As much as we moan about the fact that our students go to the internet for almost all their research, there is a reason for it - it works. (Usually)

Here are seven incredibly useful websites that I use more-or-less constantly to look up fast and accurate information on the fly:

http://www.acronymfinder.com/

I use this tool three or four times a week when I read a cryptic abbreviation or acronym. The only time it has failed me is when somebody used the abbreviation, "BMD" on a blog. As it turns out, she was referring to "Baby-Mamma Drama", not Ballistic Missile Defense.


http://anywho.com

This is the fastest way I know to look up a telephone number. (The one downside - as far as I know, it only looks up landlines, not cellphone numbers.)


http://www.charitynavigator.org

This is a well-respected website that rates various charities. It breaks down a given charity's spending by catagory (do they spend more money on fund-raising or feeding the hungry/saving pandas, etc...) and allow you to look up charities by catagory. This is a good resource if your class wants to raise money for a good cause. I used it a couple of years ago to find Heifer International when my magnet was looking for a good charity to donate money to.


The CIA World Factbook

This will give you fast and accurate world-almanac-type information on any country. If you need to know the main export of Swaziland, for instance, this is the site for you.

(Asbestos, by the way. Ick!)


XE - The Universal Currency Converter

How much is 25 Euros worth?

About $45.


Is it true that inmates in the Cook County Correctional Facility live a life of luxury at taxpayer expense? According to the email that your uncle forwarded to you, they do.

Do they really?

No.

Snopes.com is the best place to check out urban legends and rumors that you or the kids in your class may have heard.


It's 1879 and grasshoppers have eaten the Ingalls' crops. Mary has gone blind and the family faces starvation. Suddenly Pa gets offered a job that pays $100 a month!

Your students interrupt you as you turn the page and want to know if a hundred dollars was a lot of money back then.

You don't panic or ask them what THEY think; you look it up on the Westegg Inflation Calculator

As it turns out, not really, but it was better than starving.

($2,125.05, if you were wondering.)


 
 

If there is any website that strikes terror into the hearts of people in education, it is YouTube. It is ALWAYS blocked from any school network. The idea of students having access to raw video footage uploaded from who-knows-where is pretty scary. On top of that, even a quick look at the content on YouTube doesn't inspire much confidence in humans as a species - there are some pretty dumb people out there with access to a video camera and the dumber they are, the more likely they are to have stuff posted on YouTube.

There is an old axiom called "Sturgeon's Law" that says, "90% of everything is crap". So what about the other ten percent?

If you know what to look for (and even if you don't), there is an astounding amount of really useful (and cool) footage on YouTube that works really, REALLY well in the classroom - footage from classical music concerts, political campaign ads, great speeches from history, important events as they appeared on the news - you name it.

The problem though, as stated above, is, YouTube is always, ALWAYS blocked from any school network. So how can you use it in your classroom?


The answer is Zamzar.com. This is one of several online services that allows you to convert just about any type of computer file to any other type of computer file. You tell it what you want to convert and when it's done converting it, it will send you an email with a link to download the newly converted file.

(If that sounds scary and techno-jibberishy, think about it this way: If you didn't like the color of your car, you could send it to a body shop to be repainted. When they had finished redoing your car, they'd give you a phonecall to let you know it was done and where you could pick it back up. This is sort of like that.)

The other really cool thing that Zamzar does is to convert online videos like those on YouTube into video files that you can store on your computer. If you find a video clip that you want to use on YouTube, you can use Zamzar to download it for use in your classroom later.


Just copy and paste the URL (web address) of a particular YouTube video into the URL box in Zamzar, fill in the rest of the information it asks you for, then select "Convert". A taskbar at the bottom of the window will let you know when the file has been converted. A couple of minutes later, if you check your email, you will find a link that will allow you to download the video to your computer. If you are planning to use the video as part of a PowerPoint presentation, you should probably convert it to an "mpeg" file. If you are an Apple user, choose a "mov" file.

There is another advantage to doing this:

A couple of years ago, there was a particular video I needed to use in a class. It was a time-lapse video of traffic on the Panama Canal. At the time, the only way I knew of to access it was on streaming video. I had to swear all my students to secrecy everytime I showed it, because it took so much of the school's bandwidth, each time we watched it, everyone else's internet access in the school crashed to a halt. By downloading a video to my own computer, I avoid that whole headache.

Secret, Emergency Trick to Get Around School Filters:

If you are at school and suddenly realize that you need to use a YouTube video, but are frustrated by the internet filter, there IS a way around it - sort of. Let's imagine that you need a video of Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech:

Open a search engine like Google. Type in a search string that says something like:

YouTube, I Have a Dream


You will get something that looks like this. Choose the video clip that you want to use. (You'll have to take your best guess on which one that would be.)

If you do this at school, it will take you to the dreaded "This Website Is Blocked" Page of Doom. But it will also tell you exactly which webpage it is blocking. If you copy that web address, then plug it into Zamzar, you can send the link for the converted file to your school email account, then use that to download the video.

This is not a perfect solution, but I used it a few months ago to get a Barrak O'Bama campaign video that I needed on short notice.

Try downloading a video from YouTube this week. Your classroom might become 2-3% cooler.

YouTube: It's not just for idiots anymore.

[Note - It has been brought to my attention that this may violate YouTube's Terms of Use Agreement. While I doubt that specially trained YouTube ninjas will be sent to punish you for this, you should read the Agreement and make your own decision.]