Sunday, January 24, 2010

I've Moved My Blog!

I finally moved this blog to my own domain and into Wordpress. I first tried moving it to Wordpress did an amazing job of moving over 200+ posts and 400+ comments with the click of a button. If you are thinking of switching platforms, I think it is worth it. However, be warned that while it left my YouTube videos intact, it stripped out my Google Forms, Vimeo videos and a few other things.

Today I was talking with Kim Cofino who told me it was easy to set up Wordpress on my own domain. I already knew that on my own install, the media would not be striped out. Since I already have a domain hosted with BlueHost, I gave it a try.

It was incredibly easy. All the media came with it. I could have been done, but of course I had to start mucking around with themes, get Akismet blocking the spam, and other things. I haven't made it all pretty yet, but I need to work on other things, so I am stepping away from the dashboard for the time being.

I haven't figured out how to redirect an RSS feed yet, so please point your browser to my new blog, or change the feed to feed://

Thank you for reading my blog. I appreciate your visits and your comments.

P.S. If you are in need of a domain, give BlueHost a try. I've been hosting a Moodle and a mailing list there since early 2006 and they have been great to work with, constantly giving me more space, faster servers and easier controls. My Wordpress installed with the click of a button, and updates are just as easy.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

What Tech Tools are You Using to Support Writers?

I am preparing a three-part workshop for elementary teachers to familiarize them with different tech tools they could use to support their students as writers.

I am just getting started planning it. I know I will share some tools currently being used by teachers at my school. For example, one teacher has her students posting their poetry to a discussion board in Blackboard. I am amazed by the depth of the comments the classmates are leaving for the poets.

Another teacher is using Google Docs for working on mechanics and writing skills. The children follow a link from his website and then join in the activity, such as expanding a sentence, writing a better ending.

One class has research and then storyboarded movies on cyberbullying. Another uses Movie Maker to have the children create illustrated movies of their poems.

We have teachers using VoiceThread to create student book reviews. Others using Shelfari for students to recommend books to classmates. (NOTE: Most of these were not my ideas. We have a great staff so I am constantly learning from them.)

This will be a three part workshop that should show increasingly more advanced uses with each new sessions. I would very much like to crowd source it. Please complete the survey below to tell me your ideas for using tech to support, enhance, nurture student writers.

I know the survey doesn't work well with this Blogger template. Yet another reason why I need to move to WordPress. Please hit return any time you are in danger of typing off the page.

The last question is optional. However, if you give me your name I will be able to thank you in the credits of my presentation.

When you are done, please scroll to the end and press the submit button.

Thank you.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Using Twitter to Get Real-Time Info on Situation in Haiti

About an hour ago I was trolling the headlines for information on the devastating earthquake that hit Haiti today. The reports were not yet very informative other than that this is a huge disaster which caused much damage and loss of life.

Research done, I was about to turn off the computer for the evening when I saw the following tweet from Clarence Fisher:

I clicked on the usernames and began to read. And read. I was especially moved by following the picture that unfolded from @troylivesay's tweets. He is now up to 964 followers. I wonder how many he had prior to today.

Go ahead and give this use of social networking a try. If you don't already have a Twitter account, go to and read his tweets there. Let the on-the-ground descriptions combine with what you hear from traditional news sources to give you a more complete picture. Let the tweets put a human face on the news.

Monday, January 11, 2010

A Video to Start Your Year

I've seen links to this video zooming around the Twitterverse all weekend so I finally took a look. If you haven't seen it, it is worth your time as well.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

A Bit of Toast for My Substitute Teacher

One of the challenges of being a technology integrationalist is leaving realistic lesson plans for a substitute. Many of the subs do not feel confident enough in their tech skills to accept a sub job in a tech class. This is true even at the elementary level where I teach.

I want both the students and substitute to have a productive, enjoyable day when I am absent from school. I want the students to continue with our planned lessons whether or not I am there to teach them. I have finally found a way to do that.

The idea grew out of a past ISTE article that detailed how a team of high school teachers had turned their classroom upside using podcasts. They began to podcast their lectures in advance of the lesson being taught. Students viewed the podcast as homework and then came into class ready to discuss the lecture/demonstration and to complete the lab work. It gave them more 1:1 time with individual students, and student achievement was growing significantly.

That project is beyond the scope of what I am able to do in my classroom at this time, but the idea of podcasting my lessons in advanced seemed like the answer to the lesson plans for substitutes problems.

