Thursday, December 28, 2006

IRS to allow educator expense deduction for 2006 tax return

According to a December 22, 2006 article on the IRS website, educators will again be allowed to deduct up to $250 in out-of-pocket classroom expenses. The article explains the Tax Relief and Health Care Act of 2006 just signed into law by President Bush. HOWEVER, the article also says that the IRS will not be able to process returns that claim these deductions until February!

If you're like me (I like to get a refund each year), I file our federal tax returns as soon as I get my W-2's. This year, though, I'll wait just a little longer so that my wife can claim her $250 deduction.

From the article:
    • Educators must file Form 1040 in order to take the deduction for up to $250 of out-of-pocket classroom expenses. It cannot be claimed on Form 1040A.
    • The deduction for educator expenses will be claimed on Form 1040, line 23, “Archer MSA Deduction.” Enter "E" on the dotted line to the left of that line entry if claiming educator expenses, or "B" if claiming both an Archer MSA deduction and the deduction for educator expenses on Form 1040. If entering "B," taxpayers must attach a breakdown showing the amounts claimed for each deduction.

The IRS has a PDF that explains the instructions above.

Hope I haven't bored you too much with this post, but I know from experience how much teachers spend on their classrooms each year, and I want all eligible teachers to be aware of this very recent change. This deduction was claimed on 3.5 million returns last year.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Merry Christmas!

TechBargains Coupon Codes

I love the TechBargains website! Especially since they saved me an extra 50 bucks on a purchase I recently made on They find some outstanding deals from hundreds of electronics stores. You can even get an RSS feed to get the latest deals.

Check out their LONG list of coupon codes here.

Digital storytelling in comic book format

From CNET's

Now you can tell your story in comic book format using Planetwide Media's Marvel Heroes Comic Book Creator software.

Here's a quote from another CNET story about the software that I found interesting:
"For us, the Comic Book Creator will allow kids, and families in general, people of all ages, to utilize the product to engage them in the storytelling that National Geographic is all about," said John Dumbacher, senior vice president of licensing at the National Geographic Society.

Although I am not a big fan of comic books (or "graphic novels"), many students are, so this may be a new outlet for their creativity.

Awhile back, Garr Reynolds wrote about a book on his Presentation Zen Blog that I've kept in my aggregator. Learning from the Art of Comics was the title of the post, and in it he recommended buying Scott McCloud's book, Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. Here's a quote from Garr that resonated with me:

...if you read McCloud's book with an eye toward presentations or any other form of storytelling and graphic design, you will find many fundamental concepts and techniques that will surely help you think differently about the power of visual communication and the art of combining words and images. This book is not just for fans of comics — not by a long shot.

Check out the comic book creator website to see the variety of software they sell. Maybe this is another way to create a digital story?

Thursday, December 21, 2006

G'day mate!

Recently I added a ClustrMap to my blog, just to see where site visitors were from. Yesterday I noticed a dot on Australia so I just wanted to acknowledge that person with a heartfelt G'day mate!

This whole Web 2.0 thing is all about connectivity, so it's nice to know that I'm connecting in some small way to visitors from across the USA, and now all the way to Australia.

Top 100 Education Blogs

From the staff of the Online Education Database comes this list of the top 100 education blogs.

The list is broken down into the categories of: college, e-learning, education news, education policy, internet culture, learning, library & research, specialty, teaching, and technology.

Many of my favorite bloggers are on the list, but now I have a whole bunch more to check out.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Time magazine's person of the year is...

"You. Yes, you. You control the Information Age. Welcome to your world. "

This article gives me hope for our world. In a time of terrorists, civil war, starvation, and other disasters both natural and man-made, Time has chosen to recognize US, the people who put the world into the world wide web:
It's a story about community and collaboration on a scale never seen before. It's about the cosmic compendium of knowledge Wikipedia and the million-channel people's network YouTube and the online metropolis MySpace. It's about the many wresting power from the few and helping one another for nothing and how that will not only change the world, but also change the way the world changes.

