Finding a new writing tool

                I hope the snow hasn’t been too rough, wherever you are. For me it’s been a mixed blessing, allowing me to recover from my recent surgery without missing too many school days (thank you snow days) … while tempting me to go outside and move some of that white stuff. (I haven’t; don’t worry, I won’t). One of the things I thought I might be able to do while I was recovering was working on that million dollar novel or screenplay. Needless to say, I don’t have a novel or screenplay that I was working on, and worst of all, I really don’t have any idea how to prepare such a long work.

               Despite all my years of teaching, and teaching writing in particular, I have never tried to write any kind of long creative work. Maybe I stick to essays, short stories and poetry, because they are so relatively easy to write. With so much time on my hands, however, I wanted to find a tool that might be able to help me write something like a play or novel.

               Anyone can use a word processor, I suppose, to properly format a play or novel. What I was looking for was some software that could cut down some of that tedious work. I also wanted something that wasn’t going to be too complicated to use, and most of all, I wanted something that wasn’t going to cost too much … free would be preferable.

               I started as usual, by googling a phrase, in this case, “screen-writing tools”. I scanned through the recommendations, and then used CNET’s reviews to narrow down my options. Finally, I settled upon Celtx, because it had a CNET review, a Wikipedia entry with reliable external links and references, and best of all, it was a free download recognized as virus free by CNET and by my McAfee Site Advisor.

               I must report that I have only started playing around with Celtx, and already I have learned a great deal. I really like the sample works provided, even though they are not complete. There is a sample of a film, audio and theater scripts which give the user some idea about how to use some of the many features included in the software. According to the Wikipedia entry, “Celtx uses an industry standard screenwriting editor typical for screenplays, stageplays, AV scripts, comic books or radio plays.” I can imagine creative writing students and film students using this software to improve their own scripts.

               Now that I’ve found a new tool to use, I just have to get together that million dollar idea. I’ll let you know if I come up with anything. Until then, I thank you again for stopping by, and hope you find something worth exploring.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2010. All rights reserved.

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.

Citations generators

          I know many students dread writing to begin with, and writing academic papers adds one more layer of frustration with the need for citations. Even I, who love writing, remember hating having to find the names of writers, titles of books and articles, page numbers, years of publications and other minutia that then, had to be arranged in a certain order. To this day, I still pull out a handbook to make sure that I am doing it correctly.

          One advantage that a modern student has is the on-line MLA Citation generator; a simple web tool that asks for information about the source being cited and then arranges the details into the proper MLA formatting. If you prefer APA or Chicago style, you can choose those options as well. Listen, it’s time that analog luddites accept that there are certain things that digital tools can do better and faster than people, and I tend to encourage adopting use of these tools. Sure I can divide 13,583 by 81 on paper in about 45 seconds or I can use my calculator to figure it out in 5 seconds. (By the way I think it’s most important that you can actually do the long division on paper BEFORE you turn to the calculator – I’m still a little analog). Here then, is a short list, with brief commentary, of these handy, free to use MLA Citation tools. I recommend that teachers and students try out the various sites and judge for themselves which one best fits their needs.

  • Citation Center is very straightforward and easy to use, though it is limited in the kinds of sources it will format. Missing are choices for various kinds of media such as podcasts, videos, and audio. The simplest of all the websites I review here, I would only use Citation Center if all my references were traditional sources such as newspapers, magazines and books.
  • NoodleBib express is a reliable, yet “clunky” program. Rather than using pop down menus on a single page or form, NoodleBib leads you through a series of detailed questions about the source you are trying to cite. To proceed you must hit a next button several times which automatically refreshes the page and leads you to the next question. While this is time consuming, it does guarantee the accuracy of your citation. Each citation is independently generated and NoodleBib Express does not allow you to save a series of sources. Instead, you must CUT and PASTE each citation to an open document in a word processor.
  • Son of Citation Machine, like the previous website, is also clunky and imperfect, but it gets the job done. Here, too, you must CUT and PASTE each citation to an open document in a word processor. Easy to use and understand, with options for different types of information sources.
  • Easy Bib is a citation generator site that I have recommended in the past to students and teachers. It has been around for a while, so I trust that they have slowly improved their usability and accuracy. While EasyBib does allow you to generate multiple citations, you must download a file to your computer, and it’s only available as a Word file. While I am always wary of downloading anything unnecessary to my computer, my personal experience has been that Easy Bib is fairly safe and comes highly recommended by other reliable sites.

          I can hear the purists out there complaining that this is just one more sign of the apocalypse. I don’t agree. While citation generators are not perfect tools, they do make the job of properly formatting referenced works easier. Even though the formatting is done for you, the user must still collect and input the author’s name, the title of the work, the publishers information, the date of publication and so on. Students still learn the value of citing their references, without the unnecessary stress of knowing where the page number and publisher’s name is supposed to go. To avoid all of this hassle, I recommend academic users such as teachers and students to turn to subscription databases for their information. Most subscription sites such as e-library, EBSCO host and InfoTrac provide the citation information with each article, ready to be cut and pasted into any bibliography or works cited page.

Hope you find something useful and thank you for reading.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2009. All rights reserved