Most of the time, I need a way for the substitute to show the students how to do something on their computer. This lends itself nicely to using one of the online screen recording programs that are available online.

Chris Betcher makes many instructional screencast tutorials so at his recommendation I decided to try ScreenToaster.

Setting up a ScreenToaster account was quick, free and easy. After a few rehearsals, I was ready to click the big record button and create my screencast. My first attempt was done on my Lenovo X200 tablet and it was not able to render the video and the audio fast enough, so the audio lagged behind.

For my next attempt, I created a tutorial for my staff. I opted to create the screen recording without audio, and to then go back and record the audio as the recording plays back. ScreenToaster makes it very easy to do this. This method worked better. It kept the audio synced with the video.
When the video is finished, you have the choice to download the video or to upload it to various places. I choose to upload it to ScreenToaster's own site. This free option allowed me to save the video in a higher quality format that if I were putting it into You Tube. I felt that was important since a tutorial isn't much use if the screen recording is too blurry or pixelated to read.

When the videos is published, it can be viewed on the ScreenToaster website. You are also provided with an embed code so you could embed the video into a blog or other online tool. I run the video's URL through a URL shortening site such as TinyURL so that I have an easy URL to add to my lesson plans.

So far, both uses of ScreenToaster seem successful. Today will be a big test as my substitute will be using it two different screencasts with three different classes. I am eager to read her notes and to see the progress the students made.

I haven't used any other screen recording applications lately so I cannot say how ScreenToaster compares to the other options available. I do wish ScreenToaster gave an option to do some editing of the video before you post it, even to clip the ragged ends of the video but I have not found any editing tools in ScreenToaster. You can strip out the audio and try again if you don't like how it sounds.

Are you using screencasts in your school or classroom? What screen recording software have you tried? Which would you recommend? I'd appreciate hearing of your experiences and recommendations.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Better Model for Tech Professional Development

Last year my principal recognized that our schedule lacked time for tech professional development. There were few built in times, and teachers have so many commitments that they rarely can attend offerings after school.

We had just moved to a new professional development model that required staff to be in some sort of training every Monday after school. Each month those Mondays were devoted to staff meetings, collaborative project meetings, or departmental meetings. This year, she took one of those monthly meetings and devoted it to optional technology workshops and asked me to develop the model.

Right from the start, she and I knew that a one-size-fits-all model didn't work because our staff's skills varied so from one person to the next. We also knew from reading research and from experience, that one-shot workshops tend to lack impact.

To provide differentiation and avoid the one-shot problem, we created a number of three-part series workshops. Each series had an introductory workshop labelled 101, a developing-level workshop labelled 201, and more advanced workshop labelled 301.

For the most part, 101 workshops gave an introduction to the topic and suggested ways it could be used. 201 workshops were more hands on. 301 workshops were largely work times where the participants could create their own resources or projects with someone their to offer assistance as needed.

For the first term of workshops, we wanted to focus more on teacher proficiencies than on technology integration. Thanks to a number of talented teachers stepping up to teach their colleagues we offered the following workshops this semester.

  • AV - using our Vado cameras and our digital voice recorders, using that media in projects
  • Interactive Whiteboard - helping teachers create start using the new ActivInspire software to create their own IWB resources
  • OneNote - using Microsoft Office OneNote 2007, a program that is used extensively by our admin team
  • Web Presence - helping teachers create an easy to manage web presence to use with their class (e.g. a blog, a wiki)
  • Wikis - what they are, how to use them with your students, how to start one
All of the workshops were optional UNLESS someone lacked a skill they needed to do their job. Teachers were free to to attend any workshop as long as they had the pre-requisite skills. If a teacher already had basic skills, they could skip the 101 level and join for the 201 level. Likewise, if a teacher took the 101 level workshop, they were not required to take the 201 and 301 levels.

Although the workshops were optional, 31 (out of 55 possible) faculty members attended workshops on the first Monday. By our second Monday, we had people from central administration also attending the workshops. We will hold the third session next Monday.

Not all workshops were equally popular. Some had a strong showing for the 101 level but then had fewer people at the 201 level. Ideally we would have pre-surveyed staff to gauge interest, but the start of the year was so busy we didn't want to ask them to do one more thing at that time.

On post-workshop surveys staff consistently stated that the workshops were just right in terms of level of difficulty, amount of information and usefulness. A number of teachers indicated that wished they could clone themselves so that they could attend more than one at a time.

Equally importantly, many teachers went back to their rooms and put the knowledge to use. We could tell this was happening because they would ask for support during the month, or they arrived at the 201 workshop full of questions that arose from their classroom experiences during the month.

