Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Three Elements I Always Add to Classroom Blogs

As the new school year approaches many of us will be setting up new classroom blogs or revamping the ones we've used in the past. If you're setting up a classroom blog for the first time, here are the three elements that I always add to classroom blogs.

1. Google Calendar: I embed a Google Calendar into the right column of my blog. It doesn't matter where you place it as long as it is prominent. I'm a big fan of using Google Calendar as a place to write agendas for each class. I write the agendas into the events on the calendar so that students and their parents can see them. I also attach any documents or other files needed for that day's lesson to the calendar event. In this post you can learn how to create Google Calendar events, how to add attachments to them, and how to embed Google Calendars.

2. Static pages for frequently referenced materials: I like to have a static page rather than a post about classroom norms. The page is linked in either the header or the top of a side column where students and their parents can easily find it. As the year goes on, I may add pages for things like review guides and assessment rubrics.

3. An easy way to contact me: Over the years I've used SpeakPipe and Google Voice widgets to provide an easy for students and their parents to leave voicemail messages for me by simply clicking a widget on my blog. Both services provide text transcriptions of the voicemails left for me. I can read those transcripts in my email. Google Voice may soon be phased out by Google in favor of Google+ calling so at this point my recommendation is to use SpeakPipe. If SpeakPipe isn't your thing, at least put a direct link that students and their parents can click to email you.

I'll be covering these topics and much more in my next Practical Ed Tech webinar series Blogs and Social Media for Teachers and School Leaders.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Math Slicer - Fun Alternatives to Math Flashcards

Math Slicer is a game that offers a fun alternative to using flashcards to practice basic mathematics skills. Math Slicer is available as an Android app and as an iOS app.

In Math Slicer students are shown addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division problems that they have to answer by “slicing” the correct answer in half. The answer choices jump up on the screen and students have to slice them before they disappear.

Before the start of each round of Math Slicer students can select the type of problems that they want to practice. Students can also select the speed with which the problems and answer choices appear on their screens.

The free version of the app contains advertisements. The paid version ($0.99) removes the advertisements.

Ten Popular Ed Tech Tools That Were Updated This Summer

During the summer the IT department at your school may have been working to update the technology infrastructure in your school. At the same time, the developers of many of your favorite apps and services were working hard to update what you can do with technology in your classroom. Here are ten popular services that were updated over the summer.

Remind 101, the popular service for sending text messages to students and parents, changed its name to simply Remind. The service itself has not changed and the your Remind 101 account was not affected by the name change. Click here to learn more about Remind.

Padlet, one of my favorite tools for sharing notes, introduced a couple of slick new offerings. In addition to the free-for-all and stream layout options, Padlet now offers a grid layout option. You can switch between the layouts at any time. Padlet also introduced Padlet Mini. Padlet Mini is a Chrome extension that you can use as a collaborative bookmarking tool. Click here to see a video demonstration of Padlet Mini.

TodaysMeet, a long-time favorite tool of mine for backchanneling in the classroom, this month introduced two long-requested features. First, you can now create an account on TodaysMeet. By creating an account you can keep track of all of your chatrooms in one place, restrict access to your rooms, and close rooms early if the conversation gets too far off track. The second feature added to TodaysMeet is the ability to moderate comments in a chatroom. Click here for more information about these updates.

Storyboard That, a tool for creating cartoons, introduced new teacher guides. The teacher guides are complete lesson plans with examples of using cartoons created on Storyboard That to teach classic literature lessons. Storyboard That also added posable characters to its catalog of more than 40,000 pieces of clip art to use in your projects. (Disclosure: Storyboard That is an advertiser on Free Technology for Teachers).

Classtools.net, a site that offers dozens of free tools for teachers, introduced a slick new classroom timer. The Classtools timer allows you create multiple timers on one page and set each timer to music. Hit this link to see an example.

Thinglink, a service for creating interactive images, added the option to create interactive videos. ThingLink Video is still in beta, but it looks promising. To create an interactive video you simply paste the URL of a YouTube video into ThingLink Video then add pinmarks to it in the same way that you add pinmarks to ThingLink Images. You can see an example of how ThingLink Video works by visiting this page.

