Monday, October 17, 2016

Three Reasons Why Teachers Should Blog


Ever see or participate in an "ignite" presentation? To say that it is stressful is an understatement. I've done my fair share of presenting in front of my peers or at various conferences, but the amount of time it takes to prepare for an ignite speech is a bit shocking considering that it only lasts a grand total of five minutes. The presenter gets a total of 20 slides that last 15 seconds each. Did I mention that the slides move automatically? 

At the Indiana Connected Educator's Conference, I had the opportunity to give my first ignite session. I suppose it is very fitting that I'm going to blog about my topic: Teachers Should Blog. There are a number of reasons that I run through as to why that is, but it all roots from my own experience as a teacher. I had a website. It was terrible to use, but it is what I had available. I attempted to make the most of it and genuinely made an effort to engage students and parents with it. I would update it frequently with pictures/videos of learning experiences taking place in class. I would make homework help videos and post them to assist with mathematics. I even had students helping me with making math videos and updating the homework list on my site. I put a lot of time and effort into my teacher website as it was my main source of communication with parents.

What I found over time was that it didn't meet my needs. Websites are intended to be more static. You may update bits and pieces of information from time to time, but websites are intended to stay fairly consistent. What I truly needed was a blog. I needed a chronological record of learning experiences.

Here are three reasons you should have a blog:

1.  Be Informative

The chronological nature of a blog allows eliminates the problems that exist within a traditional website. Teachers need to have a continual flow of information that parents can count on week after week. This is much like your weekly newsletter you are more than likely already creating. What types of information do you include on it? Classroom learning experiences, upcoming events, and other various classroom needs. These pieces of information can all be covered within the confines of a blog. 

What do you avoid by discontinuing a newsletter and moving into blog format? Students/parents losing your newsletter. Your readers merely need to subscribe to your blog so that they can receive email updates letting them know that you have updated information. Also, it is quite simple to push out to forms of social media. Teachers do not have time to utilize Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. What if you pushed out news via your blog but use social media as a means of distribution? 

I know what your next question is before you can even ask it. You're going to ask about your parents that do not have Internet access. Surely you still need a newsletter to send home in paper format. The solution is quite simple: PrintFriendly. (Click for more information) Find out which parents need a paper copy and create printer friendly versions of your blog posts just for those individuals.

2. Share Your Story

There is a lot of negative information floating around about educators. How much of it is actually true? Eyewitnesses are key. Being transparent about the learning experiences you are providing for your students will build rapport with your stakeholders, students, and even your colleagues. It is essential that you are the one telling your story. By doing so, the teacher can reduce the amount of fiction floating around and build support from parents. Who wouldn't want to see a quick blurb of what is happening inside the walls of their child's classroom?

As I said previously, eyewitnesses are key. So if you are feeling like a blog is something you cannot maintain, make it a class project. Have students get involved by making it a continual writing project. Students love the idea of being able to contribute to a class blog. They go home and share with their parents what they wrote. In turn, you get traffic building up to your blog as they also share these experiences with extended family.

3. Refine Your Craft

Teaching is an art form. It is something you never truly perfect as there are always things that can be changed and new challenges arise. When I look back at my teaching experience, I have only my memory on which I can rely because I was constantly updating my website. Those experiences are no longer recorded. Ultimately, a blog allows you to store your memories so that you can bring them back and relive a teaching experience. What better way to refine your teaching craft than to be able to revisit the experience that you or your previous students recorded? It will give you the opportunity to reflect on what worked and what didn't. How is your class different this year than last year? How can you better meet the needs of individuals? 

When I visit my blog, I can visually see growth. I can see where I once was and where I am going as a teaching professional. I have five years of information built up that helps me recall my experience in educational technology. The greatest value of a blog isn't so much in the nature of it as a communication tool or the opportunity to share your story. The greatest value comes from the opportunity to reflect upon my work. 

I'm Talking to You

I understand the reluctance to have a blog. Many teachers believe they do not have anything to offer. Teachers are busy people with a long list of responsibilities. I'm not suggesting you tack one more thing on your list. It is about replacing. Replace your newsletter. Replace your traditional site that you hate to update because it takes too much time. Blogging is easy because it is about sharing the passion you have for this profession. Be proud of what you accomplish with students. 

Want to get started? Blogger is a great place for teachers to have a blog. It is easy to use! Click here to see all my tutorials and suggestions on using Blogger. 

My Ignite Speech

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Custom Color with Colorzilla

What is Colorzilla?

To put it simply, Colorzilla lets you select colors from images or any website so that you can match the exact color. Well...not necessarily does it let you select the color, but it allows you to select the hex code necessary to match a color. Not sure what I mean? Look at my banner above. Notice how the colors of the text match the colors emitting from Godzilla's mouth and back. Colorzilla is digital eyedropper that allows you to grab any color on your display so that you can match it accurately. 

I love using Google Slides and Google Drawings. I use at least one of the two on a daily basis. Those that know me best are aware that I'm not satisfied with prepackaged themes. I prefer to customize and display information to my liking. Colorzilla works perfectly with the Google suite of apps as Colorzilla automatically copies the hexcode to your clipboard when you capture a color from your display. You can then easily select a custom color in Google Slides or Drawings where you can paste it in. 

