Monday, December 19, 2011

Skyward Standards Report Card–A Reminder In Verse

I was feeling a little creative over lunch earlier today and waxed a bit poetic while answering a teacher’s question about how to enter grades & skill marks in Skyward’s Standards Grade Book. If you’re interested in my attempt at a bit of lyric prose, read on… If not, I won’t blame you a bit…

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‘Twas the day before Winter Break, and all through the school,
Teachers were starting to panic, a few started to drool.
Their papers were graded, recorded with care,
In hopes their Report Card grades would magically appear!
“The children are gone, now mocking us,” they thought
“I just want to ditch this computer and walk!”
“I’ll put on my kerchief, then put on my cap,
“When the #@!! do I get MY ‘long winter’s nap’?”
When out in the hall there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my desk to see what was the matter.
Fellow teachers were frantically rifling through piles,
Of Skyward HOW-TOs, moaning, “It’s in one of these files!”
I saw tears on their cheeks, their make-up brought fright,
‘Twas then I remembered: Matt’s Skyward Help Web site!
At the top of the page I gave a quick look,
The first entry said something about Standards Gradebook!
So we clicked on the link. Relieved sighs were let out.
This document explained what we’d all worried ‘bout!
“But wait!” said the Art teacher. “Mine differs!” he wallowed.
And those teaching PE, Music, and Library soon followed.
“Place your skill marks in columns under headings solid-colored,
“And your grades will appear. Principals needn’t be bothered!”
With this information we’ll finish grades quick,
And maybe relieve a few stressed facial tics!
“If we finish this soon we can go wet our whistles,”
So away they all flew as if strapped onto missiles!
Soon our grades and skill marks were all put to bed,
And we realized these fears had been all in our heads.
Then we straightened our classrooms. Long minutes caused woe.
‘Til that glorious announcement: “Teachers: Now you can go!”
We sprang to our sleighs, hoping each would then start,
As if driving race cars, soon they all would depart!
But I heard them exclaim, as their sleds disappeared,
“Happy Holidays to All, and a Happy New Year!”

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Let It Snow on Google

Here’s a fun little trick:

  • Open your Web browser.
    • (So far I know this works in Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, and Safari)
  • Type “Let it snow” in the search box (not case-sensitive
  • Snow will begin to fall and your screen will fog up
  • Use your mouse as an “ice scraper” to clear away the snow, or click the “Defrost” button. Snowflakes will continue to fall but the fog goes away.


What Are Cookies and What Do They Do?

Ever wonder why sometimes Web sites know your username, password, or other information automatically while others don’t? Wonder why you and a friend sometimes get completely different results when searching for the exact same terms?  Sit back, have another cookie, and enjoy this video explanation from Explania.

How can cookies make your surfing experience convenient? - Explania

Thanks to @RMByrne for this tip on Free Tech for Teachers

OTUS News Match-O-Matic, from ABC News

The Match-O-Matic from ABC News’ OTUS (“Of the United States”) News Web site is an interesting way to gauge how students’ personal views align with the current Presidential candidates’ political platforms. By clicking on answers to some of the major questions now raging through the headlines, the Match-O-Matic delivers the top 3 candidates who most closely match the user’s answers. The Match-O-Matic also breaks down responses question-by-question showing which candidate each submitted answer aligns with. Conceivably, a user could agree with Barack Obama on one issue, Michelle Bachman on a second, and Newt Gingrich on a third.


In The Classroom:

This would be an interesting way to start a discussion or classroom debate about today’s hot-button political issues. Students could move through the questions individually, print out their results, and be grouped by candidate. Since overall opinions on the many issues may differ within a single group, “mini-debates” could erupt as each group clarifies its overall position before the full-class debate occurs.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Is iPad3 Worth Waiting For? from Yahoo News

