My Favorite Apps: Top Three for Keeping Up

March 15, 2012

This post is Part 2 in a series of My Favorite Apps. Here’s what you might have missed:

There are thousands of apps out there that will allow the iPad to be used in many, many ways. I have to say that in my house, unless I’m going to be formatting a research paper or something of that nature, it is the device I pick up the most. At work, it is my go-to device for when I’m traveling from school to school and want something quick and light-weight to carry around to take notes, check emails, do web browsing, and more. As I mentioned before, right now in my district administrators can purchase iPads for their use and we are now accepting applications for a student pilot of iPads in the classroom. Since administrators are the ones who have iPads in hand right now, I’m still keeping my focus on apps for them and teachers.

Don’t judge me for the US Weekly and Disney feeds!

So today, I’d like to share my favorite apps for taking in content. By content, I mean the apps I use to keep up with the blogs I read, news, current trends, and a little social media.

My first love for this is Flipboard. The first great thing about Flipboard? It’s free. So what does it do? Well according to the makers of the app, it’s a social magazine. Great, but what does that mean? Basically, you tell it what content you are interested in, and it pulls that specific content into a visually appealing magazine like format. All in one place. So no more going to twitter to read tweets, google reader to reed feeds, specific news sites to read the news. Everything is all there in one place. For those of you who are thinking, well I do that already with RSS feeds in a reader, well I did too! The reason I like Flipboard so much for this is because it displays the content in a more visual format, kind of like a magazine. You can see in the screenshot of a page of my Flipboard screen, I have a mixture of blogs, bundled folders from my Google Reader, magazines, and twitter hashtag searches all feeding into Flipboard. And I can turn the pages by swiping my finger. Also, I can easily share anything I find interesting by tweeting or Facebook-ing it, or I can send links via email. Pretty cool right? I think so too.

A second app that I really like is Zite. Instead of pulling your specific feeds into the app, you pick out sections from categories such as Technology, Education, Social Media, Pets, and more. You can also enter your own keywords to create sections. You can also connect to your accounts such as Google Reader, Facebook, and more. Zite pulls in stories, and you can “like” them, kind of like you like songs on Pandora or rate movies on Netflix. The app uses your preferences to send you more stories. It’s a great way to get information and see articles you know you’ll be interested in. And of course you can also share what you’re reading with the click of a button finger. Be careful…this app by default does make a whistle noise when it shares…it drives my dogs crazy every time!

And finally, even though I do love Flipboard for getting my read fixes in a visual way, I can’t not give props (is that still a saying?) to the Hootsuite App. I first started using this one more than Tweetdeck at the urging of Jason Mammano over at Have Technology Will Travel, all because he loved the little owl that pops up when you send a tweet. Seriously though, I think it is great for many reasons. You can add multiple Twitter and Facebook accounts, add hashtag searches to your streams, see all your direct messages, mentions, retweets, and more. You can also view analytics from this app, and follow people straight from the app. The other clincher for me is that if I’m not using my iPad, I can log-in from the web and everything is all synched together. For some reason there were times when my Tweetdeck columns weren’t synched between devices, which gave Hootsuite the advantage for me. Also great was the one time last summer when I tweeted a question to @hootsuite about an issue I was having, they replied back in less than 5 minutes. The free Hootsuite app and site both have a few ads, but I barely notice them.

So those are the apps I use to keep up with content- what are your favorites?

My Advice About Teaching with Technology

March 13, 2012

I spent a little time tonight looking back at the classroom blog that I started back during my first full year as a teacher, before I was even accepted in the Pinnacle Technology Leader program that we have in my county. In fact, I had forgotten that I even HAD a blog way back then, but the proof is there! What’s interesting to me is comparing the blog I had then to the blog that I had the next year. One reason I love having a personal blog is because it’s like a diary of sorts that reminds of those sometimes mundane turned awesome life happenings when memory fails. As is turns out, my classroom and professional blogs work the same way.

In looking back at my first classroom blog, it was totally there to distribute information. It wasn’t to provide collaboration or spur discussion, but simply used as a tool to get information out to parents and students.