Classroom Application

As an advocate for creative uses of technology, Colorzilla is a natural fit for students. Any time they want to express their learning utilizing the digital tools available to them, they will want to match colors precisely to images or clip-art they import. This is applicable to any presentation, poster, advertisement, or report they create. This is also applicable to you as the teacher as you build templates with color coded boxes or shapes. You can be sure that you will match colors exactly by using Colorzilla.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The Indestructible Graphic Organizer

Frayer Model

Ann Rice, principal of Angola Middle School, sent out an article to her staff about vocabulary instruction that caught my attention. It provided great information in regard to what we have students do with vocabulary. Because of the ease of access to information with a class set of Chromebooks, having students lookup definitions isn't an effective way to immerse students in the key terms of your unit of study. In fact, I don't know that it was very effective in my school days because I recall copying the dictionary or the glossary of my textbook word for word. In short, we need students interacting with vocabulary in a manner that will engage a student's mind. 

The article offered a couple technology resources. One resource I had never utilized before; The Academic Word Finder. This is a great free resource as teachers can copy and paste a digital text, select a grade level, and it will determine which words are grade level appropriate. This allows the teacher to quickly sift through any text and create vocabulary discussions/activities based upon the resource. 

The second was a PDF version of the Frayer Model. If you aren't familiar with the Frayer model, it requests more than just the definition of a word. It could include an image or illustration of the word (my favorite), examples, or even non-examples of the word. is in PDF format. PDFs are okay, but usually annotating a PDF is not the smoothest experience for students. Also, the workflow for my teachers in Google Classroom isn't great as the teach would need to download and upload each student copy to give quality feedback. So I contemplated on how to "Googlify" graphic organizers so that the workflow in Google Classroom would be a smooth experience. 

The Indestructible Graphic Organizer

There are several ways this could have been accomplished, and I admit that I probably took the long way to doing so. I could have easily taken a screenshot of the Frayer Model and inserted it as the background in a Google Slides presentation. That would have been by far the easiest route, but I like to use color. Visually appealing activities make a difference. Differentiating by color allows you to give better directions as well as help students differentiate between the pieces of information. To do this, I go through the process of utilizing Google Drawings for the background. Once your template is created, you can download it and insert it into the background of your Google Slides. The students can't move the pieces of your graphic organizer!

In Hindsight...

I realized after I made this video and template, that all the same tasks could have been accomplished through changing the slide master in Google Slides. The difference is that making it via Google Drawings makes it slightly more secure. A student could easily enter the slide master and change the format of the entire deck. If you don't want to bother with the extra steps, skip Google Drawings and jump right into the slide master settings. This will save you a few minutes of your time. It would also allow you to make easier adjustments to the activity if an aspect of your template does not work well for your class. 

I will be sure to create a tutorial for editing the slide master in the near future...

Thursday, September 22, 2016

MSDSC Communities

The Power of Choice

There has been a movement in education over the power of choice. Some call it "Genius Hour" or "twenty percent time" depending on which book/article you have read on the subject. It all came from a concept Google implemented with their employees. They have a block of time where they can explore and create freely on a project. It is powerful to give people choice. 

I was a firm believer in the power of choice in the mid to late 2000s when I was still teaching fourth grade. Many teachers in my school were implementing the workshop model. It always amazed me when I would get a new student from another school district that looked at me in shock when I told them they could read or write about whatever they wanted. I just wanted evidence of their growth as I conferred with them or read their blog. Suddenly reading and writing became more meaningful to the student. Instead of me dictating what they had to do, I was delivering content and strategies in the midst of their own interest. The students had choice in what they read or wrote. I merely pulled the skills from their work.

The podcast that inspired this post is by Tom Whitby on the #EdChat radio show titled: What Makes Professional Development Useful? It really drove me to thinking about a different approach to providing learning opportunities. I do try to differentiate and personalize learning experiences, but through this podcast I realized that I am still trying to drive much of it instead of allowing others to take on a leadership role. I need to allow people to work together toward a common goal. I need to provide more choice. I need to provide more opportunity to lead discussion and drive change.

MSDSC Communities

What I'm going to implement is the idea that teachers would be able to create a topic of interest that they want to pursue in their career. The assumption will be that since I'm the one launching this opportunity, it must be technology oriented. That's not the case at all! A form, linked for my staff here, has been sent to all MSDSC teachers that would be interested in a collaborative online space (Google Plus Community) to share research, plan, and implement awesome adventures in their classroom. In this space, they can share links to resources, videos, images, and bounce ideas off of one another. Collaboration with convenience.

I'm going to include the possibility of earning professional growth points in this endeavor. Teachers can apply for professional growth points by filling out a reflection form and returning it back to me. This requires that they implement their learning experience to the classroom as evidence is required. Of course, part of that requirement is that they share their reflection with their group. This allows for further critiquing and discussion from peers. Who better to get ideas from than the experts right within our own reach? (Listen to some great thoughts about teacher leaders in this podcast.)

Final Thoughts...

My hope is that MSDSC Communities will provide teachers with the convenience and collaboration they crave. For those of you that are teachers, please give your input on the topic. Do you think this will be an effective way to grow professionally? To those of you that are in similar positions as myself, have you ever attempted something like this before? What worked? What didn't? I'm looking for feedback!