Friday, September 27, 2013

Pixton: A clever way to get them writing

Someone on twitter once mentioned that she used Pixton to practice writing.  I had to check it out.  I have used comic strip generators before, but I decided to nix them because they were a little boring and the final outcome was published online for many others to see.   Pixton is a little different.  It is very colorful and visual.  There are numerous options for comic strip layout and it allows for foreign language symbols.  I was really excited at how fast it went to complete a task.
I spent about ten minutes making a comic strip.  I was able to manipulate the positions of the characters, add text and accents, and a cool background.

There is an educational version as well as a for fun account.  (There is a 30 day trial, so if you are going to use it that way, make sure you get it when you need it so you don't lose the opportunity.)  The for fun account posts the work on the web, so if you have students who do not have permission to post work online, don't use it, or print off a blank template and have the kids fill it in. I created the for fun account.  It is free. The educator account is based on the number of kids.  I have 9 students, so for me, it isn't worth $60/ year.  I can add up to 20 kids for that price, but it isn't worth it to me.  I see myself using it but not often enough to justify the cost.

Here is my quick comic to review lesson 1 in French 2: Quick and simple, and a great model for my kids.  I think this program is very good for foreign language teachers.  I also think it could benefit elementary teachers to address writing skills and it could be used as a means of identifying incorrect grammar.   One could have grammatical or spelling errors and ask students to identify them.  That is a way to make grammar fun.

So, if you are looking for a simple way to practice writing and do so in a funny and creative manner, check out Pixton.  It is something different for your classroom.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Flip a class with Sophia

The growing trend of late is flipping a classroom where teachers become the facilitator of learning and students drive the instruction and focus more on their personal growth through the use of videos and tutorials.

There are several platforms teachers can use to do a flipped class.  I came across Sophia on twitter and I like the format it has to offer.

First off, it is free (or premium) and it allows teachers to create classes and assign videos to each class.  Secondly, there is an archive of items recorded and shared by other teachers that can be added to a class.  As a French teacher, I didn't find a lot of material, but, I found a few things that can be pulled into a classroom setting.

There is a creative mode where teachers can make their own tutorials and screencast, edit and publish.  It also allows you to make playlists for specific topics/ classes/ etc.   I like the tools and tricks it has to offer.  I think if flipping a class is a direction one wants to take, this site can do a lot.

I think someone teaching Math or Science can really benefit from the offerings here.  It allows you to search for specifics and the classroom setup is very helpful.

If you are planning to flip a class or pull some of the flipped model into your classroom, you might consider looking at Sophia as a place to get started.

Friday, September 20, 2013

My Tech Life

I often get asked at school how I manage to do so many tech things with my time.  I tweet, Facebook, Pin, text, blog and manage to read a few books PLUS, be a full time mom.  My answer is simple:  Prioritize.  I spend only a little bit of time each day doing the tech stuff.  I have to have time for me. (Afterall, I have to be able to play Ruzzle and Candy Crush a little bit!)

A colleague once said she spends 10 minutes a day on twitter and that is all.  She schedules posts and tweets and also prewrites her blog.  That got me thinking.  I need to focus my time the same way.

On a daily basis, I spend a little time on twitter, unless there is an chat I am interested in attending, I merely look and scan for about ten minutes.  If I strike a conversation, I stay on longer.  If I come across a link on twitter that I want for later, for my blog or to use in class, I retweet it and add it to my pocket.  It will be there when I need it.

I also do the same on Pinterest.  I admit, it can be addicting, so I only spend a few minutes each day looking while I watch TV at night.  Sometimes, I skip Pinterest. (Makes me look like less of an addict that way.)

As for my blog, I work ahead.  Blogger is WONDERFUL because I can schedule and organize ahead.  I use my google calendar, plan and decide what I am doing and then preschedule my blogs. If I have a day when I have nothing planned, I type my posts.   If I find I am running behind on my posts, I use the archives and repost articles from the past.

Checking out tech stuff???  Well, I do that a lot while the kids are at the pool.  You see, both of my kids swim competitively and when I am not subbing in as an assistant coach, I check out tech stuff.   I sometimes take the laptop, sometimes stay at home, depends on the day. I refer to my Pocket or Diigo account and look over what I have saved and investigate, sample, check out.  Then I take some notes and keep track. If I think it will help my teachers, I add it to my Tech Tuesday one note file and voila, I am done.  I get ahead a lot this way.

