Thursday, September 10, 2015

Twitter - It's not just for celebrities anymore. One teacher's experience getting started.

 I have had a Twitter account for a pretty long time.  I first set up an account for myself in early 2011 when Twitter was being described in the media as the "next big thing" in tech.  But at that point, I really didn't see anything useful about it.  As a result, for several years my Twitter account sat dormant in cyberspace.  

I resisted Twitter for a long time because it appeared to me to be the most narcissistic of the social media tools - something used by celebrities to tell us what they ate for breakfast.  And, in many instances, Twitter (like Facebook or Instagram for that matter) is used for such shallow purposes.  

But a couple years after creating my account, something happened which changed my perception of Twitter.  I was encouraged by a cool summer tech class and a great teacher, Jon Smith (@theipodteacher), to give it another try.  Reluctantly and skeptically, I did.  What I soon discovered was that if you knew where to look, there was a vibrant and thriving community of educators sharing great teaching ideas on Twitter.

One of my first tweets in Jon's class
If you are an educator, Twitter can be an awesome resource for innovative teaching ideas as well as a great way to connect with the movers and the shakers in teaching profession all over the world.  On Twitter, educators commonly refer to their PLN or Personal Learning Network. Your PLN on Twitter is like being in the teachers lounge with all of the best and brightest in our field.  I can safely say that I have learned more from my Twitter PLN in the past year than I have in all my years of professional development provided by my school.
Some tweets inspire while others share great resources

 So, if you are a Twitter newbie, here are my 5 tips on getting started...

Tip #1 Follow the Best of the Best

In my opinion, the problem most people have with social media like Twitter is that they follow/friend/pin indiscriminately and then feel overwhelmed with keeping up with it all. I have heard Twitter described as being like drinking from a fire hose. That is an apt metaphor.  My recommendation is to ease into it by following just a few great individuals.  Ask others who their favorite "follows" are.  Have a great book on teaching you love?  Follow the author.  Have a great teaching tool you use?  Follow that company to get updates on their latest innovations.  Over time, these "follows" will likely lead to other people or companies you will be interested in following as well.
Need ideas for people to follow?  Try this article for starters.

Tip #2 "lurk" casually for a bit until you get the hang of it

Use your early days to “lurk”, that is, just read comments and posts in your Twitter stream.  This will familiarize you with the lingo of Twitter and some of the methods that people use to connect with others such as tagging someone using their Twitter handle.  One of the things I had to get over using Twitter in my first year was feeling as if I needed to read/look at everything in my feed as you might with e-mail or maybe Facebook. Depending how active the people you follow are on Twitter, this can become impossible unless you are checking it constantly.  Obviously, this becomes a drain on your time and is ultimately unproductive.  When you get busy you're going to miss some tweets and that's okay.  Learn to live with that fact.

Tip #3 Follow Educational Hashtags

Hashtags have become a fad cultural phenomenon of sorts - a way of being clever or adding a hint of sarcasm to a comment (ex. #firstworldproblems).  However, the real purpose for a hashtag (# symbol) is to use a phrase to filter out comments in your Twitter stream.   Using the firehose analogy again, a hashtag allows you to siphon off a small stream of comments.  Many educators use this to have Twitter chats of various kinds.  One of my favorite hashtags is #4thchat, where other 4th grade teachers like myself get together once a week to discuss various topics.  For more on the history and uses of hashtags, check out this great blogpost on the topic.

Check out this link for some great Educational Twitter Hastags to follow.

Tip #4 Time to stop lurking and interact with others!

Ultimately, Twitter is a conversation!  You can't just observe forever.  However, if you are not afraid to put yourself out there a little bit, you can communicate directly with educational superstars all over the world.  And, the coolest part is that unlike most movie stars and famous athletes, they usually respond back.  I'm pretty sure if I tweeted to Lebron James, he's probably not going to care enough to answer my tweet, but I have had small Twitter mentions and conversations with some big names in education today like Dave Burgess (@burgessdave) and Paul Solarz (@PaulSolarz) as well as great innovative companies like Kahoot (@getKahoot), and Class Dojo (@ClassDojo).  This really helps you feel as if you are in a larger community of people who are all striving to be better educational leaders.

I confess to feeling a little giddy when Teach Like a Pirate
author Dave Burgess "favorited" two of my tweets

@GetKahoot contacted me on Twitter after I blogged
a technique for making Kahoots more awesome

I tweeted about how much I loved the book
Learn Like a Pirate and author Paul Solarz was

Tip #5  Time to share your best ideas
When I come across a really great article, post, or idea on I tweet it out.  This allows everyone who follows me to see something that I think is great or at least interesting.  If I find something great that someone has already tweeted, then I retweet it.  The person who tweeted originally will see that I did this so it validates a little bit that you enjoyed what they shared enough to share it with your followers.  Eventually this will often lead to more people following you because of the great content you are sharing.  Thus, your community and PLN will grow even more. 

