"If we teach today's students as we taught yesterday's, we rob them of tomorrow." --John Dewey

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Prepare for a Happy Class

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Yes, I know it's too soon to think about making your seating charts for the next school year.  After all, it will probably be weeks before many of us see our class lists.  But, it's not too soon to think about how you'll make your seating charts for next year, is it?

Invariably, the beginning of every school year brings with it many time consuming chores, one of which is designing and completing seating charts.  Now while the average Joe may think this is not such a big deal, those of us who face the task several times each year know all too well that it requires a lot more thought and effort than seems evident.  Many a pencil eraser has given its life trying to get the right student in the right seat, and while a lot of us have taken to seeking digital assistance, the perfect seating chart maker is still difficult to locate.  I have found one that works well for me, though, and while I immediately see that it's not going to be the perfect choice for every teacher, I'd like to share some info with you in case you'd like to give it a try as well.

Pin • Front • Back
Close to • Away from • Erase
Happy Class (http://happyclassapp.com/) is a website that will allow you to quickly and easily create and edit seating charts for your classroom(s).  The process is quite easy.  Create a room by clicking to add as many seats as you need.  Add student names by typing or pasting (I haven't found a way to upload a list--don't think you can at this point), and the program will randomly place students in seats.  Here's where it gets fun.  Click on any student's name and see a diagram like the one to the right.  This will allow you to:  • pin the student in place • move to the front of the room • move to the back of the room • position closely to a good partner • position away from a potential problem partner or • erase a previous partnership.  Don't have it quite right?  Use the refresh button to generate a new arrangement based on your selection for each student.  The site will even generate a "happy factor" so you can see how close you are to having a workable arrangement.

One of the reasons this program works well for me is that my classroom (computer lab) has a fairly standard seating arrangement that really doesn't change.  Seats are in straight rows, facing the front of the room--easy to set up at the Happy Class site.  There doesn't seem to be a way to create any other arrangement at the site yet, but since it is still in beta, that may be a feature that's still in the works.  And, again because it's in beta, you will need to request an invite in order to create your account and get to work.

What do you think?  Does this sound like a winner for you?  Do you know of a better, free seating chart generator?  There are certainly other options (superteachertools.com comes to mind).  Do you have a favorite?  Please let me know.  Wouldn't it be nice to provide seating chart resources to teachers as soon as they get a look at those new class lists?

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Use SumoPaint for Picture Perfect Summer Fun

Okay, so maybe you're not able to travel this summer--not everybody can.  But, each of you can make it look like you've had wonderful adventures worthy of the envy of your friends and relatives through the magic of photo editing.

PhotoShop, of course, is a wonderful, well-known photo editing program, but for those of us who don't have access to the pricey program there is an economical alternative that can give equally remarkable results.  Create a free account at sumopaint.com, and you can begin creating superimposed photos that look amazingly realistic, and will help you create the illusion of world travels or epic adventures.

Once you click on the Start Drawing button you will be directed to your canvas and tool palette.  There's much to explore, with lots of drawing and shape tools with which you can easily create some amazing works of art.  Just as with Photo Shop, you can create your artwork in layers, and add effects using the Layer and Filters menus.

Under the File menu you'll find Import to Layer.  This command will allow you to import photos that you have saved to your computer, or from a web URL.  So, go ahead.  Import a photo of the Taj Mahal, for example, and then import a photo of yourself or your family into a new layer.  Now use the lasso tool to carefully trace around your outline, go to Select and choose Inverse.  Now use the Edit menu to Cut away anything that was in the picture with you, and suddenly you are in Agra!  Yes, using the lasso tool takes some practice, and a lot of patience, but I assure you the results you get are well worth the time and effort.  What's that you say?  The proportions aren't quite right?  Adjust your size using the Free Transform tool.

When you are finished working, you can use the Save button to store your work on the SumoPaint site, or go to File and Save to My Computer if you're using the site without having created an account (I usually have my students use this option).  If yours is a work still in progress, be sure to save your art as a .sumo file to maintain the layers you created.  Saving as a .jpg or .png file will merge the layers into a single picture file.  If you save to the Sumo Paint site, notice that one of your options is to Publish to Facebook.  Isn't that the perfect way to keep your friends up to date on your global getaways?!  Happy travels, everyone!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Scribble Maps

Have you seen one of those "you know you're a teacher when  . . . " lists?  The statements are generally pretty funny, rather poignant, and remarkably true of most teachers I know.  (If you haven't seen a list of teacherisms, check out http://pinterest.com/jeanniepartin/you-know-you-are-a-teacher-when/ or http://www.adprima.com/teacherwit.htm and see if you don't find yourself chuckling.)

Here's my contribution to the list:  You know you're a teacher when many of your summer travel photos become not only a slideshow, but a history or geography or computer lesson for your students as well.  (Yes, I'm guilty.)

