Sunday, June 24, 2012

Googling for all it's worth...

Unlike my students, I remember the first time I had ever heard of the web phenomenon of "Google" and when I was a student, it was only a search engine. With the lofty goal of "organiz(ing) the world’s information and mak(ing) it universally accessible and useful," Google has become so much more for this generation of students. 

My question for you is this: Are you using Google for all it's worth? 

I have two separate Google accounts, one of which many people do not realize is available. I have a traditional Google account linked to my Gmail address that I use for this blog, a Google + account, and various other personal uses. I also have an account without email privileges that is linked to my school domain email address. Many of my fellow educators did not even realize that this was possible until the Technology Department at our school started setting them up for interested parties. With this login, I can create all sorts of resources linked to my school address and with all of the resources that come with it.

Here are some things to consider trying with your Google login:

Google hosts free websites. If you ever considered running a class website, Google is a really easy way to jump in and try things out. Each Google website is free and has available templates for less experienced users. These sites are also seamlessly linked to your other Google resources. Once a teacher or student is logged in with their account, they can leave comments, download resources or even edit the site itself if you grant permissions to them.

Google hosts free blogs. Blogger is Google's blog-hosting site and it is totally free. It is also linked to all other Google resources, so once you have logged into your site or Gmail, you are also logged in for Blogger. Depending on the comfort level of the user, a beginner can set up a full template with little customization and simply enter text, or more experienced users can add art, gadgets and HTML code for a fully personalized look and functionality.

Google is great for sharing. Whether you upload documents for sharing through Google Docs or you create a class network in Google +, there is no easier way to compile all the resources needed for collaborative teaching with students and colleagues. Instead of sending students to various sites for viewing pictures, videos, documents and other resources, connecting sites and networks through Google takes away much of the legwork.

Google makes basic functions easy and interconnected. Through your Gmail or regular Google account, you can set up calendars, task lists, events and reminders. This may seem like something elementary that is offered by many email providers, but again, the key with Google is the interconnected nature of the functions. Google is also designed to be very compatible with mobile devices, particularly Android devices. This means that events, calendars and reminders from your Google account can come through your smartphone and several apps, such as Twitter and Facebook.

Google hangouts connect students. With Google's video chat product, students can connect anytime, anywhere. Particularly in schools like ours where students are often geographically separated, it makes collaboration much easier. Students can also hold their meetings in an environment that is conducive to the assignment and with their materials readily available rather than at a library table or in the classroom.

The cloud is the way of the future. Everyone has experienced that crippling fear of losing a document, disc, thumb drive, etc. With cloud computing, documents, music files, pictures, and presentations can be stored in huge allotments of memory space through Google. When files are backed up on the cloud, they are available to users on any internet-connected computer and are safely stored on Google servers.

Most of us have Google accounts already, so make sure that you are using it to its fullest potential!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Some Web Tools to Try

Between working diligently on our upcoming PAIS Tech Boot Camp website and following my blogs and Twitter feeds, I have come across quite a few new web tools that are worth a look. You may be surprised at the variety of uses for some of these sites!

1. allows users to create quick, user-friendly video slideshows from still pictures. One of the benefits of the site is that the videos are designed to be easily shared on the web. There are many ways to create a video slideshow, but few are as easy to create, embed and share than

2. TweetDeck

TweetDeck is a service provided by Twitter that organizes feeds, surfs multiple accounts and schedules tweets, among other capabilities. If you find that you have more than one Twitter handle or if you just want to sort your feed into different categories, TweetDeck simplifies the process and sorts tweets into one easy-to-navigate screen. Finally, you can prewrite tweets and schedule their release over time. 

3. Prezi

Sure, PowerPoints are a great way to present information to a group. If you are skilled with it, you can even add animations, video clips and sound. Prezi is a web service that creates more dynamic presentations without traditional slides. The basic service is free, but for additional server space and privacy capabilities, users must upgrade to paid service.