Recent talk surrounding the next generation of student computing devices has speculated on the next generation of tablets, a market dominated by the venerable iPad.
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Image clipped from video at
Watch this video from Yahoo! about what’s on the horizon for the next iPad.
Well, I don’t know what the big whoop might be about all this – it’s really nothing new or unanticipated.  Among the rumors that the Yahoo! article mentioned as LIKELY IMPROVEMENTS to the next iPad:
  • High-Res display – Can you say, “iPadHD”???
  • Thinner – Can you say “And More Expensive” too???
    • This article, however, suggests that it HD display will require the next iPad to be thicker, though. So who really knows?
  • Faster – That’s a no-brainer.
  • Pretty Colors – Rumors indicate the aluminum shell may be replaced by carbon fiber, which is lighter, stronger, and can also accept colors & visual textures. Perhaps schools will be able to brand every iPad3 with a school logo, etc., or “If found drop in any mailbox… but don’t sell it or keep it as your own.”
  • Better camera – perhaps with a flash. Not a big selling point for schools, IMHO. 
What’s NOT LIKELY, according to the Yahoo! article and video:
  • New OS??? – could make the iPad less of a toy and more of a laptop-replacement device. Hmmm… that’d be nice… we’ll see…
  • Flash – iPad and Adobe Flash simply do not play well together. And apparently will not in the future. Period.
  • USB port/SD Card slot – iPaddlers will still have to rely on cloud storage services to transfer files to and from the iPad.
  • iPad Lite – The jury is still out on a 7-inch device between the size (and cost) of an iPhone & an iPad. We’ll see how this changes as iPad’s virtual feet are held to the (Kindle) Fire.
What this means for schools, in my humble opinion:
  • Pros: A new OS that might allow more robust creation of documents and content would be a welcomed improvement. A new model could cause a “fire sale” or “clearance blowout” of previous iPad models, but if the prices for iPhone 4 vs. iPhone 4S are an indicator then it won’t make a whole lot of difference.
  • Cons: A new model will only be more expensive and therefore harder for schools to put into the hands of kids. What this tells me is that Apple is feeling some competition and trying to make tweaks to its bread-and-butter to retain its market-share.

Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube

The following question was posed to me recently:

“Can you explain Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to me?” where to start... ???

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Social media has become so pervasive throughout our lifestyles that we  – or in this case, I – don’t often stop to think about the components that make these tools similar and different

Only after stumbling through several answers to some really good questions did I find the following:

Social Media (i.e.: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and like a bajillion other similar services)



YouTube 101 (series of how-to videos):

And, on a related note, YouTube just posted this video about YouTube for Schools:

So How Did You Actually Answer The Question?
  1. All are considered "Social Media," allowing users to create and share rich content.
  2. All have an element of adding one's own comments and opinions to be shared and re-shared. This can be tricky for classrooms, but there are ways to protect kids' anonymity & emotions so each tool can be used for safe and legitimate classroom purposes.
  3. All allow varying degrees of privacy and security, which require the administrator of the social media site - in schools that's usually a classroom teacher - to oversee what is/is not visible and who can/cannot participate.
  4. There are private versions of the sites above (for example, SchoolTube allows private video sharing for schools, Ning Edmodo offer private social networking tools, etc.) that schools & districts might consider. There are literally thousands of social media sites available for individuals and schools to use. Some are free; some charge annual fees. Generally, the more secure you want to be, the more you'll have to pay.
  5. Schools and Districts should, in my humble opinion, develop & have approved social media policies on-file before beginning such endeavors. Examine your school's Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) for details and decide if it needs updating. If it hasn't been updated in the last 5 years, it probably needs an upgrade to include language about social media tools.

Friday, December 9, 2011

What Adults Can Learn From Kids

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Adora Svitak is a 13 year-old prodigy who is a published author and nationally-reognized speaker. Her message, below, is that "Learning should be reciprocal," and, as she demonstrates, kids are capable of amazing and inspiring things when they are supported by adults and allowed to explore in their own ways instead of learning the way previous generations learned.

As she says, kids "can grow up to blow you away."

Watch... Listen... Learn... Be blown away...

From Adora Svitak: What Adults Can Learn From Kids

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

ELL Ideas in December SMART EdCompass

The December issue of SMART’s EdCompass Magazine focuses primarily on the use of SMART Boards and associated technologies to help English Language Learners (ELL). Specifically, this month’s issue includes:
  • Ideas to help non-English speakers acquire essential language skills supported by SMART software and hardware.
  • Case studies describing how schools actually use SMART technologies to help ELL students.
  • Links to products & webinars specifically targeting ELL student needs.
However, as always there are other articles to help any SMART Board user utilize classroom software & hardware resources more fully. For example, in this issue you’ll also find articles on:
  • Using the My Content folder in SMART Notebook to store frequently-used pages so you don’t have to constantly re-create things pages or objects.
  • How to download pre-made SMART Notebook lessons that you can customize for your own classroom from the SmART Exchange Web site.
  • How to download SMART Response questions sets from the SMART Exchange Web site.
  • How to download new Gallery Collections for specific subject areas through the SMART Exchange Web site.
  • Math & Literacy support using a SMART Board and SMART Response (Senteo) clickers.
  • How SMART is helping prepare students and their teachers for Common Core State Standards. 
Check out the December issue of SMART’s EdCompass magazine today!
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Monday, December 5, 2011

Online Learning, Personalized

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“Grading the Digital School: Online Learning, Personalized,” is a great article from The New York Times, on the work of Salman Khan and the folks at Khan Academy.  The video below gives more details, too. It’s a great insight into the concept of “The Flipped Classroom.”

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Have You Cleaned Your Filter This Week?

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Using all these gadget-y things in the classroom is fun and it helps kids learn, but ed tech also requires some basic standard maintenance, too.

Please help prolong the life of the projectors associated with SMART Boards by cleaning the projector frequently and regularly. Once each week is a good rule of thumb.

