"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

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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.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Wild About Wikis!

Have you discovered the wonderful world of wikis?  A classroom wiki can be likened to one of those infommercial gadgets that has a million and one uses, except that you can get this amazing tool without even shelling out one red cent.

Whether your goal is to improve communication with parents, incorporate more cooperative learning projects for your class, more easily collaborate with colleagues, or simply integrate more technology into your curriculum, wikis are your answer.  Start by creating an account at any one of a number of free sites:  www.wikispaces.com, www.pbworks.com, www.wetpaint.com, www.pikiwiki.com, education.weebly.com, www.wix.com, just to name a few.  All are free, hosted sites that you can use online from any computer (no downloads).

Wikis can be used to easily share textual information, since the text editor in most wikis looks very much like your favorite word procesing program--no learning curve here.  Uploading images, including animated images, is usually a pretty simple task as well, making wikis easy for you and your students to use.  But, wikis allow for so much more than just text and images.  Using the html or javascript code provided by many websites, you can embed an almost limitless number of interactive elements into your wiki.

Myspace Generators & Toys

If you maintain a Google calendar, for example, you can embed your calendar into a wiki page so that important dates and events are readily available for students and parents to view.  Embed videos that your students can watch at home, or interactive maps (scribblemaps.com) that already contain images and/or videos.  Embed interactive games (classtools.net) for a fun way to get your students to practice vocabulary or math skills, or embed entire ebooks for your students who need practice reading.  You can even use a site like www.recordmp3.org/ to record the narration to the story to differentiate for those students who would benefit from hearing pronunciations while they read along.  Give your students some fun alternatives to traditional book reports by having them create projects at blabberize.com, or xtranormal.com and embed the finished product in your wiki for all to see.  Use tools like wallwisher.com, or answergarden.ch or dabbleboard.com to encourage collaboration between your students or between your colleagues.

Your classroom wiki is very much like a ball of clay, waiting to take on whatever shape or purpose that you design.  There are so many wonderful ways to use a classroom wiki, and so many wonderful elements that you can include.  Still not convinced?  Check out this blog post for a host of ideas for using a classroom wiki, and give it a try.  Before you know it you'll wonder how you ever got along without one, and you, too, will be wild about wikis!

Orkut Scrap Toys

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Do You Stream on UStream?

You know, I work with very talented teachers who do some very remarkable things in their classrooms.  The trouble is, I didn't always hear about these remarkable things, because we didn't have a vehicle for sharing that kind of information.  And, if a teacher who is in school every day isn't aware of the wonderful things happening in classrooms other than his or her own, you can bet that parents are missing out on a lot of that information as well.  So, we've started taking advantage of the free streaming service at UStream.com to broadcast a weekly news program to share information with the members of our school community, and, by golly, it's catching on!

Each Friday afternoon, members of our 8th grade Tech Team become our school newscasters.  While our on-air personality reads the news from various classrooms, our behind-the-scenes techie mans the UStream controls, and changes from live video to still pics and pre-recorded videos (usually student-made iMovies) all while monitoring sound levels.  While our first few broadcasts were, admittedly, rough around the edges, they are certainly improving with each week's endeavor.  Our newscast generally includes special projects from various classrooms, school sports news, special announcements from teachers and/or administrators, and a list of students and teachers celebrating birthdays.

At first, I was very grateful that our classroom teachers were being good sports about accommodating my newest tech project at the expense of precious instructional time.  I've since some to find out from many of those teachers that their students look forward to each week's broadcast, and are more attentive during those ten minutes than any other time of the day.  So, while I'm still grateful, I'm also so happy that this project has become such an important part of our school culture that the story details I once had to seek out from teachers are now regularly being brought to my attention with requests to be included in the Friday News.  Don't you just love it when you realize that your hard work actually matters?!