4. EasyBib

If there is one thing more difficult than researching a topic and writing a paper about it, it's navigating all the citation styles and rules to create a bibliography.  EasyBib is a web-based service that allows students to create movable and sortable notecards based on their research, then it automatically generates a bibliography based on citation information entered one time. It has tons of capabilities, but it is often worth a try just for the citations and notecards alone.

5. Screenr

Getting excited about the flipped classroom trend? One of the most expensive and time-intensive parts of learning to flip is purchasing and mastering the Camtasia Studio software. As much as I love the software and its capabilities, first-time flippers can experiment with a free online tool called Screenr. There are some limitations to Screenr, but it's perfect for new and occasional flippers.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Student Blogging

As the year winds down here and we teachers are counting down to our long-awaited break, there are many meetings and workshops.  Today was also the day for our Personalized Professional Development groups to share their findings and present their ideas to the faculty.  One of the presentations today described projects in all three divisions - lower, middle and upper school - to introduce students to blogging.

Since blogging is obviously of particular interest to me, I thought it was worthwhile to share some ideas for student blogging.  The observation across the board from teachers of children of all ages was that students loved to see their work published online.  After listening to the presentation of my colleagues and reflecting on the idea, I have listed the following benefits of blog-published student writing:

1.  Students can share their work with anyone.

When their work is published online, it can be easily viewed by friends and family anywhere in the world.  You can even link to student work on websites, social networking tools or even with QR codes, as mentioned in a previous post.  It can also be easily included in a digital portfolio of work that spans a student's entire education.  On several occasions, I have had to move the giant plastic bins of work that my mom saved over the years and, let me tell you, a digital portfolio is a good idea...

2.  Students can made editions and changes over time.

When it comes to digital writing and publishing, there really is no such thing as a final draft.  Blog entries are a great way to add and modify information over time, particularly with research or reflective journal writing.

3.  Other students and readers can comment and interact.

Throughout my high school and college careers, my written work was generally viewed only by me and my teacher/professor.  The only feedback I ever received on my ideas was from the individual who graded it.  Professors were just beginning to experiment with online forums and closed network sites when I was in college.  The potential, however, for collaboration and exchange of ideas with blogging is exciting, particularly for students who struggle with writing.  In a truly collaborative environment, students can discuss with others and tease out ideas before committing them to a draft.

4.  Students can be constantly connected with their work.

There is no knowing when the best ideas will strike you.  As we move into an age with smart phones and other internet-connected devices, students are more likely to have their mobile device with them at all times than their notebooks and computers.  With simple list-making, calendar and blogging apps, students can track ideas, manage their time and merge changes with more ease. 

5.  It's worth a try.

Particularly with reading and writing, it is worth trying many different methods, genres and types of experiences to see which one "sticks."  We have all seen reluctant readers finally connect with some kind of text, and blog writing could be the kind of writing that really reaches a reluctant writer.  It won't work for everyone, but it's worth a shot.  Setting up a custom blog for your class is free and easy, so give it a whirl! 

Friday, June 8, 2012

Oh, so that's how Twitter works...

My newest education/technology/science/teacher obsession is Twitter.  I announced a few days ago that I had finally joined the social networking site and that I was still trying to figure out its role in my online networking.  My realization over the past few weeks has been this:  Facebook is for keeping up with people you know, Twitter is for keeping up with people you don't.

Since joining Twitter, I have found dozens of like-minded educators that are just looking to learn and share.  I have been exhilarated to see my posts retweeted by NPR's Fresh Air and Science WoRx.  I have even had a few shout-outs from educators all over the country who are discovering me amongst the hashtags and checking out this blog. 

