29 February 2012

Day Nineteen: Twitter

It is hard to find a good place to start this final post because Twitter can be used in so many different ways.  Let's start with....

To Tweet or Not to Tweet

Educators have pretty much always functioned in isolation.  Yes, we would share with our colleagues within our school and those we met at conferences, but for the most part the things that happened in your classroom were known to only those in your immediate circle.  Twitter widens that circle, significantly.  Actually the circle is a sphere.  And that sphere is the entire world.  Through Twitter, I share ideas with educators from Indiana, Colorado, Chicago, Canada and Australia.  I can be involved in a conversation with one person from Alabama or participate in a chat with thousands of educators across the globe.  Because these conversations are not limited by the time frame of a conference, they can go on for hours or even days and involve a variety of perspectives.  Twitter has absolutely changed my life and especially my teaching;  I barely recognize the teacher I was 2 years ago (I celebrate my 2yr Twitter-versary in April!)

Why should you tweet?  The real question is why aren't you doing it already?  If someone said to you there's this amazing conference.  It has some of the best instructors in the world, educators that are leading educational reform.  It is free and located extremely close to your home.  You can go to it during school and you won't have make sub plans.  If someone said this to you, would your response be "No thanks"?  Of course not!

Let's look at it from this perspective.  Educators are constantly tweeting ideas and resources 24/7.  If you were to spend 30 minutes per week simply watching the twitter feed (the scrolling tweet of people you follow), I guarantee you will find  at least 1 new idea for your classroom.  Now if you do that for an entire year, that's 52 new ideas.  52 ways to improve as an educator and learner.  Would you ever be able to come up with 52 new ideas doing what you currently do?

Twitter:  The Basics
So hopefully I have been able to convince you to sign up.  Let's walk get you started with your account:
  1. Go to Twitter.com and register.  I use Twitter almost strictly for educational purposes so I chose a name that relates to what I do (@DaretoChem).  You can something simple like your name (@reginaschaffer).  It doesn't matter what you pick, just pick something that you can identify with.
  2. Don't be an egg-head.  The default picture is a white egg on a colored background and no one will follow you with this picture.  Find something that clearly shows your face and more people will want to hear what you have to "say."
  3. You can follow celebrities and sports teams, but you can skip most of this.
  4. Here is the tougher part:  finding people to follow.  You can only get good ideas if you find people tweeting out good ideas.  The best resource I have found is on www.cybraryman.com under his PLN All-Stars.  Here the top tweeters from each category are listed so this is the best people to start following to get ideas related to your classroom.  At the bottom of this post, I have included a Google Spreadsheet with the Middletown educators that you can follow as well.  If you sign up, please add your name to the list.
The First Tweet
Well, it's not that simple.  Before you venture out into this new social media (well, new to you), watch the following video by Josh Stumpenhorst.  Josh is the Illinois Teacher of the Year and an absolute must follow.
Like Josh, I recommend downloading a third party program like Tweetdeck or HootSuite for filtering your tweet streams.  Once you are following a number of people, twitter's website become too cumbersome.  For your first tweet, introduce yourself, say hello to the world, ask people to follow you.  Some tweeters will follow you if you follow them; others are more particular.

If you trying to find good info, you will want to search by the hashtag (#).  Here is a link to all of them that are out there for education, but below are the most popular.
#edchat is used for anything education related
#mtwnchat is for anything related to the Middletown district (March 1st at 8pm is our 1st live chat!!)
#scichat anything science related
#sschat is for social studies
#engchat is for English topics
#ntchat is focused on resources for new teachers
#edtech is for educational technology

We all know that it is important to grow as an educator.  Sure you can do this by attending yearly conferences, but if you are like me, you are starting to get bored with what you are seeing or, worse, saw it last year.  Twitter is constantly changing, constantly growing, and always current.

