Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Show what you know: iPad apps for expression

I love giving students the opportunity to share what they know. I believe that students have something to say and share. When given the opportunity to share their knowledge, they will do so and can be very creative. Too many times teachers restrict them with certain requirements for the presentation. I believe that this limits the students too much.

Earlier this month Rebeca Lundberg, a fellow DLC, and myself were asked to present at a district librarians' conference. The librarians began their sessions learning about WISE Inguiry Learning. Our session focused on the Express part of the process, focusing on iPad apps that can be used by students to show what they know.

Our main focus was on iMovie and Keynote and at the end we threw in some demos of other apps that are our favorites for student presentations.

iMovie - Apple's consumer grade video editing app is very powerful, yet super easy to use. Even younger students are able to put together simple videos. Just look at the explosion of YouTube videos  to see how powerful video can be. iMovie makes it easy to capture and edit video, edit audio, and add titles and transitions. Checkout our video tutorial and print tutorial.

Keynote - This is Apple's version of PowerPoint. I think it's much nicer and easier to use than PowerPoint. Adding images, videos, and text are easy to do and you're not distracted by all the extra dancing letters and ridiculous animations that make PowerPoints such a chore to watch. Checkout our video tutorial and print tutorial.

ThingLink - This is one of my favorite apps for students to use to share their knowledge. A lot of times information isn't linear. With ThingLink you start with a "base image" and add "hot spots". Hot spots are place you can touch or click to display additional information in the form of text, images, video, or audio. Because of it's non-linear format, it's easy to explore a given topic and absorb the information in your own way. While there is a web version, I did a write up on the iPad app that you can read here.

Haiku Deck - Haiku Deck is perhaps one of my all time favorite presentation apps. I love it because it is very visually oriented. Each slide has to have a picture and the amount of text allowed on each slide is limited. This forces students to really know their material since they can't use the text on the screen as a crutch. Not only that, but the image library is very high quality, making any presentation enjoyable to watch and listen to. You can read my review of Haiku Deck here.

Adobe Voice - I only recently got in to Adobe Voice, but have come to enjoy it as well. I now recommend it to all schools that are looking for quality iPad apps. Adobe Voice lets you quickly throw together simple videos using icons and your own voice. The app then adds transitions and music to seamlessly make a quality presentation. You can read my simple tutorial here.

Google Slides -  Google Slides is another PowerPoint alternative. The advantage it has over PowerPoint or Keynote is the collaboration, which is true for any Google product. This app is perfect for small group presentations. Check out this tutorial for beginners.

What apps do you like to have students use to show what they know?

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Monday, November 23, 2015

The best student blog privacy settings

I recently helped a teacher set up blogging with her students. I needed to check out the posts and comments from the students so I could offer feedback and help her improve the process. However, all the blogs written by the students were set as private and I could not see a single one. When I asked her to change them to public for me, she answered that the admins were concerned about it being open to all. The blog was made public long enough for me to check it out and then locked up again.

I disagree with this for several reasons.


One of the reasons blogging is so engaging to students is that it gives them a wider audience for their writing. Picture the typical writing assignment in class. The teacher gives the topic to the students and tells them how many paragraphs or sentences it has to have. Students complete the assignment and turn it in to the teacher, who is the only one to read it. If they are lucky the teacher will hang them on a bulletin board in the classroom where other students may or may not be able to read it. If they are really lucky, it might be a bulletin board in the hallway where students from around the school may or may not be able to read it.

How motivating is that? Not at all.

Now picture blogging, where this can be their potential audience:

With open blogs, students can make connections other classrooms around the state and country. They can read posts by other students, who can also read theirs. They can comment back and forth and share experiences. Closed blogs don't allow them to make those connections.

By sharing their writing in public blog posts, students take pride in what they write. When they realize others are reading it (through comments or hit counters) they want to write more and write better.

By locking down the privacy settings of blogs, teachers are essentially shutting students out of their audience. Now the audience is once again the classroom and it might as well be a paper/pencil assignment.

Teach Digital Citizenship

At some point students need to be taught how to create and manage their digital footprint. Over and over we tell them to be careful online, that you can't take anything back, or that what you post can't be truly erased.

Blogging is a safe way to let them put those digital citizenship skills into practice. They learn proper netiquette skills, what an online presence means, how to communicate with others, and how to define their online presence, rather than letting someone else define it for them. You know, those 21st Century skills.

