Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Teachers - Beware of Your Digital Footprint

My middle school is only a few miles down the road from Niagara University, so it makes sense that we work closely with their school of education. Most of the student teachers in our building come from NU and we also participate in their Learn & Serve program. This is basically a pre-service mentoring and observation field experience opportunity that all education majors must fulfill. It's not as rigorous or time-consuming as student teaching, but the need for cooperating teachers is just as essential.

Yesterday, I received an email from an NU student who wrote to inform me that she had been assigned to my room as her Fall Learn and Serve placement. She went on to explain that even though her placement was supposed to be for a full day on a routine basis, she wanted to come for half a day on an irregular schedule because she had a full time job.

Sensing trouble, I copied and pasted this girl’s email address into Facebook and quickly discovered her account. Her wall was blocked, but this was of little use because the profile picture of her drinking with her friends was more than enough to confirm my suspicions. This was not the kind of pre-service teacher I wanted in my room.

This is not a unique story. Increasingly each year, professionals find themselves in difficult spots as a result of poor decisions with regard to their digital footprint.

So to all you pre-service teachers (all teachers, really) – be safe. And don’t take pictures of the stupid things that you do.

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Sunday, September 26, 2010

99 Free URL Shortener Services

Back in June, Twitter announced they would soon be incorporating their own url shortening service, t.co, into their microblogging network. This got me wondering just how many of these url shorteners were out there.

When I first started searching around, my goal was to make a list of 20 url shorteners. That was quickly accomplished, so I raised the bar to 50. That too proved to be a bit myopic, so I kept going. I decided to stop at 99 simply because I figured it would be the coolest sounding number in my blog post title. I'm sure there are plenty more out there, but hopefully you'll find my list sufficient. Some of them are goofy (see icanhaz.com and moourl.com), and some are just unsavory (shadyurl.com and zombieurl.com), but overall, I can see legitimately using all of these services.

One quick note - I was amazed by the turnover in url shortener services. I would estimate that about 30% of the sites I found were either defunct or non-existent. I did not include those sites in this list. As of today, all of these sites are functional.
  1. 1link.in
  2. 3.ly
  3. 6url.com
  4. adjix.com
  5. bacn.me
  6. beam.to
  7. bit.ly
  8. bizz.cc
  9. budurl.com
  10. canurl.com
  11. cli.gs
  12. clockurl.com
  13. decenturl.com
  14. digbig.com
  15. doiop.com
  16. easyurl.net
  17. fire.to
  18. flq.us
  19. fly2.ws
  20. freak.to
  21. freakinghugeurl.com
  22. fur.ly
  23. go2.vg
  24. goo.gl
  25. gop.am
  26. icanhaz.com
  27. is.gd
  28. iwouldhaveboughtyouthis.com
  29. ix.lt
  30. j.mp
  31. krunchd.com
  32. kxk.me
  33. lnk.in
  34. lnks.it
  35. low.cc
  36. makeashorterlink.com
  37. metamark.net
  38. metamark.net
  39. migre.me
  40. minilien.com
  41. moourl.com
  42. myurl.in
  43. ne1.net
  44. nn.nf
  45. notlong.com
  46. nsfw.in
  47. nutshellurl.com
  48. ow.ly
  49. pnt.me
  50. qicute.com
  51. r.im
  52. re.p.ly
  53. redirx.com
  54. rubyurl.com
  55. shadyurl.com
  56. shorl.com
  57. shorturl.com
  58. shout.to
  59. shrinkurl.us
  60. shrten.com
  61. simurl.com
  62. smal.ly
  63. snipurl.com
  64. snurl.com
  65. socuteurl.com
  66. starturl.com
  67. su.pr
  68. surl.co.uk
  69. tighturl.com
  70. tiny.cc
  71. tinyarro.ws
  72. tinyuri.com
  73. Tinyurl.com
  74. traceurl.com
  75. triviurl.com
  76. trunc.it
  77. tubeurl.com
  78. turo.us
  79. tw.itter.me
  80. tweetburner.com
  81. twig.mx
  82. u.n33t.net
  83. url.co.uk
  84. url.fm
  85. url.ie
  86. urlcut.com
  87. urlms.com
  88. urlpass.com
  89. urlshorteningservicefortwitter.com
  90. w3t.org
  91. weburl.me
  92. x.vu
  93. yep.it
  94. yourls.org
  95. yuarel.com
  96. ziprl.com
  97. zombieurl.com
  98. zud.me
  99. zxc9.com
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Saturday, September 25, 2010

