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Monday, May 20, 2013

The Top 10+ Sites for a Successful 1:1 Laptop Program: Experiences from the Trenches

 Greetings from Rock Valley, Iowa, the land of cows and corn! As we wind up our school year this week, I have begun reflecting on just how much our approach to educating kids has changed since becoming 1:1 in our middle and high schools.  A year ago, I had a classroom of 6th graders.  This year, I have transitioned to the role of the district's Technology Integrationist.  I was once worried about switching jobs because I might not be busy enough (I'm a type-A, first born).  Certainly I must have had a moment of insanity? Some temporary dysphoria? In an exhilarating blur, I look up and our year is done.  I have seen teachers completely transform their teaching, provide students with extensive higher order thinking tasks, and offer challenges that weren't possible a year ago.  That being said, let's cut to the meat of this post...the Free Tech 4 Teachers!  While this in no way covers all of the wonderfully useful free sites we use on a daily basis, here are the top sites we wouldn't be without in a 1:1 environment.

1.This open-source software has been our platform on which each teacher is to put his or her classroom information, coursework, links, etc...  Having a common 'playground' for all student academics is easier on everyone.  Click here for a link to the Moodle site. Even teachers with other collaborative sites like Edmodo still link back to their district Moodle page. Kids always know where to go for their work first.  This, first and foremost, is essential to a successful 1:1 environment.

2.
Google Drive and Google Apps have been a dream.  Through the use of the forms, spreadsheets, and docs, our teachers and students have been successfully collaborating like never before.  Through Google Apps, students and teachers are issued a school email account with which all correspondence takes place. Teachers can send out work via a link.  As that original document gets updated, so does the information contained in the link.  Teachers are able to easily assess students in the moment using the Flubaroo script (found in the script gallery). It also seamlessly links with Moodle via the URL uploads.  Teachers and administration are also using Google Drive for virtual meetings, feedback, class officer and other voting procedures.  I use it to maintain the RVTechPD Google Site for professional development, tutorials, and helpful hints for our teachers. We wouldn't be functioning the same without Drive. Three cheers for Google!

3. This little sweetheart became my new best friend this year.  As the only Technology Integrationist for our district, I have a wild schedule that can have me teaching preschoolers one class period and working with seniors the next.  This requires a beastly organization system!  YouCanBook.Me allows you to sync with your calendar (in my case, a Technology Integration Google Calendar) and share in a wide variety of ways (QR code, link, and embed to name a few).  Teachers can then book your time according to your determined "slots".  See the screenshot below... (Can you tell which day is our last full day?)
4.  Wikispaces has been a gem.  Because of its ease of use and versatility, many teachers are using it to create everything from their own personal and student portfolios to entire novel units and ways for students to demonstrate their learning.  The possibilities really are endless. 

5. I suggest this site for those who are willing and able to help those less tech-y.  This is the easiest way to capture your screen and all you're doing in video format that is easily uploaded to YouTube or downloaded to your computer to send to others.  This is the site I use for making mini-tutorials for teachers.  It sure beats reinventing the wheel when a person asks the exact same question a week later!  The free version offers up to 15 minutes of video time, there is no software to install, and it works like a dream.

6.   Probably the coolest, free journaling web tool I've run across.  Unbelievably realistic, it functions just like a notebook.  As a district, we are always looking for new ways to foster the development of writing with our students.  Penzu has been a great venue for journal writing, reflection, and curricular writing.  Pictures and files can be attached with ease, and notebook pages can be shared with teachers as needed. Penzu is used by myriad teachers in the district.



7. Formerly Wallwisher, Padlet is an incredible site used by many teachers in a wide variety of ways.  It is a powerful virtual pinboard, of sorts, that allows you the luxury of making your space into whatever it needs to be: timeline, interactive storyteller, visual book report, assignment planner, and the list goes on.  Here you can see just a few samples of things that can be done on Padlet.


8.  From Dictionary.com comes Word Dynamo... a vocabulary treasure if ever there was one. We were reaching a stale-mate with vocabulary, being sick-to-death of the rote memorization and regurgitation that was happening with standard vocabulary books.  Students weren't learning the words, they were working to be tested over them only to watch them flitter off into oblivion the second the test was over. Word Dynamo is helping to change that.  Not only are there quality, pre-made word lists ready at any time for any subject area, there is the built-in ability for students to make their own cards and interact with them.  Now students are empowered to create their own curricular word lists in any and all subjects.  This serves as an excellent bell-ringer! Instead of the wait time until the bell rings,  students are quickly getting to work on relevant material and working daily with "real" words they are seeing and learning about in context.  Win-win.

9.   What started out as a neat way for me to bookmark sites for my own work quickly became a great way to build and store an on-going library of curricular sites by grade level.  We now have an elementary Symbaloo with a tab per grade level.  Teachers are given the username and password to the Symbaloo and are encouraged to add sites to their grade-specific tab.  Since it is embeddable and user-friendly, even for the youngest on the web, it is now possible for teachers to embed this onto their school webpage as well as utilize them on the iPads that are available for check-out within our district.  Teachers are still encouraged to do their own bookmarking of sites for their teaching or personal use on Draggo, my absolute favorite social bookmarking site.

10.  Quizlet provides a fantastic place for teachers to create their own quizzes, games and activities to suit their curriculum.  Already widely-known by many, Quizlet offers a way to practice skills in a variety of ways.  Nearly every teacher uses Quizlet in our building in some way.  It is a great means of avoiding the traditional, scary paper study guide and engages kids much like a video game would.  By linking specific Quizlet activities to the course's Moodle page, students can begin working on them as soon as the teacher posts it or allows it to be seen by students.