1st Class Blog
2nd Class Blog

But then I took a look at the classroom blog that I used the next year, and it had obviously evolved into something more than simply information distribution. By this time, I was not only using the blog to post assignments and communicate with parents, but was also using our classroom blog as a weekly literacy/content center, and as a place to get student feedback on many activities we did in the classroom. 
But thinking back on this time in my classroom, not only had my use of blogging changed, but my use of technology in general had changed as well. When I first started teaching, whatever technology I used was mostly just that- me using technology. I was lucky enough to have a school laptop that I could use to write lesson plans on, and had easy enough access to a projector when I wanted to show a video or a website for use in my lessons. And I think that was natural, especially when I take into account that I started teaching in my own classroom half-way through a school year. It was more about survival and figuring out where to pick up than making things my own.
But…just like my blog evolved in my 2nd year, so did my other use of technology. I started focusing on letting my students use whatever technology was available, not just me. And it wasn’t just about using the technology… I figured out that what was most important was what students were DOING with technology. So using the technology wasn’t important, but learning was. And learning new technologies wasn’t even important, but learning about the moon, or other countries, or about the life cycles of plants, or about how to work together even with people you aren’t best friends with was the important stuff. And if through doing that, students learned new technology or got to use the newest “it” site great. 
And you know what? Teaching with technology, and integrating it in a way that was seamless and flowed wasn’t always easy. BUT. It was possible. I know it was, because I did it. But that doesn’t mean that it is going to happen overnight.
So my advice to all those trying to figure out ways to teach with all this new technology? Whether you’re a veteran teacher trying to update your teaching practices or a novice teacher already in love with all things tech…take it step by step. Baby steps are okay. The same methods don’t work for everyone, and that’s okay. If this year or this semester, you want to try using a class blog or give a site like Edmodo a try and just focus on communication, that’s okay. Don’t feel like you have to do everything at once, and don’t feel like you have to try every single new thing out there. Because you know what? Technology and all the cool new stuff shouldn’t really the focus. Your content should be. All that cool stuff may be a great way to engage your students in your content…but that’s what your Instructional Technology Facilitator can help you with too! 
So if you’re scared, it’s okay! Take small steps, and don’t be afraid to ask for help!
What’s your advice for integrating technology into teaching?

Have you looked at Thinkfinity lately?

March 12, 2012

A site that has been around for a while, but kind of fell off the radar for me is Thinkfinity. After hearing a couple of colleagues talk up Thinkfinity based on a session they attended at TCEA, I decided to give the site another look. Well, it turns out that I have really done myself a disservice by not using Thinkfinity in the past! So, what is it? Powered by the Verizon Foundation, Thinkfinity is a great website that houses K-12 lesson plans as well as other interactive lesson materials. Not only are lessons linked to state and common core standards, but there is great content available from Thinkfinity partners such as National Geographic, Read Write Think, NCTM’s Illumimations, Wonderopolis, and more. Part of the power of Thinkfinity for me though is not just that there are thousands of resources that are already available, but that you can also join the Thinkfinity Community, which gives you access to resources that other educators are finding and using as well. Once you’ve joined the community, you can save and organize your favorite resources and join in on discussions about those resources. It turns Thinkfinity into a PLN of its own, which I love. Since the majority of my time is spent planning and providing professional development for teachers on different technology tools and how to integrate those tools, one of my favorite finds in the Thinkfinity Community has been the Integration Framework for Educators, which is a 5 step process for successful integration of technology into an instructional activity. I like that it asks specific questions and really takes teachers through the thought process of implementing technology tools while keeping instructional content the focus.

Have you checked out Thinkfinity? What did you think?

My Favorite Apps: Top Two for Notes

February 29, 2012

You can’t go anywhere without hearing about iPads…they’re all the rage at conferences, in some school districts, and more. Even when I go out to eat, you see kids (and adults) playing with their iPads at the table. Now I’m not here to judge whether or not that’s okay (especially since I may have been guilty of pulling mine out once or twice), but what I would like to do is share some of my favorite apps. There are apps for everything it seems, and app lists aren’t hard to come by at all. Sometimes it can even be a little overwhelming because there are SO MANY great apps out there. In our district, right now it is approved for administrators to purchase iPads, and we are in the beginning stages of running an iPad Pilot for students. I can’t wait to share my favorite apps for student use, but in this post I’m going to stick with top 2 apps that have been invaluable to me at work and as a doctoral student for note-taking and organization.

