Thursday, December 20, 2012

Outlook Out of Office Assistant

Every now and then it’s healthy to step away from emails, especially over vacations and breaks, etc. Here’s how to tell folks that, while their messages may be important, you won’t be responding to them for a while.

  1. Open Outlook.
  2. If you use Outlook 2007, simply click Tools and select Out of Office Assistant
  3. OOA1
  4. If you use Outlook 2010, click the File tab. In most cases, the Info tab will be selected by default for you. Click the Automatic Replies (Out of Office) button.
  5. OOA2
  6. Click the button next to Send automatic replies.
  7. Check the box next to Only send during this time range: and set your start and end dates & times.
  8. You’ll need to designate the message you want to send back to people Inside My Organization as well as Outside My Organization. These can be the same, or you can customize either to your heart’s content. There are even some special Rules you can set up, but for most of us, this will be enough. Click OK or Save, depending on which version you are using.
  9. OOA3

Now your customized message will be sent automatically to anyone who sends you an email while you’re taking a break. All of your messages will still accumulate in your Inbox during this time, and you can look in on them and reply as you’d like.

Note: If your boss sends you something while you’re away, you are still responsible for checking and replying as usually expected during your vacation or break, depending on your school’s or organization’s usual expectations, etc. Using the Out of Office Assistant feature does not relieve you from whatever normal responsibilities you would otherwise be expected to maintain.

Outlook Contact Groups & Distribution Lists

It’s fairly easy to send a message to one or two persons, but what if you want to send a message to an entire team, grade level, or all the parents of students in your class? That’s when you need to make a Contact Group or a Distribution List, depending on which version of Microsoft Outlook you use…

  1. Open Outlook.
  2. If you use Outlook 2007, click the little down-triangle next to New and select Distribution List.                                                             
  3. DList1
  4. If you use Outlook 2010, click New Items, point to More Items and select Contact Group.              
  5.                                  Groups1
  6. First, give your group a name, like “Math 2nd Period” or “Parents 2012,” etc. Think a little about how you name it, so that typing it in later will be easier.
  7. Click the Add Members button.
  8. If you are adding parent email addresses for the first time, you can type them in one-by-one by selecting the New Email Contact option.
  9. If you already have the email addresses entered as Contacts in Outlook, select the From Outlook Contacts option.
  10. If you are creating a list of employees within our District, select the From Address Book option. Make sure you are looking at the Global Address List. Groups2
  11. Save the group when you’re done.
Keep in mind, you’ll have to update this list when kids are added or dropped from your class rosters. To utilize this new list, compose a New E-mail. Type in the name you just gave it in the To: field, and create & send the message just like you normally would!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Close Reading Explained, by Teaching the Core


Teaching The Core has posted a great explanation of close reading and its value to students in the era of Common Core standards. If that’s not enough, the author also includes this great Prezi presentation to help explain the ideas in a more visual form.


Click the frame to start, and use the arrows at the bottom of the frame to move through the slides. When you come across what appears to be an empty slide, it is probably a video – click on it to watch. Same goes for slides containing a YouTube video.

(Note: The presentation above contains references to the Smarter Balanced consortium. We in Illinois are part of the PARCC consortium. Both groups are involved in creating the next generation of assessments aligned with Common Core State Standards. Both place great emphasis on and support for close reading.)

Common Core Lessons from LearnZillion

LearnZillion has (almost) literally “zillions” of Math and English Language Arts lesson plans aligned with National Common Core State Standards. Lessons include a downloadable & customizable lesson plan (Word document), supporting materials (Word or PDF format), and video instruction that students can access at school or at home. To access all materials, users will need a free account (logging in with an existing Google Account was the quickest for me). The ability to preview some of the materials (in a Scribd frame) was blocked for me, but downloading the materials instead took care of the problem.
What a great resource!

Common Core Lesson Plans from Library of Congress


The Library of Congress has a searchable database of free Common Core-aligned lesson plans, primary sources, and other materials available to download and use in your classroom. The database is searchable by state, grade level, and subject. Only English/Language Arts and Literacy for History/Social Studies choices are currently available for Common Core, but more are available depending on your state selection. Users can also search by national organizations, like the National Council for the Social Studies or the National Council of Teachers of English, American Association of School Librarians, National Education Technology Standards, etc.

Thanks for the tweet, @coolcatteacher

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Thanksgiving Resources

Turkey Day is just around the corner! Here are some links to help kids understand the holiday in a little more depth!

First of all, the Smithsonian’s Plimoth Plantation web site will provide a definitive look at Thanksgiving, from the perspectives of both colonist and Native American.

