Friday, August 31, 2012

Start Using Twitter to Build Your PLN

How do we as teachers grow professionally?  We do it through in-services at school, conferences, articles, or talking with other teachers.  But who has time to look for articles and books?  What if there were easier ways to enhance our professional growth, and build our PLN (Personal Learning Network)?  There is a way to do it on our own time, and you may not like the answer: Twitter.  Yes, I said Twitter.  I am a “tweeter”.  I am not one of those that tweets that I am at such and such a place, eating such and such, and watching such and such to happen.  Yes, I have done a little of that, but mostly I am tweeting or re-tweeting information that I find interesting or of interest to those that follow me.

It is all in whom you follow; I will list some good ones that I am following at the end of this post.  It is also in the hashtags (#) that you follow, once again; I will list some good ones at the end.  You don’t have to read every single tweet that is on you feed every day, just skimming and stopping on the ones that catch your eye is enough.  I use TweetDeck as an aggregator for my home feed plus some hashtags that I follow as well in multiple columns.  TweetDeck is customizable to what ever you want it to include.  Every so often, I will go and skim through the feeds.  If something quickly catches my eye, I will look at it closer.  If not, I keep on going.  I don’t read every single tweet all the way through.  Even when I didn’t use TweetDeck and used the Twitter site, I just skimmed my feed.   Start by following two or three people and/or hash tags.  You will soon realize that there are people you will want to follow, and others you will not.  If you don’t like the people you are following, you can un-follow them and you won’t receive any more of their tweets in your home feed.

When I tweet, I keep it as short as possible.  I don’t try to type all 140 characters that I am allowed, though you can.  Text messaging language is acceptable as well.  Generally, if it is an original post, it has some sort of link to a site, or a profound thought.  I will also include a hashtag to set to a specific search feed or group that I feel should know about my “tweet”.  This way, it will not only get out to the people that follow me, but those that follow the hashtag.  It is a great way to get information you find out to the masses.

Hashtags are also used for Twitter Chats.  A twitter chat is a set time, usually an hour, for those interested in that topic to tweet answers to questions.  It is basically just like a face-to-face group discussion that is in a very large group.  Generally the chats have a topic that those who are involved can vote on for the chat.  When you tweet to a chat, you put the hashtag at the end so it goes to that chats “log”. A new chat that is starting up on September 5th is #nebedchat at 8PM.  Topics will be different each week, as they are with most chats.

Twitter is not for everyone, but it is a great resource for those who want to build their PLN.  That is teachers, administrators, coaches, and more.  To sign up for a free account go to the Twitter website and follow the directions to sign up.  I would use a personal email and select a “handle” that represents you as a person or teacher.  You can even upload a profile picture if you wish.  It is that simple.

People to follow:
            Teachers – most have good things about technology integration in the classroom.
                        @mrbadura               @NEPublicSchools    @i_teach_history
                        @ShellyMowinkel     @odiep77 – Mine     @Flemtech
                        @mickie_mueller       @CynthiaStogdill      @catlett1
                        @j_allen                      @stumpteacher        @thenerdyteacher
                        @rmbyrne                 @tonyvincent

            Administrators – have good ideas for administrators.
                        @JenBadura              @bmowinkel             @NMHS_Principal

Hashtags to follow:
            #nebedu                    #nebedchat               #iodedapp – iOS app for Education
            #flipclass – flipped classrooms info.            #edtech – Educational Technology
            List of Education #                List of Education Chat #      

Friday, August 24, 2012

Blogs and Blogging

This week, seeing how this is a blog about technology, we will talk about blogs and blogging.  A blog is a good way to get information out to the masses, without really worrying about who you did and didn’t send it to.  Blogs are a place for you to say what you are feeling, thinking, or just like this blog, give information on a topic you want others to know more about.  You can even have your student’s blog about what is going on in your class to share with their parents, classmates, school, and community in a safe and secure way.  Blogs can be public, semi-private or private.  Who you want to reach with your blog will determine which type security you will want to use with you blog.