Within the District, I send a weekly email update every Tuesday. When that message shows up in your inbox, consider that your reminder to clean out the filter on the projector. 

Here's how to clean the filter each week:
  1. Turn the projector off. Unplugging it wouldn't hurt, either.
  2. Stand on a step-stool or ladder. Avoid standing on a chair or desk, etc. Ask your custodian for assistance as needed.
  3. Locate the filter. As you are looking into the big fish-eye lens, you'll see a small black plastic part just to the side. That's the filter. (It's circled in red in the image above.
  4. Remove the Filter. Grab the black plastic filter with your thumb and index finger and pull it straight out toward the SMART Board.
  5. Gently shake or blow the dust off the filter. You might want to do that over a trash can.
  6. Reinsert the filter. It only fits one way - the same way you took it out. Don't force it.  You can wash it off, too, but don't scrub it... If the foam material is torn, the filter is useless.
  7. Examine  the projector for dust buildup. If you see a lot of dust & debris built up, especially around the cooling vents, gently brush it away from the projector (never in towards it).
NEVER RUN THE PROJECTOR WITHOUT A CLEAN FILTER PROPERLY INSTALLED! You wouldn't run your car's engine without an oil filter, would you? Let's hope not.

NEVER USE COMPRESSED OR "CANNED" AIR TO CLEAN THE SURFACE OR COOLING VENTS OF THE PROJECTOR! This will only force surface dirt & other crud DEEPER into the projector. And that's not good.

If you notice a lot of dirt built up in and around the cooling vents, if the image seems to be getting dimmer, or if your projector starts "making noise," it probably needs professional attention. Submit a Tech Help Request from your classroom computer... quickly...  to have someone from the Tech Department drop by and check it over for you.

And remember, each week when you get my Tech & PD Update, ask yourself...
"Did I clean my filter this week?"

Top 100 Web Sites of 2011


Technology Tidbits: Thoughts of a Cyber Hero has published an extensive list of educational resources and just-plain-fun sites. Take a look as your busy schedules allow – you’re sure to find something useful!

Hey! People Are Trying to Tweet Over Here…

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…and it’s about time… Thanks to @JMGubbins and the recent Illinois Education and Technology Conference, I’ve finally gotten off my duff and started using Twitter.

Follow me, if you wish, here: @205mjacobson

Visit @JMGubbins at Zenodotus

Make a Blog or a Web Site - Free!

Want to communicate more with students & parents? Kids asking you to “tech it up a notch?” Try making a blog or Web site – It’s super easy!


Clicking the link or image above will take you to a Web site I use to teach a class for educators on blogging. What a lot of people don’t realize is that you can use a blog like this to create and maintain your own classroom web site in the same way! Generally you can have up to 10 (or more) “static” or unchanging pages, along with a blog page, so… 

  1. Outline your class with up to 10 general units or topics. Have a 9- or 18-week class? Then outline it with 1- or 2-week chunks, with a Course Syllabus, Outline, or About Your Teacher page.
  2. Create up to 10 static pages and load each page up with text & content for each unit, topic, or time period. The “Posts/Pages” and “Images/Videos” steps in the class web site will help you learn how to do this. (You don’t have to fill up all 10 pages – do what fits best to your class needs & teaching style.)
  3. Help kids stay on-track by creating a post for each unit, topic, or time period that explains the tasks you will be asking students to complete and the timeline for each stage of your course or unit. Make sure your post includes a link to the static page that covers the unit or time period. (Don’t worry – All this is explained in the “Posts/Pages” step.)

Here’s the only tricky part: A blog generally places your most recent post at the top of the page, with the older stuff pushed to the bottom. If you want to publish things for the whole year/term chronologically from top-to-bottom, you’ll need to post in reverse-order. This will allow the last item you cover in the term to be pushed to the very bottom of your home page and the first item you cover will remain at the top of the blog page, etc.

Here are 2 easy ways around the tricky part: 

Type out all your posts and save them in draft form. Then schedule your posts to magically appear at a date & time that you choose.  So, once everything is typed out, you then schedule the posts to appear in the order you wish.

Or, if you like kids to say with you and not work too far ahead, schedule your posts to appear at some unreasonable hour of the morning the day you start into the unit, topic, or time period. Your students will be impressed that you appear to be working on preparing their class at 3 AM the day they arrive in your class! So while they are marveling at your dedication, only you will know that you were actually sleeping like a baby at the time! (Don’t worry – How to pull off these tricks is also explained in the “Posts/Pages” step.)

I want to learn how! Each year I offer teachers in our District several opportunities to attend classes and learn new tech skills. Blogging With and For Your Students is one of our frequent offerings. Click the image to link to the class! You can wander through it at your own leisurely pace.