If you are a teacher blogger or if you are just looking to gather new ideas, it is really worthwhile to hop onto Twitter and connect with some educators.  Just to share my enthusiasm, I thought I would post some hashtag and handle shout-outs for anyone interested, as well as some of my gloriously exciting retweets: 

A warm welcome from Science WoRx, an online resource for science education:

It was a little silly how excited I was when this happened:

Some awesome Twitter users to follow:

@nprfreshair  (NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross)
@scienceworx  (website for teachers to connect with real scientists)
@edtweeps (a feed about educational technology)
@ScienceChannel (a feed for cable TV channel)
@21stCenturyTch (online community for 21st century tech educators)
@daveandcori (a feed by educational technology blogger David Andrade)
@edutopia (website dedicated to teachers and "what works in education")
@WoodlyndeSpence (me!!)

Some handy hashtags to check out:

#edtech (educational technology)
#teachers (no explanation needed...)
#flipclass (posts related to flipped classroom teaching)
#summerreading (see what other teachers are reading this summer)
#edchat (teachers who chat through Twitter on a regular basis)
#PAISTechies (new hashtag we created for our upcoming PAIS Tech Boot Camp)
#iste12 (International Society for Technology in Education; their big conference in San Diego is right around the corner, so they have been posting quite a bit lately)

Get out there and enjoy!!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Le 6 Juin 1944

Today marks the 68th anniversary of the D-Day landings on the beaches of Normandy.  To honor the occasion, I thought I would share a few of my own personal photographs and reflections, as well as some excellent web sources for teaching.

Back in 2009, my husband and I went on a cruise of the Baltic Sea and English Channel for our honeymoon.  Along the way, we stopped in Cherbourg, France and went on a tour of several WWII sites.  Needless to say, the experience was sobering, but incredibly moving and showed the unity between the Allied nations that persists to this day.

At Utah Beach as we visited the monuments, I was immediately reminded of my high school French teacher.  Aside from his enthusiasm for all things French, he taught the language through historical and cultural lessons that I remember to this day.  He always spoke to us in French and most of the idioms and phrases that I recall were because of this practice.  He always referred to D-Day by the date in French, le six juin mille neuf-cent quarante-quatre, and that date is still my frame of reference for remembering calendar dates in French. 

I took this picture of the monument in front of the Visitors' Center for my French teacher:

Paradoxically, of all the places I have visited in my life, Utah Beach was one of the most beautiful despite its history.  There were a handful of people combing the beach for shells and sitting on blankets just looking out over the water.  Just as always happens, people and nature had reclaimed the site, but there was still a level of unspoken respect for what had occurred there.  People were few and far between on the beach itself, and those who were there were engaged not in sunbathing or swimming, but more quiet and contemplative activities.

Unlike many American battlefields that I have visited, there were very few cameras and binoculars and no guided tours or gift shops.  It seemed that at this particular beach, the monuments were erected and the beaches maintained so that visitors could reflect in their own quiet way.  Perhaps as time passes it will become more like the Gettysburg and Valley Forge sites that I have visited, but it seems like maybe WWII is still too young, too close.

We visited Sainte-Mere-Eglise next, the site of one of the lesser known stories of D-Day.  Technically the first town liberated from Nazi control by Allied forces, Sainte-Mere-Eglise flies both the American flag and the French flag in front of public buildings, businesses and homes.  The Airborne Museum in the center of town pays tribute to the parachuters who were able to defeat German forces despite heavy losses.  American soldier John Steele, who hung the church steeple caught in his parachute and open to German fire for over two hours, has become a local hero and icon.  Today, a white parachute hangs in the same spot in remembrance.

It could be the distraction of other important news events that occurred today, but I was surprised by how infrequently the D-Day anniversary was mentioned on my Facebook and Twitter feeds today.  By retelling these personal stories and exploring some of the resources below, I would be proud if my students also remembered the date and events of D-Day later on.  Even if they remember the date in English...

PBS D-Day Film and Teacher Resources

National WWII Museum D-Day Site and Resources

D-Day Primary Sources from the National Archives

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

"There must be something in books..."

"There must be something in books, things we can't imagine, to make a woman stay in a burning house; there must be something there.  You don't stay for nothing."  - Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

Earlier this morning, Ray Bradbury, author of Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles passed away in Los Angeles at 91.  Aside from his obvious significance as the author of one of the classic American novels, Bradbury's work was of particular importance to me and my class this year.