Why would you want to blog as a teacher?

A blog is a good way to communicate with parents about what is going on in your classroom.  This is a way to go paperless if you have a class newsletter.  Obviously, those that don’t have access to the electronic version of your newsletter/blog, will still need the paper version of the newsletter.  In a way, a blog is like a class webpage.  You can post the same material that you would have on a webpage on a blog.  You can still restrict who can and can’t see your blog, and have the ability to approve or disapprove comments and posts.  A blog still allows you to post pictures, but it is more of a way to include narrative information to those who read your blog.

As a teacher, a blog is also a good way to get new information on just about anything out to other teachers.  In a way, a professional development opportunity for you and those that you teach with, even others from around the world.  Just because you don’t want to write a blog of your own, there are many blogs out there that you can follow to help you find new and cool tools and resources to use in your classroom.  Finding the right ones to follow is the key.  Start with one to follow, then maybe add some more.  You may find out, they aren’t posting topics that are good for you, then you can find someone else to follow.

How can my own students blog?

There is a site called KidBlog, just one of many, that allows you to control your class blog from setup to posting options to who can view and comment on posts.  Students can select their name from a dropdown menu, which will be set up when you “register” your class, to be able to log in to post to the blog.  Students don’t even need to remember a username, but must remember a password.  You can setup the blog so that you have to approve the post or comment for it to post to the classes blog.  You can make the blog only accessible to your class, to guests who have a password, or open to the web.  This is a good way for your class to work on their writing and be able to share it with their classmates and parents in a no hassle manner.

Obviously, KidBlog isn’t the only classroom blogging site that you can use.  There are others out there that may have some of the same functionality as KidBlog.  However, the options that I have seen so far are very useful for a class blog.  The security you have as a teacher for your students writing, and seeing what they write and comment on before it posts to the web for your approval are important tools.  This allows you more control and the ability to stop inappropriate posts or comments before they are posted to the blog for all to see.

As a teacher, you have more options for your own use to have your own blog.  For your personal blog, or one associated with the school, you can use many different blogging platforms.  This blog was created using Google’s Blogger, which can be accessed using a Google account.  There is also Word Press and EduBlogs, to name a few.  Some are free and others you will have to pay for.  What you use is up to you and what you want to do with your personal or class blog.  Every blog hosting site has it advantages and disadvantages.  What you use is ultimately up to your own preferences.  Just remember, once you post it is on the net for posterity. 


Blogs to possibly follow:

Friday, August 17, 2012

Skype in the Classroom

In continuation of my last post on Mystery Skype, I am going to talk about a couple of other ways that you can use Skype in the classroom and give you some resources for them.  Skype is a wonderful tool that should be used more in classrooms for communication and modeling good digital citizenship.  Some examples of ways that you can use Skype in the classroom are video pen pals with a class in another town or state or even country, a video chat with an author of a book your class is reading, or a video chat with a person in a career that your class is discussing or wants to know more about.  Of course, this is just a small list.

These types of activities allow your class to experience the outside world, rather than just their community or state.  If you are doing a “video pen pal” type activity, this allows them to get to know someone else in a different part of the country or world.  If you are talking to an author about a book, it allows the students to ask the author why he had certain characters do certain things.  It also allows the students to ask the author what they do when they get stumped when writing a book.  If they are talking to someone about a career, they can ask about schooling, and what they actually do.

However, there are some limitations to Skype.  It is only one-on-one interaction, in other words, your classroom to another classroom or person.  Also, you don’t have the same options as a Distance Learning cart or room for virtual field trips.

There are some applications that you can put on you computer that will allow you to act like a DL cart or room through the IP system.  One system that can be used is Jabber, and there are many more.  This type of system also allows you to “conference” with more than one site.

There is also Google+, which as of now is not part of GAFE, and would need to be a teacher’s personal account.  Google+ will allow up to 10 people/sites at once and allow you to see what is happening on the desktop.

