Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Text messages for teachers

I found this really cool website and I can't wait to try it out.  It's called remind101 and it's designed for teachers to have a way to text students without using a phone number.  You set up an account and receive a number-- it seems to me like the way radio stations do promos ("Text WIN to 4567"). You give that number to students and they can text a message to it to subscribe.  There's also an email link if they don't want texts.

Our district has some pretty strict rules regarding texting and emailing students so I'll probably need to be sure I clear it with the admin people.  As long as I keep the messages professional and don't send any after 10 pm, I think I should be okay using the site.

Every student I talk to would rather get a text than an email.  I have to send emails to my IB students about their extended essay papers and it's about the only contact I have with them since I don't see them on a regular basis in a class.  I am going to use this website next year though when I start over again with our juniors.  I can continue on with our ManageBac site to send emails but supplement it with this one.  Then the kids will have NO excuse for not remembering a paper due date!

What kind of success have you had with texting students? Do your students like receiving text reminders?  Or do they think it's "lame" to get texts from a teacher?

Monday, January 30, 2012


So our budget for professional development is slim this year --that means no TLA convention since it's in Houston.  However we have a great alternative right here close to home--the TCEA conference.  The Texas Computer Educator Association is not only for computer people, they have a large section of presentations for librarians as well.  And the vendor area is huge!  Not as many book vendors obviously but a lot of the same people we deal with for databases and equipment. 

There's also an app for my phone containing the conference schedule.  I love it!  I can tell at a glance which sessions I was interested in.  I can post the different sessions to the schedule and if there's an overlap, that's okay.  I have a choice if the session I want is full.

I didn't go last year but year before when I went, I learned so many Web 2.0 tools, my head hurt.  I was able to share a lot of websites with teachers and found some nice laptop batteries, which my tech person and I were able to purchase to help out our laptops. 

All in all, if you are reading this blog, you are probably the kind of person who has all ready registered for a conference like this.  But on the off hand chance you haven't, check it out!

Friday, January 27, 2012

The boy who harnessed the wind

A book we recently purchased is entitled The Boy who Harnessed the Wind.  (cover courtesy of Amazon.)  I haven't read this book yet but I found the TED talk from the young man in the book.  Now I need to read this book.  Hopefully, his talk will inspire you as well.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

TED talks

So am I the only person who is just now figuring out how valuable this site is?  I've heard about TED talks and seen a few videos, but oh my goodness!  The wealth of information available on this site is overwhelming. Short videos from experts in whatever field about new ideas, explanations of old ideas, new uses for current technology-- you name it, it's probably there!

@TEDtalks is the Twitter feed to see what new information is being posted to the site.  And @TEDNews is their general Twitter feed of information.

I'm not sure the site would be something you would want to use with students but for professional development, it's priceless.  Whether it's something you want to know or you want to share with your teachers, check the TED site.  Each video listed also has a transcript of the video so you can get a quick overview of the content without watching the whole thing. 

I also have downloaded the app to my phone so I can watch some on the go.  Guess I'm getting a bit obsessed about this site!  Check it out and see what you think.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Using Ipads in the classroom

Our district is considering Ipads, as are most school districts, I'm sure.  A district close to us provided Ipads to all their juniors and seniors through a grant and people are watching closely to see the results. I've seen studies that go both ways on the use of the devices.  Most seem to show an improvement in students' learning--these are "digital natives" after all, but I've also seen some studies that suggest if the Ipads do not belong to the students personally, they don't have as much invested in the use of the device.  So everyone around is watching this pilot program to see the results.  The district hasn't decided if the students can have the devices when they graduate yet.  I guess they would be able to purchase them at a reduced cost?  I don't know what their plans are.  Here's a blog that the district is keeping to show the progress of the pilot program. 

But what to do with them is my biggest question.  I know you have the Kindle app and there's Project Gutenberg.  But there's lots more teachers and librarians can do with them.  This is a listing of 70 ways to use Ipads in the classroom--it's on a Google doc so you might have to sign into Google to see it.  Some of the suggestions are actually rather elementary, which for some reason surprised me.  I guess I'm so secondary oriented, I never thought of little kids using tablets.  Some of the suggestions are things like reading aloud to the students, practicing letter formations and making music. 