How You Can Use It With Your Students
While Twitter is a great resource as a professional growth tool, one of the most interesting ways that I have changed is by using it with my students.  From an informal Twitter poll, my students have said about 1/4 of the students at South are tweeting.  They are sending out messages before school, after school, during school.  They are shouting to the world their thoughts and views, and we need to know them to better meet their ever-changing needs.  If you don't believe me, check out this report from CNN.

What are you going to do with it?

To keep you thinking and give you some additional resources, here are some great links to follow:
Twitter in Education Livebinder
Everything You Need to Know About Twitter
Teaching With Twitter

And if you don't believe that Twitter can revolutionize, ask the Egyptians, Syrians, and Libya.  Oh, and after the earthquake in Haiti, Twitter was used by rescue teams to locate survivors.

Here is the Google Spreadsheet of who to follow from Middletown.  If you have a Twitter account and are not the list below, please add yourself (or fix your info as I didn't have a complete list when I made this).
You can find the spreadsheet here.

27 February 2012

Day Seventeen: Google Apps

We know we know there was no post on Friday, but it gave you a chance to really take a good look at some of the previous tools; and think about how you would use them in your classroom. A weekend blog post comment emphasized "balance" and "incorporation" and I echo her sentiments. While we have introduced you to many tools, by no means is it expected for you to try them all. We know that there will be something here for everyone, and just trying and incorporating one can make a remarkable difference.

Today we will take a look at google docs and google apps. We are a google apps for education district and have added additional “apps” (applications) to our google domain. This just means you can access these apps from within your google dashboard.

What is google docs? It is google’s suite of office tools. Microsoft has word, powerpoint and excel; google has a document creator, presentations and spreadsheets, in addition they also have forms that allows you to create surveys (and view them in a spreadsheet). Here is a short overview of google docs.

Here is a way to use google docs for classroom peer editing and review.

Most of us have experience with powerpoint either creating them or viewing slideshows that others have created. Let’s look at google’s version called presentations and see how it stacks up to powerpoint.

Powerpoint Presentations
Large Selection of themes/backgrounds Limited selection
Ability to narrate Not yet
Can add video Can also add video
Variety of slide transitions/animations Limited
No realtime collaboration possible Real time collaboration
$$$$ Free!
Windows based Any platform (Windows/Mac/Linux)
Does not work well w/other versions Not an issue; plus you can download AS a powerpoint, pdf or image

Paid upgrades Weekly automatically added updates/upgrades   
*Basically powerpoint is still the reigning champion in terms of features, but presentations are adding more and more everyday. One important difference is powerpoint is a standalone software and presentations is a web application.

Here is a really cool video
showing the power of presentations....and no one expects you to create this (although I secretly want to try)

Now we are going to look at some web apps that are included in our google domain; that you and your students have access to. The first one is slide rocket. Slide rocket is a presentation maker that, honestly, combines the best features of powerpoint and presentations (and even has some flash based tricks you find in Prezi). You can work collaboratively, it has a ton of features presentations lack, you can narrate, add video/audio, the graphics really pop and are perfect for student assignments as well as teaching.  Here is a brief overview of sliderocket and you can reach it by going to your google docs toolbar and clicking “more”; it is listed.

Visit sliderocket and view their many examples to see if this is a tool you will want to introduce into your classroom!  

Next we will look at an app called Lucid Charts. Here in Middletown many of the elementary and middle schools use the mind mapping software Inspiration. Again this is stand alone software so if a student is using it at school they can not continue working at home. With Lucid Charts (you find it the same way you do for slide rocket) you can create charts/diagrams, drawings, even floorplans and room layouts in school and continue working on it at home collaboratively with classmates; or in our case colleagues. Even administrators can use it to create organizational charts, it has something for everyone.

You can even create a “lyrical flowchart” disclaimer: we take no responsibility if this song is stuck in your head all day and you find yourself singing it to your classes! 

Next time you need a chart or diagram of any kind give Lucid Chart a try!