Kathleen Morris shared similar thoughts in her blog post, Why I think Blogs Should be Public. My favorite part of what she said is:
It my opinion, it is more harmful to “protect” students through a closed blog than it is to open their eyes to the real world of online technologies through open blogs.

To me, having a closed blog feels like “pretending to use technology” and the full benefits of blogging cannot experienced.
By protecting them too much, we also deprive them of the essential opportunities to actually develop their digital citizenship.


I get the concern about safety online. We do need to teach students to be careful what they say, don't use their full name or other personally identifying information. We shouldn't post pictures online with full names underneath. We should monitor who is commenting on student blogs and who they are making connections with. These are the same skills adults need to be practicing.

Most blog platforms have these safety features built in. For example, Kidblog lets teachers define the display name for students, as show in this blog.

Kidblog also gives the teacher the option to only display student avatars and completely ignore the name.

Moderating posts is one way teachers can monitor what is happening on class and student blgos. This high school teacher uses Blogger. She added students to the class blog as contributors. That gave her the option to approve the posts before they appear.


Kidblog has similar functionality, giving teachers the opportunity to see and approve both posts and comments before they appear. This lets teachers check posts for personally identifying information.

Don't lock blogs!

Blogging can be one of the most rewarding experiences teachers and students can have. You can read about the experiences a few teachers had here. The learning and experiences students can have through global connections in blogging are worth the effort. Those same experiences cannot be achieved in a locked down blog.

To answer the question posed in the post title, the best student blog privacy setting are the ones that unlock the blog so it is public, but still protect their identity.

What do you think about the issue of private vs public blog posts?

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Static pages on your blog

Static pages on a blog are a useful element. They establish a place for us to share resources or content that does not need to be updated on a daily basis. For example, at the top of my blog I have several tabs, including an About Me and Schedule Me tab. These pages are static - I don't need to change or update the information on a regular basis. I've also created pages on Edmodo, Mystery Skype, and Blogging - topics I am passionate about and want teachers to have quick access to the resources. The main page of the blog is updated constantly with new posts, but the static pages don't change as frequently.

Blogging platforms such as Blogger let you easily create static pages. Kidblog doesn't have this same feature, but there is an easy work around.


Log in to your Blogger account and navigate to your blog. In the navigation menu on the left, click on Pages. Click New page and add text, images, HTML codes or whatever else you would like. The interface is almost identical to the one where you write your posts.

In the Page Settings on the right click Options. If you don't want your readers to leave comments on static pages, then change that option.

Once everything is done, click the Publish button. You then need to add a navigation bar to your blog to display those pages.

Add Navigation Bar

On the left side of the page, click Layout. Click the Add a Gadget link. In the box that pops up, find the Pages gadget and click the plus button.

Check the boxes next to the pages you want to appear in the navigation.

You can drag and drop to rearrange the order.

In some cases you want your static page to be a little more dynamic. For example, this art teacher has pages on his Thomas Elementary Art blog that updates as he adds posts for certain grade levels. I have done something similar with the Edmodo, Mystery Skype, and Blogging pages at the top of this blog. To add tabs that go out to another website or contain a collection of posts, click  Add external link, paste in the URL, and save it. This tab can also be arranged along with the others.

Save the widget and drag it to your desired location on the layout. Click Save Arrangment and check out your cool blog!


Kidblog doesn't allow you to add static features, but using Categories you can create a similar effect. In this example, an elementary art teacher uses categories to group her blogs for easy reference by grade level.

Log in to your Kidblog account and click Settings.

Click Categories. You can edit the name of the default Blog category and add additional ones.

These categories appear in one of the right side widgets. As you create posts be sure to assign the post to a category.

Static pages are a really good way to add functionality to your blog, making it easy for your readers to find information. What are some other ways you can use static pages?

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Thursday, November 19, 2015

#MysterySkype Dealing with Time Zones

A middle school social studies teacher I was working with expressed interest in doing a Mystery Skype with another class in Europe. I was all for it until I remembered the time zone difference. Not to be deterred, I looked around for resources to help me figure out what time zone countries in Europe are in. Here are two that I like to use.

World Time Zone

World Time Zone is an interactive map that shows the current time in each time zone across the world. The map shows the current time in each time zone at the time I land on the page. I can then quickly see if it's feasible to do a Mystery Skype.

