"If we teach today's students as we taught yesterday's, we rob them of tomorrow." --John Dewey

Sunday, October 30, 2011

A Halloween Treat, and a Few Clever Tricks

There are few things that will lift a teacher's spirits at the end of a long day like a healthy dose of chocolate--except maybe going home without a bag full of papers to grade.  So, assuming you'll be the recipient of at least a little chocolate on Halloween, let me wish you a happy holiday by providing a website that may help empty your book bag.

Edmodo.com is a wonderful website that provides a secure environment for you and your students to connect and collaborate.  You can post homework assignments, and provide a library of resources (documents, links, videos, etc.) for your students to use in getting it done.  Here's how it works:

Suppose you're studying the International Space Station, or (insert your favorite topic here).  That YouTube video that is likely to be blocked by your school's firewall can be embedded into your Edmodo site, so that your students can watch it for homework (or maybe watch it again for homework if you're lucky enough not to have it blocked in the first place).  The reaction paper that you want them to write can be posted to the Edmodo portal along with the video, the assignment due date, and any other pertinent resources.  Your students, after dutifully watching the movie, will begin their response in a word processing program, and instead of saving the unfinished document to a flash drive to bring to school, can then save to their Edmodo "backpack" to finish at a later time.  No flash drive needed.  When assignments are completed, students attach their files and submit them to you right through the website.  You can now read and grade the assignments, post the grades and your feedback for your students to view the next time they log in to Edmodo.

In addition to streamlining assignments, Edmodo will enable you to post important alerts to the entire group, or messages to individual students.  You can maintain a class calendar, and your students can add their own important events that only they will see upon login.  And, if you're lucky enough to work with colleagues who love to collaborate, Edmodo makes it easy for your students to access class materials from all of their teachers with a single log in.  You can even provide parental access if you so choose.

Edmodo is truly a gem--the digital equivalent of chocolate to be sure.  Give it a try.  I promise you, this one is a keeper.

Now for the clever tricks. (You didn't think I'd forget, did you?)  Anywhere that Edmodo will allow you to post a link, it will also accept HTML so that you can embed not only videos but other useful gadgets you can find online as well.  Try this website, for example, for some great "embeddables."  (No, I don't think that's actually a word.)

Go to http://clear.msu.edu/teaching/online/ria/ and create a free account.  Choose one of the awesome Rich Internet Applications, create and embed into Edmodo using the HTML.  You and your students are going to see homework in a whole new light.

Which CLEAR application will be your favorite? Use this Audio Dropbox to submit your reponse, and imagine how you could use it with your students.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

What's a Wiggio?

Sounds a little like a cross between part of your Super Mario Halloween costume and a children's breakfast cereal, don't you think?  It is, in fact, something far more useful than either.  Wiggio is a website specifically designed to make Working In Groups easy and efficient.  And, by the way, it provides some wonderful tools to do just that.

Start by going to http://wiggio.com and creating your free account.  Next, create a group, and invite contacts to join.  You and your fellow group members now have an easy way to share files, messages, calendar events, and so much more.

Decide on user permissions when setting up your group.  Here are your options.

Users will see a menu that looks like this. 

Together, your group members can 
  • keep a shared calendar, 
  • create or upload documents and spreadsheets to share, 
  • share links to great websites, 
  • send text, voice and/or email messages, 
  • set up conference calls, virtual meetings and chatrooms,
  • share task lists, and
  • create polls with yes/no, multiple choice and short answer questions.
Try creating a group for your colleagues, and see how useful this website can be.  You may find yourself with a lot more free time, and maybe even a little extra money, on your hands.  You see, for every new user who accepts your invitation to join a group, you'll be awarded a "ticket" for the Wiggio weekly raffle.  You may end up with a $50 gift card to iTunes, Amazon or Best Buy, just in time to start your holiday shopping.

Use this link to check out Wiggio:  http://wiggio.com/share.php?id=103360.  After all, I have holiday shopping to do too!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Drop More Than Hints

Okay, so you've gotten into the habit of creating documents in Google Docs so you can save to "the cloud."  I know what you're thinking.  "What about all the documents I already have saved? Or those PDF files that I download from the Internet?  How do I easily access those from multiple computers?  Hmmm???"  I'm glad you asked.