The Boston Children’s Museum has an excellent Web site explaining the ways of life of the Wampanoag before and after their contact with English colonists.

Our Current Thanksgiving Wouldn't Be The Same Without: Abraham Lincoln and Sarah Josepha Buell Hale. Gosh, I miss my History classroom some days...

Larry Ferlazzo’s listing of The Best Sites to Learn & Teach About Thanksgiving

Free Tech for Teachers has recently listed some great resources, here and here, including:

New Office Web Apps on SkyDrive!

Office Web Apps

So you’re away from your school desktop computer, you need to edit a page you need for your class first thing in the morning, and all you have available is wi-fi and a tablet or a laptop that doesn’t have Word installed?

Or perhaps (like me) you’ve fished that flash drive out of a pants pocket after a washer or dryer cycle for the last time, and you just don’t want to take that chance any more?

SkyDriveNever fear, SkyDrive is here! Microsoft SkyDrive and the Office Web Apps have been around for quite a while, but they really only worked with certain browsers & devices. The latest update to SkyDrive and Office Web Apps allow them to be accessed by mobile devices, like Android phones and tablets and any iOS device, like an iPad, iPodTouch, or iPhone, running iOS6.

Microsoft Office Web Apps are “light” versions of Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, that run in a Web browser, like Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Safari, etc.

Please note: On iPad, the SkyDrive app simply lets you manage files, but not create or edit documents. Access Office Web Apps through a browser like Safari instead.

SkyDrive and Office Web Apps are completely free and always available to you anywhere you have Internet access. In fact, if you already have a Hotmail account, you probably already have a free account with 7GB of storage already, including free pared-down versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, too!

Watch this 14-minute video to learn how SkyDrive and Office Web Apps work together.

The great part about these tools is that you can share files with others and collaboratively edit the documents simultaneously. This has been a feature enjoyed by Google Docs (now Google Drive) users for quite a while – now it will be built-in to Office files no matter where you go or what device you want to use. These would be great tools to help kids collaborate on documents for group reports, etc., anywhere, anytime. Here’s an older video that shows just how to do that:

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Free Technology for Teachers: Remind 101 Launches an Android App

Remind101 is now available for both iOS AND Android phones! Thanks to Free Tech For Teachers for the tip!

Remind101 is a free service that allows teachers and schools to send text messages and/or emails to students, parents, and community members. Users of this service never see one another's phone numbers or emails addresses, nor can the reply to the messages received - it's all completely anonymous. Parents and students can opt in or out of the free service as they wish. While teachers need either a computer or a smart phone to use the service, any basic cell phone that can receive text messages will allow a student or parent to receive the message. The cellular service provider's standard text messaging rates, if any, will apply to the individual user, so this should not be used as a required part of a public school student's education. Rather, this would be a handy service that teachers and schools might provide in which parents and/or students might choose to participate. The video below explains things very succinctly:

Free Technology for Teachers: Remind 101 Launches an Android App:

'via Blog this'

Halloween Resources For The SMART Board (updated) – Teachers Love SMART Boards

If you recognize Halloween in your SMART Board-enabled classroom, you may want to look through this list of resources from James Hollis of Teachers Love SMART Boards. While many of the links include jokes, clip art, puzzles and games, there are also a number of very good resources to help kids learn to keep safe during Halloween, learn about Halloween history, and recognize diverse cultures during this year's observance.

Halloween Resources For The SMART Board (updated) – Teachers Love SMART Boards:

'via Blog this'

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Parent Teacher Conference Resources

Larry FerlazzoNot only does Larry Ferlazzo have great tips for classroom activities incorporating technology resources, he has a whole site devoted to “Engaging Parents in School.”

One of the latest updates to this site has been additions to the list of The Best Resources on Parent/Teacher Conferences. I’m sure that teachers will find good tips to help improve or support their practices as this time rolls around again in many of our schools soon. 

Cooperative Learning Ideas

First of all, let me just start by defining one often-overlooked point regarding Cooperative Learning:

  • Group Work = pushing a few kids together and assigning a task to be completed together, assuming that kids already know how to work together. 
  • Cooperative Learning = teaching students to perform specific functions/roles within a carefully-selected assemblage of students whose collective mission is to complete an instructional activity, learning important social skills at the same time.

There is very little research that supports the validity of using “group work” (as defined above) in a classroom. Mountains of research supports cooperative learning. You’ll find much of it – along with ideas for implementing true cooperative learning in your daily activities – in this excellent post by Larry Ferlazzo: The Best Sites for Cooperative Learning Ideas.

Epic Marching Band Tribute to Video Game Culture

You don’t have to be a gamer or a marching band fan to be impressed by this…

The Ohio State Marching Band plays homage to video games during October 06, 2012, halftime show at The University of Nebraska.

