Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Design Cycle in Humanities Class

This week I am away on an offline vacation. Rather than let the blog be dormant or rerunning old posts I decided to give some other people a chance to share their experiences and ideas with you. I hope you enjoy the posts. 

The first time my students used the Design Cycle, it wasn't because I told them to. My middle school student council representatives needed to create a website for the student government events. My 7th graders, trained by Kim Cofino in MYP Design and Technology class, immediately started to investigate what other student council websites looked like, designed and planned the website by hand-drawing what they wanted the site to look like, and then created the site. Periodically throughout the year, they evaluated their work, asked for student feedback and changed the layout as needed. And when I saw what they were able to accomplish, with minimal input from me, I realized the Design Cycle was something I could implement in my grade 7-9 humanities classes*.

In middle school and high school humanities, most of our summative assessments are project based. I truly believe that humanities offers students an opportunity to learn about the world and start to think about how they can be change agents in today’s world. So the Design Cycle easily fits the demands of our class*.  

In the investigation phase, student have to identify a problem, discover how it relates to their lives and figure out how to solve it. They also need to investigate different ways to to present their information. I rarely, if ever, assign a specific tool for them to use. This can mean that students have to experiment with a list of tools to see which best fits their product needs.

  • In my grade 7 humanities class, students investigated what a infographic was and then made one using analog tools (like popsicle sticks and balloons). It was a chance for them to think about how they can communicate their understanding of statistics using infographics and what tools work best.
  • In my grade 8 humanities class, students had to investigate what storytelling tool they wished to use to create a family history presentation. This took a lot of time and was often frustrating, but this is a constant struggle in project work. For this project, we also investigated characteristics stories shared. We watched short commercials, mash-ups, and excerpts from movies to think about how sound, visuals, and voiceovers could add emotional impact to a historical facts. 

For me, this part is often the most important. What I'm really looking for is if they have thought about how they will accomplish the objectives of the assignment and how they are going to present their work. And the plan and design phase often has more bearing on their final grade than their final project.

  • Grade 9 students created movies answering the unit question, “Do leaders make history or does history create the leaders?”  My students know that if they are not allowed to turn on the camera until they have created a storyboard and written a script. I want my students to take pride in these and they are posted on their websites along with their final project.
  • Nothing is worse than sitting through a bad PowerPoint presentation. So Grade 7 students, in the Story of Yokohama project, had to create a hand-draw "slides” that showed what pictures they wanted to use and the order they wanted. This ensured that they were thoughtful about what went on the slide, what order their presentation was in, and they did not use any bullet points. The Presentation Zen style was much more interesting and demonstrated that students knew the topics they were discussing and and weren't relying on the slides to prompt their speeches.

This is the fun part. Students put their plans into action. My students run around the school filming, using their storyboards as hall passes. They create awesome research projects on world religions, that demonstrate analysis and research, but are more exciting than a five paragraph essay.They create awareness campaigns for Child Labor, including Tumblr pages or Facebook groups.The plan may change, but not a lot and the changes are always justified. I try to limit the days for project means they have to have a good plan in place and they have thought about what they have to accomplish on each day. Creation days are a buzz and they do amazing things.

I must admit, this is the part my students always groan about. They have to evaluate whether they met the goals of the assignment, if they followed the plan, and if they solved the problem they investigated at the start. This is often done on blog posts, either written or included as an embedded video. And while they may not love this as much as the other phases, it has equal importance to the learning and cannot be skipped.

Final thoughts
The world my students are entering is one where they will have to create projects, whether they are creating a website, a pitch for non-profit, or an awareness campaign. My students are much more likely to do these things, once they leave school, than a write a five paragraph essay. So it is imperative that I teach them how to create a project in a thoughtful and creative way. The Design Cycle gives both me and my students a framework in which to accomplish our goals. And my students are able to do so much more than I ever imagined. 

*Just a quick point, I probably don’t implement the Design Cycle the way they do in MYP technology. I’ve adjusted it for my own needs as a humanities teacher. Also, in this post I haven’t talked about how I teach other skills like research or how I teach the content. Check out my blog to see how I do those things. 

Rebekah Madrid is a MYP Humanities Teacher at Yokohama International School, Yokohama Japan. Her professional blog can be found at and your can see what is going on in her classroom at . Follow her on Twitter @ndbekah

The Teacher-Librarian is Your Best Tech Resource

This week I am away on an offline vacation. Rather than let the blog be dormant or rerunning old posts I decided to give some other people a chance to share their experiences and ideas with you. I hope you enjoy the posts. 

