Friday, June 19, 2015

Jellybean Writer - An Online Tool for Creating Picture Books

Jellybean Scoop is a relatively new service that features fun and interesting news stories on four reading levels. Along with each story you will find comprehension questions and vocabulary lists. Larry Ferlazzo wrote a review of the articles and activities here. What Larry didn't focus on was the writing tool on Jellybean Scoop. The writing tool is called Jellybean Writer.

Jellybean Writer is a free tool for creating picture books. Students can import pictures from their computers then write captions for each image. A variety of layout templates, background colors, and fonts are available to Jellybean Writer users. All stories can be saved online or downloaded and printed. If picture books are too simple for your students, they can skip using pictures and select one of the text only templates for the pages in their books.

You do have to create an account to access the reading questions and writing tools on Jellybean Scoop. Teachers who create accounts for themselves can also create and manage accounts for their students.

Applications for Education
Jellybean Scoop and Jellybean Writer could be good resources for elementary school classrooms. Students could read stories on the site then transition to writing their own stories about the topics covered in the articles you had them read.

Smithsonian Weather Lab - Learn About Weather Patterns and Make Forecasts

The Smithsonian Science Education Center's Weather Lab is a simple online activity designed to help elementary and middle school students learn about weather patterns.

In the Weather Lab students select an ocean current and an air mass then try to predict the weather pattern that will result from their choices. The Weather Lab provides an overview of the characteristics of each air mass and ocean current. Students should use that information in making their weather predictions.  After making their predictions the Weather Lab will tell students if they were correct or not. In the feedback given to students they will find links to videos for further learning about each weather pattern featured in the Weather Lab.

Applications for Education
The Smithsonian Science Center's Weather Lab isn't the most robust online activity that you'll find online. That said, it is a good starting place for lessons about weather. I would have students use the Weather Lab to learn a bit about weather patterns then transition them to using real-time meteorological data to make weather forecasts for where they live.

7 Summer Travel Tips for Teachers

Whether it is to attend the annual ISTE conference, to participate in my Practical Ed Tech Summer Camp, or to go on vacation, many teachers will be traveling this summer. As someone who flew more than 100 times last year, I have some tips to pass along that can make your summer travel experience a little bit less stressful if not enjoyable.

1. Check-in online as soon as possible. Most airlines let you check-in for a flight 24 hours in advance. If you don't have a pre-assigned seat and you want a chance at getting the best seat possible for your fare class (there are different fare classes beyond just coach or first), check-in early. Be aware that some airlines charge a fee if you don't check-in online.

2. Get there early! This is obvious, but it cannot be stressed enough.  Other than the holidays, summer is the busiest leisure travel time which means there are lots of people in the security lines who are unfamiliar with the process. Unless you have TSA Pre-Check or elite status on an airline, be prepared for long security lines.

3. Plan for delays and cancellations. Even if it is bright and sunny at your home and at your destination, there can be delays to your flights. Before you get to the airport look at alternate flights to your destination that are available on your airline. You can do this by doing a dummy booking on the airline's website (stop before the field asking for your credit card). Write down those flight numbers and keep them handy in case of significant delay or cancellation. This will save the airline agent time and relieve a bit of your stress if you know what your options are.
Remember this when delays and cancellations occur; the airlines don't like delays any more than you do. The gate agents, flight attendants, and phone agents are probably more stressed out by the delay than you are. Getting huffy with them and saying things like "I'll never fly this airline again" won't help you or anyone else. (Insider info: Most flight attendants don't get paid for time on the ground when the aircraft door is open).

4. Know your airline's reservations desk phone number. When your flight gets delayed or cancelled you will have to wait in line to see an airline agent. Get on the phone with the airline's reservation desk while you're waiting in line. Often you will get through on the phone before you get to the front of an airport line. Give the phone agent the alternate flight numbers that you found before you left your house.

5. Bring a small power strip and make friends. There are never enough outlets to go around in an airport terminal. Bring a small power strip (I found one at Walmart that has four outlets with a one foot cord) and then you only need to find one outlet to charge your phone and those your friends, family, or strangers.

6. Join the airline's frequent flyer program. Even if you only fly once a year, join the frequent flyer program. You can use the miles for things other than flights. For example, I only fly on United and Delta when US/ American doesn't fly to where I'm going. I collect miles from those trips and have used them for magazine subscriptions, gift cards, and even "bought" a coffee maker through frequent flyer miles.

7. For the nervous flyers: I was once a very nervous flyer too. That changed once I realized that the pilots want to land safely just as much as I do. Pilots won't fly unless they feel safe. Those sounds you hear the plane making, they're normal.

Bonus tip: free hotel perks!
Even if you only plan to stay at a hotel once a year, join its loyalty/ rewards program. Almost all of the major hotel chains give free in-room wi-fi to all guests who are enrolled in their loyalty programs. I've also received free bottled water, soda pop, ironing services, and snacks just for being a member of Kimpton and Omni's loyalty program.

How to Plan Biking and Walking Routes in Google Maps

Last Friday I wrote a post about using Google's My Maps service to create biking and walking route maps. Since then I've had a few people email me with questions about the bike route mapping component. The bike route mapping tool has a route prediction feature that can drive you nuts if there are lots of roads near the route you're trying to map. In the video embedded below I demonstrate how to get past that little annoyance and create bike route maps that you can save and share with friends.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

How to Get Your School Announcements to as Many People as Possible

I was recently introducing some teachers to blogging when one of them said, "but they don't even read our newsletter." She was right, most of the parents and students probably are not reading the newsletter that the school sends out. My suggestion was to create a blog. I made the suggestion knowing full well that many parents wouldn't visit it directly on a consistent basis. I suggested maintaining a blog because from it you can launch a variety of outreach strategies to connect with parents and students. My basic strategy for reaching parents and students is outlined below.

1. Maintain a blog.
Update your blog on a consistent schedule throughout the school year. You don't have to update it daily. Publishing a new post every Monday, Wednesday, and every Friday is sufficient. Monday's post could be a list of what's coming up during the week. Wednesday's post could be reminders about assignments. Friday's post could be a recap of the week.

2. Provide an email subscription option for updates.
Some parents will want updates emailed to them instead of having to visit your blog directly. Blogger offers a "follow by email" gadget that you can add to your blog. When parents use it they can subscribe to your blog through email. If you use WordPress for your blog, the Jetpack plug-in offers a free "follow by email" option. For more control over your email list, you can use paid services like FeedBlitz and Aweber to automatically email new blog posts.

3. Connect your blog to social media outlets. 
When you publish a new blog post, share it on your school/ classroom Twitter and Facebook. Services like If This Then That have recipes for automatically publishing your blog posts to Twitter and Facebook. FeedBlitz, the service I use for email, publishes my new blog posts to Twitter automatically. Tools like Hootsuite give you the option to schedule social media posts in advance. Use Hootsuite to Tweet and or Facebook your blog post once per day for parents and or students who might have missed it earlier in the week.

4. Instagram it. 
If you have a school/ classroom Instagram account that parents and students are following, post a screenshot of the latest blog post. Put the link to the blog post in your caption of the image.

5. Text it. 
Use Remind or Celly to send out the link to the new blog post.

Creating a system for getting your message out to parents and students will take you a little time to develop. Once you have a system down, you'll find that it doesn't take much time to create and send the updates. With a good system in place you'll be reaching parents and students where they are instead of hoping that they come to where you are.

I'll be covering this topic in much more depth along with many others in my July offering of Blogs & Social Media for Teachers & School Leaders