I'm curious where this will lead, especially after last week's announcement by Apple that they were getting into the textbook market through the Itunes store.  I need to read more about that so once I understand it better, I'll write some here.  But I am curious--how would you use an Ipad in your classroom right now with the apps available?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Using Pinterest in the Library

So I recently discovered Pinterest thanks to my daughter. This has to be one of the biggest time suckers on the web!!! I love the site but I'll get on it and an hour later, I realize what I'm doing--which is still looking at pictures!!

The site is basically an online bulletin board. "Pinners", or users, can "pin" pictures, videos or basically whatever to the boards--sort of the way I use my refrigerator door at home. The major demographic user of Pinterest seems to be young women--lots of weddings and baby pictures are pinned to the site.

But companies are just starting to see the power of the site. And so are libraries. I found this blog listing some ways libraries can use Pinterest. I actually never thought about using it for school, but it's a brilliant idea. I would need to make a separate account because I don't want my personal information available and attached to the library site.  But that's the same thing I've done for Twitter and Facebook so it's no big deal.

But I could make a board to highlight new titles.  I could make a board for student reviews or to highlight my library aides and their reading choices--sort of like Barnes and Noble does with their "staff picks."  I could make one for research sites.  The more I think on it, the more possibilities come to mind.

Try it and if you do, let me know what sorts of boards you come up with.  But whatever you do, don't look at any recipe pages!  You'll be there the rest of the day......(yeah, ask me how I know that........)

Monday, January 23, 2012

Common Craft videos

Have you ever wondered how Twitter works? Or what QR codes are? Common Craft videos can help show you how these and many other items function. The videos are short and easy to understand. And they help to explain many of the web's newest functions.

I've used Common Craft videos to show students about searching the web. You'll have to call them up and show them from the website unless you want to join their site. I haven't done that yet, but I can still use the videos, just not embed or save them.

Here's the link to their video on blogging. Check out the site any time you need an explanation of a new topic or you want a quick explanation for your students.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Thursday, January 19, 2012

LIbrary montage video

I found this video courtesy of the London Library--how many scenes can you recognize?

And just a personal commentary--credit is given for the scenes used--I'm assuming it's all correct. If SOPA passes, we won't be able to share items such as this.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


So I've been reading and hearing a lot about the SOPA bill coming up before Congress lately.  I didn't really pay much attention until I saw where Wikipedia may go dark on Wednesday to protest the bill.  I must confess my first thought was, "Yippee!  a good day to teach databases!!" but then I decided I really needed to do some looking into this topic.  What I've found is a bit disturbing.

First off, the bill is being sponsored by Congressman Lamar Smith from my area of Texas.  On the surface if I understand it correctly, the bill would "Order internet service providers to alter their DNS servers from resolving the domain names of websites in foreign countries that host illegal copies of videos, songs, and photos" (from the SOPA bill section 102).  Basically it seems to me that the government would have the power to go after foreign websites that host copyrighted/ pirated material.  In the US there are means to stop such pirating but this bill would give the US the power to stop foreign providers.  But in the process, the hosting sites in the US could be prosecuted or shut down. 

So that explains why Wikipedia, Twitter, Youtube and such are all up in arms about this.  Even if, in writing my blog, I refer to a site that has copyrighted material on it, I could be liable--whether I knew about the other site or not.  And I think that's the part that scares people.  It seems to me the Hollywood entertainment establishment is wanting to put censorship capabilties on foreign providers.  And that goes against all the Internet has been since it was established.

Now I have referred to the Internet as a gigantic mess--a library with all the books strewn all over the floor is my favorite description. And the problem with the easily copyrighted material is a big one.  But to pass this bill is basically throwing the baby out with the bath water--overkill in the worst way.

The most recent article I found said the vote has been tabled in Congress for now. Let's hope some cooler heads prevail and Congress takes a long look at this one before they rush to pass it.

This video from Wordpress is a good explanation of the whole bill if you need a visual.

PROTECT IP / SOPA Breaks The Internet from Fight for the Future on Vimeo.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Pieces of Us

My latest review for School Library Journal--I can't say I was very positive about this book.  I recommend it only for older, mature readers due to language and violence.