If you're planning a trip this summer, think about chronicling your trip on scribblemaps.com.  Whether you intend to share your comments, pics and flicks with family and friends, or your future students, Scribble Maps provides a fun and easy way to share the details of your travels.  Here's how to get started:

Go to http://scribblemaps.com and click on the green Create Map button in the upper left corner of the page.  (No account is needed, even though you'll want to save your map to the site.  You'll be given an access code when you save, that will enable you to get back to your map to view or edit.)

Use the search bar below the tools at the upper left of your screen to zoom in to a particular destination.  Add a place marker using the tool just to the right of the text tool.  You can add a title and description to the marker, and by clicking on Advanced Editing at the bottom of the box, you will access the tools you need to embed an image (via URL) or video (via YouTube) into the place marker.

Add a place marker for each stop on your journey, and use the line or shape tools to trace your route, add dates or comments, or whatever is needed to put your photos into context.

When you're finished working, save your map either by going to the Menu on the left side of the tool bar, or by clicking Get Widget/Embed.

The site will generate the map id, and you provide a title and description for your creation.  You can then share your map through Facebook or Google Maps, by emailing a link to your friends, or by embedding the scrollable, searchable map in your blog or wiki.

The next time you visit Scribble Maps, you will be able to continue work on your map by choosing Load from the main menu, and entering your map id.  Or, if you're using the same computer you used when saving your map, you can load it by choosing it from the Recent Maps menu you'll see when you are at the Scribble Maps home page.

So, fellow teachers, safe travels to all of you who will be hitting the road this summer.  Enjoy a well deserved break, but don't forget that come August (or September, or whenever you return to school) someone is sure to ask how you spent your summer.  Imagine how impressed they'll be when you share every detail that's suitable for sharing, complete with pics and flicks, on your very own Scribble Map.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

E2BN is GR8!

Have you discovered the treasure trove that is e2bn.org?  E2BN is the East of England Broadband Network, part of a regional broadband consortia whose purpose is to "help raise standards in teaching and learning by the use of broadband technology."  To that end, they provide a wealth of useful online tools for classroom use, as well as picture and audio galleries, along with plenty of information and resources for teachers.

I recently shared their website, Myths and Legends (http://myths.e2bn.org) with my 4th graders.  After a brief introduction to the tools of this animated story creator site, my students eagerly dove in and before long the room was completely (almost eerily) silent, with each little mind busy creating wonderful stories inspired by the graphics on the site.  I've since heard students tell me that the site was "awesome," "cool," and one that "I will definitely use over the summer."  High praise, indeed, from a 4th grader, don't you think?

With literally hundreds of graphics and sound effects, and the possibility of up to 90 pages of illustrated text, students can easily create amazing stories with the tools provided by the site.  Additional pictures and sounds can also be imported, or students can use the record feature to create their own audio accents.

Now, your students will need an account to use the site, and in order to get an account teachers need to be sure their school is registered.  Visit http://myths.e2bn.org/story_creator/register to complete the registration process.  According to the site, registration approval may take up to 5 days, but it seems that they tend to actually work much more quickly than that.  Once your registration is approved, you will be able to quickly create as many student accounts as you need by uploading student names, along with username and password information from a spreadsheet.

Need more convincing that the e2bn website is worth bookmarking?  Check out http://discoverybox.e2bn.org/ (formerly Museum Box).  This site has inspired one of my favorite end of the school "year-in-review" projects.  The site was modeled after the actions of Thomas Clarkson, who campainged against slavery by carrying a box of artifacts with him that illustrated his arguments.  Along those lines, the Discovery Box website enables students to create a virtual box of artifacts on the topic of their choice.  Each Discovery Box can hold layer upon layer of text, images, video and sounds.  I've found it to be a wonderful way for students to document what they've learned throughout the school year.  In addition to adding clipart images to represent things they've learned, students can link documents they've created during the year, pictures of themselves and their friends from that year, and even add a short video commentary.  Students love the options, and I love that it makes them actually think about all the things they've accomplished during the school year.

There is much to explore at the e2bn Teaching and Learning website (http://www.e2bn.org/tandl), and the handy subject grid they provide makes finding resources appropriate for your subject and/or age group quick and easy.  Thanks, East of England Broadband Network, for sharing such an amazing collection of classroom resources!  And, on behalf of my 4th grade students, thanks for providing activities that are "so awesome" they don't even realize they're learning.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Jux--Easy as 1, 2, 3!

You know what they say.  "A picture is worth a thousand words."  But suppose the message you intend to deliver requires a thousand and one, or two, or twenty words.  Now you need an effective way to combine pictures and words.  Not to worry--just think Jux.

If you're looking for a way to share a photo summary of a wonderful school year with your students and their parents, consider one of the many possibilities at jux.com.  The Jux website makes creating and sharing beautiful, impactful photo stories as easy as 1, 2, 3.  And, while many websites (like your school site, perhaps) have restrictions when it comes to sharing large photographs, the motto at Jux seems to be "the bigger, the better".  How wonderful to see your lovely class photos full screen, in all their glory, the way they should be!