Read the full story by NBC News

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Two Nice Wikispaces Updates


The folks at Wikispaces have been very busy lately. Among a number of different updates are two that I’d like to point out to teachers: Editable Websites and iPad integration.

Editable Website wiki type

As I’ve trained a number of teachers in our District in the use of wikis, one of the criticisms I’ve heard is, “There’s a lot going on in this site.” While I truly appreciate the collaborative power of the wiki, I can understand why the casual user might sometimes characterize wikis as looking a bit busy. Traditional wikis offer a number of options, from editing or commenting on a page to joining the wiki and tracking changes, etc., that might get in the way of the end-user experience for random Web surfers.

With the addition of the “Editable Website” wiki type, Wikispaces has helped diffuse this concern by adding a way to hide much of the extras that make wikis so powerful and collaborative so that those who visit sites just to gather information see a cleaner, less distracting site. While I’m sure this took a lot of complex coding “on the back end,” Wikispaces programmers have made this a very simple Click-to-Hide-or-Reveal process. Only creators and members of the wiki will see the button, however.

The convert your standard Wikispaces wiki to an Editable Website, simply log in, click Manage Wiki, and select Wiki Info. Scroll down to Wiki Type, click the circle next to Editable Wiki and Save.

This would be a great way for educators or schools to create simple yet very effective Websites for classes and the community. Wikispaces still offers free wikis to educators, and the Wikispaces Private Label is a great way to provide an unlimited number of private wiki/web sites to students, teachers, schools, and districts for a very reasonable annual fee.

Wikispaces for iPads & Mobile Devices

Few can deny they fact that Apple’s iPad is a great device for gathering and “consuming” content of various types. However, iPad has been widely criticized for quite some time as having limited capabilities to allow students and teachers to create Internet content separate from a more traditional desktop or laptop computer. Wikispaces has also addressed this concern by releasing access to their wiki creation, editing, and collaboration features for mobile devices like iPads.  (I’ve even tried it on my Android phone’s default browser, and it seems to be working just fine.) Most of the wiki’s features are still available to editors, they’ve just been moved around to different places. To be honest, I’ve only looked at a few of the options so far, but things seem to be working very well – much like the traditional desktop version I’m used to. And, since it works inside a Web browser, you don’t even have to install an app! Sweet!

Read more about these and other Wikispaces developments and applications to education on the Wikispaces Blog.

Teaching the Core Examines Common Core Literacy & ELA Anchor Standards


Recently I stumbled across Dave Stewart’s blog, Teaching the Core. Mr. Stewart is a Michigan high school teacher helping his kids and educators around the world understand the National Common Core State Standards. Periodically, Mr. Stewart examines the cross-content Literacy and English/Language Arts standards, writing about and showing us how this might all play out in a classroom.

Mr. Stewart’s latest post, “How to Get Students to Really Listen, Summarize/Paraphrase, and Respond to Peers,” contains two videos: the Three Tiers of Classroom Discussion, and How to Increase Listening and Paraphrasing in Classroom Discussions

Click here to receive Dave Stewart’s Teaching the Core updates on ELA/Literacy Common Core standards delivered directly to your email inbox

Hidden Powers of Your Mouse, from Upgrade Your Life

Here are some great tips and reminders of how your mouse can help streamline your work, from Becky Worley’s Upgrade Your Life blog at Yahoo News. (Click this link if the video won't play for you.)
(For some reason, the video below won't play in Internet Explorer. However, the video seems to play fine in Firefox & Chrome browsers, though.)

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

If The World Were 100 People–Infographic

Here’s a great graphic breaking down several world statistics into “If the World were 100 PEOPLE”. I learned of this on Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day.

Student Presidential Debate Contest

imageWednesday marks the first Presidential Candidate Debate. Certainly, a lot of our kids will just change the channel, go back to playing video games, or otherwise tune out when they’re at home. How can we as educators use this historical event as a learning activity within our classrooms?

The National Forensic League has launched a contest, “allowing students to weigh in on some of the biggest issues facing our country right now.” (Read the details here)


I learned of this contest through Richard Byrne’s excellent blog, Free Tech For Teachers

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Columbus Day Resources

Columbus 3

Controversies surrounding an observance or “celebration” of Columbus Day have been around for a great many years worldwide. Here are just a few that my past classes of 7th graders have struggled with on Social Studies writing assignments and debates:

  • Should we observe the accomplishments of a man who might be considered one of the most successful failures in world history? After all, he never did reach the <East> Indies at all.
  • Should we celebrate the man responsible for bringing slavery and diseases that wiped out millions of Native Americans in North and South America?
  • Is it appropriate to lay the blame of genocide, accidental or otherwise, which undeniably followed as a part of the Columbian Exchange, on the shoulders of this one man? Was it instead the entire European society during the Age of Discovery that should bear this responsibility?