Here's the scoop on how you can try your hand at newscasting with your class.
Sign up for a free account at http://ustream.tv.  Set up your channel by providing some basic information about what you plan to broadcast, your program name, and your channel name, and even upload a logo for your channel.  If you choose to use the online broadcaster, you can then be "on the air" in a matter of minutes, using just your webcam and microphone.

Once you're ready to be a little more adventurous, download the free desktop application at http://www.ustream.tv/producer, and you can plan a more multi-faceted program by uploading still images, videos and music for inclusion in your live broadcast.  UStream Producer will even give you the option of recording your live broadcast so it can be viewed on the UStream website at a later date by anyone who may have missed the original broadcast, or who simply wants a rerun.  You can even upload a series of images to run as a slide show any time your channel is offline.  Worried about security?  UStream will allow you to password protect your channel, so you don't have to be concerned about who's seeing what you're putting online.

Now, as with any free service, there will be limitations as to how fancy you can get.  For example, with UStream using two cameras or creating a picture in picture broadcast is just for paid subscribers.  Too bad, you're thinking, right?  Not to worry--there's a work around for that.  Download the free program CamTwist at http://camtwist.en.softonic.com/mac (I think PC's use manycam.com) and you can create some pretty sophisticated newscasts.  Include weather data at the bottom or your screen.  Add a logo or message while broadcasting live video.  Even show a movie as a picture in picture while your anchorman reads the news story.

I can't stress enough how fun and exciting this will be for your students.  While adding the extras can be a little intimidating, and will require some practice, a basic webcast can be done quickly and easily.  Even your most reluctant writers and readers will want to step up to the plate to be a part of your news broadcast!  And best of all, everyone in your school community will know about the wonderful things your students are learning.  How cool is that?!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Edmodo Makes Educating Easier

You know, sometimes I get so accustomed to relying on a particular resource that it just becomes part of my normal daily routine, and I forget that it may still be completely foreign to teachers who aren't tethered to a computer all day long.  Such is the case with one of my very favorite web resources.  If you haven't already discovered the wonderful world of Edmodo.com, prepare to be intrigued, excited, and ultimately delighted.

Edmodo offers a secure platform through which you can interact with your colleagues, students, and if you choose, their parents as well.  Create your free account, and the site will generate a class code that you can share with your students.  You will be able to use the site to post assignments for the whole group, or differentiate and send specialized instructions to individual students.  You will be provided a calendar on which you can post due dates and other important information your whole group will need, and registered students can customize for themselves with their own important dates.  There is also a library feature that will allow you to post documents, images, links and even embedded videos and podcasts, etc., so that your students can immediately access the resources they will need for a particular assignment, without ever leaving the Edmodo website.  Additionally, students can upload their own documents to a personal "backpack," eliminating the need for carrying those flash drives that are so easily lost or left in the wrong place.  Depending on the settings that you select, you can also use Edmodo to conduct class discussions and polls, build and assign quizzes, and post grades online.

One of the most versatile features of this site, I think, is the ability to not only attach files and links, but to embed html as well.  This means that you can also embed interactive elements that will take your Edmodo site from useful to extraordinary!  If you are a language teacher, for example, you can use a site like Vocaroo.com to record yourself speaking the vocabulary lesson, and embed it in Edmodo so your students can hear the correct pronunciations while they study at home.


As if all of that wasn't reason enough to give Edmodo a try, consider this.  When your students complete any digital assignment, whether word processing document, slide show, podcast, movie . . . whatever, they can turn their finished assignment in to you through Edmodo, so you can eliminate carrying piles of unnecessary printouts and your own oh-so-easy to misplace flash drive.  And, if you happen to be lucky enough to team teach a class, Edmodo provides one of the simplest ways to share everything with your partner teacher and make life a little easier for both of you.

I highly recommend giving Edmodo a try.  I'm sure you will come to appreciate a resource that is simple to use, yet robust enough to handle just about all of your instructional needs.  And, your social-media savvy students will undoubtedly appreciate the instant familiarity of a classroom resource that looks and feels so much like one that they would not normally associate with school work.