PaperPort Notes (formerly Noterize)

An app that I first fell in love with last year when I first purchased my iPad (thank you Uncle Sam for that tax refund!) was Noterize. It was described as a “digital note taking tool,” which doesn’t even begin to tell you about the magic you could make happen with this app. Unfortunately, my favorite app became unavailable for a while, but now you can grab it by it’s new name- PaperPort Notes. So what’s so magical about this app? Well- you can create notes, obviously. And on those notes, you can add “sticky notes” or annotate using a pen and highlighter tool. Pair this app with a stylus and it’s like having that legal pad to carry around with you everywhere. But what I use it for the most is annotating over pdf files. I can import my pdf files from several services such as Dropbox and Google. I could also choose to use Paperport to open the pdf when I first open it on the iPad. Then, I can use the same sticky note, pen, or highlighter tool to annotate on that pdf. When I’m done, I can choose to share it by email, or export it out to Evernote, Google, or Dropbox. And have I mentioned that it also uses Dragon Dictation’s voice recording technology so I can talk instead of text if needed? Amazing. My favorite organizational, I need to do work App. I use it to store and annotate over research articles, mark up pdf checklists when I don’t have access to wireless, and more.

Evernote

An app that is coming in to a very close 2nd place for me is Evernote. I admit that when I first tried it a couple of years ago, I was not impressed and I just didn’t “get it.” But a colleague recently shared some conference swag with me- and in that swag was a free premium month at Evernote. I rarely turn down free, so I of course went through the pain of remembering my login and vowed to give it another shot. Wow. That was my first thought, and my second, and my third…Before we even talk about the many features of the app, a big plus for me is that not only is the App great, but everything synchs to the Evernote website, meaning that even if I don’t have my iPad with me (blasphemy!) I have access to my content. From this app, which you can see in the App Store here, I can view and create Notebooks, and then create Notes inside of those. Here’s a pic of my Notebooks. On the left side, you can see a list of the notes that I have saved in this notebook. On the right, a larger preview of the Note I was looking at. Those notes with the nice bulleted list and the link you see there? All typed straight from the iPad. Oh, and that audio player you see? Did I mention that you can also record from the app as you are taking notes? Yep. Magical. And I can also add images, either using the iPad camera or from my Camera Roll directly into the Note.
Once I’ve created a note, if I wish to share it, Evernote will let me add specific people to the note (or Notebook) or give me a public link. Awesomeness. And honestly…the free version is just as good, you just don’t have quite as big of an upload limit.

So although there are many many more apps I’d love to share, i’m going to save those for later posts as I think I’ve rambled enough for today!
What are your favorite note-taking or organization apps? Let me know in the comments.



MLK Day Resources

January 9, 2012

We just got back from Christmas break, and soon we will be
celebrating the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday. If you’re looking for a
way to incorporate a Social Studies lesson on this topic before break,
hopefully you will find something of use in one of these resources!

I’m sure a lot of you have tons of MLK resources, but just in case, here are a few:
Scholastic’s MLK Day Resources page includes lots of info, links, and a Notebook lesson: http://www2.scholastic.com/browse/collection.jsp?id=149
Remember you can get the full “I Have a Dream” speech transcript (print and audio) on American Rhetoric: http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlkihaveadream.htm or on Discovery Education
This
school system has compiled a plethora (I just love that word) of
resources, including background info, blackline masters, lesson plans,
technology links, and a list of Discovery Education clips: http://www.vrml.k12.la.us/holidays/mlk/mlk.htm
Larry
Ferlazzo is an ESL teacher who compiles list of website resources for
different topics- this one is 2 years old, but has some good ones that
would be great for EC, ESL, or lower level students. For example, the
first site listed is a biography of MLK created by students that is
text, but can be read to students. http://larryferlazzo.edublogs.org/2008/12/21/the-best-websites-about-martin-luther-king/
Here are some resources from different government agencies http://www.free.ed.gov/keywords.cfm?keyword_id=954
And finally, if you search for MLK lessons on the SMART Exchange, this is what you’ll get: http://exchange.smarttech.com/search.html?m=01&&q=martin+luther+king&tab=resources&sf=d
Hope there’s something in here you can use in the next couple weeks! What’s your favorite MLK Day resource?

Cool things in Anson County

December 9, 2011

Back in October I had a chance to visit Anson County Schools…..way down there on 74 from Gaston County. Although the purpose of the meeting was to sit in on a planning meeting between Anson County and Discovery Education, I ended up getting so much more than just that out of the meeting. After the meeting (at which very neat plans were made for implementation and training of Discovery Education’s resources in the county) concluded, those of us visiting were given the opportunity to tour Anson County School’s very own planetarium and science center.

All I could think was…wow! Not only does this school system have their own planetarium, but the connected science center is home to live animals, materials for every science experiment you can imagine, learning stations for a variety of units and topics, and awesome technology including 3 SMART Tables. Check out the pictures! Wouldn’t you love to be a student (or teacher) who gets to be a scientist in this amazing lab? 
Check out this amazing center all about trees and soil!

Wouldn’t you love to be student using all these supplies to do amazing science experiments?