I hope this is helpful.  If you have questions or comments, feel free to post them in the comments below.

Finally, this is a great article I came across (on Twitter) that has some terrific ideas for easing in to using Twitter and learning more about how it works. Check it out:

21 Day Twitter Challenge for Beginners

Thanks to Teaching Trio for the cool Technology Thursday link up - its my favorite!



Sunday, August 30, 2015

200th follower sale & giveaway!

I am a little embarrassed to admit that I have been obsessively checking my TpT followers over the past week.  

The reason that I have been checking this daily is because my TpT followers have been slowly creeping up toward the magical number of 200.  

Honestly, I think my family has had enough of me shouting numbers daily from the computer room as the count has gone up. "One ninety-six, kids!"  Lately, my family simply responds to my announcements with eye rolls.

OMG Dad, like, who cares?
My family's lack of excitement notwithstanding, I am thrilled and very thankful to those people who encouraged me to begin blogging as well to share my products on TpT.  I credit my fellow teachers and friends Mary from 4th Works and Kate from EduKate and Inspire for inspiring me to try something new.  

I'd also like to thank those of you who have followed me on TpT or read my blog.

So what can I do to thank you?  How about 20% everything in my store for three days?  The sale runs from September 2-5.  Also, I am making one of my top selling Math products 50% for these three days as well!

Go and grab it! 

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Tech Thursday - How to make a transparent background in Apple Keynote

Thanks to the wonderful teachers at Teaching Trio for hosting the Tech Thursday Link up.

 Have you ever tried to put a slideshow together and dropped on images with backgrounds like this?

I would usually resort to using a background color that matched the picture background.  Just recently, I discovered a better way to make it look like this.

Watch this video to learn how.


Thanks for watching!

Monday, June 29, 2015

Monday Made It - June 29

Happy summer, everyone! I'm linking up with Tara and the other wonderfully creative teachers at 4th Grade Frolics for this Monday Made It.
The Made It that I am probably most proud of is our teacher staff videos we have done for the past 3 years.  Each year we end the school year with a student talent show.  We used to end with a teacher dance number that the kids always loved.  

The past three years, however, I have organized a fun video for the kids and parents.  The most fun part for me is hearing the reaction of the kids (and teachers) as the video is played.  (This year, they were so loud I could barely hear the music!) Since I record and edit all of the video, I get to see all of the footage before everyone else  which means it's a surprise. 

We have used this video also as a special send off for our retiring or leaving staff members who we always try to showcase in some way.  As you'd expect, it typically gets posted all over Facebook and other social media so it becomes a neat shared experience for the whole school community.  Here was the video we shared this year.

You might recognize this as our version of the famous Evolution of Dance. What?  You've never seen it?!?  Well, it's posted below.  We are hoping to catch up to his 290 million views!

Our video we did the previous year was to the song "Happy."  Stay tuned for the end to watch the bloopers.

Our first staff video was to the viral video hit "Call Me Maybe" with a surprise ending using "Harlem Shake."

As many people have done, I have used some of my summer to finish and update some of my products on TpT.  This was one of my most popular, but it was also one of my first products so I decided to spruce up the design a bit.  I also changed about 10 of the questions so there was better alignment and balance with the Common Core standards.


The cool part is that the answers can be used to fill in this secret code joke!

This was my weekend TpT project.  I am a big fan of Learn Zillion.  I have used LZ over the past couple years in many different ways.  Most commonly, I would give students videos to watch for homework ahead of my introduction of a skill - preteaching the skill, if you will.  The problem I had with the videos initially was that there wasn't any really assessment to go along with it for me to gauge the students' understanding of the concept (or to check that the student actually watched the videos in the first place).  Hence, I developed these Learn Zillion Practice Packets. They are great for more than homework.  They can work well if you have a sub, if a student was absent for a lesson, if you want students to work independently at a math station, or for those looking to try a "flipped" classroom.  

This product is currently half price ($1.75)

So, my son and some of our friends planned a 4 day overnight backpacking trip at the start of summer.  Unfortunately, the weather and the conditions of the trails where we had initially planned to hike was not ideal for us or our first time backpacker friends (bad mosquitoes, uncleared and poorly marked trails, rattle snakes, thunderstorms).  So, we called an audible and decided to hike the safer/shorter/less snake infested trails around Mohican State Park in central Ohio.  
 Here we are at the parking area by Pleasant Hill Dam where we started hiking.  (I'm not in the picture because some one had to take it.) 

