Sunday, October 9, 2016

16 Things You Can Do To Add More Functions to Your Classroom Blog

After you have identified some goals for your blog and created its basic framework, you'll might find yourself asking, "what else can I do with my blog?" There are lots of third-party functions that you can add to most blogs. I like to add the Remind widget to classroom blogs. Similarly, most blogging platforms have handy, hidden features that you can activate. For example, most blogging platforms let you feature a specific post above all others. In my playlist of blogging tips you can learn how to add 16 additional functions to your classroom blog.

Most of these tips are based on the Blogger platform, but most will work on other platforms too.

Harvest of History - The History of Farming in North America

Harvest of History is a website produced by the Farmers' Museum in Cooperstown, New York (also the site of the Baseball Hall of Fame). Harvest of History is designed to help students and teachers explore the origins and development of modern farming practices. The basis for Harvest of History is to explore the question, "where did your last meal come from?"

Applications for Education
Harvest of History is designed with elementary school students in mind. The teachers' page provides 16 lesson plans for use with students of fourth grade age. The question, "where did you last meal come from?" and some of the content of Harvest of History could also be used with older students to spark discussion about the development of modern agriculture.

Electoral Decoder Shows Students the Math of Presidential Elections

Throughout 2016 PBS has been steadily adding more features to their Election Central website for students. Electoral Decoder is one of the recent additions to the site that I discovered through an ad on Facebook.

Electoral Decoder uses cartograms to show students the math of the Electoral College. In other words, it shows them that geographically large states like Wyoming have fewer Electoral votes than geographically smaller states with large populations. The Electoral Decoder also illustrates how a candidate can be the victor in the majority of states while losing the overall election. Finally, students can use the Electoral Decoder to identify voting patterns along geographic lines. For example, in 1860 Lincoln won the general election without being the victor in any of the southern states.

Students can use the timeline slider on the Electoral Decoder to view the outcome of any and all Presidential Elections in the history of the United States. Below the cartogram and timeline for each election, students will find resources like videos to learn more about each election.

Applications for Education
One of the neat things that students can do with the Electoral Decoder is look at how many possible ways a candidate could win an election. Challenge your students to figure out how many combinations of states would work for a candidate to win this year's election.

Videos explaining the Electoral College:
This TED-Ed lesson offers a short explanation of the Electoral College by answering the question, "does your vote count?" The video for the lesson is embedded below.

Common Craft offers The Electoral College in Plain English.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

My Favorite Tools for Creating Screencast Videos - Updated

Creating a screencast video can be a great way to show your students and or colleagues how to do things on their computers, phones, and or tablets. Screencasting can also be a quick way to create a short, flipped video lesson. At least a couple of times a week I'm asked about the tools that I use to create the screencasts that I share with teachers. Here's a run-down of the three tools that I use more than any others for creating screencast videos.

I use Screencast-o-matic to record on both Windows and Mac computers. There is a free browser-based version of Screencast-o-matic and a paid desktop version ($15/year). The free version is great for most situations. The desktop version offers some editing tools and longer recording times. Both versions include a highlighted circle that follows my cursor around the screen to help viewers see exactly where I am clicking and writing on the screen. 

Nimbus Screenshot:
Nimbus Screenshot is a free extension that allows you to capture screen images and create screencast videos. I use Nimbus screenshot when I want to create a screencast video on my Chromebook. Screencasts recorded with Nimbus Screenshot can be saved to your local drive or to an online Nimbus account. I chose to save to my local drive then upload to my YouTube channel. You could also save to your local drive then share to Google Drive or another online storage service.

AZ Screen Recorder:
AZ Screen Recorder is a fantastic free app for creating screencasts on your Android phone or tablet. Unlike a lot of Android screencasting apps AZ Screen Recorder does not require you to have root access to your device nor does it require you to mirror to another device to record. To create a screencast with AZ Screen Recorder on your Android device simply install it then open it and tap the record icon. You will see a three second countdown timer appear on your screen and then you’ll be recording. You can talk over your recording to explain what you’re showing on your screen. When you’re done just tap the stop button and your recording is saved on your device. You can share your recording directly to Google Drive, YouTube, or any other file storage service that is connected to your Android device.

Other tools & methods for creating screencasts:
These are tools that I've used at various times for creating screencasts, but I don't use them on a regular basis.

There is no shortage of iPad apps that will let you create whiteboard videos in which you draw and talk. But recording yourself demonstrating how to use an app or how to complete a workflow process on an iPad requires something outside of a stand-alone app. If you have a Mac, connect your iPad to your Mac by using the Lightning cable (the cable that came with your iPad). Then open QuickTime on your Mac. Next select "new movie recording" from the QuickTime menu. You can then choose the name of your iPad and click record. When you're done recording your new screencast will save to your computer as a video file that you can then edit in iMovie if you want to cut out portions of it or lay a music track under your narration.

If you have a Windows computer and you want to record your iPad's screen, you will need a third-party service that allows you to mirror your iPad to the screen of your Windows computer. Air Server is the service that I recommend for mirroring an iPad to a Windows computer. Air Server includes a recording tool that  you can use to make a screencast video of your iPad's screen. With Air Server running you can just tap record and instantly start capturing your screen and your narration. The video will save on your Windows computer where you can then edit it and or upload it to your favorite video hosting service.

The simplest way to create a screencast on a Mac is to use Quicktime. Apple offers step-by-step directions for recording a screencast through Quicktime. The shortcoming of making a screencast this way is that it lacks a highlighter for the cursor on your screen. 

Weekend Project - Identify a Goal for Your Blog

When it comes to blogging one of the patterns that I see every school year starts to emerge around this time of year. That pattern is, our blogs that we started with the best of intentions in August start to lose their momentum. It's easy to blame the tasks of the daily grind of the school year for getting in the way of maintaining your blog. That is definitely a valid challenge. Another challenge is thinking of things to publish on your blog.

When you're struggling for ideas for things to post on your blog, ask yourself, "what is the goal of my blog?" Here are some common goals and actions that you can take toward reaching those goals.

  • Goal: Reaching more parents.
    • Action: think about the questions that parents have when they email or call you. Write some blog posts that address the most frequently asked questions. Close your post by inviting parents to ask more questions. 

  • Goal: Encouraging students to write.
    • Action: expand the topics of your blog posts. For example, if you're a history teacher it is easy to fall into the trap of only publishing posts directly related to a topic in history. Expand your topics to include things that might not be directly related to one of your recent lessons. Try publishing a post about a current article from the fields of science or technology then asking students to share their thoughts on it. Or better yet, let them choose a topic for group discussion on the blog. 

  • Goal: Helping other teachers:
    • Action: first identify your area of expertise then make a list of ten things you wish you had known before you became an expert on that topic. Then draft one blog post about each of those ten things. For example, let's say you're good at helping emerging readers decode text. Create a list of things that you do to help students in that area. Then write a blog post about each of those things. 
Topics like this one and many others are covered in Blogs & Social Media for Teachers & School Leaders. 

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