Click here to access an excellent guide to using Edmodo in your classroom.  Perfect for new users!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Get Your Group Grokking

Is there anyone who got through their elementary school years without the frustration of asking a parent or teacher for help spelling a tricky word, only to be told to "look it up"?  While I understand the idea of teaching someone to be resourceful and independent, in some respects determining who would know the answer to your question is being rather resourceful, don't you think?  In any case, sometimes it's nice to be able to get a straight answer from Grandma, instead of a dictionary from Mom.

Searching for information online very often becomes an equally frustrating situation.  We direct our students to a favorite search engine, which in turn shows them other places to search for their answers.  Then, instead of sorting through information, they are sorting through websites, often times skipping the most useful sites because it's simply too arduous of a chore to read a page dense with text to find the one or two facts that would be useful.  Don't get me wrong--searching and reading for details are wonderful, necessary skills, no doubt.  They're just not always the skills we're trying to teach or practice in a particular lesson.  Sometimes we shop through every aisle of the store to see what looks good, and sometimes we simply need to grab the milk and get out.

When you need your students to quickly gather facts for a lesson or project, try directing them to instaGrok.com.  Using instaGrok to find information will have your students spending less time searching, and more time learning.  And, it offers some pretty handy tools for both you and your students to help keep everyone on track and well organized.  Let's take a look.

Enter your search term and the program will immediately begin "grokking."  What you'll get when the grokking is done is a mind-map of topics related to your search term, and lists of facts, websites, videos and images to help you fill in the blanks.  (Be sure to click on More in any category to see LOTS more!)  If you take a few minutes to create a teacher account at the site, your students can register as members of your class, and have access to a handy journal where they can pin the facts and images they need, as well as a list of websites they've visited so they can revisit if necessary.  The website will also maintain a history of searches so your students can be working on their Social Studies project one period, their Science project the next, and have the ability to quickly and easily switch between the two at the same site.  Not sure that little Javier in the back row is still on task?  Check your My Class tab and see exactly what each student in your class has been doing, and where they've been searching.  Take a look at their journal entries, and even make notes/comments for each student to see.

As if all of that isn't enough, instaGrok also allows the user to adjust the difficulty level (grade school, high school or college level) with a simple "flip of a switch," and will generate appropriately leveled multiple-choice quiz questions based on the user's research activity.

This website will put an unbelievable amount of information at the fingertips of your students in a very short amount of time.  Be sure to direct your students to instGrok.com the next time you want them to spend their time grokking instead of searching.  You'll be very glad you did.

BTW:  Just because this was posted on April Fool's Day, please don't assume that talk of "grokking" is a lame attempt at pulling your leg.  Check the dictionary, really, and see if you can begin to grok the meaning of the word grokking.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

We Give Books: Visit, Read, Donate!

Teachers are busy people, without a doubt.  Still, given the opportunity, most teachers I know will go out of their way, no matter how busy they are, to find the time to do a favor for a student or a friend or a colleague, or even a stranger.  It's what we do--we're "good-doers" by nature.  That's one of the reasons we're always so busy, I think.  We somehow find a way to do things for others in addition to the million things already on our own plates.  Wouldn't it be great if the things that we ordinarily do on a daily basis could benefit someone else without taking any additional time or energy?  Get ready to be a very excited good-doer, because now they can!

Check out http://wegivebooks.org.  Simply by reading the books available online at the site, you can not only teach and entertain your students, you provide books for needy children at the same time.  Doing good couldn't be simpler.  Sign up for a free account, select a literacy campaign who will receive your donation, read one of the many books online, and when complete, press a button to donate a book.  That's it!