The long stairway down to the trail head which follows roughly along the Clear Fork Mohican River.

The pink line shows roughly where we hike in the first day, minus some backtracking that we did.

Despite choosing an "easier" backpacking option, the hike was actually much more challenging than we anticipated.  Despite having three different maps to refer to, we had trouble finding the access areas to the different trails.  (I won't say we were "lost").  To be on the safe side, we actually hiked on roads for a time to make sure we made it to the right area.  By the time we got to our campsite 9 miles later, we were very tired and running low on water and there was no water source there.  The river, while relatively close to us, was down several hundred feet of steep terrain making it effectively inaccessible to us.

  The next day at our campsite, ready to hike to the state campground.

 Oh yea, enough backpacking stories, what did I make, right?  How about these cool firestarters.  When wood is sometimes damp, its great to pack something like this that burns hot for a long time.  We tried them on this trip and they worked fantastic!

Here's the video that taught me how to make them.

 Thanks for reading! See you again soon!

Sunday, June 28, 2015

My Experiences Starting a School Technology Club

I'm linking up with one of my favorite blogs, Teaching Trio for this week's post.  Its been a while, but I'm hoping to get back to blogging over my summer break.
Whitehouse Tech Club Members  Photo credit:Karen Gerhardinger The Mirror

This year I had a group of students that inspired me to do something that I had been thinking about for a long time.  For years I have wanted to start a technology club so I could show kids some of the cool things they could do to be creative with technology.  In November last year, I gained permission from my principal and superintendent to start the Whitehouse Technology Club, an after school club for 3rd and 4th graders.  I'd like to share with you some of the things we did in our club in the hopes that it might help others who are looking to start something like this at your school.  Being that this was my first year doing this, I learned a lot and I hope that sharing this experience can be worthwhile for someone.

I started by developing a proposal for my principal and district superintendent about the intent of the club.  Both administrators were very supportive and allowed me to use district space (my classroom) and computers/iPads for use in the club.  The goals of the club were to create and collaborate using technology. I wanted the focus of the club to be about kids making things together using technology rather than simply being consumers of tech.  Many of the students were initially drawn to the idea of playing games (like Minecraft) with their friends, but I tried to make it clear that we would be doing much more than that.

To join the club, students had to complete and return a parent permission slip and also create and share a google presentation with me explaining why they wanted to be in the club.  To keep submissions low, I only gave one week to return the permission slip and prepare the slideshow.  Since I was doing this club on a volunteer basis, I was initially planning on holding a meeting once a month for one hour after school.  I was expecting maybe 15-20 applications.  When all 50 of the permission slips were picked up in the office, I knew I had greatly underestimated the demand for the club.  When I collected the forms before Thanksgiving break, I was stunned to find 56 completed permission slips. 

This presented a problem for me.  Obviously, this was far too many students to teach in just one group.  As a result, I decided that rather than exclude students or "choose" the best presentations that I would split the students into a 3rd grade and a 4th grade group and instead hold meetings twice a month.

December Tech Club  Meeting
Project: All About Me Poster

So what did we do in our tech club?  Our first meeting was a get to know meeting.  I used the first few minutes to introduce myself and to lay out the expectations for the group - be kind, listen/follow directions, and be picked up on time.  Then I demonstrated for the students how to use google drawing to make an "All About Me" style poster.  I used the google add-on Doctupus (I'll try to blog on this great tool at some time later) to share a template file for all the students.  Then I created a demo poster for myself while showing the students how to use all of the tools. 

Students created these step by step along with me and then finished them at home to share for the next meeting. You can see all of the posters they made here.


Since adding images was a important element of this project, part of this demo included showing students how to do a better google search for images.

Video:  How to do a better google image search

I also created a video tutorial to show students some things I didn't have time to show them during our first meeting, like adding backgrounds and "call outs."

Video: How to add a background
Video: how to Add a "call out"
After doing these videos, I realized that creating how-to videos was a great way of showing students how to do something without taking valuable meeting time.  It was also much less time-consuming than answering student questions via a lengthy e-mail.  So, as students posed questions, I'd create a "quick" how-to video to show them the steps.  I put quick in quotes because sometimes a simple 5 minute video would actually take 30 or 40 minutes to prepare, record and post.  