The school librarian, once known for handling books, is now responsible for both print and nonprint resources. My job description has changed more in the last two decades than any other teaching position.

If you are a K12 educator, you are aware of the term "technology integration", but did you know that perhaps your greatest assistance can come from the school media specialist (
or teacher-librarian)?  Let's talk about what kind of help you can expect:

1. You have assigned your students a research paper and have given them the requirements. Now what? If your class has questions about how to evaluate a website they'd like to use, what would you tell them?
Many school librarians have set up pathfinders on the school's website to aid students with a myriad of topics. The pathfinder lists information on that topic, including the Dewey Decimal number, (books) book titles in the library, and websites, which have already been approved by the librarian. If your school subscribes to EBSCO, Facts on File or any other databases, we can give a tour and explain the best way to search for a specific topic.

One lesson that I have done for grades 7-12 
is on searching.  My students are very quick to use Google, without understanding Boolean logic.  Here is a simple explanation from
 Kent State University's libraries on the left.

This type of search can be done in databases including EBSCO, and is the way that Google's advanced search is set up.  I always offer other search engines that are best for scholarly work, because they are specific to academia.

Students will believe that Google is all they need to research their topic.  Wrong. I explain to them that Google will merely provide results it thinks they are looking for without saying whether or not the website can be trusted.  After showing them some hand-picked sites which are hoaxes, (here's one which looks like the White House website and has links which are real, except this one) and mentioning that anyone can make a website and put it on the Internet, the students begin to see why it’s important to know what they can and can’t  trust. The anatomy of a URL (web address) is also discussed so students can understand how an address is created.

Once classes have begun to research their topics, I talk to them about curation (collecting information to share later on) and various sites to assist them, such as LiveBinders, Evernote or Zotero

Since today's kids are digital learners, I will also suggest apps for their phones, which will make the research process easier on the go.  EBSCO, LiveBinders, Evernote and Follett Destiny have mobile apps available. Students can check the card catalog for books remotely. (Boy, so much easier than when I was in school!)  Even the citation process is easy for them, with BibMe, and EasyBib creating the bibliography for the student.  There is an app for only EasyBib right now.

2. Information Literacy: Are your students information literate?
With budgets being cut across the nation, many school librarians have lost their jobs. This mapdepicts how bad the situation is.  Students in elementary school enter middle and high school without the proper skills and are then are lost when they need to attach a file to their email account.  I make it a point to create posters on how to do various things in the computer lab, such as checking the spelling and grammar in Word for a Spanish document, things students should know about EBSCO, HP smart printing made easy, finding images on the web with high resolution for inserting into Word documents, and how to search for a job online.  When I worked in another school, I actually taught a class in Information Literacy. In my opinion, this class should be mandatory for every student, now that the 21st century has arrived.

3.  Looking to make presentations easier for your students and yourself?
It's no secret around my school that I dislike PowerPoint.  With the PC version much easier to use than the Macintosh version, (and students still finding it difficult to locate where things can be found in the interface) I have introduced SlideRocket to quite a few classes with great success. You will never have to worry about lost presentations, because they reside in the cloud on SlideRocket's server. The interface is clean, and adding images, video and audio are a snap. No more excuses from students about forgetting their USB drive. Compare SlideRocket's interface to PowerPoint:

4.  Trying to keep up-to-date on all things related to technology in education?
It's a daunting task for anyone, especially when lesson plans, quizzes, teaching duties and more fill up your schedule.  Your librarian can find resources that are best for you to try.  Many of us have blogs or websites where we post thoughts, ideas, and information on tech tools and apps.  Edmodo is loved by our students because the interface emulates Facebook.  I demonstrated this program and many others, including Pixton, (Spanish classes created comics using their vocabulary words) and took the students through the registration process.  I posted the winning cartoon on our school's website. (Only 2 frames shown here)

I have only touched on a few of the  many things that your teacher-librarian can offer you and your students. Use us. Take time to visit your library-media center. Make it  the focal point of your school.

Julie Greller is a Media Specialist at Ridgefield Park Junior-Senior High School  in N.J. and  has been teaching for 22 years. Her blog, "A Media Specialist's Guide to the Internet", has won numerous awards.  You can find her original CD, "Welcome to the World: A Musical Collection for the Nursery" on iTunes, and CD Baby.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Make PicMonkey Collages to Pique Kids' Interest in Books

This week I am away on an offline vacation. Rather than let the blog be dormant or rerunning old posts I decided to give some other people a chance to share their experiences and ideas with you. I hope you enjoy the posts.