8 Suggestions for a Successful Open House

Exactly one year ago, I shared this brief anecdote explaining why I was intimidated by presenting at Open House.

For reasons not glaringly apparent, I went into this year's Open House without these reservations, and -belief it or not – even a little excited to speak with my students' parents. After, I got to thinking about what makes for a good Open House experience. Here's my list of suggestions.

Remember your audience
Some days when I come home from work and start a conversation with my wife, she'll interrupt me to remind me that I'm not at school and the teacher voice can be put away for the night. All teachers have this voice, although it's difficult to describe – it's somehow a combination of volume, speed, emphasis, and diction. During Open House, don't forget that you are talking to adults, not the kids that are usually sitting in front of you. Speak professionally, but save the teacher voice for their children.

Don't try to prove yourself
I had a first year colleague one year begin her Open House speech by explaining to parents that she had a master's degree in mathematics so her teaching should not be questioned since she was considered an expert on the subject. While her intentions may have been good – to establish herself as a competent and intelligent teacher – the result was a room full of parents thinking she was a pompous ass. Don't go out of your way to try and prove you are an exceptional teacher. If that really is the case, parents will realize it when their children are successful in your classroom.

Establish contact
Use Open House as an opportunity to establish some form of contact between yourself and parents. Make sure your phone/email is available. Parents who are dedicated enough to come to Open House will be the ones who are willing to contact you with a problem before it inflates to a major issue. You may also want to collect their contact info as well by using a sign in sheet with columns for an email address and phone number.

Classroom Feng Shui
I remember a conversation I had years ago with my own mother as I prepared for my first Open House as a teacher. I asked her what she wanted to get out of open houses back when she attended them for me and my brothers. She said simply that she wanted to see what a day in our shoes was like – where our lockers were, how long it took to get from one class to the next, and of course, what each room looked like. I try to keep this in mind when preparing for Open House. Make your room look nice – straighten up your desk and shelves, and maybe hang up some exemplary work. Remember that your room on Open House will be the mental image in parents' heads whenever your class in brought up at the dinner table.

Make a handout for parents, but keep it brief. Contact information, teacher website address (if applicable), general curriculum outline, etc. I knew of a teacher who made sure one of the points addressed on her Open House pamphlet was the importance of remembering to bring a writing utensil. Open House is not really the time or place for this, and it certainly does not need to to printed somewhere for parents. If you aren't sure about a handout, write an outline of what you'd like to talk about on the front board and parents can jot down whatever they think is important.

Brevity is the key
Keep the recitation to a minimum. Parents are looking for a generalized understanding of your classroom experience for their child. You don't need to be very specific to do this sufficiently.

Time to Explore
If my school's Open House schedule gives me 15 minutes with each group of parents, I make sure that I wrap up my presentation with at least 5 minutes to spare. I then encourage parents to walk around the room and look at some student work, or I put out textbooks or novels that we will be using during the year, or I call up the class website/blog on a few of the computers. This gives the parents a few minutes to explore the classroom on their own.

Avoid conferences
Open House is intended to be a time for parents to get general information about their child's classes, however, some parents try and use it as a opportunity to sneak in a quick parent-teacher conference. This is an all around terrible idea, and should be avoided at all costs. If little Jimmy's mom starts discussing his poor test grades, two things will happen. You will be stuck talking with Jimmy's mom for far longer than you'd like, and you actually run the risk of possible legal trouble because it is unethical to be discussing one child when other parents are milling about within earshot. If a parent wants to talk specifics, encourage them to schedule a conference at a later time.

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Friday, September 24, 2010

10 New Web 2.0 Tools for Teachers

I spent today scouring Delicious and Twitter for new Web 2.0 tools that I can use this year in my classroom. Some of these services aren't new in the sense that they are recent startups, but they're new to me, so I don't consider the title of this post incorrect! I hope you find these useful!

This tool creates multi-scene, animated cartoons. This is probably the most difficult resource on this list to learn, but it also yields the most impressive results. The quality and style of the cartoons remind me of Family Guy (which is either a praise for GoAnimate, or a slam to Family Guy!).

Issuu isn’t a new tool, but it’s just so cool that I had to include it on the list. Issuu allows users to upload .doc and .pdf files and creates flashy online books. This service practically begs to be used to make end-of-the-year portfolios with students.

In addition to having the coolest name among the Web 2.0 tools on this list, Sqworl is a web application that creates one page to bookmark multiple URLs. Users of Opera or Google Chrome web browsers will notice that Sqworl pages look just like their home pages. It’s a great way to share multiple links with students – excellent for webquests, research, etc.

I wrote a post about this service last week. ZooBurst creates online, interactive 3-D pop-up books. It also takes advantage of computers equipped with webcams and allows the “book” to be viewed in augmented reality, which needless to say, is really, really cool.

NumberQuotes puts large numbers into perspective by comparing it to something more tangable. For example, the Antoine Dodson Internet meme has more than 25 million views. If each view were a penny, the pile of pennies would weigh as much as 9 African elephants. How did I know that? NumberQuotes told me.

Ahead is a tool similar to Prezi, but with a much tighter, spatially-friendly presentation. I’ve used Prezi in class before, and although it is a dynamic presentation tool, I’ve found that students have a difficult time following connections between each movement. If you’ve noticed this too, I would recommend giving Ahead a try!

Last year, I wrote about using the collaborative workspace called Etherpad with students. Since then, Google has acquired the service and released the source code to the world. TypeWith.Me is more-or-less Etherpad under a new moniker.

This online slideshow/photo sharing application is similar to Animoto, but with a few added features. PhotoPeach allows for text overlays, and viewers can even leave comments that will appear in the closing credits of the slideshow. In my opinion, Animoto doesn’t fit under the umbrella of Web 2.0 because it is a one way street. PhotoPeach, on the other hand, provides a way for the viewer to interact with the project rather than just be a static observer.

Pixton creates colorful and professional online comic strips. Users can choose from a library of clip art, or they can create their own. Pixton is free for personal use, and approximately a $1 per month per user for an education account.

ToonDoo is a sub-project of online office suite powerhouse, Zoho. ToonDoo’s about us page says it was designed as “a new way of expression for those who do not have the talent to draw,” and the result is a simple comic strip generator that relies primarily on simple cartoon-style clip art. It doesn’t look as fancy as Pixton, but it is far easier to use.

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Story About My Dad

This is a story I've been wanting to share on here for some time now. It's about my dad.

My dad was a band director at a rural junior/senior high school located outside of Batavia, NY. Although the school was small and the pay was meager, he loved it. During the 26 years of his career, he had become part of the community. He knew everyone, and everyone knew him. I remember watching him lead the marching band during the annual town Labor Day festival. He couldn't move three strides without someone emerging from the crowd to shake his hand and join him in the walk down the parade route. Simply put, he was completely invested in his school, his students, and his community.

In the summer of 2008, with just four years until retirement, my dad passed away from a sudden and completely unexpected heart attack. He was only 51 years old.

During calling hours, it became clear that our sudden loss had not only shocked our family but the families of all my Dad's students – both former and present. After the two days of calling hours our funeral director informed us that more than a thousand people had come to pay their respects. Many of those were teenagers.

To accommodate the large volume of people, my immediate family formed something of a receiving line near my dad so people could speak with us in some semblance of order. It was incredibly difficult to talk with his students, but it revealed a part of Dad's life that we never totally understood until that point. It seemed that each student had a story about a time when Dad had gone out of his way to do something for one of his students. These stories obviously meant a lot to these kids, but my dad never said a word about his good deeds at home. I think that just shows how genuine he was – he never looked for a pat on the back.

But this is the part of the story that I wish I could share with every teacher beginning a new school year...

As the line of mourners progressed, a young girl – no older than 15 – came up to shake my mom's hand. The girl had tears streaking her face, so in an attempt to comfort her my mom thanked her for coming and then asked her what instrument she played in my dad's orchestra. The girl just looked at my mom and said, “I was never in band, but your husband smiled and said hello to me every morning when I passed him in the hallway.”

As a teacher, I just hope I can make a difference in these kids' lives like Dad did.

I love you, Dad.

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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Using ZooBurst in the Classroom

It seems like at the start of each school year, there's one new web app that I cannot wait to try with my students. In past years it was Glogster, or Storybird. This year, it's ZooBurst.

ZooBurst creates interactive, 3D pop-up books. In addition to this, it can also be viewed in Augmented Reality mode with the help of a webcam. After printed a special paper from the ZooBurst site, the webcam captures you and "projects" your pop-up book onto the paper you are holding. While this technology is fledgling and not without its major flaws, it is still quite fun to play with, and really lends nicely to the concept of a 3D pop-up book.

Holding my "book" in Augmented Reality

Here is a ZooBurst I made for my team's webpage. I thought this was a much nicer way to provide contact information for parents. The book can be rotated and viewed from different angles by holding down the left mouse button. Clicking on the exclamation points displays the contact info.

I made a tutorial my students when it comes time for them to start their own ZooBursts. Feel free to download and use it in your own classroom!

ZooBurst Tutorial
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Friday, September 17, 2010

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

I remember a conversation I had with my wife two summers ago.

It was August, and tensions in the house were high. In general, we rarely fight, but that summer was a series of little spats between grouchy spouses. On this particular day, my wife turned to me and said “You’re ready to go back to school, and we’re ready too.” It was then that I figured out why the summer had been such a bust.

It was the first summer since I had been 13 that I did not have a summer job.

Because I didn’t have something to keep me busy, I was slowly driving myself crazy (and I was taking my family along for the ride). Being a firm believer in the old adage “If history is forgotten, it is doomed to repeat itself,” I made damn sure I had a summer job lined up for this year.

Since I was an early teen, I’ve done everything from food service, to daycare, and even a little clerical office work. This year, however, I wanted something different – something that would get me outside and be mindless enough that I could still enjoy my summer vacation when my shift was done. This is how I found myself mowing lawns part time at a private golf course.

A rainy morning mowing the 16th green.

My shift began each morning at 6am on weekdays and 5:30am on weekends so that we could be finished by the time the first retiree hit off the first tee. The work was tedious and physically demanding. My boss, although fair and consistent, was meticulous and acute to every blade of grass on his golf course. This meant that every mistake, no matter how trivial, was noted and immediately addressed. I never realized how much work went into daily maintenance of a country club. I also didn’t realize how much of a travesty it was if I raked the sand trap in the wrong direction, or if I mowed an 1/8 of an inch into the collar of a green.

I did realize one thing though – how completely meaningless this job actually was. Did any of the golfers actually notice any of this stuff? Probably not.

Having this summer job proved valuable in three ways.

First, it kept my ADHD in check enough to allow me and my family to enjoy the summer recess. I got up early, and returned home each day feeling like I had accomplished something, all before my little ones were done eating breakfast.

Second, it made me realize how much I love teaching, and how thankful I am that it is the career path I chose to take. Some of my coworkers at the golf course were career men – they had been working the course for years. It was a sobering thought that my “recreational” summer job was their bread and butter.

Third, the golf course reminded me just how important my job as a teacher is. If I really screwed up a line while mowing one of the greens, the worst that would happen is it may throw off someone’s putt. The grass would keep growing, and 24 hours later re-mowed the correct way. Unfortunately life isn’t as forgiving for a student whose education has been misled in one way or another.

This is my first post of the 2010-2011 school year. I welcome everyone back, and may your year be as successful and rewarding as I hope mine will be!

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