I highly recommend Blogger, EduBlogs, and Weebly for free blog & Web site hosting and design tools. Blogger and EduBlogs are blogging engines. Weebly focuses more on Web sites that include a blog page and allows online storage of documents that you can then embed into pages so students can access assignments, etc., from a lab or home computer. For the class, I use Blogger, simply because it is more widely recognized and many already have Google accounts when they arrive in class. However, I’ve used all three of the above before and, like our students, each is excellent in its own unique way.

Those who have taken the class have told me they never realized how simple it would be to create a blog or a Web site of their very own. The class is about an hour long and is open to any District #205 or KWSED teacher. Register with your school email here! (Out of District and non-school emails will be considered spam and will be ignored & deleted.)

DISCLAIMER: Helping teachers teach is my mission, my job, and one of my joys in life. I don’t get paid extra to teach these classes – You’ll find no ads on the class site. I’m not getting paid a penny for recommending any of the sites mentioned above or anywhere else on this site. These are all free resources intended to help you help kids. ‘Nuff Said.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Zenodotus - Intensely Tech

Last month I attended the Illinois Ed Tech Conference in Springfield, Illinois. While there I attended a session by James Gubbins, who has enlightened me on several new classroom tech resources. I encourage all readers to surf over to his blog, Zenodotus!

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Over the weekend this blog reached the 10,000 page views threshold! Wow! Many thanks to all who have visited! I hope you have enjoyed reading and learned something new along the way. I'll keep doing my best to post interesting and useful new resources to help your classroom! Thanks again! - Matt

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

How Games Make Kids Smarter

Do you think video games result in learning difficulties, ADHD, increased violence, and the overall liquification of a child’s gray matter? Think again! These things are NOT true, according to this TED Talk video, by Gabe Zichermann:

“Gamification”– it’s a good thing…

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Technology of Storytelling

Take a walk through the pages of history with Joe Sabia, as he introduces us to Lothar Meggendorfer, who created the iPad of the 18th Century: the pop-up book. His video essay discusses how storytelling has changed over time as technology has advanced, while the stories themselves remain essentially unchanged. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Budgets, Taxes, and Deficits


Recently I read this post on the Voice of America Web site:

Students Debate US Budget Through Online Game

Budget Hero, mentioned in the story above, is an online political/economic simulation that would be a great resource for any high school Econ, Civics, PoliSci, or Social Studies classroom.  It’s also a great example of how kids can use simulations and games to practice solving real-world problems.

About a year ago, the New York Times published an article (“O.K., You Fix the Budget,” November 13, 2010) and a related Web site on a similar topic. There is also a link to various essays and research on the topic, so students can read about many aspects of the budget debate to help inform their decisions. On the simulation Web site, students check a series of boxes next to possible solutions and see how their decisions affect the overall US economy, both in the short- and long-term views.


There are several other free online resources that would offer students similar experiences.  Here are just a few that I’ve blogged about in the past. These would all be great for high school & perhaps even upper middle school social studies or life skills classes.


What We Pay For breaks down the federal budget into individual fund items that are easier to understand, using current budget figures. Students can also input annual income features and find out exactly how much taxes one would pay and where each dollar and cent would go in the budget. The site really takes the abstract concept of taxation and makes it concrete for kids.



Where Did My Tax Dollars Go? is a similar site that displays information in pie-chart format. That visual representation is a nice way to help visualize & understand how the government divides up tax revenue to provide goods and services to citizens.



SPENT takes budgets to a very personal level for a lot of kids and families. The premise of the site is simple: You’ve lost your job, exhausted all savings, and have $1000 left to get you through the month. How will you spend it? Kids must make very real and difficult decisions about their personal & family life, and how those decisions lead one down different paths in life.


Images used in this post are screenshots from their respective Web sites. Each image is hyperlinked back to its source – click the images to visit the sites.

World’s Worst Passwords

Internet securityFound this posted on Yahoo! Finance today.

25 “Worst Passwords” of 2011 Revealed

According to the article, a good password “…should contain at least eight characters. It should contain a mix of four different types of characters - upper case letters, lower case letters, numbers, and special characters such as !@#$%^&*,;" … It should not be a name, a slang word, or any word in the dictionary. It should not include any part of your name or your e-mail address.”

Keep in mind, though, that some Web sites will not accept certain special characters, so don’t get your heart set on just one password.

Another good tip from the article: Try turning a sentence into a password. “For example, ‘Now I lay me down to sleep’ might become nilmDOWN2s, a 10-character password that won't be found in any dictionary.”

Here’s a great video on developing safe passwords from It reinforces the tips in the article, and also contains a nice tool to help you test your new password idea at the end of the animation.

How to choose a safe password - Explania

Note that the article, which has a much more recent publication date, suggests that it might be okay to write down your password – or at least a hint to your password – and carry with you so you don’t forget it. The video, which has been around longer than the article, suggests that you not write down your password.