I also started listening to audio books.  That has helped me stay in the game with books and manage the tech. I don't overdo the technology, but, sometimes, with grading, being a mom and needing a rest, I don't have time to sit and focus on a book.  Audio books allow me to be Suzy Homemaker and still listen to a great read.

Yes, I am a little crazy. Yes, I am a geek.  Yes, I manage my time well because I don't let the tech take over my life.  I put limits on what I do.  This is how I do it.... plus, I think I have ADHD :)

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The method to my collection development madness

I started in the library world a few years back.  This is starting my fourth year.  I have learned a lot in that time regarding collection development.   My predecessor used a lot of subscription programs and companies to order her titles, she used online stores and ordered off and on.   I decided to change a lot of that when I took over the library.  Here is the method to my madness:

First of all, I delve into my Kirkus review each and every month.  I have a collection development spreadsheet and a Wunderlist for collection development open and I jot down notes (The Wunderlist is a task manager where I put the pub date.  I get a notification of when it is due out.), a wishlist, and the genre the fiction title fits into.  I look through my Kirkus to find titles that kids in my school would enjoy.  If I have a few kids who read a lot, I will ask them to peruse the book review and get their thoughts.  More often than not, we are on the same page.  I spend time each month doing this.  I also look at my ILL list and see what I have requested from ILL often.  If I notice a pattern, I add that to my Nonfiction wishlist.  My aid and I keep a series binder that we update with new series titles.  We rely heavily on Goodreads as well.

Secondly, I attend the free webinars many publishers offer each month.   Some of the best books I get come from hearing about them at these webinars.  I use my Wunderlist and Collection Development spreadsheet and type away as the publishers talk.  I also attend the Nonfiction webinars too, because often, there are a few great titles that pop up there too.

After I spend time doing these things, I start shopping.  I get my budget in February, so I spend most of the spring and summer working on this.  I have a local Indie store that does most of my new title ordering.  I find the actual price and she offers me a 30% discount.  It is usually cheaper through her than amazon.  I am very tight with my budget.  I am not afraid to buy used books.  I go to a site a came across a few years back- Thriftbooks .  Shipping is free and they offer used books that range from Like New to acceptable.  We tried acceptable one time and were not pleased with the quality, so I stick with Like New and Very Good.  I have built my collection dramatically through using used stores.   In a school of 225, who cares!  The kids will read it.   The trick with used books, you have to make sure you don't have it already- so I always cross check in the collection to make sure I don't duplicate.   I tend to order my Nonfiction titles through Thriftbooks because a lot of the Nonfiction books out there generally cost a lot more new than a fiction title.

If I go to a book store, such as Half Price or to a book sale at a public library, I always have my handy Destiny App available.  I will spend hours looking at titles and cross checking for duplicates.

I pride myself in collection development.  I love to research and study my needs. I have managed to change the annual order of about 100 books to almost 400 just by being frugal, organized and willing to go used.  It has helped my kids grow as readers and find new things to appreciate and enjoy.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Handling subscriptions

It seems like my Inbox is getting fuller and fuller of emails from different companies offering things, different programs and lessons.  It is crazy how much stuff we accumulate.  I started an address book to organize all of my subscriptions that relate to edtech, but, sometimes, I get this bombardment of emails from different services.   It would take me hours and maybe days to unsubscribe from everything out there.

I ended up creating a listserv email where I have my subscriptions sent.  But, often, I find I have a subscription to something I don't need or want, or that I have subscribed to a web 2.0 tool to experiment and realize it isn't for me.

I came across a link in my twitter feed the other day that caught my eye-- Just delete me.  It is a directory of links to delete your subscriptions. I looked it over and there is a ton of options there to help unsubscribe from the mass number of lists and websites.   The page offers information about difficulty of unsubscribing as well, which might benefit you because, if you are like me, spending 20 minutes to delete a subscription isn't worth it.  I will just delete the email, it's faster. 

I am going to start looking through it and deleting things I know I never use.   I am sure if you look at it, something will strike your fancy as well. 

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Google Hangouts to collaborate

I think I have mentioned in one or two posts google+ hangouts, but I decided to go back and talk about the many possibilities of it again. I think the idea of using google+ hangouts is a great way to get kids to collaborate, to get other schools to meet up with students and share similar ideas, learn new cultures or learn new things.

I tried to use hangouts last year in my French 2 class, I tried to have the kids use it together to insert things, watch videos together, etc.  For some reason, the bandwidth didn't work well with the same room streaming all at once, so I had to stop.   I think, however, if I were to try it again, I would do a few things differently.   First of all, I would find a school in France, Quebec or somewhere Francophone, invite them to join us.  I would include some different things we could talk about.  (There are a lot of stereotypical videos out there about the Francophones and the Americans, why not watch them via hangouts and do a discussion about them with other nations?)