In preparation for semester two, we sent out an optional planning survey asking which (if any) of this term's workshops they would take if it were offered again, and which of the possible new workshops they would be interested in attending. It also asked if they had other topics they would like to see offered. Based on that survey, we will repeat a few workshops on one of our late start in-service days during semester two.

Equally informative to me was that fact that on the first day the survey was open, 31 staff members completed it. That tells me that despite being very busy people, our staff continue to value these workshops and want a voice in the topics offered.

Have you found a technology professional development model that works for your staff?

Looking for Blogs Written by Grade 5 or 6 Students

One of my fifth grade classes will start blogging soon. As they learn about blogging, I want them to visit well-written student blogs so they can learn what a blog is and how to comment appropriately.

If you know of student blogs that would meet these requirements, I would appreciate you leaving me their URLs in the comments.

Thank you.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

My Favorite iPhone Apps

At long last, 32 GB iPhone 3Gs are available in Singapore. I've had mine just shy of two weeks and am loving it. I received an iPod Touch last summer as part of a deal when I purchased a new Mac so I was already familiar with the operating system.

Here is a list of apps I am finding especially useful.

Todo. My previous post discussed how I was using this program in conjunction with the web-based Toodledo. Both are still working very well for me. I love having my task list always with me, and still being able to enter tasks via the keyboard when I am at a computer. Toodledoo is free. Todo is not free.

Instapaper - This program started as a web site with a browser plugin. The idea is that when you find something online that you want to read at a later time, you click the plugin button and the page is harvested and saved in your free Instapaper account. The premise is good, but I very rarely find myself online thinking, "Gee, what should I read now." Enter the iPhone app. You can sync the iphone app with your account on the website. That downloads the articles to your iphone for offline reading. I used this a bunch on my Touch since I'd often find myself in a place without wifi with a bit of time on my hands, such as in a taxi or eating lunch. However, I didn't maximize my use of this app until I found the next app...

Twittelator Pro - This is a robust Twitter client. For me, it's best feature is its integration with Instapaper. My PLN on Twitter is constantly posting links to great blog posts. In the past I ended up following the links and then bookmarking them with but I rarely remembered to go back and read them. Now I find I prefer to access Twitter from my iphone. I am constantly sending Twitter links to Instapaper. I feel like I am finally back in touch. And with my Twitter PLN vetting the sites for me, it is all quality reading. This is a paid app.

Tweetie 2 - Although most iphone Twitter clients can check more than one account, I find it more convenient to keep my personal account in a different client than my tech account. Tweetie 2 is a quick app with a clean and clear interface. I like that DM discussions appear in an iChat-style of window. Tweetie is also a strong desktop client. It might be Mac only. The iphone app is a paid app.

Shopper - As you would guess, this is a program for storing shopping lists. I've made lists for different places such as the shops across the street, the nearby mall, downtown, etc. When I am at those locations, I check the list and often find items I had forgotten I needed. This app does much more than I need it to do, such as allowing you to share lists with others. It has worked well for me because it is quick to use and it is easy to add new items. This is a paid app.

1Password - I had this on my Mac and now I also have it on my iphone. The desktop program plugs into your browsers adding a button. When you visit a site that requires you to login, you can click the button and it will log you in. I also use it to store my passport details, my work permit, and other important numbers. The program can also be used to generate strong passwords.

The desktop and iphone versions can be synced across a wireless network. The iphone version doesn't plugin to Safari. Instead, you access sites using 1Password's own browser. It is handy so you don't have to try to type your logins on the iphone keyboard. Both are paid apps.

Evernote - For a while I kept a Zoho wiki as a catch all for information I needed to access at home and away. However, adding information to it was a bit tedious since I need to login, make a new page, etc. Evernote is a web based notebook for storing any and everything. You can use it at the web site. You can also download the desktop client (Mac, Windows, Linux and probably others) and access your notes from there. I have it on my Mac at home, my Windows XP machine at work, and on my phone. It syncs my notes across all my computers and with the website. Given time, the program even reads your images and can search text in them. The iphone app gives you another way to access your information. Unfortunately, you need to get online for it to do so which meant that on my Touch I often couldn't access my notes when I needed them. Now with an iPhone that is a non-issue. The app, like the website, is free for basic use.

Gym Buddy - This app stores my workouts. It has workouts and exercises already in it. It also allows you to add your own. That process is a bit tedious and has a few quirks, but the program has lots of really useful features such as workout timers, calendar and history. It is easy to edit the reps and the weights. I am finding it very useful.