Time Zone Converter

Time Zone Converter is a resource I use frequently to convert my time to my connecting class's time. I simply plug in the day and time we want to do our Mystery Skype, search for the city of the other class, and click Convert Time. It then shows me the time in both time zones.


Being flexible is also key. Sometimes teachers have a class period that is better behaved or more likely to succeed at playing Mystery Skype. However, with managing the times of two different classes in two different time zones, that class might not be the best fit. Teachers need to be flexible and use whatever class is available at a time that works.

Time zones is an important aspect of Mystery Skypes. Messing that up that little detail can make or break a successful connection!

How do you figure out time zone compatibility? More importantly, how do you Skype with classrooms that are half way around the world? I have a teacher that wants to Skype with a class in Europe!

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Friday, November 13, 2015

The story of a girl who became a reader

image from Etsy

My wife and I are avid readers. As a young child I would devour book after book, checking out a dozen at a time from the local library and finishing them within a week or two. My wife has many books at her bedside, ready for her to enjoy. She also tears through audio books on her daily jog and I listen to audio books in the car on the way to work. We have always tried to instill a love of reading in our kids.

My oldest daughter has also turned in to a book fiend. While in high school she would stay up until one or two in the morning on school nights because she could not put a book down. Our way of disciplining her would be to take her books away. My second son is also a voracious reader, easily consuming books in a matter of days. I don't have to worry about late fines from the library because he reads his books too quickly.

But this isn't a story about us. It's a story about my 3rd grade daughter, who struggled to even complete a book. She wanted to be a reader. She checked out books from the school library each week and would come with me to the public library every time I went. Sometimes she would check out picture books, but mostly she would get chapter books with unicorns on the front or fairies or young school girls. She would get started on the first few pages and we would dutifully record her progress on the weekly reading log. But if I wasn't beside her forcing her to read, she wouldn't bother to pick up the book and never finished a single chapter book.

I tried suggesting books that I though were on her reading level. At the library I would show her a shelf she could choose from. At home I would go through our personal library of children's books and select piles of them that I felt she could get through. She never liked my selections, instead getting ones from school, that she would never finish.

As a reader myself, I struggled with helping her read, but didn't know how. I thought if I found the right level and made it easy enough, she would be able to get all the way through. I had her read out loud to me, but that slowed her down and the books she was selecting seemed too hard in terms of vocabulary. Nothing seemed to motivate her to actually finish a chapter book.

Pernille Ripp has suggested that one way to let students become readers is to let them self select their books, regardless of the format (picture, graphic novel, chapter book) or level. It sounded like sound advice to me and I gave my daughter that freedom. However, she still chose books that she wouldn't finish.

Last week we were at the library picking up books I had on hold and finding books for my youngest daughter. As usual I let me third grader choose one for herself. She chose Dr. Nicholas is Ridiculous by Dan Gutman. I had never heard of this series, but, whatever, she could try it out.

That night when she was upstairs in our loft reading the book I heard a few giggles and she came down to me and shared what was so funny. I laughed along with her and praised her for reading and enjoying the book. Over the next day or so she kept reading the book, sharing moments that she found hilarious. She even took the book to bed, turned on the nightlight, and read a bit more before going to sleep. And then the miracle happened - she finished the book! She was so proud of herself! Her mom and I were so proud of her! She danced around the house and sang, "I finished my first chapter book!" and at that moment she decided she wanted another book from that series.

The next day we went to the library to return the first book. She wanted only one, afraid that she wouldn't be able to finish it. But I convinced her to take at least two "just in case she finished the first". The experience repeated itself, with her reading out loud to her younger sister each night before they went to bed. In the morning I found the book and this note:

And now she's on the third book she checked out from the series! She has finally succeeded in completing not just one, but two chapter books! I haven't had to coerce or cajole her into reading any of them. The confidence and excitement she achieved through this little accomplishment is amazing!

I know this doesn't mean she's suddenly ready for Where the Fern Grows or any other awesome books, but I can see how proud she is for her accomplishment. I believe that enthusiasm will encourage her to try more and more books. And I am completely content in letting her read through the entire series if that's all she wants.

In addition to Pernille's article above, here are a few other articles that have helped inspire me to not give up on struggling readers. There are many more out there.

Why Reading Sucks
20 Ideas for Creating Passionate Reading Environments Engaging Reluctant Readers

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