Friday, May 31, 2013

From the Archives: CLEAR RIA tools

Since it is the end of the year and crazier than ever, my next three posts will be about CLEAR RIA tools...

As a foreign language teacher, I am often introduced to tools and techniques at conferences that are not normally shared with teachers outside of the foreign language realm.  Some of the tools available are really fantastic for the language teacher, but, those outside the language box can also benefit from the tools.  Michigan State University's CLEAR (Center for Language Education and Research) is one such place.  CLEAR has a large assortment of what they cal RIA tools which are awesome ways to have students complete oral and video tasks.  I am going to take the next few blog posts to talk about the tools I use in my classroom and some of the advantages of them.  Check out the site, especially if you teach classes that require students to interact, respond and do speaking or video tasks.  The site also allows you to link to YouTube, TeacherTube and SchoolTube videos or upload your own.  They can be modified to meet your needs in the classroom.

The first thing to do, is take a look at the CLEAR site and look at some of the options available.   The site to check, is the RIA site.  These are Rich Internet Activities.  I use them at least twice a week, especially the audio dropbox.  The tools can be embedded into a website, including Edmodo.

There are also webinars and white papers.  Some of them are not for everyone, a majority are geared primarily for the language teacher, but something there might be of interest to a different content area. There are assessment tools, a quiz break, just to name a few.  Look around the site, I will be posting about some of the cool RIA tools in the next few posts.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Suggestions for 1:1 End of Year

Wow... all I can say about the end of the year is WOW and I can never be prepared for it.  We are a 1:1 school, and for those of you considering becoming one, let me share with you some things I have learned to make the collection process better.

First of all, we started with bar code labels on our devices and relying on those to tag the device.  BAD IDEA... buy silver sharpies and identify the device in several places, on the bottom, on the top by the keyboard and under the battery. The regular wear and tear does not hold the labels on and kids pick at labels.

Secondly, take the time to inspect every device.  When kids bring it back, have them turn it on and show you there are no cracks and issues with the screen.  Last year, we had about 15 devices come back the last day with cracks and broken screens.  The kids weren't available to tell us in detail how and why they broke.  Now, we got smarter.  We developed a very detailed form that identifies the problem with the device (could be as simple as a missing key or as bad as a crushed screen).  This form is stored with the device.  We check them all, make them fill out the form and the meet with an administrator as soon as available to discuss the issue. This form has helped us determine the dedictible.  We have discovered kids and families are pretty good about paying the fees as well.

Third, sort everything.  We have a broken keyboard table, a fine device table, a table for insurance.  When devices come in, they are sorted immediately so our tech people can just grab and go.  The keyboards are easy to fix, so the tech guys work on those when they have a chance. We fill out a form for any lost cord and it is sent to the administration and a bill is sent to families. I also add that as a fine in the library management system so everyone on staff is aware.

Finally, label everything.  Kids lose chargers.  So, after a year of kids coming in without a charger or with broken parts, we decided every part is an asset and will be included in the catalog.  I may have a slew of extra items in the collection, but, kids are held accountable based on their numbers and it works.

These ideas worked for us, perhaps something here can help another district going 1:1.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Did you know this about Google?

I consider myself pretty tech savvy and I consider myself a pretty good researcher but sometimes a site I use often makes a change and it makes it hard to go back to somewhere I was prior. The Indiana DOE site went through a lot of changes over the years and often I came across a document I needed and couldn't find it again because the bookmark had changed.  Google has a fix for that.

If one wants to find something from a specific site, typing the information in the query box along with a specifications formula will bring back the documents from that specific site that one was looking for.  Here is an example: hoosier reader site:  click go and your results should be specific.

I am thinking this has the potential of being a good 10 minute staff pd on a tech Tuesday.  A lot of colleagues would save time doing their searches that way.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Google searching tips part one

Being a school library media specialist, I often have a cringe cross over me when a student is told to just google something and go with it.  Using google is the common go to method for research and often it is done incorrectly.   Knowing how to google right might take that cringe away from me.

First off... site searches. Google allows users to input a specific site format in the query box. Instead of getting back all of the sites from .com to .gov, I can specify in the query box what site type I want. If students have to Google for their information, guiding them to use the site specific search makes it a little better. Here's how it works:  in the query box, type site: [site type] and the keywords.  Let's look at an example:  I want to know about educational technology and organizations that deal with it.  So... site: .org educational technology. Click go and the return are just articles and sites with .org in them that relate to the specific topic.