And even get to wear a lab coat like a real scientist!

They didn’t forget about technology…check out the SMART Tables

They have snakes….

And hissing cockroaches…
And iguanas oh my!

The Polar Express and Holiday Ideas

December 6, 2011

Every year as the holidays draw near, it seems like I see more and more great ideas to use in the classroom. Keep reading to see a few of this year’s favorites!
How many elementary school teachers read The Polar Express with their classes before Christmas break? When I taught 3rd grade, one of my favorite days of the year was Polar Express Day. Of course it was great fun to wear pajamas to school and end the day by watching the movie and drinking hot chocolate with candy canes, but my favorite part of the days was collaborating with the rest of my grade level to come up with Polar Express activities that were so fun that students didn’t even realize they were learning!  All the students on our grade-level rotated around in the morning so everyone got to participate in all the activities we had planned. In one room we used Storyline Online to let students read and listen to the story followed by a retelling or sequencing activity, in another students decorated snowmen cupcakes (cause you gotta have a snack) they could later use in a creative writing activity, they created a chalk drawing of the train, and more! This year I’ve seen even more Polar Express resources, so here are a few…

Click below for a great Polar Express “I have….who has….” game as well as a math facts freebie. Even though the math one is meant to use to practice addition facts, I could easily see it working for multiplication if you just change the number on the tickets. Make it a center activity with your SMART Board by using the interactive dice in Notebook.

 A blog that has quickly become one of my favorites for elementary resources, Pitner’s Potpourri has several freebies created for using with Polar Express. Check out her site for awesome activities to reinforce sequencing, abc order, parts of speech, and synonyms.

Finally, you can download this SMART Notebook lesson for free from Teachers Pay Teachers. (You do have to create an account, but it is free.) It is a Jeopardy style game that compares the book to the movie.

Even though this is not Polar Express related, I couldn’t finish this post without including the following- which is an awesome free cause and effect activity to use with How Santa Got His Job, which is one of my favorite books to read before Christmas!

What is your teaching favorite find so far this holiday season?

My (P)Interesting Obsession with Pinterest

November 14, 2011

Have you checked out Pinterest yet? Pinterest is a site that basically lets users create virtual pinboards. You can create different boards to keep your pins organized, and you can also browse the boards of other users. So what is a pin? According to the Pinterest site, a pin is an image you add to Pinterest. It is super easy to install the Pin It button to your toolbar in any browser by following the directions here.

Pin It button
Once you’ve installed the Pin It button, you’ll see this in your bookmark bar 
Yours most likely won’t have a pink background…but that’s how I roll in my browser themes 🙂
Once you have the Pin It button installed, you’re ready to start pinning! Basically, anytime you see something you like on the web and want to remember for later, just click the Pin It button. As long as there are images on the page, Pinterest will pull all of those images and ask which you’d like to Pin. For example, the last page I pinned consisted of these images
I was able to click Pin This on the image I wanted to add to my board. The next step is choosing which board to add your pin to.
From here, I can simply choose the board I want to add to (or choose create a new one). You can see in the picture above that I chose to add this pin to the board called SMART Activities and Sites. You can also choose to add a description to your pins, and if you have your account connected to Facebook and/or Twitter, share your new pin with those followers as well.
Even if you’re not into pinning, I have observed Pinterest quickly becoming my go-to place for finding great ideas and resources for the classroom. You can look through pins without having accounts- so you can search for a keyword you’re looking for, or just look at pins in a certain category. The list below only show about half the categories available, but I wanted to make sure you saw that Education is there!
Here’s a link to the education category on Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/all/?category=education, and check out a small shot of what I saw when I clicked it a few minutes ago:
Right now, there may be a wait list for Pinterest accounts. If you’d like me to send you an invite, just post a comment with your email address.
So what are some of my favorite resources I’ve found so far on Pinterest? Check them out below!


So, what are the best pins you’ve found?

SMART, SMART, SMART

October 18, 2011

We all remember last year’s initiative that pledged to place a SMART Board in every classroom in Gaston County. As we enter the second year of this initiative for most teachers (and the first for others), I wanted to take a few minutes to remind everyone of a few resources that are available to you. Click through to read more!