My advice (for what it’s worth): Do what works best for you, but don’t write down your passwords and put them on a sticky note on your monitor or under your keyboard, etc., and don’t write down your credit card PIN numbers and keep them in your wallet with your credit cards. Common sense and convenience do not always walk hand-in-hand when it comes to this stuff. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Khan Academy

I posted about the Khan Academy back in March, but in the months since then the site has really taken off and gained worldwide notoriety! (No, I’m not implying a causal relationship, just sheer coincidence… ) Take a few minutes to watch and listen to the video above.

The Khan Academy know houses thousands of videos on topics too numerous to mention here in the areas of Math & Science and now Economics, the Humanities and others! There is no sign-up required at all, and all the videos are free-of-charge to use in any classroom.

The Khan Academy resources would be a great way to help you “flip the classroom,” allowing students the opportunity to learn independently and focusing more of your valuable class time on applying their newly-developed knowledge to solving real-world problems, etc.

Learn more and explore topics covered by the Khan Academy

Cleaning SMART Boards & Projectors

MP900448582[1]Sometimes I forget that people want to know answers to some of classroom life’s simpler things.  I often hear questions like this:

How do I clean a SMART Board?

You can really use anything. Glass cleaner works nicely for quick touch-ups. The stuff that the custodians use to clean regular white boards actually works really well too!  BUT WAIT! Before you unleash your inner Mr. Clean, here are the DO’s and DON’T’s:
  • ALWAYS spray the cleaning solution onto a soft cloth and then wipe the board
  • NEVER spray cleaning solution onto the board – the cleaning liquid could drip down the Board and fry the circuitry in the pen tray, causing you and your building principal’s budget a very bad day, because that kind of problem is not covered by anybody’s warranty
  • ALWAYS wipe and NEVER scrub – scrubbing leaves shiny spots on the Board and is really distracting when an image is projected onto it
  • NEVER use anything abrasive. Cleaners like Comet, Soft Scrub, etc., or a Magic Eraser or “scratchy-pad” like the rough side of a kitchen sponge are all fine products, I’m sure, but they should never come close to a SMART Board
  • NEVER use anything containing bleach
  • UNPLUG things from outlets near the SMART Board during cleaning. Electricity and cleaning solutions are not good friends

How do I clean a projector?

The projector that goes with a SMART Board is easy to forget about since it is usually hanging from the wall or ceiling and is harder to get to. However, keeping it clean is really quite easy! 
  • Once or more each week, remove the filter by the lens and blow the dust & crud off it before reinserting.
  • If you see dirt or dust on the housing, use a vacuum (ask your friendly building custodian for assistance with this if needed) to remove it, but NEVER use compressed or “canned” air.  That will just force the dust and dirt into the mirrors & lenses and can virtually destroy the projector.
  • UNPLUG the projector before cleaning it.
  • ALWAYS ask for assistance from a custodian, tech staffer, etc., when working on techie-things out of reach. Avoid standing on chairs, tables, student desks, etc. Find a ladder or grab a step-stool.


NEVER allow helpful and well-meaning students to clean your SMART Board or projector for you

There are no more germs on a SMART Board that there are on your classroom door handle. Kids touch the door handle… kids touch the SMART Board… it’s all pretty much the same…

Friday, November 18, 2011



Branches of Power is a great Web resource I blogged about back in 2010. When I originally posted this, either I skipped over the teacher resources, or they hadn’t been fully developed yet. Visit them today and prepare to be impressed!

Please read the iLearn Technology post to learn more about the features of the game and what others think about it.

iCivics, the group that designed this game, also offers lots more resources to help any Social Studies or Language Arts classroom. Their Branches of Power Curriculum Units page has resources for Foreign Affairs, State and Local Government, Politics & Public Policy, Budget, Foundations of Government, and Citizenship & Participation. There are even Persuasive Writing lessons, so you can support your local English/Language Arts teachers as we all work together toward mastery of the National Common Core State Standards! All of the games and simulations include extensive lesson plans and supporting materials.

iCivics also has games to help students in a variety of areas:

  • Citizenship & Participation
  • Constitution & The Bill of Rights
  • Budgeting
  • Separation of Powers
  • The Executive Branch
  • The Legislative Branch
  • The Judicial Branch

The games are also divided into time-frame categories: Some take less than 15 minutes, some take 15-30 minutes, and some take more than a half-hour to complete. While I haven’t looked through all the games on the site, I would expect most of them to be geared toward the Middle School and High School grades.

Learn more about iCivics by flipping through their virtual brochure, below:

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Talking to Teens About Online Predators

I found this Tip Sheet on Talking With Teens About Online Predators linked to the November 2011 Netsmartz Five monthly mailing.