I am constantly amazed at the many free resources, and the wealth of knowledge and experiences literally at my fingertips, every time I log on to the Internet-- people who share willingly without the need or even the desire for fame or fortune, who do something for the common good. I come in contact with a lot of people who still believe that computers will isolate us from each other when exactly the opposite has happened. We are connected with like-minded individuals from across town, or around the world. I've never really thought about how powerful that is.

Thank you, Time magazine, for reminding us that

This is an opportunity to build a new kind of international understanding, not
politician to politician, great man to great man, but citizen to citizen, person
to person. It's a chance for people to look at a computer screen and really,
genuinely wonder who's out there looking back at them.

This evening my wife was working on her school's Christmas card that will be displayed on their website. The verse she selected comes from the book of Luke... "and on earth peace, good will toward men." I feel like we have a real opportunity to spread that good will on a scale we've never before imagined possible. I'm not naive-- but I am hopeful.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Lights, Camera, Education!

If you are a unitedstreaming subscriber and you're interested in video production in your classroom you absolutely MUST see the series of nine videos from the American Film Institute entitled Lights, Camera, Education!

The videos range in length from about 8 minutes to 37 minutes, and will walk you and your students through the entire movie making process from pre-production through post-production, viewing and reviewing student projects, and even student reflection on the project.

There is also an 88 page teacher guide that correlates to the process. To download it click on the "Related Materials" tab for any one of the Light, Camera, Education videos in unitedstreaming.

unitedstreaming rates the videos as appropriate for grades 9-12, but I believe the lessons could be adapted for younger grades. The videos are hosted by actor Sean Astin, best known for his roles in Rudy and The Lord of the Rings.

To find the videos in the unitedstreaming collection conduct a keyword search for "lights camera education"

Are cheap digital camcorders any good?

Once upon a time there was a classroom teacher who wanted to do a digital video project with her students. The problem was, there was only ONE computer with a firewire port! As you can imagine, this created a logistical nightmare for her and her students.

So I got to thinking... could a cheap digital camcorder be a solution to this problem? For about $100 at Target, you can purchase a camcorder that records on SD cards. These nifty little devices are also digital cameras, mp3 players, and voice recorders and they'll record or playback on VCRs or TVs. Their smaller size means they're easier for smaller hands. SD cards are getting cheaper all the time. So are card readers.

But since I don't have one (yet), I can't be sure of the video and sound quality they produce. Are the video files editable in Windows Movie Maker?

If anyone out there has experience with one of these camcorders, please post a comment or send me an email. If Santa should happen to bring me one, or the boss allows me to order one, I'll be sure to provide my own review and some sample video.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Mozart's works available online

From AFP via Yahoo:

In celebration of Mozart's 250th birthday

The "Digital Mozart Edition" (DME) website -- -- features over 600 works by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, separated into ten categories, from concertos for orchestra to chamber music and pieces for piano.

It's important to note that the demand has been far greater than anticipated and the server is running a little slow. From the website: "NOTE: We are overvelmed by the resonance of this website. We regret any delays in accessing this site and are working on expanding our server capacities." Even at 3:30 AM EST I couldn't do much.

Read the complete AFP article here.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Podcasting How-to Guide

From the MAKE blog:

Here's a nicely illustrated, colorful 10 page PDF with step-by-step instructions on how to make a podcast entitled Podcasting 101 by Phillip Torrone.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

School 2.0 Wiki

You've heard of Web 2.0, but how about School 2.0? Check out and add to the resources found on the School 2.0 Wiki. (

Learn about blogging, wikis, podcasts, open source resources, and other Web 2.0 "stuff" with a growing collection of links to websites, presentations and relevant articles. I'm not an expert, but I'm willing to learn, and maybe even add a link or two.

Thanks (again!) to the Cool Cat Teacher for listing this valuable resource on her blog.

The Christmas Story from the Met

A beautiful online "exhibit" telling the Christmas story featuring historical art works from the Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met).