The last app we will look at is the Aviary suite of creativity tools. They are also found in google docs, under “more” (toolbar).  While Aviary offers a tool to markup documents, extensively edit videos, create vectors, create photo effects and one click editing; we will concentrate on its audio editing tool. With this tool you can create a podcast, edit previously recorded audio, make looping beats and even remix a song. Teachers can record lessons for absent students, skill review, or messages for the class or parents. You can create podcasts and store them on your blog or website, or have students create newscasts, or audio recordings that make your curriculum come alive. Warning, there is a learning curve, (not expert level but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention it) so you and your students should view the tutorial and begin creating! I would think English classes could create book reviews, dramatic readings or alternate endings. Maybe Science classes could explain the steps in an experiment (to embed in their slide rocket presentation) or have a student created monthly science podcast that covers science in the news and how it relates to what they are learning. Math teachers could have podcasts explaining complex math concepts (again pairing it with a slide rocket or lucid chart) or posting a math problem on their website or blog and challenging students to create an audio explanation and post it. 

I hope today's post peaked your interest in trying the district's google apps, whether it be docs or one of the added web applications!

25 February 2012

Weekend Update 4

The Technology Integration Committees want to thank everyone for their support over the last couple of weeks. We are approaching the 5000 page view mark (currently at 4855!) and should top it easily in the closing days of the month.  Hopefully everyone has had a chance to read all of the posts and have started integrated the different web tools into their lessons.

Normally here is where we give some important stats about the blog, but we have just of cruised for the last week, gradually growing each day.  But, I do want to announce we have added another CONTINENT to our following:  Australia!  So, a hearty G'Day, Mates, from Middletown, NJ, USA!!

When selected the tools for this challenge, we had 3 conditions: easy to use, immediate implementation, and FREE.  Well, there is a great blog that we would like to focus on for this update and that is FreeTech4Teachers.com.

Richard Byrne (@rmbyrne) is a Social Studies teacher in Maine and runs this blog as a way to expose teachers to as many free resources as possible.  EduBlogs honored his site as the 2010 Winner for Best Resource Sharing Blog and 2011 Winner for Best Ed Tech Blog.   36,000 people view his blog every day!  Byrne is a Google Certified Teacher and has a number of Google Apps tutorials on his site as well.

As you will see when you visit the site, his current week's list of resources includes:
Flipping Your Classroom With Free Web Tools
Creative Interactive Bulletin Boards
Web 2.0 Collaborative Projects for Middle School

But our favorite part of the site is his list of Favorite Resources.  One of the most important ones (and #2 on his list) is the Super Book of Web Tools For Educators.  This an extensive list of tools that can be used in all areas of education and an absolute must for any educator looking to increase the level of technology and student involvement in class.

Take a look at FreeTech4Teachers.com and let us know what you found.  We love to read all of the comments (all 366 of them!) that are left on the blog.  Have a great weekend!

23 February 2012

Day Sixteen: Diigo

Diigo is a social bookmarking site that enables users to bookmark and tag web pages, organize pictures, documents, audio and screenshots, and it can be accessed via PC, Mac, Android, iPhone and iPad.

If you upload Diigolet, you are able to highlight text, and add sticky notes with comments on each bookmarked web page. You can then share the sites with others by creating a group or you may keep your bookmarks private. This is particularly helpful when working on a research project because all sources can be saved in one location and shared with classmates. 

You can annotate text, ask students questions, have students leave comments, etc.

Diigo now has an app for iPad that serves as an all-access digital library. The app is free, but it is new, so they are still adding features (group bookmarking isn't available yet). 

Educator Accounts:If you sign up for an educator account, it’s free and it allows you to set up class groups where students can share sites with classmates. Student email addresses are not required and privacy settings are pre-set so only the teacher and classmates can communicate with them.  It may take a few days to be approved for the teacher console, but it is well worth it.

By setting up a class group, you can provide students with websites that you have already approved, eliminating issues with students using unreliable sources. 
Diigo is also great for storing assignments. If you want students to read an article in the New York Times, for example, you can bookmark it on Diigo and mark areas where you would like them to focus/respond/analyze, etc. Students can share and interact via group sticky notes, highlights and bookmarks. You can also publish a bookmark directly to your class blog.