The tip sheet is from the University of New Hampshire’s Crimes Against Children Research Center. The tip sheet includes several “Dos and Don’ts” to keep in mind when discussing this difficult topic with kids, whether you’re a teacher, counselor, or parent. Here are a few examples of items to share with teens. The tip sheet obviously contains more suggestions, advice, and supporting research – this is just an overview:

  • Provocative and sexy names and pictures can draw attention from people you don’t want in your life.
  • 1 in 25 youth in one year received an online sexual solicitation where the solicitor tried to make offline contact
  • Be careful about who you give personal information to and what kinds of things you share
  • Internet offenders target teens who are willing to talk online about sex
  • Boys can be criminally victimized online, too
  • Using the Internet or a cell phone to send sexual pictures of yourself or friends can get you in trouble with the law
  • Don’t harass others. People may retaliate in ways you don’t expect.
  • … and many more…

There is also a list of Internet Tips for Teens at the end of the document that is perfect for displaying in a classroom or handing out to parents.

If Kids Designed Apps, from THE Journal

Here’s an interesting article from THE Journal:

Kids, parents, and educators were recently surveyed to gather ideas for “the perfect app” for mobile learning devices. This article outlines the top ideas:
  • An app that helps with music education, including music history, works of famous composers, and “songs that kids can jam out to.”
  • An app that would let kids view videos about school subjects or talk to professionals who use what kids are learning in real life.
  • An all-in-one app that would incorporate an planner, an information database, and a textbook archive, including a 3-D model viewer.
  • An organizer with different “folders” showing how the student in doing in each class they’re currently taking as well as student reactions to their own learning experiences.
  • A game-like interface that allows kids to interact with famous persons from history and share their wisdom with students.
Actually, those sound sort of “do-able,” don’t they! If you’re always wondering, “why didn’t I think of that,” and you’re always on the look-out for that next million-dollar idea, these would be great apps to develop!

… in all your spare time… LOL!


Monday, November 7, 2011

Veterans Day Resources

Yikes! Where has the time gone?  With Veterans Day fast approaching, I probably should have gotten these links out there sooner. Apologies to those who follow this blog regularly – I’ll try to stay a little more up-to-date on these topics in the future.

Here are some sites for teaching kids about the countless contributions made by the men and women in the Armed Forces. But before we get to that… ,

Thank you, Dad, for your service in Korea.

The United States Department of Veterans Affairs has produced the video below and a teachers guide to help educate children about the sacrifices made by men and women in uniform.

Tips for teaching kids about Veterans Day, from

VetFriends has published a video essay entitled “What do U.S. Veterans Mean to you?”

CNN Video: Remembering veterans who have no one. This is a very moving video covering Calverton National Cemetery’s NOA (No One in Attendance) remembrance service. It will move the strongest person to tears.

The History Channel’s Veterans Hub offers a number of teacher resources and ideas to help kids get involved with honoring our nation’s veterans. We are also reminded that “It’s Never Too Late to Say Thank You.” Below is a History Channel Video on The History of Veterans Day.

Last WWI Veteran on Video

Storming Juno, focusing on experiences of Canadian forces at Juno Beach on D-Day

The Best Websites to Learn About Veterans Day, by Larry Ferlazzo

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Help Your Computer Run Faster

Here’s a great article from Yahoo!s Y!Tech blog, listing “5 ways to make your Windows computer run faster.” These are good tips for both home and school computers: MP900433180[1]

  • Run the essentials – Close down programs that you aren’t using (CTRL-ALT-DEL and “End Task” works wonders) and limit the number of programs that automatically start when you start your computer. Read the article for specific instructions, and always ask a technician if you’re not sure exactly what to do.
  • Fluff not necessary – Uninstall things you don’t use, but DON’T uninstall things like anti-virus, anything in the System folder or Microsoft folder, etc. If you have questions about this when you’re at a school computer, just type the word “support” in a browser window to create and submit a Tech Help Request to schedule an evaluation.
  • Safe and simple browsing – Internet Explorer and other Web browsers offer MP900422412[1]you the ability to turn off various “extensions” that are supposed to make your browsing experience easier (blah, blah, blah). My advice: DO IT! Many of these are garbage that just slow things down. All those stinking toolbars are just mucking up half your screen! Kill them by going to Tools –> Add-ons and unchecking the crud you don’t need. …which means most of it…
  • Timing your anti-virus scans – Here in the District, anti-virus scans are automatic, so you probably don’t have to worry about it.  Also, DO NOT install MP900422409[1]extra anti-virus software on your school computer! You’ll want to avoid running multiple anti-virus programs on the same machine – they can often conflict with one another and bring your computer to a screeching halt. If you have a computer or laptop at home, time the antivirus scans when you’re away or sleeping, etc. (You may have to leave your computer running – depends on the machine & the software.)
  • Add a physical boost – More memory can often make some older computers run faster, but this is usually best left to a trained technician. This is good advice for a home computer, but NEVER try to fiddle with the memory on your school computer, please!