All that aside, there is little doubt that the effects of Columbus’ voyages helped change the world. These contributions, both positive and negative, are collectively referred to as “The Columbian Exchange” by many textbooks. The National Humanities Center has an excellent essay on the Columbian Exchange, with teaching suggestions. I’ve listed several more below.

Hopefully, you’ll find some of the resources below helpful in your teaching efforts. Unfortunately, many classroom resources perpetuate the old-school promotion of Columbus-the-Hero, but a few take the revisionist Columbus-the-Villain stance. Many would help set up a lively debate amongst your students, expand their world-view, and help them participate in a discussion about global citizenship.

SMART Exchange has some great, pre-made SMART Board files that you can download and use with your classroom activities for free. Some are complete with Response(formerly known as Senteo Interactive Response System - those little clicker-thingies) question sets already developed to help you assess students' learning and understanding of your Columbus lessons. Here are some search results by topic:

Many video clips are also available to help with these activities. Click these links to see resources available from The Biography Channel and The History Channel.

Galesburg teachers can access LEARN360 for even more. Let me know if you’d like to learn how to login.

Many of these resources and more can be found on Larry Ferlazzo's Websites of the Day blog, under The Best Online Resources About Christopher Columbus!

TED Talk: Mysterious workings of the adolescent brain

Ever wonder why adolescents are so impulsive and egocentric? Here's a great, thoughtful video on TED Talks about what adolescents may be thinking and why:

Sarah-Jayne Blakemore on TED Talks

TED Talk: What IS the Internet, Really?

Soon our District will be accessing the Internet over our new fiber optic connections! This is more than just an increase in speed and bandwidth, it is helping to connect each and every classroom to the global community. As we prepare for this, a question arises...

Just what exactly IS "the Internet," anyway...?

Here's one answer:

Andrew Blum, on TED Talks

Affixes Lesson for SMART Notebook

Here's a nice article by Danesa Jepsen on the SMART EdCompass blog on how she uses a SMART Board to help teach affixes to middle grades students. There's also a link to download the file she uses. To do so you must create a free account on SMART Exchange. This will open up a whole world of searchable and downloadable pre-made SMART Board activities and Senteo/Response question sets for you and your students!

SMART Tip: Shake to Group or Ungroup

Here's a great video two-fer from Mary McCullagh on the SMART EdCompass Blog.

  • Using the embedded browser in SMART Notebook 11 to easily pull image objects from web sites, and
  • Using the "shake" feature to group & ungroup objects in SMART Notebook 11. 

Read the full post on the SMART EdCompass Blog.
District #205 teachers: Let me know if I can assist you in learning how to use this or any other features of SMART hardware or software with students in your classroom!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Teaching 9/11

For a comprehensive listing of great electronic resources to help you teach about the events of September 11, 2012, and Remembrance Day, I cannot recommend more highly Larry Ferlazzo’s often-updated post on The Best Sites To Help Teach About 9/11.

Emerging Ed Tech: 10 Emerging Technologies All Educators Should Know About (2012)

imageEmergingEdTech has posted a list and accompanying video describing their ideas about the 10 most important education technology tools that educators should know. Some are relevant more to higher ed, but many are becoming more widely used among K-12 educators as well. Below the video are some highlights – Read the whole article here.