In a Social Studies class, why not find a veteran or someone who works in government and invite them to a hangout.  Use it as a question/ answer session with someone to learn more about their job, their experience or their story.

Hangouts can be used to collaborate with classrooms in different places too, like sister cities.  What a great way to learn about a different place.  Students could ask questions, see videos and images.

Hangouts does a lot like Skype, but, it allows for more interaction.  The collaboration comes in the ability to type, insert, embed and talk.  It is more intense and open. There is more interaction with each other.

Hangouts has to be downloaded for an android or a IOS device, if you use chrome, it adds an extension. I can't wait to try it out!

Friday, September 6, 2013

Implementing Tech Tuesdays

I decided my annual Professional Development goal was to start implementing a voluntary tech training for teachers each week to show them tools that can benefit their classrooms.  We are a 1:1 school, but often our teachers are leery about using the technology beyond just typing papers because they aren't well trained to utilize more.

I started my blog hoping they would read from time to time and find interest in something I talk about.  I also started some different bookmarks for them and an edtech edmodo page just for our staff.  I still hear from kids, however, that not all of their teachers use the computers.  This is a reason for concern.  I thought that perhaps doing  Tech Tuesday and sharing a simple tool at their own accord would be a better way to get some PD out there and also let them realize how simple it is to use technology in their classroom.  Every single teacher in a 1:1 school can find at least one tool to use that benefits kids. That is my goal with the Tech Tuesdays.

Here is what I decided to do.  We are a multi device school.  Lower grades use iPads and the upper grades use computers.  I needed to find tools to share that potentially could be used for both devices. I spent time looking at my pocket, my and my Diigo and started checking out the different tweets I have favorited from some of the connected educators in my PLN.  I considered for a bit the tools that would best suit people from the beginning of the year and things that could be tossed in midway.  

I chose Edmodo as my premier training.  It's easy, crosses both devices and can be used by everyone.  I moved through my list and got the entire first semester planned.  I even cleared it with my superintendent to offer 1 PGP point for every three trainings. (I anticipate them only lasting 15-20 minutes because people aren't going to want to spend their entire prep period.  They are more than likely going to want to take the training and then spend a little time familiarizing themselves with it.

I am hoping that this attempt to train teachers to use tools will be a positive experience for everyone involved.  I am excited to see how many people take note and try new things! 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Tips for Twitter Newbies

One of my goals this school year is to get some of my co-workers to jump into the Twitter realm and try to build a PLN (Personal Learning Network).  I don't know if they realize how awesome it is to gain a plethora of information from so many people who are just like them.  I decided the best way to get them started it to share some quick and easy tips.

1).  Start off following a few people who have similar interests as you. (Ex: If you are a SS teacher, find a few social studies teachers and follow them, read profiles and look for subject matter similarities or interest similarities.) Look for tweeps who have more than a few hundred posts and scan some of the things they have posted.  If you notice most of their posts are super personal and don't focus on education, they may not be the person for you.  It's okay to follow someone and change your follow later if they really don't cater to what you are looking for.

2) Set up a diigo account and a pocket account because you will want to save some of the links people post. Diigo has a place in the settings where you can connect twitter to Diigo.  Once you favorite a post, it saves it as a Diigo bookmark for later reference.  Pocket does the same, but it is a visual bookmark. *I use both because sometimes so much gets saved in Diigo that I get behind.  With pocket, the visual helps me refer to what I need.

3) Don't tweet immediately unless you feel ready. Start off following feeds, get a feel.  Remember, 140 characters.  Keep it short and simple. Ask questions, people will help you. Don't be afraid to retweet something that interests you and don't be afraid to tweet something and join a conversation.  Some of your best learning experiences will be with people you don't know and you will find that eventually these people you meet will be some of your best motivators, idea bouncer-offers (yep, made up a word) and best encouragement.

4) NEVER open direct messages that tell you that someone said bad stuff about you.  Unless someone asks you a question dealing with your conversation, avoid the DM.  It seems like there are a lot of spammers out there.

5) Learn how to list and use hashtags.  Creating lists helps you develop connections with other people in your content.  You can add people and communicate and collaborate with them when you need to work on a project.  Using Hashtags (which is the # sign before a text) will help you follow a specific topic.  You can refer back to that topic or build a news feed of it (A Later lesson).

6) Finally, ask for help.  People on twitter will help guide you.  Don't be afraid to ask questions.