The same goes for file type. Often, when I teach French class I want to find a document to use as a reference or find something in creative commons for the kids to use as an additional tool. By doing a filetype query,  I can get documents back that aren't a mix match of things. Here are some examples:  in the query box type filetype: [format of choice] and the item.  It looks like this: filetype PDF French er verb handout. The results that jet back will only be in PDF format.

I have decided my goal as an LMS is to guide kids to look for items in Google the right way and not just generally.  I think my cringe will go away if students are guided to google in the right direction.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Why twitter is a good form of PD

For the last few years, I have heard numerous colleagues mention that twitter is the new PD.  It got me thinking about the reality of this and much fact can be found in the statement.  Twitter is the best form of Professional Development in so many ways.

I have quickly become a twitter-a-holic checking the stream several times a day, finding articles of interest, adding them to pocket or flipboard and referring to them for my blog posts, my staff trainings as well as my personal training.  I have learned so much from the PLN and others who are out there joining in the chats.  The professional development I have gained exceeds what I have paid for.  I attend a lot of conferences and PD.  Our school has a weekly PD where we cover various topics necessary for our classrooms.  While it is a good way to learn from our co-workers, I think learning from others in other places is also a great help. It shows us we are not alone.  I am the only French teacher in my school. Often, I don't have someone with whom I can collaborate and share ideas.  My French PLN is like PD everyday.  I am also the only librarian in my school and while I have a lot of local librarian colleagues, chatting via twitter with others is a great learning experience.  I have met so many wonderful people dealing with similar situations as me.  

Twitter as a PD is a tool everyone in education should try.  I recommended to some of my colleagues to join twitter just to learn from others.  I told them they don't have to tweet, they can just follow. A few have started and have reported back the cool things they are learning.   I have managed to learn about content, commom core, web 2.0 tools, authors, books, library science, my library software, screencasting, flipping a class, just to name a few.  It doesn't take much time.  Just a few minutes a day can provide anyone with a plethora of information that can benefit the educational environment. 

 I LOVE twitter and if we could convince every educator, administrator and school board member to take a peek, I think our educational world would be a very different place.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Why I love Google Chrome

My family and I used to use Firefox as our primary browser, but we encountered some issues with playing games and videos.  Even with flash, nothing cooperated, so we decided to download Chrome and use that as our browser and we will never go back.  (Except with my library software... not sure why, but Chrome doesn't like Follett as well.)

The Chrome platform is very customizable, which I like. You can log in to your browser and your tabs and links can go with you.  You can also open multi browsers for different users.  It also has the capabilities of personalizing the theme.

One component I absolutely tickled pink about is the apps!  It is wonderful to be able to have instant access to the sites I use often.   Adding them is easy- Click on the chrome store and it opens a place to gets a slew of apps to add.   It is so nice to just click and not have to type.   

There are also extenstions you can add to your browser.  As you work, you can click the necessary things and voila, task completed. I have added,, pocket, and picmonkey.  I have just gotten started.  I anticipate adding more extentions and apps after I investigate what is out there.  (Gotta have a little summer time to experiment.)

The downside, our school filters content and if a student has logged into Chrome to go between devices, the filters shut off and kids can get to things they aren't supposed to get to.  Youtube, for example works on Chrome and no other platform.  (*If anyone knows how to fix that without making Chrome blocked, we would like to hear from you.)

I also like how the bookmarks can be right on the toolbar.  Nice way to go fast somewhere.  Google Chrome has made things easier for me to do.   I like it a lot.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Using an LMS in your class

I recently had the opportunity to attend a webinar hosted on and presented by Gail Palumbo.  She shared with the viewers a lot of information about LMS (Learning Management Systems) and how schools are using them in their web environments to expand learning.   I really wanted to investigate some of these tools more to see if there is a platform I prefer over the other.  First of all, let's talk about what an LMS is.  It is a platform online or via server that provides learners with a virtual classroom setting.  There are ways to upload documents, video, calendars, share files and links and collaborate.  A few you may know are Edmodo, Blackboard, My Big Campus and even moodle.  The platforms vary by how they work, but, all in all, they accomplish the same thing: Structure, organization and accountability.  Some of these platforms have built in quizzes and grading systems.  Some link directly to a lot of school based data software such as Powerschool, SDS and the like. The programs make it so much easier to accomplish some of the many things that need to be done in the classroom.