Socrative, a popular tool for polling audiences through mobile devices and laptops, was acquired by MasteryConnect over the summer. MasteryConnect plans to keep Socrative running as a stand-alone service. A new Socrative user guide was released this summer. The new user guide is based on Socrative 2.0 which all Socrative users have now been migrated to. Click here to learn more about MasteryConnect’s acquisition of Socrative. (Disclosure: MasteryConnect is an advertiser on Free Technology for Teachers).

ClassDojo introduced a long-awaited feature this summer. You can now share classes and students in ClassDojo. This means that more than one teacher can record behavior information about a student. This update also means that you can transfer a student between teachers without having to start a new record for that student. You can read more about this important update by clicking here.

Kaizena, a free Google Drive app, introduced the option to give voice comments on Google Slides in addition to giving voice comments on Google Documents. Learn how to use this valuable add-on in this post.

Kahoot, a classroom polling tool that is quickly becoming popular, has added the option to moderate user names in activities. In the past students could use funny aliases and if the aliases they choose were inappropriate you would have to restart the activity. Now you can simply kick that alias name out of the activity all together.

Bonus Item: This just in...
Watch2Gether, a service for sharing and chatting about videos in real time, added a couple of frequently requested features. Watch2Gether now supports using videos from Vimeo as well as YouTube, The other frequently requested feature added to Watch2Gether is the option to moderate comments in the discussions.

What about Google Apps for Education/ Google Drive/ Google Classroom?
So much has happened with Google’s offerings over the last few months that they deserve a post of their own. That post is coming up soon.

Join the Edublogs Class List to Find Other Classroom Blogs

As I mentioned in Saturday's post about QuadBlogging, getting enough visits and comments on your students' blog posts is one of the biggest challenges to keeping students engaged in blogging. QuadBlogging matches classroom blogs to help generate comments on blogs. The Edublogs class list is another good place to find other classroom blogs.

The Edublogs class list is organized by grade level and subject area. Complete the form on this page to submit your own blog for inclusion in the list. You do not have to Edublogs in order to be included in the list.

Get Organized for Back-to-School with Trello

This is a guest post from Beth Holland of EdTechTeacher.org, an advertiser on this blog.

With Back-to-School ads starting to crop up all over the place, and summer hitting its blissful stride, that can only mean one thing: it’s time to start prepping for Fall. For years, a myriad of ideas, plans, and to-do lists plagued me for the entire month of August. I tried a number of different tools to keep track: iCal, Google Tasks, a paper planner….

However, a few things made each of these items completely ineffective for me:
  1. I needed to seamlessly access my to-do lists from anywhere and at any time - this ruled out paper as I often left my notebook on the kitchen counter, at my desk at school, on someone else’s desk, etc.
  2. Some items needed due dates and some didn’t. The old iCal let me use a combination of tasks and events, but I had to remember to sync devices.
  3. Google Tasks worked great - as long as I had Internet.
  4. Having never worked in isolation, I also needed a way to keep track of everything and share all of my tasks and ideas with colleagues.
Last spring, I discovered my solution: Trello! Not only does it work on all devices, allow me to choose whether or not I need due dates, permit me to collaborate with others, and let me work offline when on a mobile phone or tablet, but Trello also gives me a simple visual for organizing all of my tasks: 3 columns - To Do, Doing, and Done - as well as the ability to attach files from either my device or the cloud (Drive or Dropbox).

Screen Shot 2014-07-24 at 4.50.32 PM

Best part of all, with the iOS app, Android app, or Chrome Extension, Trello removes the need to email collaborators. Simply assign a colleague to a card in Trello and the system alerts members to new tasks.

While it’s still necessary to enjoy these last few weeks of summer, start adding cards to your Trello boards so that you won’t forget all of your ideas when it comes time to get back to school. Besides, you might even be able to use it to organize your students next fall.

Looking for last minute learning opportunities this summer? EdTechTeacher still has space available in their Austin and Los Angeles Summer Workshops in August.