Pieces of Us
For a few weeks every summer Julie, Katie, Alex and Kyle can be free of the demands of school and their lives back home when they meet at their grandparents’ homes in the Catskills.  They even call each other by the Russian names their grandparents’ use.  But events from back home begin to interfere with their peaceful lives in the mountains.  Alex’s anger at his father for abandoning the family and his mother for ignoring the boys comes out in the string of girls he uses for meaningless sex and then leaves.  Kyle stays quietly out of sight as much as he can.  Katie is a popular cheerleader whose mother dotes on her while her sister Julie can do nothing right.  But when a violent date rape is caught on tape and goes viral throughout the school, the grief and humiliation is more than Katie can handle.  And when Alex finds out about the incident, his anger boils over into his relationship with Katie and their idyllic summers are over. Katie gets some help for her grief but loses her mother in the process.  Alex falls deeper into his anger and won’t give Katie the support she needs to recover.  This bitterly dark, depressing drama has multiple interlocking storylines which all end unhappily, and the characters, especially Alex, don’t change much by the end of the story.  The story is told with the four teens alternating as narrators which gives interesting perspectives to the narrative but can be confusing to a casual reader.  The plotline of too much alcohol mixed into a party atmosphere results in a great cautionary tale for teens but the extremely descriptive sexual violence and repetitious use of provocative language make this one suitable for only the most mature readers. 

Friday, January 13, 2012

Daniel Pink

Once TED Talks provides a great inspiration. Daniel Pink talks about the science of motivation. His books make great additions to a school's professional collection. Drive and A Whole New Mind are must reads for anyone teaching literacy today.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

If you gotta' use Google......

then at least use it correctly.  I don't know how many times I've told students that.  Too many kids want to put in an entire research question into Google and then they can't understand why they aren't getting any results.  Or getting results they can use.

Richard Byrne has an article in the latest edition of School Library Journal entitled Keep Good Searches from Going Bad: When students make a beeline for Google, these tips can improve their experience.  I wish I could make this required reading for anyone--teacher or student--coming in the library to look for information.  I don't know why people think Google is going to answer questions for them--over and over again we stress keyword matching--just put the most important words you want the computer to search for.  But over and over again, I see students typing in long questions and getting poor results.

One of Richard's first suggestions is for teachers to stop giving assignments that can be quickly "googled" --AMEN to that.  I try to suggest to teachers different ways to look for information but teachers sometime are slow to change plans--if it worked last year, then by all means, do it again (TTWWADI in action!). 

Learning all the different strategies to use with Google helps too.  Just going through the advanced search function instead of taking what first pops up is a big help.  Tammy Worcester is another Google guru--her book on Google tips outlines nearly everything a researcher can do to streamline a Google search.  It's a lot to remember so it's no wonder people don't always use her tips.  But again, just some simple things help--like sticking to key words rather than a question.

Richard also gives some great suggestions for other search engines.  I tell kids all the time--Google is not the only game in town--just the biggest one.  And if one search engine doesn't give you the results you need, then try another one.

Richard's blog is called Free Technology 4 Teachers.  He has some great ideas to use technology in the classroom so when I saw his article in SLJ, I was quick to read it.  Take some time to read it--and try to pick one trick to try and implement.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Children prefer ebooks

So according to a new study just released, children prefer ebooks over print books.  When I first read that, I had a "duh" moment.  Of course children prefer ebooks--anything digital that has colors, sounds, and movement is going to rank higher than plain ol' print.

But if you read closer, I'm not sure this was the most valid study.  The study only looked at children ages 3-6 in the summer and fall of 2011.  The comprehension scores were equal but the ebooks were preferred. 

Seems to me to be a small study of a select group.  Is this enough to publish headlines--Children prefer ebooks?  I've seen that headline three times today alone.  And again, there had to be a study done on this topic?  I mean seems to me to be a no brainer.  Of course the digital versions are going to be more enjoyable especially for younger children.