Being in a 1:1 environment, I think having some sort of LMS is important to being successful.  Deciding on a unified program can be good or bad.  Some teachers have different needs with their platform, so forcing everyone to use the exact same platform might not be best for everyone.  On the other hand (let's play devil's advocate here) having everyone on board can allow cross collaboration, paired lessons and potentially make it easier on the kids. (I say this because each one has a different way of getting kids online, each one has a different access code.  That can really overwhelm a kid.)  I hooked our staff up on Edmodo a few years back and a few of them continue using it.  I have also looked at a few other platforms that are free to create classroom settings.

The conversation about LMS is a big one.  There are a lot of them out there.  The key is to choose something you think you can use with students and staff to establish some collaboration.  Here are a few to peruse and try out.  There might be one there that strikes your fancy.

1. Collaborize Classroom:  free platform with a topic library featuring curriculum ideas.  Also has an app to use on an iOS device.
2. Edmodo:  Free, features an app (but I really prefer the web based.) Also has a very strong community with a lot of ideas and curriculum from the many subscribers.  A lot of people share things here.  There is also a capability to create a district account.
3. My Big Campus:  Free to use, online chat help to solve problems.  Good forum and also an app.  Downside, without access to a Lightspeed server, you don't have as much space so adding video and larger files is not a possibility.
4.  Schoology:  Free for teachers.  Good for online courses.  Worth looking at. (I haven't spent a lot of time checking this one out.)
5. Haiku:  I am not really super versed in this one, I saw someone comment about it on a chat once and it looks pretty good.  The person raved about it.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

My blogging rationale

Well readers, it has been almost a year since I started die hard blogging.   I am not a daily blogger.  I have tried to post something twice a week but sometimes, I get too busy.  Sometimes, I need to take a few weeks of a mental break to experiment with sites.  I think that is the key to my success doing this;  The key to my continual dedication to this.
I don't have a large following, but I do have several people who stop in and see what I am sharing.   I think the reason I keep doing this is because people do care what I talk about. People are learning new things and utilizing the things I share in their lives.  That makes me feel good.
It's hard to keep up with it sometimes.  My key to success is organization.  I spend a lot of time investigating and planning my posts.  I have decided that I am going to share some of my strategies because if I can be a blogger, anyone can be a blogger.  Here is the secret of my success:

  1. Calendar:  I keep a small calendar in my purse where I organize all of my posts.  I spent a day over the summer deciding three months (that's two a week for three months) worth of posts and I found that when I had them in front of me, I actually got them done and thinking about them a little in advance made me actually try the tool a little but.   I kept at that idea with the next three months and keep at it.  I think I am going to expand it to using google calendar/ tasks where I can get rid of my second step as well as the calendar in my purse. 
  2. Small notebook: When I attend a conference, do a PD or even when I am working on something and something strikes my fancy, I take some notes.  I write the name of the tool, jot down some things I can see myself do with it and other things I may need to refer to.   I always carry this with me in my purse.  It has loads of little tidbits of information.
  3. People to test stuff:  I come in to class sometimes with all of these brilliant ideas and I sometimes ask my students to help my test a tool.  I always make sure it is relevent to what we are doing.  I ask them for a quick feel of the tool.  Did you like this one?  Why? What else can you see us do with it? I get a lot of positive feedback from my students.  Sometimes I get negative.  I take that experience and share it with my readers.
  4. A curation site:  I curate a lot of web 2.0 tools.  I use pocket and the most because they both have a little button to add to chrome that I can click while I am on a site.  I also have pocket added on my phone so as I pin or read or tweet, I add the sites of interest to pocket and voila, I don't forget it. 
  5. A little bit of time and quiet:  I often spend time writing my posts on the weekend while kids are at friend's houses or while I am alone in the library,  Occasionally, I have a day where I get to school early or have to stay late and I can actually blog then.  Sometimes the library has a dry spell and I can blog.  It doesn't take me hours to create a post; my organizing tools have helped me be more effecient.
  6. A willingness to attend conferences, edcamps, etc: I attend and participate in a lot of things related to tech.  I think on average, I attend one webinar a week.  (Most are 30 minutes but that amount of time can provide a plethora of information).  I also do as many virtual conferences, archives, blog readings as I can.  I am a swim mom.  My kids are at the pool for one and a half hour a night.  The pool is wireless.  I do things while they practice.  I realize many don't have a situation such as mine, but, even finding 30 minutes a week to do archives of webinars will teach you something.  I also try to go to local conferences and edcamps.  A lot of schools in Indiana are starting to do 1:1 programs and they are always having one day programs to share with others what they are doing.  I have gotten a lot of good ideas from those too. 
I am not sure if blogging is for you.  I have found that it gives me an outlet to share things I know and do with others. It is a way I can feel accomplished.  Remember, if I can do it, anyone can.