For more details, please Read the Article on the Yahoo! Y!Tech Blog.

Images from Microsoft Office Clip Art Gallery:

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Morning Calendar–SMART Exchange

Elementary Teachers – Here’s a nice resource I stumbled across while looking for a lesson in SMART Exchange.

This Morning Calendar template is a nice way to start your day with students. All of the text and objects are locked, but you can easily unlock them and customize this form for use in the classroom – just left-click! This would be simple to adjust to make a lunch count chart, etc., too.


In the template file you’ll also find a calendar chart, a daily weather chart, and activities for shape recognition, addition, place value, and number words. It’s a great resource, AND IT’S FREE!

Check out SMART Exchange today!

SMART’s EdCompass Nov 2011 issue

The latest issue of SMART’s EdCompass Magazine focuses on how to use SMART products – and other technologies – to assist learners with special needs, whether you’re a Special Education teacher or a regular education teacher.


There are several great articles inside, including:

  • Tips for use, including how to fix the dreaded “gray bar” issue
  • iPad apps to use with students
  • Ways to use SMART Board technologies to help students with communication disorders
  • A sampling of pre-made SMART Board activities and question sets for Senteo/Response “clickers” to help diverse learners, available at SMART Exchange

imageClick to download the free PDF of EdCompass Magazine, November 2011.

Click to view this issue in your browser.

Great Story of High School Sportsmanship

As November begins, so do the Dark Days of Doldrums in many schools around the nation. Days are shorter. Winter is coming. It’s several weeks until break, and May seems like a lifetime away.

But here in the Midwest, we like to think of ourselves as a tough lot. We’ll get through it… we always do… Even so, its always nice to hear encouraging stories to remind us to pull ourselves up and keep fighting the good fight, teaching kids how to do the right thing whenever the situation calls for it.

So, for those of you who need a little pick-me-up to renew your optimism in the work we do to help students, I hope you’ll enjoy this article as much as I did this morning. It’s a great reminder that there’s more to school than books and computers and homework and tests. In my book, these guys should get an “A” in The Test of Life. 

Well done, Gentlemen. Well done.

Teen Rowers give up medal dreams to help capsized foes, by Cameron Smith on the Yahoo! Prep Rally blog.
Episcopal Academy rowers James Konopka and Nick Mead
Image from

Friday, October 28, 2011

Internet Explorer 9

Our District Technology Director has informed me that the latest version of our District’s preferred web browser, Internet Explorer 9, will be deployed in the undetermined future. Teachers won’t have to do anything special – it will install in a scheduled update – but that means that one morning you’ll come to school and POOF! It will appear.

Okay… more likely, pooooooooooooooooooooooooooffffffff. <It will likely take a while for your computer to boot up that morning.>

He encouraged me to install it myself and have a look around. Teachers can also upgrade their browser on their own at any time, and many have already done so. (Kudos to you early-adopters!)

To give you a bit of a preview, here’s a quick promo video you may have seen on TV recently… I love the old dial-up modem sound at the beginning… ah, memories…

So what’s REALLY different about IE9 to the casual user? Have a look at this screen shot of the toolbar at the top of an IE9 window:
  • First of all, I think it really does provide “A MORE BEAUTIFUL WEB” experience! Colors seem brighter, images seem more crisp, there's more space to view the sites, and it seems to run a bit quicker than before. Maybe that’s just the “honeymoon-effect.” We’ll see…
  • The Menu, Commands, Favorites, and Search bars have disappeared, leaving more screen real estate for viewing Web sites
    • To bring them back, simply right-click in the space above the tabs and click to check-mark the ones you want
    • But seriously, do you really NEED a half-dozen extra annoying toolbars? Turn them off by right-clicking as described above and unchecking them. PLEASE!
  • There’s a bigger Back button on the left, which is nice.
    • To go back multiple pages, click-and-hold until a menu appears (or just right-click if you are pressed for time)
    • Same thing works for going forward, too.
  • The Favorites and Settings icons have been shmooshed over to the far-right:
    • This might take a little getting-used-to for users who do not embrace change easily.
    • If you bring back the Favorites, menu, and Command bar (see above), it looks like IE8 again, and you can avoid change. But REALLY… where’s the fun in that…?
  • The Search bar and the Address bar are now one and the same:
    • To go directly to a Web site, just type in the URL and press Enter on your keyboard. (For us old-schoolers that’s the Return key.)
    • To search for something, type in the term (-s) you want to search for and click the little magnifying glass icon.
    • When you upgrade, your default search provider should carry over. But, if you feel the need to change the default search engine to something different, just start typing in the search/address bar. At the bottom of the drop-down menu that appears, you’ll see a button marked “Add.” Click it and you can select a new search engine, like Bing or Google, etc. Follow the prompts and eventually you’ll see the words “Make this my default search provider.” Check the box next to that phrase and click “Add.”
    • And PLEASE… Stop Googling Google… That rips a hole in the space-time continuum, disrupts the Force, damages the Internet’s flux capacitors, and is a general waste of everyone’s time.
Of course, there are lots more new features, but this should give you a heads-up on some of the basic changes on the surface. Below are some links from Microsoft if you’d like to dive deeper:
Click here to watch the Microsoft video “What’s changed in Internet Explorer 9.”
View other videos about IE9 features.
Discover the features of Internet Explorer 9

