Friday, May 1, 2015

Leave Audio Comments for Students In Their Digital Portfolios on SeeSaw

Disclosure: SeeSaw's parent company is an advertiser on FreeTech4Teachers.com.

Seesaw is a free iPad app through which students can create a portfolio to document the things they have learned. Students can add artifacts to their portfolios by taking pictures of their work (in the case of a worksheet or other physical item), by writing about what they've learned, or by shooting a short video to record something they have learned. Students can add voice comments to their pictures to clarify what their pictures document.

This week SeeSaw was updated with four new features. The most significant of those features being the option for teachers to leave audio comments on items in their students' digital portfolios. Finding items in students' digital portfolios got a little easier this week with the addition of a calendar view in SeeSaw. You can now search for students' portfolio items by date instead of just title. Speaking of portfolio items, students can now add add links to web pages or other creations that don't reside on the camera rolls of their iPads. The fourth update was the addition of an option to use the front-facing camera as well as the back-facing camera.

To get started with Seesaw create a free classroom account. Students join the classroom by scanning a QR code (you will have to print it or project it) that grants them access to your Seesaw classroom. As the teacher you can see and sort all of your students' Seesaw submissions. SeeSaw allows parents to create accounts through which they can see the work of their children. As a teacher you can send notifications to parents when their children make a new SeeSaw submission.

Learn all about how to use SeeSaw in the videos contained in the playlist below.

Pros & Cons of Using Blog Posts for School Announcements

On Tuesday I assessed the pros and cons of using social media for school announcements. The next day I did the same for text messaging. Yesterday, I broke-down the pros and cons of emailing school announcements. To wrap-up the series let's take a look at the pros and cons of using blog posts for school announcements.

Blog platforms:
If you are only using your blog to post announcements about your school or classroom, you have plenty of options for a blogging service. Blogger, WordPress.com, and Edublogs make it easy to start a blog in a matter of minutes. A comparison of five popular blog platforms can be found here. Weebly and Google Sites also have options for running blogs within the context of a larger website.

Pros of using blog posts as school announcements:
  1. It is easy to have multiple people maintain the blog. The burden of keeping parents informed about school news doesn't rest with just one person. 
  2. An archive of announcements is automatically created and easy to find. 
  3. You can include as much media as you like (or your hosting allows) in a blog post. It is easy to include video of a great school event. Or include an audio announcement that is accessible to struggling readers. 
  4. You can write announcements in advance and schedule them for distribution at later times. 
  5. You can easily call attention to and direct people to previous announcement and or to reference pages containing things like school calendars and handouts. 
Cons of using blog posts as school announcements:
  1. Parents must remember to check your blog or you convince them to subscribe to it.
  2. If you have commenting enabled you will need to must moderate comments. 
  3. If you don't have comments enabled parents will have to open a separate email client or call to ask questions about information in the blog post. 
  4. If your blog's URL is complicated, people will have a hard time remembering it correctly. For example, parents in my district often complained about remembering the structure of sad17.k12.me.us when looking for some of my colleague's blogs. My blog was simply mrbyrneteaches.com (I spent $10 per year for hosting that domain through Blogger and wrote off the cost on my taxes). 
  5. If you choose to self-host your blog you will have to spend time maintaining the back-end for software updates and security. 
A couple of considerations that are neither pros nor cons.
  1. Blog posts can easily be converted into and sent as email messages through services like FeedBlitz, FeedBurner, and Aweber to name a few. Parents who prefer email can receive the posts through those services. Parents who prefer to subscribe to a blog via RSS can use services like Feedly and Flipboard to follow the blog. 
  2. Nearly every blogging platform will let you create static pages for content like calendars, policies, and handouts.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Month In Review - The Most Popular Posts

Last sunset of April, 2015
Good evening from Woodstock, Maine where the sun has just set on the last day of April. I hope that the month was a good one for you. And as we gear up for the end of the school year, I hope that May treats you well too.

As I do at the end of every month I have put together a list of the posts that received the most views during the previous thirty days. Doing this gives me a chance to reflect on the topics that appeal to the most people. It also gives you a chance to see if there are any new things that you might have missed during the month.