I am excited to be here today to let you know that PicMonkey’s Collage tool has gone live and it is awesome! And fun. And easy. No log-in required. But it DOES require some nice thinking from students. Win-win, is that not? The site works through our district filter and with  any browser I’ve tried. Check out Free Technology for Teachers' original post for a basic PicMonkey editor how to. The Collage function is new!

As a teacher librarian I love anything that will pique kids’ interest in books.  This is something I (or any teacher) can do for display around the classroom or web presence.  Even better … it’s something the students can do. Other curriculum areas could certainly use this same tool to demonstrate awareness in their respective areas (landforms, shapes, angles, geography, types of weather, historical landmarks, etc.).

This is an opportunity to either have students use their own photography skills or teach them good digital citizenship and how to look for Creative Commons licensed images. There are many places you can go for possibilities (Stuck? Start here). In this collage I used CC licensed photos from Fotopedia and Morguefile. Please make attribution part of the expectation rubric for the collage (even with sites like Morguefile that don’t require it)!

The easiest way I’ve found is to save the photos in one folder on the desktop (to be moved back and forth from a network drive to work on in multiple class sessions). The source addresses could either then be “stamped” onto the images themselves using the “Add Text” feature of PicMonkey or they could be listed below the collage. If all of the pictures are in one folder it is easy to upload them to the site and don’t start the project until you have at least one or two more photos than you think you will need. You can rearrange the collage, dragging and dropping pictures in different spaces and choosing from several different layout options.

Don’t forget to save the finished collage to the same folder as it will not be saved online.. When you go to save you have three different resolution options (that’s what they are, even though they are given strange names like “Ewan.” I usually just stick with the middle one (though if I were ever going to print something large scale I might bump it up to the highest). The middle one has been fine for web and 8X11 or smaller printing.

If you like you can then reupload the single image collage to basic PicMonkey and put a nice digital frame around it. 

Photos from top left to bottom right: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11

This example collages is based on a newly minted  most-favorite books ever. The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate is a MUST READ if you ever loved Charlotte’s Web. I used to live in WA state a long time ago and would go visit the original gorilla this story is loosely based upon.

Angela Oliverson, known to her students as  Ms. O, is a teacher librarian in San Antonio, TX. She is a proud aunt of eight, a Star Wars fan, and can be found online at as well as @senoritao.

Connecting as a New Principal

This week I am away on an offline vacation. Rather than let the blog be dormant or rerunning old posts I decided to give some other people a chance to share their experiences and ideas with you. I hope you enjoy the posts.

Having just completed my first year as building principal, I continue to hear the words of a former Science instructor at every turn, “The only thing constant is change.” As someone new to the world of Educational Administration, this phrase helps describe my first year as an Elementary Principal.  I use these words as guidance and continue to reflect upon them throughout the process. This past year I found many "changes" in store for me and no doubt for my staff as the principal of @HickoryHillElem, a K-6 building in Nebraska.


As a new principal, there are many "firsts" to experience throughout the course of a school year. Some take much time, consideration and thought, while some just happen and you must respond. No matter the situation, I have come to rely on several things while experiencing many of these these firsts. Never underestimate the power of your PLN (Personal Learning Network). My PLN serves many purposes; it is my support system, my personal trainer, my magic mirror, my coach/referee, and my charging station. As a new administrator I quickly realized the benefits of connecting with other educators and began expanding my PLN as a part of this process. While my network includes those within my own district team (13 Elementary Principals, Central Office and Building-Level Staff), I also began seeing the benefits of extending my connections beyond the walls of my own district.

It was at this point that I began making @Twitter work for me. Up until this point in my career I had a Twitter account and little understanding of the benefits it could provide. My network consisted of a few close friends and a few other "big name" leaders in the world of education. I would classify myself as a lurker and someone who was passively using the platform. I had little to no idea of where to begin and was only receiving information through those I followed. It was during the end of my first quarter as a principal and I was beginning to feel my ability to keep up on educational issues slipping and my energy for staying current with the most recent literature waning. This was not me and it was not who I wanted to be and I knew a change must take place.