The collection of books changes occasionally, and yes, most of the collection is currently for students aged 10 and under, but that means that they're short and easy to read in just a couple of minutes.  Now I know what you're thinking, you junior high teachers.  Why bother if there isn't anything for students of a higher reading level?  With a little creative thought, these books could be the basis for a bigger, more sophisticated project appropriate for your upper grade students.  As an example, in my computer classes, students have the opportunity to use the Smart Recorder on their computers to record themselves reading a story from the site.  The finished stories, now in movie form, are then uploaded to our UStream channel (more about this website another day) where they can become part of our weekly school news broadcast, and are available for viewing by primary classes.  Be sure to check the Resources for Educators link at the We Give Books site for more project ideas and, of course, resources.  There's something here for students of all grade levels.

There's something very satisfying about taking a two minute break from your work, enjoying a silly little story, and knowing that someone, somewhere is benefitting from your moment of literary escape.  So, when you have some time, visit, read and donate.  In the meantime, enjoy my effort at storytelling.  Something about this little book really spoke to me.  (I know the words are completely unreadable in this view of the video.  Visit We Give Books to read the text for yourself.)

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Triptico: Interactives for Any Board

On a beautiful day like today (80ยบ and sunny in Chicago, mid-March) I'm reminded of the expression, "the best things in life are free."  Although usually the things to which this statement refers are in the realm of the philosophical, on the rare occasion, some of life's freebies can be quite tangible.  Such is the case with the gems from Triptico.
If you are lucky enough to have an interactive whiteboard in your classroom, be sure to seek out the treasure available free for the taking at http://triptico.co.uk.  With a single multi-platform download, you will get a collection of more than 20 interactive resources that are versatile, customizable, inspirational . . . invaluable!  (What?!  No IWB in your room?  All you really need to take advantage of many of the Triptico resources is your computer and a projector.  Honest.)

Upload a class list and make use of the Student Selector, Student Order and Student Group applications.  Use the same class list to create Class Magnets for taking attendance or organizing teams for games or projects.  Ready to play a review game with your class?  Be sure to start the Flip Timer or the Hourglass, and one of the Team Scoreboard apps.  Have a little extra time to prepare?  Create some custom activities for your class using the Text and Image Spinners, a Random Task Generator, quiz generators, matching games and so much more.
Like any real treasure, this resource may require a little more digging than your average search, but once uncovered will have definitely been worth the extra effort.  And, best of all, this is one chest that will still be full no matter how many treasure-seekers claim it as their own.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

PowerPoints with Personality

Whether you love 'em, hate 'em, or fall somewhere in between, PowerPoint presentations have become something of a staple in every teacher's bag of technology tricks.  Some of us create our own PowerPoints to present curriculum content, some of us have our students create them to show they've learned the curriculum content, and some of us do a little of each.

Now, conventional Powerpoint wisdom tells us that as a general rule, less is more.  PowerPoint slides are, essentially, visual aids, and should not contain every word you intend to convey to your audience.  Most of your presentation should come from the presenter--as spoken word.   (If you've never seen it, take a minute to watch the "Life after Death by PowerPoint" video below.  It's definitely good for a giggle or two.)

Well, for seasoned professionals like us, that shouldn't be too much of a challenge.  Teachers are, after all, paid to speak extemporaneously in front of an audience on a daily basis.  But for our students, on the other hand, not reading directly from the presentation can be quite a challenge.  Fortunately for all of us, there are web resources available to improve the presentations of the shy, shyer, and shyest of students.

Present.me is a web tool that allows you to add a video narration to your PowerPoints, creating a presentation that is the next best thing to (sometimes even better than) a live address.  Your slides and narration appear side by side and are easy to synch perfectly for a flawless presentation.  Not only is this a good solution for eliminating the nervousness many students experience at the prospect of speaking in front of their classmates, it's also perfect for the teacher who wants to be sure every point of context is delivered, even in his or her absence.  (Wouldn't every teacher want him or herself as their own substitute?!) Recorded presentations can also be posted online so that even the students who missed class can hear every word that was delivered while they were gone.

Students too shy to appear on video?  MyBrainshark.com is the perfect solution for the shyer set. Audio narration can be added through this website, as well as some nice background music for effect.  (Read lots more about MyBrainshark, and see a sample presentation in the January 29th post of this blog.)