  • The Flipped Classroom: Here’s the concept in a nutshell: Students explore and gather background knowledge using electronic resources in any environment and at any time, and the classroom becomes the place for guided practice, questions for teachers to assist with, and educator-guided project development. They access recorded instruction that they can replay any time they feel the need for a reminder. Students may sometimes communicate electronically with their teacher and frequently collaborate with others on school projects using Internet resources.
  • Tablets & iPads: Tablet-sized computing devices, like iPads and their many competitors, are all the rage for consuming electronic content. They are becoming increasingly more “computer-like” in their ability to create new content, but they have yet to make desktop/laptop computers obsolete… for now…
  • Smartphones: Increasingly available thanks to contract-based and no-contract wireless communication carriers, smartphones are currently the choice for more than 50% of all new & renewing cell phone subscribers, a number that seems to rise daily. This increases the potential for more children to have a pocket-sized computing device in classrooms on a daily basis. “Good” or “Bad” depends on both perspective and abilities to incorporate them into instructional activities effectively.
  • “Gamification”: Using game-style incentives in classrooms is nothing new. Online learning environments are bridging the gap between education and gaming, and many higher education institutions are beginning to recognize and embrace the concept effectively. Are you?
  • MOOCs: This is neither an insulting slur nor some indie-rock band from Seattle. Massive Open Online Courses – MOOCs, for short – may be the “distance learning” option of the future, opening the doors of learning to almost anyone with a computing device. Now some institutions are beginning to weigh the benefits of offering MOOCs for college credit!
  • 1:1 & BYOD: One-to-one computing environments make computing hardware available to every student in every classroom in the school, in the form of laptops, tablets, etc. Schools can do this through an increase in student fees, rent-to-own programs, or from the depths of their financial pockets. Some schools are doing this through policies supporting a concept known as Bring Your Own Device (hence “BYOD”), thanks to the above-mentioned prevalence of smartphones, tablets, and what-not.
  • Student Response Systems, etc.: Not ready for 1:1? Phones banned in your school? You laugh at BYOD because your class roster includes a lot of kids who might be described by some as “have-nots”? Student Response System “clickers” allow kids to interact and provide instant feedback about learning & understanding at any time. (Our District has a number of Senteo/Response Systems from SMART, and many competitors offer similar devices).  Many smartphone & tablet apps offer similar functionality as well.
  • Cloud Apps: First a little vocabulary study: “The Cloud” simply describes things stored “on the Internet,” so to speak. “Apps” is simply a new term for electronic services & computer programs. Rather than using a flash drive to transfer files from one computer to another, you can now store files using Internet-based services like Dropbox or Skydrive, and edit them almost anywhere with free services & programs like Evernote and Mirosoft Office Web Apps. And they’re all FREE!

Image from

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Science, Tech, Engineering & Math Infographic

EdTech Focus on K-12 magazine recently posted an infographic describing the importance of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) Education in our society and future workforce, with specific focus on environmental concerns. This would be a great addition to any teacher’s classroom walls or bulletin boards!


Election 2012 Resources from Larry Ferlazzo

imageWith the 2012 Presidential election looming ever closer, and the airwaves increasingly clogged with video and audio about one candidate or another, questions about the 2 main candidates are likely to arise. Here are Larry Ferlazzo’s suggestions to help you help kids find their own answers.

The Best Resources For Learning About The 2012 U.S. Presidential Election, from Larry Ferlazzo's Websites of the Day

Larry Ferlazzo is my consistent “Go-To” blogger when teachers ask me for help finding resources to use in their classroom. He is an accomplished ELL teacher and published author, and his Websites of the Day blog is a clearinghouse for resources applicable to almost any classroom, regardless of subject or grade level.

Help Kids Begin with the End in Mind

One of the basic tenets of Standards-Aligned Classroom training, the second pillar of Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, and perhaps part of many other planning systems educators may use is “Begin With The End In Mind.” Do we teach that same work habit to students in our classroom? Here’s a nice article from Edutopia that will help you do just that:

Have Students Create Their End-of-Year Legacy Now, by Maurice Elias, on Edutopia

SMART Board Notebook Software for iPad

imageLast week, SMART released a Notebook software app for iPad. (Thanks for the Tweet, @tonyvincent!) Personally, I didn’t have a chance to download the $6.99 app from iTunes over the Labor Day weekend, but I intend to do so soon & will post my reactions to it ASAP.

(screenshot from iTunes App Store)

In the meantime, here’s a great video from James Hollis of Teachers Love SMART Boards. Keep in mind, this is just a first-time walk-through of the software, not an endorsement or review.

SMART Notebook App for iPad–James Hollis–

Please note: This software is designed to help teachers develop lessons that can used on either an iPad or a PC hooked up to a SMART Board, etc. It is not the kind of software that lets a teacher walk around the room and control a SMART Board with an iPad. SMART’s Slate (formerly known as the AirLiner wireless slate) is designed to do just that, but it will take a little practice. Hacking your school computer’s  with remote desktop applications is not recommended in our school district.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Free SMART Board Lessons!

imageMany thanks to Galesburg High School Math Teacher Amanda Aberle for the tip on this resource. Wow!

A+ Educators and Digital Nation are offering educators FREE SMART BOARD lesson activities until September 27, 2012!

Visit the A+ Educators Web site to access the lessons. Scroll down and click on any of the “Download Now” links.

When you are asked to enter a username & password, use:

    • PASSWORD: 4aplus

This takes the user into their Digital Nation site, where educators have access to pre-made SMART Board lessons at all of the grade levels (K-12) in Math, Science, and Language Arts. The few I’ve downloaded & browsed through are pretty good quality and use a variety of interactive SMART Board techniques. (These are definitely NOT intended to be “tech-facilitated lectures,” folks, and that’s a good thing!)