But you know, nothing--nothing at all--will ever top the feeling of holding my grandson in my lap and reading to him--I don't care if it's from a picture book, a tablet or my iphone!  The act of reading is what counts.  The delivery medium is secondary.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Google searching

Poor Robert Santorum.  His campaign can't get a break.  And they could benefit from some serious work with Google to clear up their search terms!  This article from the Detroit Free Press shows what can happen if someone in the public eye doesn't pay attention to what shows up on Google. 

It seems a few years back a columnist challenged readers to define the senator's last name.  The winning entry was a very vulgar definition but because so many people went to look it up on Google, now it's the first entry when you look for Santorum.  (Okay, I know you want to look so click here.)  His campaign website is about the 4th entry down.  In the best of all possible worlds, his campaign site should be the first entry. Now he has a small staff and I'm sure they are stretched thin trying to do everything, but if t were my campaign, this would be a high priority. 

So what does this campaign story have to do with literacy education?  My dear friend and library consultant, Megan Cooper, originally tweeted the link.  Her suggestion was this article is an excellent example to show teachers how invalid Google searching alone can be when researching.  Now my disclaimer--DO NOT SHOW THIS TO STUDENTS in any way, shape or form. It is NOT APPROPRIATE.  But it might show teachers why just relying on one search engine for all your information or letting students loose to find whatever when they are researching can be dangerous.

Other bogus websites exist for the purpose of teaching students the need for validating a website (the tree octopus is a great one!) but this news story is an excellent example of a current event that just might hit home for teachers.

And please, Senator Santorum, take some time to develop your website and hopefully you can move it to the top of the Google results page.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Help stamp out TTWWADI!

Oh no!  Our Internet connection at school is down today and going over my to-do list this morning, I realized everything I have to do—including this blog posting-- is Internet based!  Really hits home how web dependent we have become.  So I’m going the “old fashioned” way and writing in Word with the hopes of pasting it to my blog later today.
All these Internet troubles also reinforce something I was thinking about over the weekend.  This Internet outage is going to cause some teachers to have to juggle their plans at the last minute but that will be hard for many of them.  Why? A lack of flexibility and the ability to change plans is rampant around here. My campus has a serious case of TTWWADI—“That’s the way we’ve always done it.” 
For example, “I’ve always had my students write book reports.”  So if I try to show that particular teacher an Internet tool like glogster.edu or animoto.com, the response I get is “TTWWADI.” Researching using online books—“I always make my students use library books”.  Yeah, okay, our collection is dated and not very current because so much information is available on the Internet.  Or the converse—“I just tell my students to go to Yahoo—they’ll find everything they need for research.” Right—how many scholarly journals are indexed through Yahoo?
How do I stamp out TTWWDI?  Not sure one person can.  It takes a shift in thinking from everyone, not just a few.  Now, a few people can instigate the change, but I’m finding that, without a full scale shift in the campus mindset—from the top on down, it’s not going to happen.  And as the “Lone Ranger Librarian” on this campus, my influence is limited.
But I keep plugging away.  It just takes one teacher, one student, one administrator to start making some ripples that will eventually change the mindset around here. Until then I’ll just keep fighting TTWWADI as hard and fast as I can.

Friday, January 6, 2012

World Book Night

I heard about World Book Night in the UK last year.  Well, now it seems that World Book Night is coming to the US.  On April 23, 2012 one million books will be distributed and given away for free across the United States in an effort to encourage reading.  You can sign up to be a book giver here

You can choose from 30 different titles and you will receive 20 copies of the book.  The only stipulation is that you must give them away to people who might not normally read a book. 

For me this will be easy!  I put down two choices of books--the Hunger Games or Friday Night Lights.  Either one would go over big here at my school so I hope I am chosen to hand out books. I can already think of 20 students I would give them to.   Here is the listing of all the titles available.

Sign up today--I already have!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Protecting your online reputation

Back in November Joyce Valenza wrote about protecting your online reputation.  An infographic from Mashable shows why it is so important to pay attention to how you "look" online--78% of employers these days check out candidates online.  An poorly worded Tweet or an inappropriate Facebook posting can cost a job.

But are we as educators doing enough to help our students understand this concept of an online reputation?  I don't think so--especially when we can't even access most social media sites from school.  This line from Joyce's blog says it best: "Are there ways we can balance student safety with publishing student work so that our students, in turn, can balance those party shots with their best digital stories, science projects, and IB papers?"