If you regularly work from multiple computers (say, home, school, laptop) registering for an account at www.dropbox.com is a must!  Once you register, you can download a dropbox folder to each of your computers, and have instant access to all of your files from any of your computers.  So, that interesting PDF that you downloaded on your computer at school, is readily accessible on your laptop, since you've saved it to your dropbox folder.  Even better (well, maybe not better, but certainly as exciting), you can choose to share that document in your dropbox with the tech-savvy colleague down the hall who also has a dropbox account.  Here's how to get started:

  • Go to http://www.dropbox.com and click the Download button.

  • This last step takes you back to the Dropbox home page where you create your username and password.
  • Now do the same on each computer you regularly use, and be sure to log in with the same username and password.
  • That's it!  Now when you save a document, choose your Dropbox instead of your Documents folder or Desktop, and . . . voila! 

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Calendars and Spreadsheets and Forms . . . Oh My!

The recent passing of Steve Jobs has spawned more than a few conversations about how many of the products born from his extraordinary imagination we can no longer do without.  It made me start thinking about some of the technology-based things (websites, gadgets, shortcuts) that I can't imagine working without any more.

There was a time when the documents you created on one computer stayed on that computer until they were printed, or until you found a way to carry a digital document with you.  Not always an easy feat.  If you started creating a test, for example, on your computer at school, working on it at home meant saving to a flash drive, or emailing it to yourself so it could be opened on another computer.  Forget to do one of those, and your students could be taking a 3 question test that you didn't have a chance to finish.  Luckily, we now have better, more convenient options for saving work and accessing it on multiple machines.

The easiest option, I think, is to create your documents online at a site like Google Docs.  You will need to sign up for a Google account (free and easy to do), but this will give you access to online applications similar to Microsoft Office applications.  Yep, you can create word processing documents, spreadsheets, presentations, drawings and, one of my favorites, forms.  Whatever you create in Google Docs is stored in "the cloud" so that you instantly have access to all of your documents from any Internet-connected computer.  In addition, you can invite other users to collaborate on documents with you.  Team teachers can work as a team, each from the comfort of his or her own home.

One of the best and most underused features of Google Docs, I think, is the ability to create forms.  Any time you need to collect information from a group (students, parents, colleagues), creating and posting a form online allows the members of your group to add their information to the form and submit.  No papers to collect!  And, best of all, the information that is submitted, instantly populates a spreadsheet, so you don't even need to spend time gathering and organizing the submissions.  You could even create an online test or quiz using Google Forms, and have all of your students' responses in one place for you to grade.  Intrigued?  Here's something that might make it even more enticing:  visit www.flubaroo.com, and download an add-on that will grade the test results for you, and generate summary reports on student performance, including which question(s) tripped up more than 60% of respondents.  This is such an enormous time-saver, it's almost every teacher's dream come true, and certainly worth a look if you've never tried it before.

BTW:  When you create your Google account, you not only get access to Google Docs and a Gmail address, you get the ability to create your own Google Calendars. I'm not sure exactly how I would get through a day without checking my Google Calendar to see what's on tap, but I know I don't want to try.  This site allows you to create multiple calendars (ie. work, family, book club . . . ) and stay on top of all your activities.  Your calendars are sharable, and allow you to create "To Do" lists that keep you from forgetting those little tasks that tend to slip your mind so easily.  You can even import calendars, like national holidays, or the schedule of your favorite sports team, so you never miss a game. FYI:  My White Sox open the 2012 season on April 6th in Texas.  Thanks Google Calendar, for the heads up.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Big 6

Sounds a little like a football conference, doesn't it?  The Big 6 is actually a problem-solving model that, according to the Big 6 website, includes:

  1. Task Definition
  2. Information Seeking Strategies
  3. Location and Access
  4. Use of Information
  5. Synthesis
  6. Evaluation
It's all about "inquiry based learning." There is a ton of information on this subject online, so there really isn't much for me to add.  Just start checking out some of these helpful resources.

Remember that having your students create a technology-based project doesn't always mean a PowerPoint.  There are so many wonderful, free alternatives.  Prezi is one that immediately comes to mind.  If you haven't seen a Prezi or used the site, it is certainly worth the effort to check it out.