Once you have an educator account, the Diigo in Education group will send you a daily email of several different bookmarks made by other educators. I have found many interesting articles and resources via these emails.

Articles worth reading:

Diigo Sign up Tutorial*Note that this tutorial was designed for a district in which Diigo is blocked; this is NOT the case in Middletown.

Diigo educator account:
Sign up now!

22 February 2012

Day Fifteen: QR Codes

You are starting to see them everywhere:  those odd-looking black and white squares included in everything from advertisements in magazines to posters in store windows to bananas (yes, you read that correctly).  That odd combination of pixels is actually information that can be displayed using your smartphone's browser.  The code can contain a website, your contact information, a picture, link to a YouTube video and so much more. Before we get into how QR Codes can be used in the classroom, let's take a look where QR codes come from.

Now that we understand where they came from, let's learn how to create our own.  There are a couple of options available depending on your level of technology.  The QR code scanner in the app store for the iPhone comes with an option to create your own code right on the phone (I believe there is also one for Android, but neither are really reliable).  If you are a Chrome user (and if you aren't we need to have a talk about that), there is an app in the Chrome Web Store called "The QR Code Generator" which will generate your code right in your browser.  However, if none of those options are to your liking, the favorite web site for creating codes is Kaywa.

So you have your generator and now you need something to create your code for.  QR Codes are a great way to direct users to view simple information like your class website or a video from YouTube that you want them to watch.  Go to that location and grab the url from the address bar (or in the case of YouTube videos, click the SHARE button and copy the url given there), and paste the url into the generator.  For example, one of my favorite videos to share with my students is the MHS Lip Dub.  After copying the url (ctrl+C), I can go to my Chrome app, paste in the url and generate my code as seen below.
The code can now be copied or saved as an image and put in any number of different places.  One word of advice:  the purpose of a QR Code is to direct a user to a location on the web when they are not currently sitting in front of a computer so putting one on your website is a bit of a waste.  I want to provide one other tip about QR Codes:  the longer the url, the more complicated the QR Code becomes which makes it look garbled.  You will want to use a url shortener to make it more manageable and therefore a nicer looking code.  Personal preference is for all things Google so try goo.gl, however bit.ly and tinyurl.com are also popular.  If you use the Chrome QR Code app, it already contains a "Shorten url" button so there is no need to copy from the external site.

After a short discussion at lunch, we came up with the following list of possible ways to use QR Codes in the classroom.
  1. QR code on the syllabus given on the 1st day of class to direct students to the class website.  Can also be put on the sign on the door to the classroom.
  2. QR Code scavenger hunt.  A great to connect your subject to different areas of the school is a scavenger hunt.  But, instead of simply finding a clue, the students find a QR code with it that directs them to a website to help them answer a specific question.
  3. QR Codes in books in the media center.  The code could contain a link to the author's website, an Amazon book review, or a preview of the movie based on the book.
  4. Links to YouTube videos.  This could be like the lip dub above or to podcasts that were created using JING about classroom content to be watched outside of class.  It could even go to a TED talk if you can't find what you are looking for on YouTube (is that even possible?).
So you have your QR code, now what?  Well you want to scan it with your smartphone to see if it works (always make sure it works before posting it!!).  Each company has their own free app that can be downloaded from their particular web store.  I am a Blackberry user (hey they used to be good), so QR Code Scanner Pro is the best app.  As for Android and iPhone you will need to consult someone lucky enough to have that device (just ask your students.  They know the best apps to use).  Once you open the app it will access your camera to scan the code and Voila!

The above were created in a five minute brainstorming session over lunch.  How can you see QR codes being used in your classroom?

