Friday, August 30, 2013

How I am and became a Connected Educator

The term connected educator has been hopping around the edusphere a lot lately.  Teachers of all grade levels, librarians and even professors are jumping on board and becoming connected.   What is it?  What does it look like to be a connected educator? It is what you make it!

Connected educators are open minded about using technology.  They collaborate, build a personal learning network (PLN) and attend conferences regarding tech.  They tweet, use social media, create blogs and do lessons with co-workers.  Connected educators are "CONNECTED" to the world around them through social media and technology; Period.   I am a connected educator, and here is how.

Several years ago, I was scared to tweet.  I was afraid of sounding stupid, looking like a fool and maybe appear unaware of things.  I started my first account and started following a few people a friend of mine recommended. I spent my first month on twitter stalking people.  I occasionally would say something, but not often.  After a bit, I got more daring.  I started attending a chat session. I chose #edchat by a fluke as one of the people I followed was doing it one day and I started joining in.  I felt so rewarded, seeing people in my profession have the same issues, concerns and questions I had.

I began to grow my PLN.  I started following librarians, edtech people, and authors. (I follow authors for book updates, information about what they are thinking and because some of them write the best tweets ever!)  After awhile, I started tweeting about all kinds of things: tools for web 2.0, ideas, book chats with librarians.  I have connected with some fantastic people and I have learned more from them than I will ever learn from a staff development and I am sure someone has learned something from me.

I started implementing tools into my classroom and the library.  I started organizing my thoughts on these products and started sharing the thoughts with others, that is how I started my blog. I started joining different sites that connect teachers and offer webinars and lessons. I have been asked by a few to do webinars and lessons (Due to my schedule, it hasn't worked, but I anticipate some of my lessons popping out into the net someday). I attend edcamps and tech conferences.  I chat with edtech people, and I have learned it's okay to ask questions.  I don't have to know everything.  I just have to make an attempt to try something new.

This school year, I am going to attempt to make some co-workers a little connected by offering Tech Tuesdays each week. I plan to teach twitter, google+, and Facebook.  I hope to show them the power these tools can have with them professionally. I also decided to do mini web lessons (the flipped model) for those who want to attend a Tech Tuesday but aren't available.

Hopefully, my attempts will encourage someone from my school to realize how awesome it is to be Connected.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Free PDF Converter

Last summer, I received a comment on my post to check out this free site that converts documents from PDF to PowerPoint or Doc with just a quick upload and email.  I saved the information until I was ready to delve into it and now is that time. Here is where you can find Free PDF to PowerPoint Converter

I really didn't think how often something like this could be used until I checked out the site.  I never thought about how functional it would be.  I get PDFs to refer to all of the time.  Sometimes, my coworkers send out a PDF that needs edited.  I have to usually retype the document to make it work.  Not anymore.  With this site, I simply upload the PDF to their site, add my email and it arrives to me as a doc or ppt file.  Simple as that.  And, as the name says, it is FREE!  That is even better.  One glitch I came across, you can't upload a file that was scanned.  It has to be a document that was created as a PDF originally. (Ex: someone made a file in Word and saved it as a PDF, etc.)

I can see this being used when the principal sends out PD notes and they need to have notations, or when a document you use regularly from a PDF needs to be edited for a new group of students or a new teacher.  What an easy way to edit something.  Glad I saved the message from so long ago about this.  I think it will really save on time for everyone.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Using GoAnimate for a Project

Often as teachers, we scramble to find something kids will like and find different than most things on the computer.  We want them to learn and expand their knowledge but enjoy doing that. I think sites like GoAnimate can do that.

My son showed me the site when he started 5th grade last year.  His teacher had them make a conversation between two presidents. I saw it again at a conference when a presenter talked about using it in her Foreign Language class as a mini project.  Her students wrote short conversations.  So, I made one.  It's in French, but check it out:
Greeting Video Fr. 2 by JenniferWells on GoAnimate
It took me about seven minutes to write the conversation.  The program directs you as to what steps to take to make it flow easily.  You can add music, voice, text, whatever.   Students can call in and record their voice or type the text and it builds the scenes around it.

You only get a certain number of credits when you create an account, so using the free version might only be done a few times during the course of a year.  I am not sure if you get credits added to your account for free.
One thing I noticed, is people can follow you like they do on twitter or on YouTube.  You can also export your videos to YouTube, if you pay for the service. I say, use the freebie until you can't anymore.

I have already decided my students will be doing a mini greeting project as a review of the year prior the first week of school.  They can incorporate a lot of vocabulary and skills by doing this.

Here are some other ways this could work:
1) A presidential interview.
2) A conversation between two or three people about a topic being covered in class.
3) A book talk. (The character can talk about the title and share what they liked about it, why, and such.)
4) A spoken summary of a chapter in the class. (There are props available)
5) A way to present a tutorial about something in an animated way.

Those are just a few... There are tons of other ways to use the program in the classroom.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Getting kids involved: Trailers and Talks

I took over the school library in 2010.  For as long as I can remember, and even into my time as the librarian, kids would come in, get a book and leave.  The library was not a place where they wanted to spend their time.  I am not sure why that has been the norm, but it is my goal to make that idea change for the better.