These were the most popular posts in April, 2015:
1. 5 Tools for Creating Multimedia Quizzes - A Comparison Chart
2. 124 Recordings of Famous Poets Reading Some of Their Poems
3. A Handful of Tools That Help Students Analyze Their Own Writing
4. Analyze My Writing - Way More Than Word Clouds
5. Tools for Creating Animations in Your Browser or On Your Tablet
6. How to Use Handwriting in Google Documents
7. Create a Simple Check-out/ Check-in System With Google Forms
8. Parapara Animation - Create Stopmotion Animations in Your Browser
9. Send Your Students on a QR Code Treasure Hunt
10. Google Classroom Now Supports Teacher Collaboration and Announcement Drafts

Please visit the official advertisers that help keep this blog going.
Practical Ed Tech is the brand through which I offer PD webinars.
BoomWriter provides a fantastic tool for creating writing lessons. 
Storyboard That is my go-to tool for creating storyboards and cartoon stories.
MidWest Teachers Institute offers online graduate courses for teachers.
HelloTalk is a mobile community for learning a new language.
Discovery Education & Wilkes University offer online courses for earning Master's degrees in Instructional Media.
PrepFactory offers a great place for students to prepare for SAT and ACT tests.
MasteryConnect provides a network for teachers to share and discover Common Core assessments.
The University of Maryland Baltimore County offers graduate programs for teachers.
Boise State University offers a 100% online program in educational technology.
EdTechTeacher is hosting host workshops in six cities in the U.S. in the summer.
SeeSaw is a great iPad app for creating digital portfolios.

ContextU Provides Good Review Material for AP US History Exam

Earlier this week Ken Halla who runs the US History Teachers Blog sent me a note to remind me about ContextU as a source of review materials for students taking the AP US History exam. ContextU provides students with overviews of six eras in US history from Revolution through the Gilded Age.

Within each era overview on ContextU students will find a hyperlinked table of contents from which the can jump to an event, person, or theme to see it in the context of other events and themes. Through timelines, Google Maps, diagrams, flow charts, and text ContextU provides context for each chosen event, piece of legislation, or theme. Students can jump from event to event or from theme to theme by following the hyperlinks within each diagram.

Applications for Education
The advantage of using ContextU over a textbook to review is found in the ease with which students can see how an event fits into the larger context of the causes of events in U.S. History.

Pros and Cons of Emailing School Announcements

On Tuesday I evaluated the pros and cons of using social media for school announcements. Yesterday, I did the same for text messaging school announcements. Today, let's take a look at the pros and cons of using good old fashioned email for distributing school and classroom announcements.

Pros of using email for school announcements:
  1. There is essentially no limit to the amount of text and information you can pack into one email. 
  2. Easy to attach forms and or link to a Google Form in an email. This is helpful when you need to distribute things like permission slips. 
  3. Your school probably has a database of every parent's or guardian's email address. This makes it easy to add email addresses to mailing lists. 
  4. Most parents are familiar with how email works. The same cannot be said for social networks. 
  5. It is easy for parents and students to quickly reply to messages if they need to ask follow-up questions. 
  6. Many relatively inexpensive services are available to help you format and schedule email newsletter distribution. Alternatively, you can use spreadsheet scripts like this one can be used to schedule email distribution. 
Cons of using email for school school announcements:
  1. Not ideal for urgent announcements like school closings as people don't always check their inboxes regularly even if they have notifications on their smartphones. 
  2. Email is easy to ignore. 
  3. Some email services may flag your message as spam if it is sent to hundreds of people at once. You will have to encourage parents to whitelist your school's email domain. 
  4. Must remember to use BCC not CC when manually sending a message to a mailing list. Otherwise you expose all the email addresses to everyone on the list. And don't forget that not everyone knows not to use "reply all" when replying. 
  5. While occasionally a long email is necessary, long emails are skimmed and or ignored. You must resist the temptation to be long-winded in announcements. 
  6. As with all forms of digital communication we need to be cognizant of families in our school communities that don't have reliable access to the Internet. 
What do you see as the pros and cons of using email for school announcements? Let me know on Twitter