The Digital Nation site also provides access to similar lessons that work with Promethean interactive whiteboard lessons, as well as other interactive and web-based resources, games and assessments. (You’ll also find a link to future iPad resources, but this has not been populated with resources yet.)

Users can also search the activities by National Common Core State Standard to find resources, which is very handy.

The username/password expires September 27, 2012, so I’d encourage educators to download these great resources ASAP!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Personal Learning Network Ideas

Many educators are using social media to develop their own Personal Learning Network (PLN) to stay up-to-date on the latest trends and topics affecting their classrooms.
imageIf you haven’t started this practice yet, or if you’re looking to expand your PLN, here’s a great place to start. In June 2012, EdTech Magazine published a list of “50 Must-Read K-12 I.T. Blogs.”
While many on the list are tech-focused, you’ll find that most are traditionally-trained teachers who happen to use tech to communicate good classroom practices to the world outside their classrooms. Given a chance, I think most teachers will find something on the list that will appeal to them personally or professionally, regardless of your tech-comfort level.
Among these are several that I peruse during that rumored-and-always-elusive “free time.”
I am amazed that the following were not included – you may find them useful too!
Many of these can also be found on various social networks, too, like Twitter, Facebook, Google+, etc.

TED Talk: Stephen Ritz, a teacher growing green…

Here’s a great video of a great 6th grade teacher of kids doing great things in a challenging environment.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Project Based Learning Resources

While researching Project Based Learning lesson ideas for teachers today, I stumbled this YouTube video explaining the benefits of PBL. 

One of the most helpful links I found was this link to the West Virginia Department of Education’s storehouse of PBL Lessons & Units for their Global21 project. You can click on Search for a PBL Plan to narrow your search for the grade level and course that you teach. The lessons start out with a lot of documentation on standards and objectives addressed, but scrolling down will reveal a lot of really great ideas on the process and activities involved. The physical resources include PDFs, links, and Word documents – all are pretty good!


Tuesday, June 26, 2012

How Teens View Their Digital Lives, from Common Sense Media

This great infographic from Common Sense Media reflects recent studies of children’s media use. (The term “social media” involves social networks, text messaging, instant messaging, blogging, chat rooms, online video game chats using voice or text, etc.)  With just over 1000 kids aged 13-17 surveyed to collect this information, it is a somewhat small-ish study, but one that offers interesting insights into how kids view social media and themselves.
The research confirms and quantifies what many educators and parents already know:
  • Most teens text (68%) and use social networks (51%).
  • Of social networks, Facebook is king (75%) among teens.
  • Social media use can make some kids feel better about themselves and their abilities to make and maintain relationships, but it doesn’t work for everyone.
  • Girls are more likely to use text messages and social media to share photos and messages.
  • Although they share more often than their male peers, girls report being stressed by photo sharing about twice as much as boys.
The following might surprise some, though:
  • Kids still prefer interacting with others in person (49%) instead of electronically.
  • Kids generally understand and often express concern that their use of social media technology can interfere with those personal interactions that they prefer.
  • Many kids actually like to “unplug” and experience what life was like “when there was no Facebook.”

So what does this all mean for teachers and parents?

  1. Social media services can be valuable tools to help build students’ social and emotional resiliencies. 
  2. More often than not, kids tend to feel better about themselves and their abilities to create & maintain friendships through the use of tools like text messaging and social networks.
  3. Kids (83%) in this study report that what happens in social media services doesn’t really impact their feelings of self-worth, depression, etc., as significantly as we might have heard or assumed in the past. That’s not intended to downplay the experiences or feelings of those kids who are negatively impacted, nor to say that a kid will never be hurt physically or emotionally through social media use at some point in the future. As parents and educators who care for kids, we of course would never want to see or hear of a child being hurt. The study reports that most kids do not feel hurt by social media interactions. They usually ignore the negative stuff when it does happen, and more often than not they simply don’t let it bother them or impact their confidence or self-worth.
  4. Kids still overwhelmingly prefer to interact with others face-to-face rather than over social media avenues.  They also get annoyed – just like their parents & teachers – when texts, tweets, or status updates interrupt their in-person time with family and friends. Some actively choose to “unplug” or “lose their phones” temporarily, even longing for time without social media access.