Here's my advice on making how to videos:
  • Do a dry run, but video it just in case you nail it in the first try. 
  • I hardly ever got them right the first time.  Expect to do 2 or 3 "takes" unless you aren't that picky about mistakes or make less mistakes than me.  
  • If most of the video was good, sometimes it was easier for me to do a quick video edit or to add some clarification text at the bottom rather than redoing the entire video.
  • Take a few notes or make an outline as a reminder of what you want to say so you can cover everything in the most logical way.
  • Keep the videos short (3-5 minutes).  Rather than trying to cover 3 or 4 different skills, break them into 3 or 4 videos.  You'll have less mistakes, and it will be easier for your students to find exactly what they need help doing.
  • I use the Mac app Screen Record Pro, but there are a lot of free options out there.  Just google search "free screen record application" and you'll get lots of choices.  
  • If you don't want to post and share videos using Youtube, you can simply add the video to your Google Drive and share with all of the members of the group that way.
Creating videos was a great way to share information with the club members.  As I accumulated more and more of these, I created a whole page of "How to" videos on our Tech Club Website.  This year, I hope these will be an easy resource for the new tech club members.
Sometimes the students would do something really cool that I had not tried or did not know how to do, and I would ask them to make a how to video to share with the club.  They loved this!  

Sorry, I couldn't link this video, but its on the WTC page if you want to check it out.
I finished the first meeting by talking with the parents and students as they arrived to pick up their kids to let them know my expectations for the group and what we had learned that day.  We  also talked about that month's optional at home projects.  We would share progress on these projects at the next meeting.

Our December project: 
  • Finish "All About Me" poster using google drawing
Optional December projects:

Thursday, April 2, 2015

April Currently

What's up, peeps? 
see what I did there?
I am currently enjoying my first day at home for Spring Break in not so tropical northwest Ohio.  I've been enviously viewing many of my friends' social media pictures with beach and pool scenes in the background.  


We usually travel somewhere warm as well, but this year, we made plans to help clean out my grandma's house in rural Pennsylvania.  Unfortunately, at 89 years old she needed to move into a nursing home. :(

Me with my beautiful grandma at the nursing home
On the bright side, my grandma has adjusted very well to her new home.  And while it was a lot of work, we enjoyed finding so many  great treasures as we cleaned out my grandma's house.  We found fun mementos including my my dad's elementary school workbooks and grade cards and even grandpa's army jacket from WWII.  Here's my son modeling my grandpa's uniform.

That haircut may be longer than regulation military

Without further ado, here's my April Currently...

Listening to J. Roddy Walston and the Business.  I first caught this band on Austin City Limits.  Seeing they were in Detroit at a small club for just $19,  I took a chance and bought tickets for my son and I to go.  So glad I did.  I didn't know a ton about J. Roddy at the time other than I liked a couple of the tunes.  They are famous for their frenetic live shows, which the Baltimore City Paper said "make James Brown look lazy."  As my son and I were standing in the lobby waiting for the doors to open, we were both surprised as the band walked right by us.  Pretty cool.  The only down side of the concert was it was so loud that my left ear was ringing for two days - not cool.

Loving being at home.  I haven't slept in my bed in 5 days.  I'm so glad to be home!

Thinking about my summer projects. Yes, already.  I have a lot on my plate already.  We're taking a family cruise.  I'm (hopefully) traveling to China.  We are camping in North Carolina for a week.  I am backpacking for four days with my son.  Somewhere in there I'm going to have to squeeze in some projects.  I have about 5 or 6 things that I can finish preparing to post to TpT.  I want to finish another Codeacademy course.  And, I had better practice some basic Chinese for my trip at the end of summer.  

The essential translations

Wanting to get out and enjoy the warmer weather.  Enough said.

Needing to enter my third quarter grades.  Done and done.  Yipee!
Eggs-plain your name - Math is FUNdamental.  I used to have a basketball coach who was a real stickler for fundamentals like dribbling and rebounding.   He would always says, "it's time to put the fun in fundamentals." 

The cool thing about it was it was fun and it never felt like a "drill."  For example, to practice dribbling, he would have the whole team dribble inside the half court while trying to poke away or steal a ball from someone else.  It really forced you to stay under control and while also protecting your own ball.  As players would get knocked out, we'd move into smaller and smaller spaces.  It was a lot of fun while at the same time giving us valuable practice of an important skill."  He could even "differentiate" by having our guards all dribble with their non dominant hand to challenge them more while the big guys dribbled with the hand that was easier for them.  

Similarly, in Math as in basketball, repetition and practice are necessary.  But whenever possible, I try to make practicing skills "fun."   I am a big proponent of games to practice for a simple reason.  Games are fun.  And when we have fun, learning is enjoyable and comes easily.  See the link below to read one of my first posts about some of the ways that I like to review with my class using games.
Click link above to view post
Have a great month everyone!  Thanks to Farley at Oh Boy Fourth Grade for organizing the linky.