I decided to offer my students some challenges this year.  Ways to get them in, get them reading and get them involved.  We opened our coffee shop last year with the intent of buying books and supplies that our usual budget can't cover.  I decided this summer when one of the teachers asked me about making videos and PSAs for digital citizenship that I would take those funds and buy a few hand held video cameras.  I am going to challenge students to do book talks and trailers!

I have the space for them to work, I have the books and I have the knowledge to explain how to do it. We even have a YouTube channel for our school where I can post their work. (Of course, I will refer to the appropriate documents to assure they can be published online.)  I have some prizes to offer for completing the tasks. (A colleague of mine donated a case of ARC that I use for prizes.  And, I have other goodies I have collected over the years that kids like.) I will give them more opportunities for prizes if they use Indiana State nominees as topics for their trailers. (I decided early on to have a drawing for them to read the books and vote so I could get more kids involved with the process.)

I am hoping with all of the different things I have implemented and the changes I have made, my school library will become the school center and kids will gravitate there.

Friday, August 16, 2013

An update on my library

In February of 2012, I started shifting the library from a traditional, Dewey Centered system to a more genre specific place.  After three semesters of research, one box of labels and a lot of tape, we are done.  We now have categories with the Dewey built in. Each fiction book has been placed in a genre section, categorized in our system with all of the other categories the titles fit into included. (We discovered some books covered many categories, but there was always just one that fit best, so we placed it there and then tagged other categories as well.)

For our non fiction books, each has a specific category label with a letter tag.  We sort them by their old fashioned Dewey number or alphabetically, depending on the category. (Geography, for example is sorted alphabetically by country instead of Dewey- mainly because a lot of our Dewey tags were all over the planet and didn't make sense.)  We also redid the layout of the library to assure more visibility and provide students more spaces to work, socialize, and research.

We moved a lot of furniture.  I spent several extra days in this summer shifting shelving units and carts of books.  Thank goodness we had a few rainy days and the college boy hired to mow was stuck inside, as he was my knight in shining armor, moving books, cases, and shelves from one spot to the next.

I reorganized tables so we have small learning pods now where kids can work together in small groups.  I still have my information areas as well.  Two televisions (which I won with a grant) play all day in areas where kids sit and hang out. We have our coffee shop running daily from 7:30-2 serving drinks and snacks.  Kids come in, buy a drink and lounge in our social zone or at a table where they can work and drink drinks.

We are a 1:1 school, but I placed a few desktop computers in random spots so kids can do work.  I envision a book trailer challenge happening or booktalk videos. I want the space to be for the kids.  I want the kids to come to the library and enjoy their time and not feel like it is a chore to be there.  I want the library to be the center of the school, as it should be!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

From the Archives: Back to School Freebies

When I attended edcampindy last June, and edcampfw this May, one of my colleagues signed my up to moderate a session about freebies.  We are teachers, we all love to get stuff for free, so I decided as we get close to the school year beginning, why not do a quick list of places that offer free things for teachers.  Some are local shops, some are online sites.  I am sure there are even more than what I am publishing, but at least my list is a start.

1.  Donors Choose.   I tried this one a few years ago and had no luck but I decided to give it another shot and voila, within two weeks, I was fully funded.  The site allows you to create an account, you receive three points upon registration and you spend the points to create projects.  I created two, one for library books and the other for library seating.  You have some writing to do, some details to fill out, but, once you are funded and you complete the steps donors choose requires of you (thank you letters, notification packets, PR, etc.) you receive more points and start it over again.  I am going to do another on in the spring and try to get the Rosie Award/ YHBA books. I ended up with half my titles coming through this site.

2. Best Buy.  Little do many know but your local Best Buy will do a program in your school and give you $1000 to spend in their store.  I spoke to the manager at my local and found out they will come to school carnivals and bring xbox, wiiplaystations and use that as a time donation, or they offered to come in and show my students digital technology/ eReaders and how to use them and the benefits of one versus the other.  They send a few employees, kids benefit from it by getting money back.  I am going to try to get them to the school carnival with the gaming systems and use the money to buy a gaming system for the library.

3.  Kohls.  Many have heard the slogan of Kohls Cares.  They really do care.  All of their employees are required to do community service.  So, Kohls will send a group to your school, do a project for a certain amount of time and after it is completed, give you $500.   They redid our softball field a few years back.  I am going to see if they will come in and help repaint the library for me or help with the book fair.

4.  Lowes.  Lowes does a toolbox for education that provides money to schools and parent groups.  The link has all the details.

5. AdoptAClassroom This site allows you to create an account and publicize it via social media, websites, etc.  You can fundraise or just let your balance grow.  After you have money, you shop for school supplies. They ship them right to you.  You can even put a widget on your blog so people can link right from it.

6. Supply Our Schools This site is a little bit like donors choose but it is sponsored through Office Depot.  You create an account, create a shopping list of school supplies and as people donate them to you, they ship right to your school.  It is a great way to get construction paper, markers, pens, paper, etc.  Teachers who are members are also eligible for a day in October when Office Depot surprises teachers with a $1000 gift card.  Sounds exciting to me!