In the classroom:

  1. Learn how your students prefer to interact. We teachers tend to avoid what we don’t know, so we should find out how kids in our classrooms prefer to interact. As adults we might like to tweet or blog about something, but students may prefer a text or a status update instead.
  2. Incorporate these preferences into meaningful instructional activities. If your school allows it, look into ways to incorporate texting or social media into instructionally-relevant learning activities. If specific sites like Facebook, for example, are blocked in your school or district, try alternatives like Edmodo, Schoology, or Fakebook. If cell phone use is allowed in class, try having kids text responses to you using services like Poll Everywhere or Study Boost, or send homework reminders with services like Remind101 and others.
  3. Adapt for the Have-Not's. Not every child comes from a home that can afford or will allow the use of social media. What will you do for the kids who do not have cell phones or computers at home? Schedule some time with lab computers at school and guide kids as they develop new social media skills. Try finding non-tech ways to incorporate similar skills and activities into your lessons. Let kids write out their ideas for a blog post or comment and submit them to you on paper for the same amount of credit as those who do so electronically. Or try something like this Historical Facebook Profile. (Direct link to the Google Docs template) The possibilities are only limited by your creativity!
  4. Teach Internet and Social Media Safety. If you’re going to teach kids using social media, you must also teach kids how to use it safely. There are tremendous amounts of resources available to you. For our District, I’ve compiled links to online resources by grade-level cluster and required focus areas according to Illinois’ Internet Safety Mandate.
  5. Change it up. Any anthropologist will tell you that “technology” describes the tools and materials that are used to communicate, enhance and share the knowledge and skills of a society or culture. You don’t have to use social media technologies in the classroom all the time, but these tools are becoming a more widely-accepted tool in our students’ culture. Therefore, it is important to begin incorporating the safe and responsible use of social media tools into instruction when is it educationally- and developmentally-appropriate to do so. This data shows that social media is not some end-all-be-all panacea that will automatically engage every child and cure all of your classroom management headaches. It doesn’t have to take over everything you do, either. Start with just one of the ideas above and try it out when it fits in with your lessons appropriately and helps support or display student learning. If it takes, look for meaningful ways to expand its use elsewhere. If not, try something else some other time. Mix it up with some quality uses of presentation software, or even <*gasp!*> a debate or a poster or shoebox diorama or a good-old crayons-and-scissors project. If you only use one form of technology to help kids communicate their mastery of content & skills, they’re going to want to try to switch it off eventually. That will mean trouble for your lesson and for kids’ willingness to learn. The way I understand this study, variety is the key.

Okay, so what’s the point?

Yes, there are dangers and pitfalls inherent in the use of social media tools. But think about it like fishing: Some like to go fishing and think it is a valuable social & family activity. However, if you take your kids fishing, they could fall into the stream or pond, stab themselves with a fishhook, cut themselves with a fillet knife, or encounter a whole range of other dangers. Can kids learn valuable skills and build strong social and family bonds through the occasional Saturday morning excursion to the local fishing hole? Of course they can. Is it the best or only way to build those skills and strengthen those relationships? Maybe, maybe not.

The point is, social media use is rapidly becoming part of many kids’ lives today. In fact, this study reports that 9 out of 10 kids have used some sort of social media at some point by the time they reach their teen-age years. Sure, there are dangers inherent with many activities in life. Should we insulate our children from those experiences? Should we never teach them how to fish? No, of course not. It simply means that kids need adults in their lives who will guide them through learning when it is safe and appropriate to use these new tools and activities, and help them learn how to integrate them into their lives in productive and healthy ways.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Timers for Teachers

I first learned of most of these resources from Richard Byrne (@rmbyrne) at Free Technology for Teachers.

Giving kids an in-class deadline or time frame in which to complete a task or assessment can help with classroom management as well as add a bit of urgency for those students who might not attend as well as we’d like. The good old egg timer or small plastic “sand glass” (think of an hourglass only much smaller) are inexpensive ways to help with this, but often times kids can’t see how much time remains from where they are sitting in class.

imageFree Technology For Teachers has posted the following “5 Free and Simple Timers for Teachers.”

All of these timers are free. Tips and specifics about the use of each of these are available at the original post.

In a SMART Board-equipped classroom, you can find 2 simple timers in the Gallery Essentials simply by searching for “timer.” (See screenshot below) The smaller rectangular timer is very simple and quick to use. It beeps when it counts down to “00:00:00.” 

The round timer can be set to count up or count down, depending on how you’d like them to work. You can also set a customizable alarm to sound, or set a custom action to occur with the SMART Notebook file (e.g.: go to a specific page in the file, inject text or an image, etc.) You can download SMART Notebook trial software at the SMART web site.


(SMART Notebook software is free if you have a SMART Board in your classroom – contact your sales rep or school tech guru for the product key.)

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Sticky Teaching Infographic


This infographic has some great tips, reportedly backed up with brain research, for any teacher looking for ways to make instruction “stick.”  The suggestions are wise, and they’re followed up with an explanation of why they work. It also includes suggested follow-up reading.