Thursday, October 27, 2011

New Teacher Survival Kit at Discovery Education

imageHere’s a link to some great resources to help new teachers adjust to life in a new District. It provides a lot of great advice and suggestions, as well as links to other resources that can help new teachers grow as professionals. Plus, it’s all FREE!

The site is divided into four major parts:

  • Survival Tool Kit – some basics for everyone
  • Technology 101 – tips for using tech tools in your classroom
  • Homeroom HQ – tips for classroom management, parent communication, etc.
  • It’s Elementary – not just for teachers of the little ones, this part has simple tips to help you get started in your classroom, as well as a reminders of often-forgotten things, like student learning styles, dealing with food allergies, handling bullies, and interacting with parents.

Visit New Teacher Survival Central at Discovery Education

Shahi - A visual dictionary

Here’s a nice little site for kids who are visual learners:

Shahi is a “visual dictionary” site that combines definitions from Wictionary and images from popular image search engines like Flickr, Google, and Yahoo!


This gives kids both a traditional dictionary-type definition alongside images to help make the definition more concrete. It might a very nice resources for kids who need that visual reinforcement for comprehension.

Clicking on highlighted terms in the definition will open a new Wictionary window, allowing kids to diverge and delve deeper into the meanings of words. Clicking on an image will open the web site where that image is posted.

In our District, Flickr & Yahoo (which uses Flickr for its galleries) are blocked by our filtering policies. Students would need to be coached to use the Google tab, as indicated in the screenshot above, to get the visual support. There is also a drop-down menu to the right of the site’s search window that will allow users to select Google as the default display, and this setting will remain the next time you visit it.

CAUTION!  Google’s search engine, for example, allows one can set the “Safe Search Filtering” setting to “Strict” in order to remove any results that might contain inappropriate language or images. I was unable to find any documentation regarding the use these sites’ filtering policies, or if your computer’s current Safe Search settings will carry-over and filter the results you might get through this site. I would therefore suggest kids use this site under direct supervision of a teacher whenever possible or appropriate.

Shahi - A visual dictionary | Blachan Lab

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

K-12 Tech Tools


I stumbled across this really great site while looking for resources for teachers earlier this week. It’s called K-12 Tech Tools. It is a warehouse of lots of great resources, organized by subject are, that are free-of-charge for teachers and kids to use.

Don’t be afraid to join the wiki and dive right in – you’ll undoubtedly find lots of great stuff to use in your classroom!

K-12 Tech Tools © - home

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

20 Things Students Want the Nation to Know About Education

I found this posted on TechLearning’s TL Advisor Blog recently:

NBC’s Ann Curry recently hosted a panel discussion addressing the experiences of students in schools across the nation. Below is a video of the discussion – get comfy – its about an hour long, but worth every moment.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

The TL Advisor Blog summarized the following 20 items from the panel discussion:

  1. I have to critically think in college, but your tests don't teach me that.    
  2. We learn in different ways at different rates.
  3. I can't learn from you if you are not willing to connect with me.
  4. Teaching by the book is not teaching. It's just talking.
  5. Caring about each student is more important than teaching the class.
  6. Every young person has a dream. Your job is to help bring us closer to our dreams.
  7. We need more than teachers. We need life coaches.
  8. The community should become more involved in schools.
  9. Even if you don't want to be a teacher, you can offer a student an apprenticeship.
  10. Us youth love all the new technologies that come out. When you acknowledge this and use technology in your teaching it makes learning much more interesting.
  11. You should be trained not just in teaching but also in counseling.
  12. Tell me something good that I'm doing so that I can keep growing in that.
  13. When you can feel like a family member it helps so much.
  14. We appreciate when you connect with us in our worlds such as the teacher who provided us with extra help using Xbox and Skype
  15. Our teachers have too many students to enable them to connect with us in they way we need them to.
  16. Bring the electives that we are actually interested in back to school. Things like drama, art, cooking, music.
  17. Education leaders, teachers, funders, and policy makers need to start listening to student voice in all areas including teacher evaluations.
  18. You need to use tools in the classroom that we use in the real world like Facebook, email, and other tools we use to connect and communicate.
  19. You need to love a student before you can teach a student.
  20. We do tests to make teachers look good and the school look good, but we know they don't help us to learn what's important to us.

To learn more about the 2011 Summit, please visit Education Nation.

- 20 Things Students Want the Nation to Know About Education

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