Now what about those students who tremble at the mere thought of speaking into a microphone?  Yes, there's even a solution for the shyest of your students:  HelloSlide.com. Using the Hello Slide website allows students to add narration to their presentations by simply typing what they want to say.  Sure, you can tell it's computer-speak, but it is far more natural than many computer-voices I've heard.  This website will even allow you to choose the language the narrator will speak, and the accent, to my untrained ear, actually sounds pretty realistic.

So there you have it--something for everyone.  Never again will you have to stare at the back of a student reading word-for-word from the text-laden PowerPoint presentation proudly projected on the wall of your classroom.  Now, if we could just as easily address the rest of these egregious talk taboos.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

And the Award Goes to . . .

Print, cut out and magnet to your fridge.
You've earned it, faithful blog reader!
The Hollywood awards season may have come to a close with the presentation of the Oscars, but it's not too late to do some award presenting of your own.  As a matter of fact, this may be the perfect time to recognize outstanding achievement in our classrooms.  I know what you're thinking--isn't this a topic for the end of the year?  Isn't that when we're supposed to award achievement, attendance, effort, etc.?  Sure, sure . . . there are plenty of awards to be given at the end of a successful school year.  But at the end of February when we're all getting tired of the every day routine, and the dreary weather, and the standardized testing, and . . . well, just about everything . . . this may be the perfect time to give someone (student, colleague, administrator, . . . blog reader) an unexpected, probably much-needed shot in the arm.

If you're a creative sort, you can certainly make your own custom award certificates in your favorite word processing or graphics program.  If that would require far more time than you can spare on any given day, though, there are lots of quick and easy online alternatives.  One of the quickest is at: http://www.senteacher.org/Worksheet/3/FreeCertificates.xhtml (It's actually called the Quick Certificate Printer!)  This one really is quick and easy, without having to settle for images or wording that are not quite right, or not editable.  Worth bookmarking for the times you need to capitalize on an unexpected moment of brilliance.

Have a little more time to prepare?  Try http://www.schoolexpress.com/awards/index.php or http://www.certificatestreet.com/templates.html.  Both are loaded with options for making some fun and interesting awards.  My favorites, though, are http://www.123certificates.com, where you can customize countless certificates as well as trophies and award ribbons, and http://www.printwithmypic.com/certificates/ where you can, you guessed it, add pictures to personalize awards.

So go ahead.  Take a moment to thank all the "little people" who contribute to your success, and let them know how successful they are as well. No need for a golden statue on the mantle when you can have a certificate from the teacher to proudly display in the place of highest honor in every home--the front of the fridge.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Fall in love with LiveBinders

If you are an experienced teacher with more than a few years under your belt, chances are that you have a bookshelf or file drawer filled with the materials that you use year after year.  After all, why reinvent the wheel when you have one that actually rolls pretty well?  Now, though, in addition to your resource books and printed materials, you also have bookmarked websites and Word documents and PDFs and videos and podcasts--all of which relate to a particular unit, and most of which are stored in various places online or on your computer's hard drive.  If only there was a way to keep all of your resources neatly organized and easily accessible in that 3-ring binder there on your shelf.  (Insert audible sigh here.)

You may not be able to store your digital files in a 3-ring binder, but you can store all of it in a livebinder!  LiveBinders.com is an awesome site that makes organizing your teaching materials easier than you ever thought possible.  Every binder you create with your free account can be divided into tabs and subtabs, each of which can hold virtually any sort of digital content.  Add text, images, documents, PDFs, calendars, videos, web links, widgets . . . whatever.  Use html to embed material in your binder, and use html to embed your binder (or a whole shelf of binders) in a web page--a tidy little package, indeed.