I hope that you will enjoy using some type of communication system in you classroom.  It is a fun and new way to integrate technology into the classroom

List of resources and web sites:

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Mystery Skype

When trying to decide what to write about in this blog post, I wanted some form of technology integration that all grade levels could use and participate in.  This is where a Mystery Skype comes in.  A Mystery Skype is also a good cross-curricular activity.  All you need is a Skype account (free), computer, and projector.

I found out about the concept of a Mystery Skype from Craig Badura who is the Technology Integration Specialist at Aurora Public Schools.  Teachers sign up to let others know that they are interested in a Mystery Skype for their class.  The teachers are the only ones who know where the other class is located and the students must find out, using yes or no answers, where the other class is.  Usually, they are trying to guess the state, or maybe even country.  Every student in the class has a job to do.  Some ask questions, others are in charge of talking to the other class, via a back channel where they can ask questions that receive more of an answer than yes or no.  Some students are in charge of pinpointing the location with maps, and there are many more.  There is a list of jobs for students on the website, that can be rotated each time you Mystery Skype with another class.

Craig has set up a website for Mystery Skype for the upcoming school year.  If this interests you, or you know of someone that would be interested in it, let that person know.  There are many states that are represented so far all over the US, and even one in Canada. 

I feel this is a wonderful way to get your students in touch with schools outside of Nebraska, and in some cases, the United States.  Not only would you be integrating technology, you are working with language skills, social studies, critical thinking and reasoning, and teamwork.  And these are just a few of the benefits of a Mystery Skype.  Students will be asking when they get to do another Mystery Skype, and may even be more interested in the other classroom and kids than finding out where they are.

To find out more, see an example of a previous Mystery Skype, and sign up visit the Mystery Skype Website.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Google Apps for Education

It has been a busy couple of weeks.  Needless to say, the technology overload has been hit with all the new information in a short amount of time.  Two days of nothing by Google Apps for Education (GAFE) at the Google Summit of the Great Plains in Lincoln was wonderful.  So much useful information in a small amount of time, I am still processing that information two weeks removed. 

If you are not familiar with GAFE, you should be.  It is a wonderful tool available FREE to schools.  All you have to do is sign up.  GAFE allows you, your students, and others to share documents and collaborate on them, without the hassle of emailing drafts back and forth trying to remember what you have changed and what you haven’t.  You have all the essentials you could ask for.  Docs, mail, sites, calendar, groups, and more if you want.  It is totally customizable for your school.

For this post, I am going to concentrate on the Documents/Drive part of GAFE.  This group of applications is just like having iWorks or Microsoft Office.  You have a word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation applications available.  All with the same functions of those found in the other bundles of applications.  The difference is, that you and your students can be working on the same spreadsheet, word document, or presentation at the same time from different computers.  You can see who is typing and where, in real time.  No need for keeping track of who gets to use your computer to input data.  No emailing spreadsheets back and forth between you and your principal and trying to remember which one you opened and changed last.  One warning: keep confidential information off of Google Docs.  Not a good place to have it.

One feature Google Docs has that the others don’t is what is called Forms.  Forms allow you to create a survey, quiz, review, and much more.  You can keep the form within your domain, or send it out to parents who have the link.  Everything is compiled in a spreadsheet for easy access and analysis of the data.  Google has even made it so you can make multi-page forms depending on a multiple-choice answer that is selected.  A word of advice on multi-page forms: map it out first so you know how your page breaks and page links are going to look.  It makes it much easier.  There are even scripts that you can get to grade quizzes quickly and easily for you.  If you so choose to do this, the script is called Flubaroo.  All you need to do is install the script, take the quiz yourself, run the script, follow the directions, and your quiz is graded.

This is obviously just a small piece of the GAFE pie.  I hardly scratched the surface of even Docs/Drive.  Hopefully, if you aren’t using GAFE you look into it.  I feel that it would be very beneficial to a school district.  They are even trying to figure out how to incorporate Google+ into GAFE.  Hopefully they find a way soon.