7.  Ask local businesses.   I learned from some of my colleagues that local businesses offer special programs for schools as well.  My local Walmart will donate left over clearance items to schools.  You contact the store manager and ask to be on the list.  Applebees will donate meal cards to support reading programs and for academics.  Many fast food restaurants will have special fund raiser nights donating proceeds to your school or PAC.

The key to freebies, is asking. Call around, you will be surprised how many businesses are willing to help educators.

Friday, August 9, 2013

The Learning Commons: What? How?

I was at a conference a few weeks back and Vicki Davis (AKA Coolcatteacher) was a guest speaker and I was fortunate and honored to spend a little bit of time talking to her.  I have followed her blog for awhile and I have admired what she is doing with her flattened classroom projects.  As we talked, we started talking about the changes I have made to my media center.  She told me maybe someday I would have a learning commons.  Come to find out, I already do and I didn't even know it!

What is a learning commons?  It's a way to integrate many disciplines into the library.  It provides spaces (almost like centers in elementary) where students can socialize, explore and do more hands on things.  Often, there is a lax regulation about cell phones, drinks and food and a more cozy sitting space.  I HAVE ALL OF THOSE THINGS! (Sorry for the all caps, I am not yelling, but I am excited that I integrated something this amazing with no knowledge of what I was doing.  I just did it for the kids!)  I have spent the last three years as the media specialist integrating seating, shelving changes, a genre specific fiction section, a categorized non-fiction section, implementation of more databases and websites, everything that happens with a library commons.  I even have the coffee shop!

Now, part of the niche of this is integrating the technology.  My school is 1:1, but, I still have a few self standing stations where I encourage kids to do different things.  My goal is to hand a few of my frequent flyers a video camera and challenge them to build book trailers for the website.  What a better way to promote reading than to build a book trailer!

I also want them to be able to expand their information about other places, other disciplines and other genres.  What a better way to get kids interested in reading than to offer them a space where they can collaborate. A lot of my kids have been force fed AR since they were very young, so many of them don't find the pleasure I do in reading a book for fun.  Our Junior High teachers have done a great job encouraging reading by offering in class books clubs, weekly visits and book reports, and stepping up to my challenge to read state award nominees and voting. This has helped build some pleasure in the book.

My hope is that offering a library commons with spaces to socialize, collaborate and explore will lead my students to enjoy reading and embrace the many things a library (or learning commons) have to offer.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Graphite for Product Reviews

Last summer, I subscribed to Common Sense Media to get an idea of sites that are acceptable to my child's age level. Last week, I received an email from a site called graphite which reviews web 2.0 tools to determine if they are age appropriate and if they are really the best products out there.  It's a review site.  I think I have found something I am going to start referring to.  I actually sent the link to a few friends because I thought it could benefit them.

Graphite is divided into both age groups and content areas.  One can search a lot of criteria to find everything from apps to PC programs and games that are student appropriate.  I found three sites immediately I have never seen that were relevant to my content area and my goals. I love how it allows you to search FREE, FREE TO TRY and PAID apps.  It covers everyone that way.  Some teachers are willing to shell out some money for apps, I believe if I can't work with the free stuff, then there is a problem.  Graphite shares with teachers information about all of the payment forms available.

I added graphite to my pocket immediately because I find a lot of worth in the things Common Sense Media is doing.  The focus of the organization is to promote sites, movies, TV shows and games (etc., etc.) that are appropriate for kids. As a mom of two, I appreciate it.  The program has guided me to deter from specific movies and games because of content.  The Graphite site does the same.  It promotes sites, games and apps that lack violence, sex, and language.  It filters everything into programming that is appropriate.  I appreciate that.

I also like the fact that graphite has developed a PLN.  You create an account and can find teachers with similar experiences as you.  I love it!

I suggest you take a look.  There really are a lot of great sites listed here and the method they are presented is really easy and user friendly.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Get Organized Pt. 5: SpicyNodes

Have you ever heard of Popplet?  I have had my students use it to organize presentations.  I have come across a similar tool that does very similar things, and it's been accepted by the AASL as one of the top 25 web 2.0 tools.  It's Spicy Nodes.

Spicy \Nodes allows you to create a web map to develop your outline or thought process before you create your project.  One of the main differences I have noticed between Popplet and SpicyNodes is the outline format. You create the specifics of your bubble before it develops into a web map. It reminds me a little of the outline tool in a PowerPoint.

One of the things I like to see as a teacher is the information coming before the decorations.  With an outline format of a web map, like SpiceNodes does, the students can input all of their information before they put in their graphics and make the final project fancy.  It keeps them on task and makes them focus on facts before fancy.

To see how simple it was, I created a sample SpicyNodes with video links.  It took me three minutes to input the links and this was my result:

This site is really cool and it could really be used well to do a student PBL project.  There are a lot of options to link files and facts together.  I am thinking my French two class will use it at least once in the first semester to make a small personal video project where they record things that are important to them. My sample here has just videos, but, you can also add a description.  This can incorporate both writing and speaking.   I am really excited to have my kids try this!