Monday, September 12, 2016

Pixton Offers a Great Way to Create Engaging Writing Lessons

For years I’ve advocated for using comics as a way to get students engaged in the writing process. To many students, creating a comic seems a lot less intimidating and a lot more fun than simply writing a story on a blank sheet of paper. One of my favorite ways to have students use comics is to create and share stories about themselves. Students can create cartoon characters to represent themselves in a story. They can create the characters in their likeness or make the characters appear completely different from themselves, thereby telling a story in an anonymous fashion.

Pixton is one of the great tools that students can use to create comics. Pixton provides excellent, free lesson plans to help you get your students engaged in writing through comic creation.

Pixton is a drag-and-drop cartoon creation tool which allows anyone to create great comics regardless of their drawing skills. In Pixton you can tell stories through comics by using pre-made scenes and characters, or by developing your own custom characters and scenes. My preference is to use a mix of pre-made background settings and customized cartoon characters. You can choose how many characters you want to appear in each frame of your comic. A nice touch in Pixton is that you can quickly change the poses of your characters in each scene of your comic. Just click or tap the actions button to select from large variety of character poses.

Unlike some other comic creation tools, Pixton lets you choose from a variety of layout formats including graphic novel styles, storyboard formats, mind maps, and traditional comic strips. Another nice feature of Pixton’s formatting options is the ability to change background scenes from one frame to the next.

Applications for Education
As mentioned above, one of my favorite ways to have students use comics is create and share stories about themselves. At the beginning of the school year when we’re trying to get to know our students and they’re trying to get to know each other, telling a fun personal story can be a good way for students to show a bit of their personalities. You could do this in Pixton by having students first choose or create cartoon characters to represent themselves in the story. Then have them choose and/or modify background scenes for each frame of their stories. Finally, let them write character dialogues or monologues.

Often the writing of the story comes fairly easily once students have chosen their characters and background scenes. This is because, throughout the process of choosing characters and scenes, they’re thinking about the highlights of their stories.

Visit Pixton’s free lesson plans depot to find many more great ideas for teaching with comics. You’ll find lesson plans there for all subject areas and grade level

Disclosure: Pixton is currently an advertiser on

6 Things to Check When a Website or App Isn't Working

This is the time of year when you might find yourself trying to use an app or website for the first time after a few month layoff due to school vacation. This is also the time when you might be trying a completely new-to-you app or site that you saw demonstrated during a PD session during the summer. When you visit that site or app you might find that it's not working the way that you expected it to work. Before throwing your hands up at it, try these simple fixes.

1. Are you using a modern and updated web browser? In a lot instances of a site not working properly in a school, the cause can be traced to using an outdated version of Internet Explorer. If you're using an outdated version of a web browser not only will some sites not work correctly, you are also opening yourself up to more potential security threats. Find out which browser and version you're using by visiting

2. Do you have cookies enabled? Many websites require cookies in order to offer you the best possible experience. Explania and Common Craft offer good explanations of how cookies work.

3. Do you have a pop-up blocker turned on? It is not uncommon for a website to use a pop-up window for account log-ins. If the pop-up is blocked, you won't be able to log-in.

4. Are you using the site on a tablet/ iPad/ Chromebook? While it would be great if every site was optimized for tablets, that is not the case.

5. Have you updated your operating system? New apps and sites may not function properly on an outdated operating system. Take the time to run the update on your iPad or computer.

6. Have you checked your spam folder? If you sent a help request to the help desk/ site administrators, they may have replied and had their messages flagged by your spam filter. I've experienced this more than once when using a school district email address.

And just to bring a little humor to this, in the words of The IT Crowd, "have you tried turning it off and on again?"

Disclosure: For years I have had an in-kind business relationship with Common Craft.

The Problem With Automating Your Blog

The web is great. Everyday a new tool appears that makes some task easier than ever to accomplish. But not every task that can be automated should be automated. For example, let's say you decide that your organization (perhaps SETDA) needs a blog, but you cannot find time to have someone actually write blog posts on a regular basis. So instead of making a commitment to authentic blogging you find a free blog template and some free software that automatically aggregates and displays blog posts from the RSS feeds of some popular blogs that you like. Then you sit back and never have to worry about your blog (perhaps called EdTechUpdate) again because all the work is done for you. If only it was that simple...

The problems with creating a blog that just aggregates and displays blog posts from RSS feeds:
1. If you use the wrong settings, you'll end up publishing full blog posts without permission of the authors. In other words, you've just automated your plagiarism.

2. You're not really doing anything to promote your own thoughts or your organization's mission. Even an blog run by an organization should have some kind of voice of its own. Take a look at any of the large, successful, multiple author blogs and you'll notice that their is an editorial style present throughout the blog.

3. The service that you think you're providing, isn't much of a service. Sure, some people might discover a new blog through your aggregation, but that's about it. Once they've found a new blog that they like, they're going to visit it directly instead of going through your aggregation of dozens of feeds.

Things you can do instead of automating your blog:
1. Put someone in charge of writing original blog posts on a regular schedule. One post per week on the same day is better than five posts randomly distributed throughout a month. Take a look at as an example. I publish only one post per week on it and it has 11,500 subscribers. It serves my mission of providing practical tech tips for teachers.

2. If you must use other bloggers' content, add to it with your own thoughts and commentary. Explain to your audience why you think someone else's blog post was particularly useful and worth sharing.

3. Use social media and email to distribute the handful of original blog posts that you do publish. Even on their favorite blogs most people don't read see every post the first time it's published. Use social media and email to redistribute your original posts on a regular schedule.

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