Choose from a number of ways to share your photographs that can be embedded in a class web page or blog, and shared with families, or view on your big screen whiteboard.  Whether you choose to create a single captioned image, an entire slideshow,  or (my favorite) a countdown set of instructions, Jux makes the process quite simple and provides a number of ways your finished project can be shared.  Take a look at the sample slideshow below (be sure to view in full screen, if you can), or visit the Jux website and explore the projects that have been shared on the site.  This is one website that will make viewing your photos a real visual feast!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Play with Purpose

It won't be long now.  In just a matter of weeks, many of us will be sending our students off for a summer of sun and fun . . . and forgetting how to reduce fractions.  Wouldn't it be nice if your students wanted to practice some of their math and language skills over the summer so you wouldn't need to spend so much of the new school year getting them back up to speed?  Now is the time to get them hooked on the fun games at Arcademic Skill Builders, Lure of the LabyrinthTypeRacer and more.

Sign up for a free teacher account at http://plus.arcademics.com/register and you can create accounts for your students, and assign activities (games) specific to each of your student's needs.  There are games for a wide variety of math topics, as well as some language arts, geography and typing games, and while most games are designed for K-6 students, a "plus" account will allow you to customize games with your own material for older students as well.  Some games are for individual players only, while others will allow up to 12 players to compete.  Use the grouping feature of your teacher account to make sure that students of like abilities can compete against one another.  Students earn achievement points, and can print certificates at their discretion after the completion of each game.  In the meantime, you can view reports of time spent, and accomplishments by student, or by activity.

Need something a little more challenging for your pre-algebra students?  Introduce them to Lure of the Labyrinth.  This formidable maze game will keep your students engaged for hours . . . days . . . even weeks (I've not yet had a student who didn't like it).  While this site has the familiar look and feel of a just-for-fun video game, students must complete challenging math puzzles to earn coins needed to help them through the maze.  Organize your students into teams, and they can communicate through the site to help each other with the maze, the math and more.

And, just because it is definitely a favorite of my students, let me also recommend TypeRacer.com as a fun way of keeping up keyboarding speed and accuracy.  Users will type paragraphs from songs or novels, and compete to finish typing the text before their fellow racers.  Compete against random opponents, or share a specific race URL with a friend and race against each other.

Let's face it--summer is a time for having fun.  Let's make sure that some of that fun is academically productive.  Do you have an educational game to recommend?  Please let me know, and I'll add it to the custom Google Search Engine below.  Together we can compile a searchable list of resources that will ensure our students enjoy a summer that is both fun and productive.


Sunday, April 29, 2012

Go Bananas for Mail Chimp

It is certainly no secret that frequent, regular communication with families is important to the success of your students.  I know plenty of teachers who spend countless hours typing up weekly or monthly newsletters, and decorating them with lovely clipart images or even class pictures.  Then they dutifully copy enough for every family and have their students put them carefully into their backpacks so that their parents will be sure to get them. The trouble is, there really isn't any way of knowing when, or even if the parents read those beautifully designed, carefully-worded newsletters at all.  So now what?

Posting important information to a class web page is helpful, I suppose.  Still, you have no way of know who's actually reading the information.  Wouldn't it be great to know exactly who is taking the time to read your literary endeavors?  Get yourself a Mail Chimp and know for sure.

Create a free account at MailChimp.com and you can easily send professional looking email newsletters and reminders, and get detailed reports as to how many of your recipients are opening the messages.

Mail Chimp has loads of pre-formatted templates from which to choose, all of which can be used as is, or customized with logos and color combinations of your choice.  Import recipient information from your online address book or an Excel spreadsheet, and choose to send your emails to your entire list, or a specific segment of your list.  Your newsletters can include images and text, of course, and can be personalized by merging "subscriber" information into the body of your message.  How much nicer would it be for parents to see news addressed to Dear Mr. & Mrs. Jones, as opposed to Dear Parent(s)?

Once complete, your emails can be scheduled to go out on a specific date and time, after which you can check reports to see exactly which recipients have opened your communication, and whether or not they've checked out any links you may have provided.  The point?  Well, we all know the importance of documenting . . . just about everything that involves communication with parents, right?  Mail Chimp reports provide important documentation of your efforts to communicate.  And, more importantly, give you the information you need, to know who you may need to reach out to more personally.

Check out this sample Mail Chimp email http://tinyurl.com/mail-chimp-demo, and then try creating one of your own.  Perhaps you can send a nice end of the year message of thanks to parents, with links for summer activities and even a year-end online slideshow.  Or, just get your feet wet so that you can begin next year with an informational newsletter introducing yourself to your new students and their families.  Go on.  Get a little feedback from your first message, and you'll go bananas for Mail Chimp.