First of all, by now all teachers should have visited our SMART Initiative wiki and completed the ten tasks assigned there. Even if you completed these long ago, keep this site bookmarked as it holds helpful information in case you ever need to revisit the basics. The next step for new SMART users would be to attend Level 1 (or Developing) training at your school. This training focuses not only teaching basic SMART Skills, but on how to create interactive and engaging lessons that can be used during every part of instruction. The most important part of these training days are to pay attention to the model lessons. We are using lessons that can actually be used in the classroom- and the point is to show you what we are looking for when you’re using your SMART Board. The most important part of using a SMART Board? It should be, for the most part, students using the board. For those of you who have asked for a reminder of the skills covered in Developing level training, you can download the handout here. During these training days, we also take a look at the SMART Exchange, a wonderful place to find (free) lessons that have already been created. Some of these may be perfect to use as is, while others will put your newly learned skills to use as you edit them to make them your own.

After attending Developing training, there are a couple of options. For those of you who still need a little review or more time on the skills covered, you can enroll in an online refresher course- SMART 101. A new course starts at the beginning of November, so register soon if you’d like to attend! You can read about it and register here.

The next step in the process of becoming a proficient SMART user is to attend Level 2 professional learning. In these sessions, we still focus on creating interactive and engaging lessons, but test your skills a bit as we learn to do new things. If you’ve attended that training and need a refresher or want another copy of the handout, click here.

Finally, I want to leave you with access to a couple of other documents.

Creating Groups in SMART Notebook– this may be useful if you’d like to create just one lesson to use over the course of a whole day, several days, or for a whole unit. Grouping pages allows you to easily find exactly which part of the lesson you need on a given day.

Convert You Tube Videos for Use in SMART Notebook– you may have seen some great resources in You Tube, but we know it is blocked here. If you convert the videos you need at home, you can easily insert them into your SMART Notebook lessons.

What are your favorite ways to use SMART Notebook or your SMART Board in your classroom?

How do I keep up?

August 1, 2011

Last fall, I wrote this post for the now defunct and re-purposed Gaston Digital blog. As I was thinking about what tools help me quickly find resources, especially as we get ready for a new school year, Google Reader is the what came to mind. So I’m stealing (from myself) this to share with you here! At the end of this post, I’ll share some of the ideas I’ve seen for back to school and some of my favorite blogs to follow!
As I was collaborating with a few of my teachers earlier this week, one of them asked me a question I thought was quite interesting. The teachers were 1st grade teachers from one of my schools and we were meeting to discuss, find, and create lessons and activities for them to use on the SMART Boards they will all soon have in their classrooms (Yay for generosity from private donors!) I was teaching them about Diigo so that they could begin compiling all the interactive sites they were finding, and after everyone signed up for Diigo I shared with them one of my Diigo lists for SMART Resources. Of course since there was a SMART Board in the room, I had to spend lots of time playing, so I was showcasing some of my favorite activities to use for teaching math using SMART Boards (and why do they all have to be from the UK? come on, US we need to get on the ball!). So getting back to my point- the question that was asked as we were looking at all these resources was 

“Gosh Leslie, do you go home and sit with your computer all night to find all this stuff?”

 Okay, well honestly I used to practically have my laptop attached as an extra appendage all the time. These days I’m not quite as bad when I get home, and I’ve realized that sometimes I just need to power off (the laptop anyway, I seriously would have trouble breathing without the iPhone…or I at least couldn’t sleep, thanks to Sleep Cycle).  But really and truly, since I’ve figured out what the heck a PLN is, I haven’t HAD to spend hours and hours searching for the things I used to have to. It comes to me- kind of like magic!
Now, one huge component to my PLN is Twitter. But, since Twitter is blocked in our county right now, I won’t say a whole lot about it. What I will talk a little about is using Google ReaderScreenshot of my TechNews folder in igoogleWay back when I started reading blogs, I remember saving them to my favorites list and taking time to check them every once in a while to see what people were saying. I admit that in those days I was also following blogs of my friends to keep up with what their families were doing or blogs where people would post new recipes and things like that. These days though, following great blogs are a great way to keep up and find new resources without having to put hours and hours into searching for things (which is good to still do sometimes).  Once you have found educators or instructional leaders that you can learn from, one of the easiest ways to keep up is to subscribe to new posts in a reader- such as Google Reader. All you have to have is a Google Account, and it is super simple to set up. Once you have your reader set up, all you have to do is make time to read new posts that flow in! For teachers who want new ideas, teaching strategies, and ways to integrate technology but don’t have much time- finding good blogs to follow can be a great way to get started! So as you are at home relaxing this summer, take a few minutes to set up your Google Reader and subscribe to a few blogs. You may be surprised at what you find!
Once you’ve set up your reader, here are 5 great educational technology blogs to get you started:
iLearn Technology

And here are a few of my favorite elementary blogs:

Lutton 519

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If you want to subscribe to several great elementary blogs, click here!