Here are some other resources for your consideration:

21 February 2012

Day Fourteen: WeVideo

Wevideo is similar to Windows Moviemaker, however, wevideo is cloud based and allows you to access your videos from any computer. Wevideo also gives you the ability to work collaboratively on a video. Wevideo has many more graphics and effects that you can add to your video to make it more entertaining. Wevideo provides you with a movie editor where you can upload your pictures
to the site, drag and drop them into the editor, and add transitions, graphics, text boxes, music, and much more.

Finished videos can be exported to YouTube or any other media outlet (twitter, etc.) and published. Students in Middletown can login directly with their Google accounts or a free account can be created. In order to collaborate, you must invite someone to work on the project. This can be found in the dashboard section. In order for you to view student created videos, the student must invite you to collaborate on the project or the student must export it to Youtube, publish it, and share the link with you.

Wevideo can be accessed directly from www.wevideo.com or it can be accessed through Youtube. If you go to www.youtube.com/create, there is an option to create a video using wevideo. Using youtube.com/create, you are given the same options as wevideo.com, however, you can publish your video directly to Youtube from this site (the publish option is in the top right hand corner). Videos that have been exported from Wevideo, but have not yet been published, will appear on your dashboard and you will have the option to publish them to Youtube. The students, as well as teachers, have their own Youtube channels through their Google accounts. You can access this channel two ways: 1. from the Google homepage, go to more, then even more, and click on Youtube and 2. if you are signed into Google, you can go to youtube.com/create and you are automatically logged in.


Dashboard Overview:

Student Example on the Boston Tea Party!

19 February 2012

Weekend Update 3

It has been a very impressive month for the Middletown Web Challenge Blog.  Not only have some great tools been posted through the collaboration of the Technology Integration Teams, but the overwhelming support from the staff has been phenomenal.  As we have done the past 2 weekends, here are some of the statistics:

Total Number of Page Views:  4180
Total Number of Comments:  301
Average Number of Views Per Post:  278.7
Web Tool With the Most Comments:  Blogger (51 comments)
Number of Continents Viewing Blog:  4

We are slightly more than halfway through the challenge and we are looking for an even more impressive 2nd half.  Coming soon will be posts on Google Apps, Twitter, WeVideo and much more.  Please continue to view and comment on everything you are learning.  Remember that every comment you make will enter you into the contest to win the very special prize at the end.  You know, it's about time we stop beating around the bush and just tell you what you can win.  Dr. George has purchased a beautiful, brand new...
But, as they say "You must be in it to win it!" so keep those comments coming.  Now, a word from our sponsors.

Archipelago Learning just signed on as one of our sponsors and some of their products will be given away as prizes at the end of the Web Challenge.  Archipelago brings us such great programs as Study Island, and Northstar Learning.  These programs provide in-depth and varied methods for practice and assessment in different levels of learning for both math and English classrooms.  Focused on a standards-based approach to assessment, Study Island helps students tailor their guided practice around topics and skills that will help them be successful both in class and on state standardized tests like the NJASK and HSPA.  From their website 

"Since 2000, Study Island, from Archipelago Learning, has been building and marketing online, state standards-based learning programs that are the most effective and easiest to use of their kind. Our in-house technical development and content teams design and create our programs, which are then sold to schools on a subscription basis through our direct sales force. Used by millions of students in thousands of schools across the United States, all of our programs are built specifically from state standards and are designed to create a very user-friendly experience for both students and teachers alike."

We greatly appreciate the support of Archipelago Learning in the advancement of learning for both students and staff in Middletown!

17 February 2012

Day Thirteen: Podcasting/Screencasting

A lot of the tools and techniques I use in the classroom come from solving little problems that stand in the way of fluid lessons.  You have all had this situation as well:  you go through a lesson and everything seems perfect--students are actively engaged, they are asking good questions, and they are able to answer all of your questions.  The next day you put up the DO NOW and you are met with blank stares and comments like "we never learned this."  It is almost like someone erased their minds while they slept.  One day I asked the class what happened and one of my better students said, "Well, we understand when we are here, but then we go home and we don't remember how you solved the problem.  It would be great if you could videotape the example problem and post it on your website."  Then the light bulb clicked on!  If I could find a way to record what I was doing and post short (less than 5 minutes) example problems I could not only give the students a way to review the material that night after school and right before the test.  Now to figure out how to do it.