When I switched from my Touch I was dreading having to enter my own exercises again. Then I poked around the app and found it could backup to your computer using SyncDocs, an Open Source project from SourceForge that lets you sync without any configuring. It was incredibly simple to use and all my exercises, workouts and logs transfered cleanly. This is a paid app.

Of course I am using Fring and Skype. A friend told me he purchased a Skype In account with a number in his home area code. Friends and family back home can dial a local number and reach him. As a result, they call more often. Since my friends and family very rarely call me, I'm thinking of giving it a try. Both Fring and Skype are free iphone apps, but a Skype In online number has a fee.

MPR Radio - I may live in Singapore, but I find I miss listening to the news back home as I get ready for work. Then we found this app which makes it easy to stream our local public radio station. Now if only there were a way to block out the pledge drives. Of course, now that I am listening again, I need to support the station financially. But after I do that, I can switch over to using the Public Radio app until the pledge drive is over. It doesn't really matter if "All Things Considered" is streaming from Minnesota, Boston or Chicago. Both apps are free.

Stanza - This ebook reader is well designed. I love that built into it is access to many free sources for ebooks. It seems each time the app updates there are more sources. It also links you to paid sources. In either case, the books download into the program. It is highly customizable in terms of font size and style. You can lock the screen so the orientation doesn't keep switching if you are leaning or laying down. It has a built in dictionary. You can add bookmarks. It remembers where you left off in each book you are reading. This app is well worth paying for. The only feature I see that it lacks is the ability to mark up the text. I don't need that since I use it for pleasure reading, but the more scholarly readers may need that.

TripIt - I've been using the free TripIt website for the past year. I love that the site can suck in my hotel reservations and airplane tickets, combining them into one neat itinerary. It will even print maps to help me find the hotel. I love being able to send my family a tidy itinerary with all my contact details for the entire trip. Now there is a free iphone app. It makes it easy for me to check my itinerary any time a question arises. On my Touch I needed to let it sync with the website when I had wifi available. After doing that the information was available offline.

Packing - To get ready for those trips, I now use Packing. As you would expect, the program helps you pack for your trip. There are numerous apps with similar features. I choose this one because it allows you to easily add your own items. I was amazed to realize that quite a few of the apps in this genre didn't allow that. I also like that it has the option to only view the items left to pack or the items already packed. It also lists handy tasks that need accomplishing that you might forget, such as storing valuables, shutting off appliances and other handy reminders. This is a paid app.

myBatteryLife - is a paid utility. It tells me the % of battery left and then goes one step further. It lists how that % translates into talk time, internet on 3G, internet on Wi-Fi, video playback, and audio playback. Rechargeable batteries are usually good for X number of recharges before their ability to hold a charge decreases too much. Ideally, you should run your batteries down rather than keeping them always topped up. That keeps the batteries in good shape. I am finding that based on the phone's own icon, I would think I should charge it, but then myBatteryLife shows me that it is really still at 60%.

Mental Case - As a specialist teacher, I work with around 340 students. Unfortunately, I am not especially good at remembering names. Last year I started using Flashcard Exchange and it helped but creating the cards was tedious. This year, I purchased Mental Case for my Mac and for my Touch. Mental Case makes it really easy to create different types of flash cards. I loved that using Mental Case I could screen capture the students' photos out of Powerschool. I made flash cards for an entire grade level in an hour. Then I used Wi-Fi to sync the stack onto my iPhone. Now I can practice when I am in taxis or waiting for a meeting to start. The desktop version can import from the Flashcard Exchange website in csv format, meaning text will transfer but images will not. Mental Case is a paid app on the iphone.

Maps -
is a built-in app but I find it so useful that I wanted to mention it here. Last summer I used it often on my Touch. When I had Wi-Fi it could figure out where I was, and then route me to where I wanted to go. If I had to go somewhere new, I would do the searching when I was home and then the directions were saved on my Touch. Once when I was out, I was able to sip from an unsecured network to grab directions. When we were driving from Chicago down to Bloomington (and back) it gave better directions than the GPS we were using. It directed us right into the driveway of the rental car station. I have only used the driving directions but it also gives walking and bus directions. Now that I have an iphone, it can save the day even when we don't have Wi-Fi available.

I have many other apps on my iphone, but these are some of the ones I use most often, or that I thought might be of use to educators. I'd appreciate hearing about the apps you are finding most useful on your Touch or iPhone.