++++++(Just a couple of curriculum-specific sites I couldn't leave out)++++++

  Suggested by our foreign language teacher as a must-have for practicing a new language outside of the classroom, Duolingo offers excellent, individualized practice for students studying a variety of foreign languages. Its combination of verbal and written language work makes it a free find worth delving into.


AAA Math is a site recommended by our middle school math teacher as an excellent supplement to her teaching.  Compatible with the student laptops, as well as the Smartboard, it serves as a great place to find additional resources for nearly every math concept from kindergarten through eighth grade.


"I couldn't live without this in my science room," was a comment made by one our science teachers about PhET.  From the University of Colorado at Boulder comes this fantastic simulation site.  It is unbeatable in what it provides to students in an interactive way. As you can see in the screenshot below, however, it strolls down many avenues of science and math curriculum.




I am a big fan of StudyLadder.  Many of our teachers in elementary and the middle school are utilizing this excellent resource.  It is a multi-subject interactive site that allows you to differentiate for all levels of students through grade six. With the ability to import entire class lists, you can set up individualized, interactive work for your students.  What I especially appreciate about this site is the color coded leveling.  While teachers are shown which color represents which grade level, the students are not.  In addition, StudyLadder is Common Core aligned.

Whether you are 1:1 now or thinking of going that route in the near future, I offer some advice to you.  Gather up those who are not afraid to take risks, to try something new, to realize that their device will not spontaneously combust if you push the wrong button.  Together, explore the far reaches of the curriculum and how technology can and should be integrated into it.   The tech-tentacles of those people are the ones who will light the fires of your other staff members.  Provide support, provide an integrationist, and offer solid professional development opportunities. Just know that there will be hiccups your first year.  Expect them.  Call it version 1.0.  

Rachel Langenhorst is the Technology Integrationist for Rock Valley Community Schools in Rock Valley, Iowa and has been in education for 18 years, holding a BA in Elementary Education with a reading emphasis and a M.Ed in Education Technology. As a child and grandchild of former educators, she shares a life-long passion for learning and helping those around her push themselves to reach their full potential. She is a wife to Deric, mother to Alex, Mason, and Ella, and owner of an insane black lab, Howard.

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The History and Meaning of Memorial Day

Memorial Day is one week from today. Here are a couple of quick resources that you may want to include in a lesson about Memorial Day.

The Meaning of Memorial Day is a two minute video covering the origins of the holiday in the United States. The video is embedded below.


The History of Memorial Day which is an infographic outlining the basic history of Memorial Day and how Americans celebrate the day. The infographic is missing one important thing, links to the sources of the information presented. I would take that flaw and turn it into a quick research activity. Have your students attempt to verify the information presented in the infographic.

For more resources for teaching about Memorial Day, visit Larry Ferlazzo's list of resources.

Tips for Leading Google Apps Trainings - Part 2

As the school year winds-down many of us are planning summer PD sessions. If you're going to be leading a PD session about Google Apps this summer, here are some of my tips for leading a successful session. These tips are based on my experiences gained from leading dozens of Google Apps trainings over the last few years.

Device Choice
Unless your training session is specifically about using iPads or Android tablets, the best way to introduce new users to all of the Google Documents features is to have them use a browser (again Chrome is preferable) on their laptops. You can certainly have people bring their iPads and or Android tablets to your training session, but make sure that they know that not all of the features available in a desktop browser are also available in the iOS and Android apps.

When I have participants bringing iPads or Android tablets to one of my workshops, my preference is to have people try all of the features of Google Documents in their browsers before moving to their tablets. This way they have exposure to all of the functions of Google Docs. Then when they move to their tablets they can clearly see the differences between the browser experience and the tablet app experience.

Tips for Leading Google Apps Trainings - Part 1

As the school year winds-down many of us are planning summer PD sessions. If you're going to be leading a PD session about Google Apps this summer, here are some of my tips for leading a successful session. These tips are based on my experiences gained from leading dozens of Google Apps trainings over the last few years.

Unified browser choice. 
Not all browsers support every feature in Google Documents. Not surprisingly, Google Chrome does support all features of Google Documents and Google Drive. For that reason it is preferable to have all participants in your training sessions use Google Chrome. Google Chrome automatically updates whenever a new update is released by Google. A day or two before your training session send an email to all participants asking them to install Chrome if it’s not already installed on their laptops.

If getting all participants in your training session to use Chrome is not an option for you, at the very least stress to them importance of having the latest version of their preferred browsers installed. Not only is this a browser security issue (older versions of browsers are more susceptible to security threats) it is a Google Documents functionality issue. The latest versions of browsers support the most functions of Google Documents. For example, as of this writing Google has officially ceased supporting Internet Explorer 8.

Finally, regardless of which browser you ultimately have participants in your training sessions use, have them all use the same browser during your training session. Initially, this might be uncomfortable for some participants, but by the end of the day most people will be comfortable with a different browser. Having everyone use the same browser will make your day easier. When everyone uses the same browser if there are unexpected glitches or problems they will likely be the same for everyone in your training session. Solve the glitch once and you’ve solved it for the whole group for the day.

Vimeo Video School - Storytelling the Stillmotion Way

Stillmotion is a video production company based in Oregon. Last month they produced a series of videos all about how to tell stories through video. The series takes you through the planning, shooting, and editing of a video. The series isn't a how-to on the technical side of production as it is a how-to plan and think about the process of producing a great video. The first video in the series is embedded below. Below the video I've linked to the other videos and text outlines in the series.


Storytelling The Stillmotion Way: Part 1 from stillmotion on Vimeo.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

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