Not fully knowing what I was about to get into, I sought out a local district resource Josh Allen, who was kind enough to put up with all of my questions; I began actively participating via Twitter and growing my PLN. I have found the following hashtags #satchat, #edchat, #edadmin, and #cpchat to fit my needs quite well. I have particularly connected with my Tweeps who participate in #satchat (meets Saturday morning 6:30am CST).


As an educator, it's o.k. to grow slowly, but it’s mandatory that you grow. Your PLN is a great support in this process. One great benefit I've reaped from a more active approach within my PLN has been my incorporation of and now reliance on @evernote. I have found Evernote to be a very effective tool when it comes to providing frequent, timely, and specific feedback to teachers & staff. While conducting formal walkthroughs and visiting classrooms Evernote allows me to meet these three requirements for effective feedback, allows me to record conversations with students and to take pictures of the classroom environment or student work. I am then able to instantly email this information back to the classroom teacher or staff and engage them in reflective conversation regarding the observation. It also allows me to create "notebooks" for each grade-level and organize my notes through the use of common "tags". This application allows me to foster collaboration throughout the school building by sharing the great things that are occurring within our classrooms on a daily basis. This promotes teacher connectedness, the development of internal capacity and a system that relies on the sharing of ideas and risk taking. I will continue to look for ways to maximize and enhance my use of Evernote as I move into the 2012-2013 school year.

I will leave you with a recommended reading that came to me via Twitter (7 Habits of Highly Effective Tech-leading Principals) by Jennifer Demski. The three interviewed educators in this article (@L_Hilt, @bhsprincipal & @NMHS_Principal) would make a great addition to your PLN and are definitely worth a "follow". Moving forward, I continue to read and reflect upon this article, the 7 Habits that are outlined and where I am in this process. Where are you in this process? Is Social Media and Tech integration a passing fad or here to stay? Remember, "the only thing constant is change."

About the Author
Josh Snyder is an Elementary Principal at @HickoryHillElem (K-6). He has a wonderfully supportive wife and two beautiful daughters. He is currently working in the EdD Ed Administration program through the University of Nebraska-Lincoln @Huskers. Josh also enjoys spending time with his family, reading, technology, fishing and golfing. He feels “Life is full of multiple learning opportunities.”

Twitter - @JoshLSnyder

Jennifer Demski (6/7/12) 7 Habits of Highly Effective Tech-leading Principals (the JOURNAL; Transforming Education Through Technology)

Photo Credit:
Original Image Credit: Baseball by Paco Mexico
Licensed Creative Commons Attribution on May 22, 2012
Concept from The Method Method
Slide by Bill Ferriter
The Tempered Radical

Friday, June 29, 2012

The Week in Review - A Day Early

Good evening from Boston, Massachusetts where I'm waiting for a flight to jet me away on a mountain biking vacation. Since I committed to "no computer" vacation I will not be able to write this post tomorrow. Therefore, I'm sharing the week in review a day early.

Next week I have a bunch of guest bloggers making an appearance on the blog. I've read all of the posts and I think that you will learn from the stories of using technology in education that the guest bloggers are sharing.

Here are this week's most popular posts:
1. Snaggy Is a Handy Screen Capture
2. Become a Power Google Searcher
3. GeoGebra Releases Two Chrome Apps
4. Maps of Vanishing and Endangered Languages
5. Create Interactive Images on Image Spike
6. Doodle Buzz is an Interesting Way to Explore the News
7. Vialogues - Form Discussions Around Videos

Please visit the official advertisers and marketing partners that help keep this blog going.
LearnBoost provides a free online gradebook service for teachers.
Vocabulary Spelling City offers spelling practice activities that you can customize.
Printable Flash Cards offers free flashcards and flashcard creation templates.
Academic Pub is a service for creating custom etextbooks.
MasteryConnect provides a network for teachers to share and discover Common Core assessments. is a provider of free educational games for K-5.
Lesley University offers quality online graduate programs for teachers.
The University of Maryland Baltimore County offers graduate programs for teachers.
Ed Tech Teacher offers professional development services for schools. I will be conducting a series of workshops with them this summer. Please visit their site for the schedule.

How to Subscribe to Free Technology for Teachers
If you aren't subscribed you can join 47,000 others who do subscribe via these links.
Subscribe via RSSSubscribe via Email.
Like Free Technology for Teachers on  Facebook.
Find me on Twitter or on Google+

Are you looking for a keynote speaker or workshop facilitator?
Click here for information on what I can do for you.