Our district is adopting an inhouse site to house wiki's, forums and blogs for students so they can get the experience of using those tools and still be safe online, especially the little ones.  But I find at the high school, most students have all ready started using Wikispaces, Blogger or some other public site and they find the inhouse site too restrictive.  And don't we want them to have a public persona online?  As Joyce said, we want them to be able to display their best work for future colleges and employers to easily access.

For now I guess the best thing we can do is keep teaching our students to think before they post or Tweet....those party pictures may come back to haunt them at a most inopportune time!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

QR codes not going anywhere.....

So I keep reading about QR codes and I'm finding not too many people know what they are.  This article from CNN says that 8 out of 10 college students don't know what to do with a QR code!  And I would think that would be a "target" audience--if anyone would know about a new technology, it would be college kids.

I've used QR codes for a little while with marginal success.  I made lots of summer assignment websites for teachers and then made display signs with QR codes on them.  I made sure to put some instructions about accessing the code but I find I have to include the web address too.

Part of the reason I think QR codes aren't catching on is not everyone has a smart phone yet or knows how to access QR readers if they do have a phone.  Most people still think the square code is a pretty design, not realizing the square actually contains information.

The article says, "Unless QR codes become easier, more nimble, and can provide content that engenders a more meaningful connection to the brand or product, students will continue to shower them with apathy."  Some students say the process takes too long (wow!  now that's scary!) or they can't figure out the whole process.  And we all know how cumbersome it can be to try and access web materials on your phone sometimes.

QR codes are an interesting concept and I know educators are jumping on them--anything "techie" we can do to grab a student's interest helps.  But I'm just not sure this is a concept we want to invest a whole lot of time on.

What do you think?  Any cool uses for QR codes?  Successes? 

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Flipped Classrooms

So have you heard about flipped classrooms?  This seems to be the new buzzword right now.  This article from Edudemic has a good explanation as well as a good infographic to help explain the process.  In a nutshell, the teacher acts as an advisor rather than instructor.  Students watch lectures as homework and then use class time to work on assignments with the teacher around to help and advise.

I'm on the fence on this issue.  I can see the benefits of helping students to work and apply concepts in class time.  Teachers can use their time to help students and they can actually see how students are working on assignments, rather than correcting mistakes after the fact in a homework assignment.  In terms of efficiency, the amount of material a class can cover should increase.

But I worry about several details.  If a student's homework assignment is to watch a video at home, will they?  What about the differences in technology from school to home?  Not all my students have Internet access at home.  What would they have to do?  And not to mention the fact that most students don't do homework these days.  How would that destroy a lesson?

And I worry about the burden on the teachers to prepare the lessons for home viewing.  Do most teachers have the technology skills to create a "vodcast" and publish it to the Internet?  And do they have the time?  If all during class, the teacher is walking around advising, when is the vodcast going to get produced?

I think this might be a good technique to try for a science or history class, but those of us who teach literacy skills know the best thing for students is to read, read, read and write, write, write.  My favorite class periods consisted of a very short mini lesson (no more than about 10 minutes) of instruction, a block of time to write and share and then a block of time to read. 

Am I wrong?  What do others think?  I would love to hear from anyone who has used a flipped classroom model.  Leave me a comment if you have.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Words for 2012

So I don't know about you but I'm back at work today.  It took me all of vacation to feel relaxed and back to "normal" and now here we are ----back to it.

Over the break I read this blog posting from Jeff Goins entitled Why your Work Never Feels Good Enough.  It really struck a chord with me.  And the basic premise boils down to this:  practice, practice, practice.....Whether it's writing, singing, dancing--wherever your creative talents take you, the creativity requires practice. 

As an example, I keep the very first thing I knitted as a reminder of how far I've come.  My first project was godawful but I keep it around so I can see my progress. 

My writing is the same.  I hope I finish this novel this year but I'm not sure it will be very good.  But if the practice theory holds true, the next few novels in the series will be better!

This video says it better than I ever could:

Ira Glass on Storytelling from David Shiyang Liu on Vimeo.