Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Three Ways to Generate Topics for Your School's Blog

Posting new content on a regular basis is one of the best ways to get parents to frequently check your school, library, or classroom blog. Coming up with blog post topics is the struggle that many people have in attempting to regularly update their blogs. At times, I have that problem too. I have three things that I do when I'm struggling to come up with a topic for a blog post.

Three things you can do to generate blog post topics:
1. Look at your email. Scroll through your email to take a look back at some of the questions that you're asking on a regular basis. Write a post or two or three that answer those questions.

2. Look at Google Analytics. If you have Google Analytics installed in your blog or website you can glean a lot of useful information from what is reported about visitors to your blog or website. One of the sections of Google Analytics that is particularly helpful is the section that shows you the keywords people use in searches before landing on your blog or website. Write a post or two related to those keywords.

3. Update old posts. Everything changes in time. What you wrote twelve months ago or even six months ago might need an update. Take a look at some of your old posts and see if any of them need updating.

Bonus tip:
When you find yourself writing a particularly long post, consider breaking into a series of posts. Your one 1000 word post could probably become a two or three part series. Like an 80's sitcom, "a to be continued" can keep people coming back.

Topics like this one and many others will be covered in depth during my spring and summer offerings of Blogs & Social Media for Teachers and School Leaders

Try the New Padlet Android App

Just a little more than twelve hours ago I received an exciting email from Padlet in which they announced the launch of their new Android app. Padlet has long worked well in the web browser  on Android phones and tablets, but this is the first time that there has been a dedicated Padlet Android app.

The new Padlet Android app does everything that makes me love Padlet. From the app I can create new Padlet walls, share walls with my students, customize the background, change the layout, and even moderate notes appearing on my Padlet wall. I can use the Padlet Android app to post notes containing pictures and videos that are saved on my phone and tablet. The sharing features of Padlet are extended on the Android platform as you can quickly share your walls through a variety of social apps including Twitter, WhatsApp, and Google+. Students can use the app's QR code option to scan QR codes for my Padlet wall and instantly join my wall in the Padlet Android app.

My favorite ways to use Padlet with students:

Padlet as a simple blogging platform:
Padlet walls can be arranged in free-form, grid, or stream layouts. Creating a Padlet page in the stream format could be a good way to create a simple, collaborative blog for students. You could create the page, select "stream" format, and make the page accessible for students to write short posts on. Their posts could include images and videos. If you want to, you can password protect your Padlet pages and moderate messages before they appear on your Padlet page.

Padlet Mini as a bookmarking tool:
Padlet Mini is a Chrome extension that you can use to bookmark websites. When you click the Padlet Mini extension in your browser you will be presented with the option to save to one of your existing walls or create a new Padlet wall. Click here for a video on using Padlet Mini.

Padlet as a KWL chart:
Padlet can be used to create a KWL chart that students can contribute to anonymously (or not anonymously if you want them to sign-in). Create a wall, make it public, and ask students to share what they know and what they want to know about a topic. If you allow anonymous posting you might get contributions from shy students who might not otherwise speak-up in class. Of course, if you allow anonymous commenting you should have a conversation with your students about what an appropriate comment looks like. (You could also turn on moderation and approve all notes before they appear). Padlet works well when projected on an interactive whiteboard.

Padlet for group research and discussion:
A few years ago I showed my special education students a short (18 minutes) video about cultural changes that took place in the US during the 1920's. After the video we discussed what they saw. Then I had students search online for other examples of cultural change in the 1920's. When they found examples they put them onto a Wallwisher (Padlet's previous name) wall that I projected onto a wall in my classroom. The wall started with just text being added to the wall and quickly progressed to YouTube videos being added to the wall. Once every student had added a video to the wall we stopped, watched the videos, and discussed them.

Padlet as a showcase of your students’ work:
If your students are creating digital portfolios, creating slideshows, or producing videos you could use Padlet to display all of your students’ best work on one page. Create the wall, call it something like “my best work this year,” and have your students post links to their works.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

By Search Request - Bibliography Tools for Students

Over the weekend I was looking at the Google Analytics for FreeTech4Teachers.com and noticed that last week one of the most frequently searched terms that directed people to this blog is "bibliography generators." I took that as a clue that more than a few people are interested in that topic. To that end, here are the tools that I frequently recommend for creating bibliographies. As with any tool that automates a process, teach your students to check the accuracy of the citations created by any of these tools.

For Google Docs users the EasyBib Bibliography Creator is my go-to tool for creating bibliographies. The EasyBib Bibliography Creator makes it easy to properly cite resources and format a bibliography in APA, MLA, or Chicago style. Click here for directions for the process of using this add-on.

RefMe is currently my favorite tool for creating bibliographies outside of the Google Docs environment. RefMe offers browser extensions, a free Android, and a free iPad app for saving resources and generating bibliographies from your collection of resources. Watch my video embedded below to learn more about how to use RefMe in your web browser.

Zaption Expands Free Options for Creating Flipped Lessons

Zaption is a popular tool for creating video-based lessons and quizzes. The service operates on a freemium model in which they offer a mix of free and paid options. Last week Zaption announced that the free options have been expanded. Teachers can now utilize all of the video lesson creation tools that Zaption offers. Those tools include adding required questions that students must answer before moving forward in a video lesson. The other enhancement to the free version of Zaption is the removal of the limitation on the number of viewers your lessons can have.

To create a quiz on Zaption you start by creating a "tour" in your account. A tour is a combination of videos, images, and text arranged into a sequence. To add a video to a tour you can search and select one within Zaption. Zaption pulls videos from YouTube, Vimeo, PBS, or National Geographic. After choosing your video, start watching it then pause it when you want to add a question. You can add questions in the form of multiple choice, open response, or check box response. When students watch the video they will see your questions appear in the context in which you set them.

Applications for Education
Zaption can be a great tool for creating flipped lessons to share with your students. Students do not have to have Zaption accounts in order to use the tours that you create. The free version of the service used to only allow only one video per tour/ lesson, but it now allows you to include multiple videos within a lesson/ tour.

Skip the Spreadsheet, Use This Add-on to Create Google Docs Word Clouds

This morning I received an email from a reader who had heard that there was a way to create word clouds in a Google Spreadsheet, but needed a little help doing that. She was worried about how to get all of the words in a document into a spreadsheet in an easy manner. My suggestion was to skip the spreadsheet and just use the Tag Cloud Generator Add-on for Google Documents. My video embedded below demonstrates how to create a word cloud within Google Documents.


Applications for Education
Word clouds can help students analyze documents written by others as well as documents of their own creation. By copying the text of a document into a word cloud generator your students can quickly see the words that appear most frequently in that document. Word clouds can also be used to help students see which words that they have frequently used in their own works. Have your students create word clouds of their work during the revision process of writing a story or essay. The word cloud will quickly show students which words they have used the most. Then ask them to think about synonyms for the words that they have used most often in their writings.

Topics like this one and many others will be covered in depth during my spring and summer offerings of Getting Going With GAFE