Tech Rav
Discussions of Jewish EdTech

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Tech Tips for Teachers: Free Software Downloads

With the rise of Google and the continued advancement of open source software, there is now a large and varied selection of software available online for FREE. You no longer need to buy Microsoft Office to prepare professional quality documents, spreadsheets, and presentations or to purchase high end photo editing software for your digital pictures. Open source software, applications where the software code is open so that anyone in the world can edit it, is often more stable and feature rich than software for purchase, with many unique customizations. Here is a partial list of some FREE and useful downloads that you might find worthwhile. As with any download, please consult your network administrator before downloading any of these programs in a network environment.

Smart Notebook 9.7 Use this free Smart download to create Smart Notebook files for the Smart Board at home for use with your Smart Board in school. Don't forget to also download the Smart Essential for Educators Gallery of over 5000 items to use with the Smart Notebook: Smart Essentials for Educators. You can also try out the brand new beta version of the Smart Notebook 10 which is a major upgrade over previous versions. Here is the link: Smart Notebook Version 10 Beta.

Mozilla Firefox Open Source web browser that in many ways is more stable and feature rich than anything Microsoft or Apple has to offer. Especially useful are their dozens of add-ons or extensions that let you customize the program even more. Just click "Tools", "Add-ons", "Get Extensions" and you enter their searchable database of useful add-ons. I especially like the Video DownloadHelper add-on that lets you record streaming video directly from YouTube and other websites as a Flash movie and save it to your computer for insertion in Smart Notebook presentations. Torah Studies teachers will love the Sifrei Kodesh Search add-on that is a mini "Bar Ilan" only free that allows you to search the complete Hebrew texts of Tana"ch, Mishna, Talmud Bavli, Talmud Yerushalmi, Tosefta and Mishna Torah.

Open Office Open Office is a free open source alternative to Microsoft Office. It offers a suite of Writer, Impress, Calc, Base, Draw, and Math that matches MS Word, Powerpoint, Excel, and Access while Draw allows you to create diagrams and flowcharts and Math uses all types of mathematical symbols and formulas. This program saves files in the actual Microsoft formats and is feature rich with the ability to make PDFs and Flash animations. It is also more stable than Microsoft Office because it is open source meaning anyone worldwide can edit the code when they find bugs in the program. The only downside is that it is a bit less user friendly than its MS Office twin.

Google Docs Free web based alternative to Microsoft Office that allows you to create documents, spreadsheets, and presentations that are fully compatible with Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. The best thing about these programs is that they are not hosted on your computer's hard drive but over the Internet. This means that you can open files that you created on them on any computer anywhere in the world using your web browser and you can collaborate in creating documents with anyone over the web. Here are 2 recent NY Times articles on how Google Docs is challenging Microsoft: Yes, There Can Be Life After Word and Google Gets Ready to Rumble With Microsoft.

Google Desktop Free Google program that searches your personal computer (including files, email, and websites visited) using the same mathematical algorithm that Google uses to search the web.

Audacity Free sound editing software that is easy to use and feature rich.

Replay AV 8 An amazing program that lets you record Internet streaming music directly to your computer as MP3 files. The free trial version allows you to record up to 5 minute clips.

FreeRIP A great program to convert audio CDs into MP3s and other formats saved on your computer.

Picasa Google's free basic picture editing and organizing software.

GNU Image Manipulation Program Free open source alternative to Photoshop for advanced photo editing.

Adobe Acrobat Reader Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) enables a document to be distributed on different systems while preserving the layout.

Flash Player Use for streaming video and audio.

FLV Player An alternative to Flash player that plays all Flash videos.

Real Alternative
Lets you play any multi-media file requiring Real Player without the desktop pop-ups that make Real Player so annoying.

Quick Time Apple's popular video player. Can also be downloaded with iTunes.

VLC Media Player Free open source alternative to Windows Media Player plays videos in every format, comes up faster than Windows Media Player, and adds new features like making a snapshot of a single frame.

Microsoft Office 2003 Excel Viewer Open, view, and print Excel workbooks, even if you don't have Excel installed.

Microsoft Office 2003 Word Viewer View, print and copy Word documents, even if you don't have Word installed.

Microsoft Office 2007 PowerPoint Viewer PowerPoint Viewer 2007 lets you view full-featured presentations created in PowerPoint 97 and later versions.

Microsoft Visio 2007 Viewer The Visio 2007 Viewer allows anyone to view Visio drawings and diagrams (created with Visio 5.0, 2000, 2002, 2003, or 2007) inside their Microsoft Internet Explorer version 5.0 or later Web browser.

