less than twenty minutes. While neither GIMP nor Paint.Net match up to PhotoShop’s versatility and power, most amateur users will be able to do everything they need to do by combining what each of the free software programs does well. Considering that PhotoShop starts at over $250, and that most of us aren’t professional artists or graphic designers, GIMP and Paint.Net are manna from the online gods.

FreeMind: In early February, Ms. Sullivan recommended to me the site when I was searching for a replacement for my mind mapping program, Inspiration. I found many useful templates and tools at, and still highly recommend the site. However, I wrote that the essay map tool was, “exactly the kind of graphic organizer that I was looking for”, which may have been premature. What I was looking for was something like what you get at FreeMind, which is more open-ended and flexible than the essay map tool. FreeMind is still not as powerful or easy to use as Inspiration was, but I have already found myself playing around with it and finding that it serves my basic brainstorming needs. FreeMind allows you to import graphics, add hyperlinks, play with fonts, colors and backgrounds and even has some time management tools that shows how long it took to complete a project. Best of all, the mind map can be saved in multiple formats or can be exported as a .jpeg or .pdf to be included in other documents or presentations. FreeMind is not an Inspiration clone and lacks key features, like the “outline” view. But if you’ve never used Inspiration, you won’t know what you’re missing and you can save yourself $70 with a free, useful mind mapping tool. Like the other recommendations on this list, FreeMind took me about twenty minutes to download and install.


These four software applications give every teacher and student a good tool kit for participating in the connected electronic world. Anyone who already owns MS Office, Adobe PhotoShop and/or Inspiration don’t need the free software, but if you are missing any of these tools, OpenOffice, Paint.Net, GIMP and FreeMind are available for the asking.

Thank you for stopping by and may everyone enjoy their Passover and Easter holidays.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2009. All rights reserved.