In addition to the two binders I have embedded in this blog, I have binders with professional development resources for workshops I present; class lists, seating charts and emergency info for substitutes; and one that contains web links with log in hints for my students.  These examples, however, just scratch the surface of the potential uses for livebinders.  Create accounts for your students (from sub-accounts of your Gmail) and livebinders become portfolios of their work.  Planning a vacation, or a wedding?  Use livebinders to organize flight, hotel, and rental-car info; or wedding dress, catering, and florist details.  Anything that needs to be organized, needs to be organized in a livebinder. Add the "LiveBinder It" bookmarklet to your browser's toolbar, and adding content to your binder couldn't be easier.

Visit LiveBinders.com and take a look at some of the amazing work that our generous colleagues have chosen to share at the site.  Even if you decide not to create a binder of your own, I promise you'll find some remarkable treasures that will cause you to fall as madly in love with livebinders as I have.

Here's a sample of the binders on my shelf:

Well . . . look at this!

My pleasure, ladies! 
Always happy to spread the word about my favorite resources.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

A Voki for Your Valentine … or Your Vocabulary Lesson

If you've been paying attention to the news in the U.S. lately, you know that President Obama made quite a splash recently for singing just a few measures of an Al Green song during a fundraiser at the Apollo Theater.  Those few seconds of song garnered the attention of news stations around the country, not just because it was good, but because it was unexpected.  Thanks, Mr. President, for reminding us that a little novelty can go a long way towards getting the attention of your audience.

Short of breaking into song in your classroom, you can add a little novelty by using a fun site like Voki.com.  An individual account at Voki.com is free, and easy to use.  Choose a character from the variety available at the site and make adjustments to hair color, eye color, etc.  Select a background or upload your own, and you're ready to give your Voki a voice.  You can upload saved audio, or record your own message using your computer's microphone or your telephone.  You can even make use of the text to speech feature and have your character speak what you type.  No matter how you add audio, your character will not only move its mouth as it speaks the words, its eyes will follow the movement of the mouse on your page.  Once complete, you can share your message by email, or embedding in a blog or wiki.  Whether you make one to send to your Valentine or for your vocabulary lesson, your Voki is sure to get your message to its intended audience.  Be sure to visit Voki.com to view the collection of lesson plans and see all the ways a voki can get the attention of your students … without singing a single note.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Blabberize.com … It Speaks for Itself

It isn't every day you find a classroom resource with usefulness that speaks for itself,  but blabberize.com does just that--quite literally.  Visit the website, play the sample blabber on the home page, and I'll bet the bank that you'll have a smile on your face before it's over.  The friendly talking llama entertains and inspires, and will most assuredly convince you to to create your own "blabber."

With Black History month in full swing, and Presidents' Day just around the corner, I'm guessing that there are more than a few oral reports on the horizon in many classrooms.  This year, instead of having your students talk about famous Americans, try having them talk as famous Americans. Upload an image to the blabberize website, use the tool provided to select the lower jaw, and record or upload a narration.  With no additional effort, you will have created an amazing talking picture.

Blabberize lets you make the ordinary written word something extraordinary. Oral reports, book reports, announcements, invitations, instructions, … blog entries, all become a lot more interesting when they're blabberized.  Really.  Judge for yourself.  Which do you prefer?  More importantly, which would speak to your students?

Sunday, January 29, 2012

My BrainShark to the Rescue!

We've all heard it before.  There are students who do well by reading directions, while some need to hear directions, and still others need to both see and hear them.  Adults, undoubtedly, are no different.  Have you ever taken the time to send a detailed email only to find out that the recipient didn't read every word as carefully as you wrote them?  It can certainly be frustrating when your thoughtfully composed message just doesn't do the trick, but what can you do?  . . .  Enlist the aid of a brainshark, that's what!

Mybrainshark.com is a wonderful website that allows you to upload written content to your free account, add narration, background music, even survey questions, and share with your contacts.  You can add your voice to documents, PowerPoint presentations, videos and photos by using your computer's microphone, or your cell phone.  Share your file by distributing a link, embedding it in a blog, wiki or web page, or via QR code.  Twitter and Facebook users can also share their work through their favorite social networking site, or (and this is my favorite) email contacts directly through the mybrainshark website.  Then, with the simple click of a checkbox, you'll receive an email notification each time your work is viewed.  Invest in a Pro account, and get access to even more features.  Never again will your colleagues, or your students, miss the important details of your message.