DavkaViewer DavkaViewer allows anyone to view Hebrew/ English documents created with the Davkawriter word processor and it allows you to convert these documents into Rich Text Files that can be opened with MS Word.

Dikduk Tutor Excellent free program that analyzes Hebrew verbs giving you the shoresh and all binyanim. It covers modern and Biblical Hebrew and even gives a list of locations in Tanach where the verb appears. This program would be useful for both Hebrew or Tanach classes.

Microsoft Works 6.0 Converter for Works and Word Users The Works 6.0 Converter allows you to convert word processor documents created in Microsoft Works 6.0 to Microsoft Word.

Compendium Institute Compendium is a free concept mapping software tool providing a flexible visual interface for managing the connections between information and ideas. It places few constraints on how you organise material, though many have found that it provides support for structured working for instance, following a methodology or modelling technique. This type of software is great for Gemara shakla vetarya (question/answer), literary analysis, and linking scientific data. It is currently used by NASA, Verizon, IBM, and in many other business and university settings.

CMAP Tools Another free concept mapping software empowers users to construct, navigate, share, and criticize knowledge models represented as Concept Maps.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Rubistar: Create Rubrics for your Project Based Learning Activities

Many teachers supplement their teaching repertoire by using alternative assessments such as research projects that incorporate oral and visual presentations or reading and writing exercises. Often these projects assess different forms of intelligence than your regular test and are more memorable for the students. One of the most difficult aspects of such a project is grading. How does one objectively grade an alternative or performance based assessment? I have found a website, Rubistar, that greatly helps this process.

Rubistar which can be found at is a free tool to help teachers create quality rubrics. It offers rubrics for Math, Reading, Multimedia, Art, Oral Projects, Work Skills, Writing, Science, Products, and Music. Each of these subject areas is further divided into a number of topics. In each of these topics, you can choose which categories to assess such as information, organization, and presentation style. After choosing the assessment categories, Rubistar will automatically create a 4 stage rubric that can be exported into Microsoft Word or Excel for editing. You can then customize the language of the rubric to match exactly what you are looking for. I have found these rubrics to be especially helpful in illustrating the subtle differences between a superior performance, and one that is good, adequate, or poor.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Online Videos and Interactives

I have found a number of new resources for free online videos and interactives.

The most notable is Annenberg Media which can be found at: This resource has hundreds of high quality videos that can streamed directly from the web site for viewing by students in class or by teachers for professional development. Topics include: Arts, Foreign Language, Literature & Language Arts, Mathematics, Science, and Social Studies & History. Streaming videos requires registration which is free.

Also, available from Annenberg are a number of Interactives which are lesson activities that students can be assigned either in class over the laptop cart or for homework as an enrichment or extra credit assignment. Subjects covered include Math, Science, History, and Language. Some of these interactives are also excellent over the Smart Board with a small group. The direct link is:

Steven Spielberg has made a number of streaming videos focused on Jewish content available online. Here is a link to archived footage of the Holocaust available from the US Holocaust Memorial Museum searchable by topic: My thanks to Beverly Geller for directing me to these 2 resources.

Here is a link to his archive the Steven Spielberg Jewish film archive from Hebrew University: There are over 400 films available for free viewing online. The films are searchable by subject, word, or alphabetically. Some silent films go back to the early 1900s (e.g., The First Film of Palestine, 1911, by Murray Rosenberg and dedicated to Theodor Herzl). Two short (4 minutes and 13 minutes) promotional films can be seen at

Another resource is a new PBS film on American Jewry called The Jewish Americans which is premiering on PBS in mid-January. Here is website devoted to the film: My thanks to Larry Laufman who pointed out these 2 resources to me.

Finally, there are literally thousands of online videos available through YouTube. Obviously, most of these videos have little if any educational value. However, there are many films which are posted from TV documentaries that would not otherwise be available for online viewing. For example, the History Channel has an excellent series called Engineering an Empire. Their episode on Alexander the Great can be viewed here: It is divided into 6 segments 9-10 minutes each. This is great for class because you can show only one or two segments and then still have class time to process and discuss what was shown. I found segments 5-6 which focused on Alexandria including the lighthouse and the library to be particularly interesting. The next episode of Engineering an Empire with a focus on Rome is here: Here is the direct link to the first 10 minute segment:

When using YouTube one major problem is the other videos that appear on the website which are often innappropriate. With the Firefox web browser you can solve this by downloading he video to your computer and inserting it directly into your Smart Board. Here is an instructional video for this: