Sunday, November 20, 2011

Building a Classroom Library

This morning, Sarah Chattin posted an interesting survey on the English Companion Ning - she was interested in building a classroom library. I take great pride in the stacked bookshelves tucked in the corner of my classroom, so I decided to participate in the survey. Since the survey is a bit lengthy and I tend to ramble anyway, I decided to post my responses here rather than on the Ning reply thread.

Classroom Library Survey

What grades do you teach?
I teach 7th and 8th grade English Language Arts in a semi-rural district located near Niagara Falls, New York.

Do you have a classroom library?
My classroom library consists of about 150 books located on a bookshelf in the corner of my room. In addition, my school has multiple “book stops” located in the hallways. Students use an honor system to borrow these books.

How did you collect your books? And how do you get new ones? (Garage sales, gifts, bookstores, grants, school money, book fairs, etc.)
Up until a few years ago, I was fortunate to have a Scholastic Books warehouse located only minutes from my home. Several times a year, they would open it up to the public and liquidate inventory. In this way, I was able to purchase multiple copies of new titles for as low as 50 cents a book! Sadly, the warehouse was moved to another area, so I no longer have this as an option. Instead, I have been using online services like BookMooch to replenish and reinvigorate my class library (I wrote more about this in a previous blog post).

Do you make a point to continue adding to your classroom library?
Yes. I keep an eye on the popular book titles within my library and try to rotate out those that don't get much use. I also follow groups on Ning and Twitter to keep up-to-date with current young adult bestsellers.

What sorts of resources do you have in your library? Books (fiction, non fiction, graphic novels, etc), newspaper articles, magazines, music, movies, etc?
My library is entirely made up of books, simply because the funds are not available for subscriptions and other media. These books are primarily novels, non-fiction, and historical fiction. I try to have a selection for all my students – reading levels in my library range between 5th and 10th grade.

What materials do you wish you had?
I am currently pursuing a grant through Barnes and Noble for a class set of Nook E-Readers. I'd like to use these for independent reading as well as for books that we typically read as a full class. Not only are e-books cheaper, but they never become damaged or warn.

What books do you think should be in every classroom library?
I feel that a classroom library should establish and encourage reading enjoyment. Therefore, book topics should be diverse, of high-interest, and as current as possible.

Do you have suggestions for how a new teacher can build a library?
Keep an eye out for public library book sales. While these books usually aren't on the bestseller's list, they'll give you a foundation of materials from which to build on. For teachers looking for funding to purchase books, I would suggest Donors Choose. Many teacher have great success is securing funds for books through this site.

How do you use your classroom library?
My library is used for independent reading as well as for our school sustained silent reading (SSR) program. More info regarding SSR in this previous blog post.

Do you have a system for students to check out books or can they borrow them at will?
Students usually make a verbal request for a book. More of my books get ruined from overuse and wear-and-tear than they do from vandalism or theft, so I don't bother with a formal means of signing them out. As far as I'm concerned, students reading my books too much is a good problem to have!

What are the most popular books?
My students currently seem to be interested in trilogy or series books. The Hunger Games and Chaos Walking seem to be favorites right now.

Do you keep potentially controversial books in your library? Why or why not?
I do have books on more mature topics available to students, but I keep them tucked away in a drawer. I offer them to students who I know are responsible enough to read and enjoy them. These include copies of some of the more classic works – Fahrenheit 451, Brave New World, Animal Farm, 1984, To Kill a Mockingbird, etc.

Do you require parental permission for students to borrow certain books?
No, I do not. I have never had a problem with a parent showing concern over what their child was reading. I try to read every book that I make available to my students. This way, if a student either misunderstands or misconstrues something, I can have a well-informed conversation with him/her about the book.

What do students think about your classroom library?
Middle school students by nature will never tell you that they enjoy anything that's even remotely academic. While my students certainly don't praise my shelves of books, they recognize that they are a resource for them when they are looking for a good read.

What do you wish this survey had asked, and how would you answer?
I would be interested to know more about teachers' recreational reading habits. So often we forget that we are role models and our students will emulate our behavior. I try to make it a point to have my student see me reading for fun, or at the very least share with them what I am reading at home. I think this helps make reading feel less like a chore for them.

Save to delicious Saved by 0 users
Digg Technorati StumbleUpon Reddit BlinkList Furl Mixx Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo
ma.gnolia squidoo newsvine live netscape tailrank mister-wong blogmarks slashdot spurl

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Anti-Bullying Campaign

In September, the suicide of Jamey Rodemeyer brought the serious issue of school bullying to the national spotlight. Not only did his name and story become associated with the popular NoH8 movement, but it even inspired Lady Gaga to dedicate a song to Jamey, who was a self-proclaimed "Gaga Monster." These events hit my school especially hard since we are located only a few miles from Jamey's hometown.

To help combat bullying, yesterday was proclaimed Anti-Bullying Day in our school. Students wore blue clothing to support the victims of bullying, and hundreds of kids signed an anti-bullying pledge inspired by Dr. Phil. To help spread our passionate message against bullying, some of my students worked together to create anti-bullying public service announcements. In the first 24 hours, they have received hundreds of hits on Youtube, and were even featured on the local evening news.

Please take a moment to view the results of their hard work, and if bullying is something your school finds to be an important issue, feel free to share the links. Our goal is to promote the message that bullying cannot be tolerated. If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem.

Save to delicious Saved by 0 users
Digg Technorati StumbleUpon Reddit BlinkList Furl Mixx Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo
ma.gnolia squidoo newsvine live netscape tailrank mister-wong blogmarks slashdot spurl

Monday, November 7, 2011

How to Make a Pop Screen For Podcasting

For the past six months, I have been co-hosting a weekly podcast called The Tightwad Teacher. In addition to getting the opportunity to speak with all kinds of cool folks from around the globe, the experience has given me a chance to reflect on my own speaking skills. After each show is published, I listen back and grimace over every "um," "ah," and other lapses in good diction.

I also focus on the audio quality of the recording. Much of this is out of my hands as the sound is only as good as that particular Skype connection, but I recently became aware of the dreaded popping P and hissing S sounds that seem to plague some recordings. Keeping with the tightwad ethos of the podcast as well as some of my recent posts (like this one and this one), I decided to see if I can make a pop screen to remedy this recording problem.

Below is my easy tutorial for making a pop screen with junk you may have laying around your house.

  • Plastic coffee can (I used Folgers, but any will do)
  • 1 Pair of women's nylon stockings (I bought a pair at the Dollar Store, but an old ripped pair will work just as well)
  • A few rubber bands
  • 1 magnetic clip
  • 1 stand (I used an extra microphone stand, but you can get creative and use whatever you have that can serve as a base)
Step 1: Using a knife or sharp pair of sheers, cut the lip off the plastic coffee can. This will serve as the frame for the pop screen.

Step 2: Cut both legs off of the stockings. Slide the coffee can frame into the stockings and then twist both ends to make the nylon taught over the frame. Rubber band each end and then trim any remaining nylon.

Step 3: Attach the magnetic clip to your newly assembled pop screen. My base was metal, so the magnet held it firmly in place without much need for adjustment.

Alternative construction: If you do not have a magnetic clip or microphone stand handy, you can easily fasten the pop screen to a box using a few safety pins pushed through the nylon and into the cardboard. It won't look as pretty as mine, but it'll do the trick!

Once your pop screen is fully assembled, simply place it between you and your microphone. I've tested mine out, and there is a noticeable reduction in pops and hisses - I can't wait to try it out during my next podcast interview!

Save to delicious Saved by 0 users
Digg Technorati StumbleUpon Reddit BlinkList Furl Mixx Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo
ma.gnolia squidoo newsvine live netscape tailrank mister-wong blogmarks slashdot spurl

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Making Connections with Blogging

Something strange has been going on around here lately. I noticed the other night that blog subscriptions through Feedburner have risen nearly 30% since the beginning of September, and the number of folks following the site has also been increasing in small increments. About a week ago, @timholt2007 posted a video he created that was inspired by one of my previous blog posts. Tonight, I was even greeted by four new comments to various blog posts when I logged in to the Blogger dashboard.

It's hard for me to describe how humbling it is when someone tells me that what I'm doing in my classroom and then sharing via my blog or Twitter feed has value to them. It's quite motivating, actually.

This is what blogging is all about - making connections, finding (and sharing) resources, and developing collegiality that extends far beyond the physical boundaries of geographical location. There is so much value in reading and writing blogs - it's a shame that more teachers don't take advantage.

Below is the video post created by Tim Holt. Watch it, enjoy it, then feel free to take a look around his blog too. And to everyone who wilfully listens to my ideas and tolerates my ramblings - thank you.

Save to delicious Saved by 0 users
Digg Technorati StumbleUpon Reddit BlinkList Furl Mixx Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo
ma.gnolia squidoo newsvine live netscape tailrank mister-wong blogmarks slashdot spurl

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Best School Fundraiser

Back in August, I had the pleasure to interview CEO and co-founder of, Mark Ury, on my podcast, The Tightwad Teacher. Storybird is a great site that fosters creative student writing, and I have enjoyed great success when using it in class (click here for my tutorial on the site... click here or here to see some student work). During the conversation, Mr. Ury mentioned that the site had recently opened up a fundraising option. I was intrigued and decided almost immediately that I would make a Storybird fundraiser a priority going in to the 2011-12 school year.

Fundraising with Storybird is simple. First, students create their books. Next, the teacher sets a start and end date for a fundraiser. Finally, when the fundraiser expires, proceeds are automatically transferred to the teacher's PayPal account and books are sent to the school for distribution. It really is that simple.

Students have the option to purchase soft or hard cover copies of their work and the cost ranges from $14 - $30 depending on the length of the book. For each order placed, the classroom receives $5. Compared to the thin margins of profit that come from traditional school fundraisers, this is a great deal. What's even more important is that students are selling something that is meaningful to them and also meaningful to the family members who are purchasing copies. It helps generate funds for the classroom and it gives students the opportunity to feel the thrill of seeing their names printed on a professionally published book.

Earlier this week, my students' books arrived. Simply put, they are proud as hell of their work. With the Storybird fundraiser, we were able to raise $180. We'll be using this money to help fund a lending project from a third world country - more about that here.

Save to delicious Saved by 0 users
Digg Technorati StumbleUpon Reddit BlinkList Furl Mixx Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo
ma.gnolia squidoo newsvine live netscape tailrank mister-wong blogmarks slashdot spurl

Saturday, October 15, 2011

My Split Personality

I'm currently enrolled in an online class in the Educational Leadership program at Niagara University. A few weeks ago, my professor assigned a "personal portfolio" project. It was essentially a getting-to-know-you activity with a 21st century digital twist. The only requirements were that the project share some personal and professional details with the class, and it did so in a way that was creative and entertaining.

Many of my classmates turned to presentation sites like Glogster, Prezi, and Sliderocket. A few went the more traditional (and boring) route and created PowerPoint presentations. I decided to be a bit ambitious. One evening after the kids were tucked in for the night, I cleared some boxes off an old couch in the basement and made a video portfolio.

I wanted to share my professional goals as well as my personal interests in a way that was memorable. For an hour spent in the basement and another hour tinkering on the computer, I'm happy with the result, so I thought I'd share it on here.


Save to delicious Saved by 0 users
Digg Technorati StumbleUpon Reddit BlinkList Furl Mixx Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo
ma.gnolia squidoo newsvine live netscape tailrank mister-wong blogmarks slashdot spurl

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Safe and Private Texting Between Students and Teachers

Normally before dedicating an entire blog post to a single web tool, I spend some time playing around with it in my classroom to see how my students will respond. But earlier today a colleague forwarded me a link to a brand new service that is just so cool I couldn't wait to share it with the world. describes itself as a safe and hassle-free way for teachers and students to communicate via text message. Conversations are managed through the ClassParrot teacher interface, but all student cell numbers are hidden, thus protecting their privacy and the liability of the teacher. Cellphone use in school is a hotly debated topic (of which I've weighed in on either side both here and here), so some may question why ClassParrot is even needed in the first place. After all, can't teachers use social networking sites like Ning and Edmodo, classroom blogs, or even traditional email correspondence to keep students informed? Technically yes. But ClassParrot leads off its FAQ page with a pretty powerful statistic – Open rate for email is 22%; open rate for text messages is 98%. A similar caveat is true about blogs and social spaces – they're only effective when students decide to visit them.

Pros of ClassParrot

  • Students can be instantly notified of upcoming assignments, dates, events, etc. in a way that is natural to them but also safe and private. Teachers even have the option to schedule texts to be sent out automatically.
  • All correspondence between the teacher and students in logged on site. This electronic paper trail is a nice CYA feature for teachers concerned about contact with students beyond the classroom walls.
  • ClassParrot also include a polling feature. Technically, the service could be used as a long distance student response system in reverse.

Cons of ClassParrot

  • If a student does not have a cell phone or a plan that allows text messaging, you're kind of out of luck. There is no way for a student to retrieve messages via the website. This may be an equity issue depending on the number of students without access and how the service is used by the teacher.
  • Students have the ability to reply back to messages. If this was an option that could be toggled more teachers might be willing to give ClassParrot a try.
  • The free account of ClassParrot only comes with 500 texts. This may seem like a lot on first glance, but every recipient counts as a credit; if you have a group of 100 students you can only text five messages before the free trial runs out. Plus, each returning student message counts against the 500 total as well. With that said, the plan with unlimited messages is only 9 bucks a month.

Save to delicious Saved by 0 users
Digg Technorati StumbleUpon Reddit BlinkList Furl Mixx Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo
ma.gnolia squidoo newsvine live netscape tailrank mister-wong blogmarks slashdot spurl

Thursday, October 6, 2011

How to Make an iPad Stylus for Under a Dollar

I recently discovered the joys of making Flipped Classroom-styled videos using my iPad and the free whiteboard narration tool called Show Me. When the iPad is connected to a projector (as I described in this earlier post), I find Show Me to be a great way to simultaneously provide notes to my class while also creating video review materials that can then be posted on the class website or blog.

There's just one problem - I quickly learned that producing legible handwriting with the end of my index finger is much trickier than expected. I did a quick search online and found that iPad styluses averaged about 20 dollars. Rather than blow the cash, I decided to make my own.

What you'll need:
  • A pen, highlighter, or marker (I used a highlighter that had recently dried up)
  • A sponge
  • A piece of wire (about 6 inches should suffice)

How To:

1. Disassemble the writing utensil. You can throw out the insides - you only need the casing.

2. Cut a strip of sponge off the pad (if your sponge was like mine, make sure to remove the green scrubby surface first!).

3. Expose some of the bare wire and twist it around the sponge.

4. Guide the wire through the end of the casing and then gently twist the sponge up and into the shaft. If it's not snug, cut a larger strip of sponge and try it again. Make sure you leave a bit of sponge protruding from the end of the casing for use as a contact point with the iPad!

5. Remove the coating from the remaining bit of wire and wrap it around the exterior of the casing. Your fingers must be in contact with this as you write for the iPad surface to respond to the sponge tip.

For some reason step five proved to be unnecessary for my stylus to function properly. Either because the iPad was so sensitive or because the plastic casing somehow served as an adequate conductor, I didn't need the wire, so I removed it. Here is my finished gadget. Pretty cool, huh?

Save to delicious Saved by 0 users
Digg Technorati StumbleUpon Reddit BlinkList Furl Mixx Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo
ma.gnolia squidoo newsvine live netscape tailrank mister-wong blogmarks slashdot spurl

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Power and Speed of Social Media

About an hour ago, Twitter erupted with condolences for Apple's late innovator, Steve Jobs. The speed at which the sad announcement travelled amazed me. In addition to Twitter, it was (and still is as I'm writing this) in nearly every post on Facebook and Google+ too, not to mention a random chat message from a friend on Skype. It made me wonder how quick information travels on the web - so I conducted a quick experiment.

First, I went to Wikipedia. Educators frequently discourage students from using the social encyclodpedia, citing its alleged poor or inaccurate information. Yet, someone had already edited Mr. Jobs' entry to reflect the very recent passing. Below is the screen shot.

Next, I went to the Associated Press homepage. In the news world, I would consider this to be the undisputed key source for print and media journalists. I quickly found the Apple press release announcement confirming Jobs' passing. Below is the screen shot.

Take a close look at the two images. Notice something interesting? The AP release was issued at 7:50pm. The Wikipedia entry was visited at 7:52pm. That means - at most - it took just two minutes for contributors to update the entry.

I just glanced at the clock. I still have two hours before my local news station airs its first story about Steve Jobs.

How's that for the power of social media?

Save to delicious Saved by 0 users
Digg Technorati StumbleUpon Reddit BlinkList Furl Mixx Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo
ma.gnolia squidoo newsvine live netscape tailrank mister-wong blogmarks slashdot spurl

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

5 Awesome Things You Can Do With an IPad and an LCD Projector

I've always wanted a document camera in my classroom, so yesterday I made my own - using my iPad. Here's a quick rundown of how to do this:

  • Purchase a VGA Adapter Cable. You can pick one up online for around 20 bucks.
  • Create your iPad stand. For mine, I borrowed a ring stand from the science department and clamped it to a clipboard. It was sturdy and could safely accommodate the weight of my iPad.
  • Use a VGA cable to connect the adapter to the projector. You now have a fully functioning document camera!
Why might someone want to do this, you ask? I've only been experimenting with mine for two days, and I've already stumbled on five mind-blowing uses.

1. Use it as a document camera
Once the iPad is connected to the projector and "mounted" onto the ring stand, the most basic use of this set up is as a document camera. Simply open the camera app and you're ready to go. As an English teacher, this is a natural fit in my classroom. Today, for example, while students worked on rough drafts essays on examples of irony in O. Henry's The Ransom of Red Chief, I circulated the room and occasionally scooped up a paper and slid it under the iPad. It projected nicely onto the screen and I was then able to use these student papers to give suggestions as well as to have the group peer edit. It was far more efficient that having students line up at my desk to individually edit with me.

2. Record demonstrations
Switch the camera app to video mode, hit record, and you now have a work area capable of recording demonstrations and voice narration. This is an effortless way for teachers to kill two birds with one stone- while providing instruction in class, they are simultaneously creating a video "study guide" that can be posted on the class website or blog for students to review.

3. Real-time Kahn Academy
If you're not familiar with the wildly popular Khan Academy videos, click here to see what you've been missing. If you're already aware of the instructional potential behind the Flipped Classroom concept, then give it a try using your iPad. Similar to recording demonstrations, apps like Show Me and ScreenChomp allow the user to create a video that captures finger strokes as well as voice narration. Again, these videos can be recorded live in class and then used later as asynchronous review for students.

4. Hands-on mind mapping
I've always considered mind mapping to be a natural fit for tablet devices because brainstorming tends to work best when ideas can be easily manipulated, moved, and reorganized. Apps like Popplet and MindMash are great for doing just that, and the addition of a projector makes it possible for mind mapping on the iPad to become a group process rather than an individual or small group task.

5. Annotating Student Work
Let's take a closer look at using the iPad as a document camera. In addition to simply viewing student work, the iPad can also very easily snap pictures. From there, teachers can quickly load that image into an app like Doodle Buddy or Show Me to create an environment where the work can be easily annotated, highlighted, or otherwise marked up by either the teacher or other participating students.

I'm sure I'm missing all kind of fantastic ideas. What are your thoughts?

Save to delicious Saved by 0 users
Digg Technorati StumbleUpon Reddit BlinkList Furl Mixx Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo
ma.gnolia squidoo newsvine live netscape tailrank mister-wong blogmarks slashdot spurl

Monday, September 12, 2011


"Respect seems to be like a boomerang in the sense that you must send it out before it will come back to you."
-Author Unknown

We have a young man on our team this year who has had a less than ideal middle school experience. He's a good kid, but his impulsive nature and short attention span often gets him into trouble (sounds like most middle school boys, right?), and he has also been on the receiving end of bullying more times than most. I have helped him out of a few tough spots during the past year and I'd like to think we have a pretty good teacher-student relationship because of it. He's well-behaved in my classroom and he works hard. In return, I keep an eye on him.

I keep an eye out for all my students. My team has always worked hard to build a strong community among our students, and it shows. We rarely have cliques form and every student can – at the very least – tolerate working productively with anyone else on the team. Discipline issues are also a rarity in our classrooms. I always tell students that we look out for each other, and I mean it.

Recently, my school hired a new music teacher who also happens to be a friend of mine. On the first day of school, I dropped by her room to take a peak at her roster and I noticed she started the day with this boy in her class. Knowing his track record in off-team classes, I decided to beat him to the punch and talk to him before trouble brewed. I started the conversation by reminding him about how I always say I look out for my team. I then explained that I also look out for my friends and this teacher happens to be a friend of mine.

I didn't have to say anything else – he understood that I'd be all over him if he caused trouble. And you know what? He has been excellent so far.

Does this boy suddenly love music class? Doubt it. Has he learned to control his impulsive nature? Unlikely. Instead, his good behavior is a testament to his respect for me and his understanding of my expectations.


A Quick Note: If this post seemed like it was just me patting myself on the back, you're not far off. I recently joined Steve Hargadon's Teacher 2.0 experience on MightyBell and the first “experience” called for me to write about one thing I'm good at. For some reason, the situation with this student immediately popped into my head. If you would like to learn more about Hargadon's social assignments or perhaps want to join me, you can learn more about it here.

Save to delicious Saved by 0 users
Digg Technorati StumbleUpon Reddit BlinkList Furl Mixx Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo
ma.gnolia squidoo newsvine live netscape tailrank mister-wong blogmarks slashdot spurl

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

10 Ways to Makes This the Best School Year Yet

The first week of school is always my favorite. I'm still motivated enough to iron clothes the night before, my wife is still making me courtesy bag lunches, and my students are still trying to impress me with a good first impression. Come June, my clothes will likely be wrinkled and lunch will consist of a banana and a can of Diet Pepsi, but that doesn't mean this year won't be a success. Here are my 10 suggestions for making this the best school year yet.

1. Start a Blog
I've mentioned in previous blog posts the advantages of keeping a blog and I think this is a great way to make this school year stand out from previous years. Not only does a blog provide valuable communication that narrows the gap between school and home, it also serves as an archive for all that you do.

2. Take on a New Responsibility
This year I am serving as my department chairperson. It's a big responsibility, but it has motivated me to look at my building from a different perspective and ask myself how I can best make a difference. It's easy to stagnate in the safety of your own classroom and taking on a new responsibility forces you to engage and act outside of your comfort zone.

3. Collaborate with a Colleague
Two heads are better than one. It's an old adage, but it's true. Find a colleague that you haven't worked with before and create a co-curricular project.

4. Become a Mentor
Being the new teacher in the building is no fun. Use your experience to help that person hone his/her skills as an educator. You'll probably make a new friend in the process... Maybe even someone that you can work on a project with at some point (see number 3).

5. Change and Old Unit or Create a New Unit
Everyone has safe, go-to units. Dare yourself to throw one out and try something new. Even if it's a miserable failure you'll still learn a lot from the experience and this will improve your teaching.

6. Join Twitter and Develop Your PLN
Some of my best ideas have been inspired by the folks that I follow on Twitter. Create an account and follow other educators (maybe these 57 to start). You'll be surprised by how valuable 140 characters can be.

7. Volunteer
Connect with your students at a different level by volunteering to chaperone a dance or field trip, or by becoming an adviser for a club. Seeing kids in these different contexts will help you to gain a greater perspective of your students' strengths, weaknesses, values, and beliefs.

8. Make Reading a Priority
Practice what you preach. Make it a point to find 15 minutes each day for recreational reading. Maybe choose adolescent fiction books that you can then recommend to your students, or find education-orientated "trade" magazines to inspire new ideas and teaching techniques.

9. Attend a Workshop or Conference
Take the initiative to find a workshop or conference that you actually want to attend rather than one that is required for you to attend. This is yet another way to foster new and innovative ideas.

10. Find Better Ways to Connect with Parents
Bottom line: if parents are on your side, you are going to have a better year. Make it a goal to call one parent each day with something good to say.

(When I was a kid my mom took my picture every year in front of our house on the first day of school. Now, my wife continues the tradition. Old habits die hard.)

Save to delicious Saved by 0 users
Digg Technorati StumbleUpon Reddit BlinkList Furl Mixx Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo
ma.gnolia squidoo newsvine live netscape tailrank mister-wong blogmarks slashdot spurl

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

5 Tools for Online Collaboration

Yesterday I presented at Niagara's Exploration of Technology in Teaching conference on tools for online collaboration. Social media tools like Facebook and Twitter are either ignored or banned completely in education, so I thought this was a valuable topic to share with the 150 or so teachers in attendance. Our students are always-on creatures who do most of their communicating - and therefore collaboration as well - in an environment that most schools don't even consider.

Typically when thinking about online collaboration, two things come to mind - wikis and Google Docs. Both of these are fantastic resources for teachers, but my suspicion was that most of the teachers at the conference either already knew what these tools were, or at the very least knew how to independently find information on their uses. Instead, I chose to highlight 5 lesser-known tools that could be used for collaboration in the classroom. Below is a quick summary for each as well as the SlideRocket presentation I used at the conference.

Tool #1 - Edmodo

I wrote at the beginning of summer about how impressed I was with Edmodo, and the shine has yet to tarnish. Students find the Facebook-esque layout to be intuitive and teacher will find that Edmodo makes it surprisingly easy to manage multiple conversations with students online. Social networks are the epitome of online communication and collaboration, and Edmodo is an excellent and safe way to incorporate them in the classroom.

Tool #2 - BoostCam

BoostCam is a great alternative to video conferencing products such as Skype and Oovoo. While it is certainly more primitive, teachers will find appeal in the fact that it doesn't require registration or any software downloads. If you're looking to create fast, single-serving video connections, BoostCam is a great option.

Tool #3 - Etherpad

Etherpad is a synchronous collaborative workspace similar to Google Docs. In 2009, Google purchased the site and immediately shut it down (were they afraid of a little competition?). Fortunately, they also released the source code. There are now many derivative sites based on this code, all of which are excellent resources (iEtherpad, PrimaryPad, TypeWith.Me, for example) for teachers looking for ways of getting students to write collaboratively in an online environment.

Tool #4 - Crocodoc

Admittedly, this tool was just recently shared with me by one of my graduate students, but it's a wonderful resource for teachers looking to get quality editing out of students. Crocodoc basically creates a layer to any document uploaded to the site. There, students can mark up and annotate on the layer. This provides feedback to the author without giving the peer who is editing the ability to physically change the writing.

Tool #5 - WallWisher

There are other sites that create an online "bulletin board," but to my knowledge WallWisher was one of the first, so I felt it was notable enough to add to the list. Basically, it's an online wall where students can collaboratively post and arrange sticky notes. During my presentation at NETT, one teacher also suggested that it could be used for classification activities - the teacher populates the wall with notes, and then students have to rearrange them. A clever use for this tool!

Save to delicious Saved by 0 users
Digg Technorati StumbleUpon Reddit BlinkList Furl Mixx Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo
ma.gnolia squidoo newsvine live netscape tailrank mister-wong blogmarks slashdot spurl

Friday, August 19, 2011

57 Must Follow Educators on Twitter (Part II)

Here is Part II of my essential list of educators on Twitter. To view the first 28 of the list and to read the rationale behind this post, read Part I here.

Save to delicious Saved by 0 users
Digg Technorati StumbleUpon Reddit BlinkList Furl Mixx Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo
ma.gnolia squidoo newsvine live netscape tailrank mister-wong blogmarks slashdot spurl

57 Must Follow Educators on Twitter (Part I)

Twitter is possibly the source for meaningful and continuous professional development for teachers, but have you ever tried explaining that to an educator who is not familiar with the microblogging platform? Maybe you convince him/her to create an account, but then what? I've run in to this problem a few times, so I decided to spend the evening looking through the folks who I follow so I could create a list of essential members of my PLN. Feel free to share this list with fledgling Twitter users! (It felt like an act of narcissism adding myself to the list, but feel free to follow me too! @johnmikulski)

Save to delicious Saved by 0 users
Digg Technorati StumbleUpon Reddit BlinkList Furl Mixx Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo
ma.gnolia squidoo newsvine live netscape tailrank mister-wong blogmarks slashdot spurl