A few weeks ago, our class completed a unit of short stories.  I had several short stories that had been used before by other teachers, but I decided that I really wanted to explore some stories by more famous authors and I felt my students were up to the challenge.  By pure coincidence, I came across Bradbury's A Sound of Thunder, the famous cautionary tale about the butterfly effect.  Something about the story grabbed my attention and I just had a feeling that the kids would like it.

As we read through the first few pages, the kids were silent.  We had to stop a page or two before the ending and the kids lost it...

We can't stop!  It's almost over!  I need to find out what happens!

I wish this wasn't a short story - I wish it was a whole book!

They finished the story at home and were buzzing the next day talking about what they had read.  We have read several great books this year, but this was the most enthusiastic response by far.  In class, students then wrote their own short stories about traveling back in time, changing one tiny detail, and how it affected the future.  The stories that they created were awesome.

Because they enjoyed the story so much, I told them about the author and that his most famous book was called Fahrenheit 451.  I told them that they were probably a little too young for it now, but that many students read it in high school literature classes.  Just as they were visibly excited in anticipation of Laurie Halse Anderson's sequel to Forge coming in the fall, they were actually looking forward to a future literary experience.  As an avid reader and educator, there is nothing more gratifying than seeing pure "book joy" in a student's eyes.

Whether or not you or your students have or will connect with a Bradbury story the way that we did in our little class, the message about literature is clear.  No matter which book or story reaches you the way this one did for us, "there must be something in books..."

Monday, June 4, 2012

World Wonders Project

Field trips are great, but some are just plain impossible.  The new World Wonders Project from Google uses its street-level satellite imaging technology to bring real and interactive photographs of world wonders into your classroom. 

Each site can be moved and manipulated just like their street-view satellite maps, but the images are presented in a software frame that also links up with videos and text about the site.  Below is an image of the user-friendly software featuring their resources for Stonehenge.

On the right-side toolbar, teachers and students can access videos, information and even 3D models of the site and place it on a map of surrounding terrain.  There are also special links and resources for teachers on the Education tab in the upper-right corner. 

I have only started to play with this software and Google is still working on adding more natural and historic sites to the database.  There is so much potential, however, for kids to see the world right from your classroom, so check it out!

No time to read blogs?

Maybe you can make time to listen to them!  Teaching Blog Addict (TBA) has launched its own radio station through!

TBA is a collaborative blog written by several teachers in the blogosphere.  Most of their posts feature early elementary level strategies, but I find that it is still worth a look most days.  They post very frequently and even offer some digital freebies from time to time.

Their blog radio station features several recorded episodes that can be accessed any time.  Check it out!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Now on Twitter...

Up until recently, I did not understand the appeal of Twitter and to a certain extent, I still don't.  It seemed the same as a Facebook status update and I use Facebook just plenty.  I still don't have any interest in following celebrities or my friends on Twitter, but wow, is it awesome for education!

Now that I am excitedly planning our new Tech Boot Camp initiative with a few colleagues (post and announcement coming soon), we created a hashtag for the project on Twitter.  It was finally time - I had to sign up.  I decided to create an account just for my educational purposes and post a few test tweets about the project. 

When you start your Twitter account, it asks you to start by following a few other users and that opened the floodgates for me.  I knew that many interesting organizations were on Twitter, but I hadn't realized just how many and how useful the information would be.  Within a few hours, I was following dozens of educational foundations, teacher bloggers, technology sites, science resources and other organizations.

Each day when I check my feed, I have hundreds of tweets about projects, links, resources and ideas from educators and techies from all over the country.  I even had a national education foundation follow me and check out this blog! 

If you're new to the whole Twitter phenomenon like me or if you have resisted joining altogether, I highly recommend that you start a professional account for educational resources.  If you are like me, you are not at all interested in following movie stars or reality TV personalities, but there is just too much good stuff out there to miss for teachers!  Try it out!