The infographic was designed by Chris Lema. I found it through Larry Ferlazzo (on his blog and on Twitter @larryferlazzo).

There are actually two versions of the graphic – secular and Christian – available on Chris Lema’s Web site. Here’s the direct link to the secular version (PDF).

This is a great graphic to share with teachers as a guide for designing lessons and classroom activities. It is unfortunate that the designer did not include more extensive references for the “brain research” used to create it. Still, these are handy tips to keep in mind!  Love the mnemonic approach!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Project Look Sharp–Free Media Literacy Lessons


Project Look Sharp, from Ithaca (NY) College, offers teachers a collection of media literacy lesson plans, along with training and support, to help integrate media literacy and critical thinking skills into any classroom. 

Their curriculum kits are available in 6 different categories and are searchable by content topic, media type, or grade level. (See screenshot, below) Materials are available for all grade levels, Kindergarten through College.


See videos about Project Look Sharp on their Vimeo Channel.

I took a few minutes to browse through the materials available, and I must say I was quite impressed. Units can be ordered in hard-copy with a phone call, or the can be downloaded in their entirety or one lesson at a time as needed. Many of the lessons I sampled included a Teacher’s Guide, a Student Worksheet, and an audio or visual media file of some sort (Power Point, Quick Time video, audio-only recording, etc.) Other lessons and units were much more extensive.  There were also links to Project Look Sharp’s YouTube Channel as well.

(BTW: Any project that teaches important skills with a clip of Peter Sellers' stellar performance as Dr. Strangelove has earned this History teacher’s vote!)

The materials are very well done, with links to sources, overviews of the units, etc., and very high-quality reproducible content. While the lesson plans lack notation of National Common Core State Standards addressed, the Lesson Objectives can help teachers connect the lessons to any subject area imaginable. The lesson plans themselves are detailed and very easy to follow, even offering slide-by-slide instructions on how to present the materials in the classroom.

Project Look Sharp would be an excellent resource to help teachers in any classroom assist students in decoding media messages and their influences on our society and in our daily lives.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Advice for Grads, on TED Talks

Now that many graduates are starting to look ahead and realizing that they still have lots to learn (don't we all), you might find these TED Talk videos a good source of advice and inspiration:
You Graduated... Now What?
My personal favorite: Bill Cosby at Carnegie Mellon University, 2007  

Please read the original post from Richard Byrne of Free Tech for Teachers.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Battleship for SMART Board


James Hollis of Teachers Love SMART Boards has published a link to a free Battleship game to use with SMART Boards.


Anyone who teaches graphing or coordinate grid systems in Math, or latitude and longitude in Geography or Social Studies can see the obvious connection between Battleship and their curriculum content. Also, why not use this as a review game activity, too? Answer a question correctly for a chance to spin  & shoot? No need to input questions into the file, etc.; Just read off your review guide!


Simple – Mr. Hollis has created a video of the instructions here:

Friday, June 1, 2012

Digital Advice for Graduates

So you’re graduating from high school… Congratulations! Time to forget about all that school stuff, go out and have a great time, right? Hmmm… let’s think about that for a second… Take a look at this video, from iKeepSafe:

Here are a few tips from Mashable for graduates and their parents regarding steps to take to preserve your online reputation. Your future could depend on it!

  1. Investigate Yourself: Search for yourself on Google, Bing, etc., and see what comes up. Check out who has tagged you in photos on Facebook, MySpace, etc. Think about how employers would view you if they saw these results, pictures, etc. Then set your privacy settings on your social networks to make sure that people can’t tag you in posts or pictures without your consent. Consider signing up for Google Alerts or a similar service so you know when people have posted something about you.
  2. Bury the Bad: Okay, so there’s stuff out there that you can’t get rid of, so what do you do? Time for a reputation makeover. You could create a completely new Facebook profile and start from scratch, but keep in mind that the two profiles could show up in the same search. You want to show prospective employers your completely new game face, so. Sign up with a completely different service like Google+, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc., to start creating a professional presence in social media. Consider tips from sites like BrandYourself, Monster, Reputation, and other sites for cleaning up your online reputation, too. (Note: Some of these services require fees.) That way, when prospective employers search for you online – and they will – they’ll be more likely to see the good things you’re capable of doing, too!
  3. Create Positive Profiles: Facebook allows users a number of ways to control who can see what in their profile. Check out Facebook Privacy: 10 Settings Every User Needs to Know for more information. Also consider using sites that allow you to create an “online resume,” professional blog, job-hunt website, etc.
  4. Investigate Facebook Applications: There are also several apps that users can tap into to use their cleaned-up existing or new professional Facebook profile to help find jobs and communicate with employers.

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