There are a lot of ways to do a podcast.  You can create a podcast that contains only audio using a program like Audacity.  These would be great in a foreign language class where the students can listen to the vocabulary and pronunciation of words and don't need a visual reference.  However, for my class I like to record video and audio because I use them as instruction so I need a slightly more sophisticated program.  A great online screencasting (program that captures images from your computer screen) is Screencast-o-matic.  Here's a short demo video on how it works (basically a screencast on how to make a screencast):
If you follow the link above to Screencast-o-matic's site, you will see they have both a free version and a Pro version.  In the free version you are limited to 15 minute recordings and require you to download the video to your computer which you could upload to a website later.  The Pro version (which of course costs money) allows for online storage on their site and basically gives you a channel to show your videos from similar to YouTube.  However, YouTube is accessible on most cell phones and even allows for downloads on iPhones which the others do not.

Now I want to showcase the product of one of sponsors, TechSmith.  No, I am not just showing this because they are our sponsor.  JING is a wonderful tool that is so unbelievably simple to use.  Here is a video demonstrating that.
What I love about JING is it downloads to your desktop so that with a quick click of a button you are recording everything that happens on your screen.  It can capture your voice from a microphone, but does not allow you to import music in the free version.  In the free version you are also limited to 5 minute videos. However, in the Pro version, a lot more resources are accessible to you including editing and uploading mp3 tracks.  TechSmith also saves all of your videos to www.screencast.com which, again, is free, but has some limitations as to how many files and what size you can store there.  But, for less than $100, you can get your own site through Screencast.com.  I actually upload my podcasts there as well as YouTube because there is an iTunes feed from Screencast.com.  I submitted the site to the iTunes Store and all of my podcasts are available for download through iTunes (yes, they're free!).  My students can now download them to their computer or mp3 player and watch my any time of the day.  I have even had some say they watched whole lessons on the bus ride into school on the day of a test.

So, as always, the question becomes "How are you going to use Podcasting/Screencasting in your classroom?"

Here are some general links to get your brain turning:
Mr. Seigel's YouTube Channel
Ideas for Podcasting in the Classroom
Integrating Podcasting into the Classroom
Podcasting in Plain English

Oh, and if you have an iPad, check out Educreations and ScreenChomp for great screencasting software.

16 February 2012

Day Twelve: Evernote

The Evernote family of products includes Evernote, Skitch, Hello, Food, Clearly, Peek (iPad only).

These product tutorials are for the Evernote product itself (in which ideas, projects and experiences can be remembered across all the computers, phones and tablets you use).

Evernote is a tool that can be used for simple recording notes as well as complex organization of  notes using multimedia. I use Evernote to quickly collect ideas, organize ideas into projects and cite sources. Evernote can be customized to the way you work - create notes, attach documents, save pictures, record audio and even video.

This is a new site just for students and educators using Evernote.

Evernote tutorials are available at Evernote Tutorials and include videos! Also check out the Evernote Trunk which includes explanations and links for Skitch, Evernote with Twitter, and Evernote Hello which creates Evernote profiles using your phone so you never forget important details of people you meet.

Quick Evernote for Mac intro

Quick Evernote for Windows intro

Evernote for iPad Overview--Play Video

Evernote for iPhone and iPod Touch--Play Video

Evernote for Android--Play video

A tips and tricks blog can be found at Evernote Tumblr and is a good resource for practical solutions using Everynote.

More resources (and experiences) from other sources on Evernote are:
JD's Picks  Evernote Tutorial Saturday, January 21, 2012
--Evernote Tutorial Video

Why I Love Evernote: The Student Perspective

Evernote for Blogging

Evernote for students

Evernote for the iPad