Take a look at the sample presentation below.  I know you'll want to give mybrainshark a try, and once you do, I'm confident you'll be a fan.  My Brain Shark truly is the easy, free way to make online video.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Now Presenting . . . Prezi!

Yes, everyone admires a well put together slide presentation.  And for the most part, we're getting pretty good at using PowerPoint and/or Keynote to do it.  But PowerPoint presentations are getting a little predictable, don't you think? A picture, bullet points, maybe an animation or two, and on to the next slide, where you'll see a picture, bullet points and an animation or two. It's easy to lose the interest of your audience, especially if that audience is comprised of students who live in a fast moving video-game world.

Introducing . . . Prezi:  an online presentation program that will allow you to create "visually captivating presentations that lead your audience down a path of discovery."  Instead of creating a linear series of slides, you will begin creating your presentation on a virtually limitless canvas of sorts.  You can easily insert text, images, shapes, documents, links or videos anywhere on the canvas.  Once inserted, clicking on your text or image, etc. will reveal what some refer to as the "zebra tool" that will allow you to move, resize and angle your object with a simple manipulation of the tool.

Here's what makes it fun.  You can put your text upside down, and reduce the size of your image so that it fits inside of one of the letters of your text.  When it's time to show your presentation, Prezi will automatically turn your text right-side up, and zoom in on your graphic until it's full-screen.  While it's in progress, you're presentation could look like a hot mess, but by outlining the order in which you want each element shown, Prezi turns your haphazard collection of bits and pieces into a well-organized whole.  Take a look at the example below and see for yourself.  It contains unedited comments from my 5th graders after completing their first project at prezi.com.  You can read additional reviews written by my 8th grade class by visiting their blogs at http://kidblog.org/sgscomputers.  

Your students will really enjoy creating and viewing Prezi presentations, and I'm sure you will too.  Be sure to check out the Meeting option.  By sharing a link to your Prezi, you can invite a colleague or two (or ten) to work on creating the presentation with you, each from the comfort of your own classroom, or home, or town.  (We used Meeting to have an entire class of students create the Prezi above, all at once.)  Just one word of caution.  Be judicious about creating too many inverted objects in your presentation.  The non-stop spinning effects will not be appreciated by anyone in your audience who is prone to motion sickness.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Cast Your Vote on Zoomerang

There's no doubt about it.  U.S. Presidential Primaries and the upcoming elections are finding their way into every major newspaper and daily newscast.  Chances are good that political banter is finding its way into conversations with your colleagues, and if you teach Social Studies, will undoubtedly soon be finding its way into your curriculum too.  Why not make your lessons in democracy come to life by letting your students participate and cast their own votes?

Zoomerang.com is an easy to use website that will allow you to create surveys/polls that you can embed in your class website or blog.  Your students can vote for presidential candidates,  oscar-worthy movies, the basketball team's most valuable player or a name for you new class pet.  Need to include a picture so that your students will more easily recognize those presidential candidates?  Zoomerang makes it easy to select and upload your images for inclusion in the survey.  You can even get parents involved in your project by sending the survey directly from the Zoomerang site to their emails, which you can manually add or import into your Zoomerang address book. Do your students have their own school email addresses? With a little imagination, Zoomerang becomes a versatile online quiz tool.

With the ability to add multiple choice, rating, ranking or open-ended questions, Zoomerang allows you to easily collect a lot of information, from a lot of people, for a lot of different purposes. That's a lot of reasons to give Zoomerang a try!

There are, of course, many other options for online polling. If you're a fan of a particular site, share your endorsement by completing the sample Zoomerang survey below. I'd love to hear about your experiences.