Monday, July 14, 2014

Top 10 Gadgets for a Tech-Loving Teacher

I leave tomorrow to go on an overnight faculty retreat with my colleagues, and as I started to pack my bag for the trip, I realized that I love gadgets. What started as a pretty basic love of smartphones, Kindles, and iPads has blossomed into a love of accessories as well. While I won't be packing all of these items for an overnight trip, I thought I'd share my 10 favorite gadgets for the tech-loving teacher.

1. ScanSnap Scanner

This has played a major role in helping me go paperless in my classroom and my personal life. The ScanSnap is a lightweight, portable scanner that can handle 12-15 double-sided pages at a time. It syncs with Dropbox and Evernote (two apps I love) so I can hold onto information without having to keep the piles of paper that come with it. For example, there are a bunch of forms that I'm required to use at school for various things. Rather than keep a file of them all cluttering up my desk, I just scan them with the ScanSnap and print them whenever I need them. I'm far faster at locating items on my computer via the search feature than I am at finding a random piece of paper, so this has been a life-changer for me.



2. Charging Hub

Having a lot of devices can be a problem when it comes to keeping them charged. I hated the clutter of all the chargers and the ugly power strip sitting by my nightstand. I recently solved that problem by purchasing the Anker 40W 5-port USB Charger.


One plug charges up to 5 devices via their USB cables. When there are limited plugs available, this is a great tool to have. It streamlines the clutter and the tangle of cords. I like it so much that I'm planning to get a second one for my classroom.

3. Cocoon Grid It

When you travel with a lot of gadgets -- even just between home and school -- you inevitably have a lot of cords and things that can get lost in your bag. For a while, I tried to assign items to various pockets to try to keep them organized, but that never worked very well. I'd forget what went where and spend way too much time digging around for something. That changed once I got the Cocoon.

It's about the size of a piece of paper, and it has several woven elastic bands that can hold items in place in many configurations. It's a great resource for keeping your smaller gadgets and their cords neat and tidy in your bag.

4. Portable Charger

One of the biggest challenges for me is keeping everything charged throughout the day -- especially when I go from school to grad classes at night. In some of my college classrooms, there are very few outlets, and it's hard to get a seat near one. That's why I love the Jackery Giant portable charger


Small and portable, I can charge this through my laptop, and then it can charge my other devices when I'm on the go. It came in especially handy while I was at ISTE recently, and I love it for travel. You can charge two devices at once, and it holds enough power to extend your device's battery by 500-600%.

5. Eye-Fi Mobi

I love using my good camera -- not the one on my iPhone, but my actual Sony digital camera. One of the things I hate, however, is taking out the memory card to move pictures from my camera to my computer. Invariably, I leave the card in my computer and don't have it when I go to take pictures, or I leave pictures on my camera forever and miss opportunities to share them in blog posts or with family in a timely manner. Then, I met the Eye-Fi card.

This card works like a typical memory card, but because it has WiFi capability, it can automatically send the pictures to my computer as I take them. It's a huge time-saver for me, and it has encouraged me to use my camera far more than I had been using it.

6. Jawbone UP

I'm on my feet a lot throughout the day, and I'm not the best with making time for exercise or sleep. I've had a Jawbone for over a year now, and I love it. It helps me keep track of my steps and my sleep quantity and quality so I can set goals for myself in both departments. It's comfortable and flexible so it doesn't bother me when I'm typing or sleeping, and it's waterproof so I can even wear it in the shower.
Like many teachers, I struggle with work-life balance, and this helps me gauge when things are really getting out of whack. 

7. Fine Point Stylus

I love using my iPad for note-taking, annotating documents, and making tutorials for my students. However, I hate drawing with my fingers because I feel like I'm less coordinated using my index finger relative to a pen, and most styluses are a little too nubby for me. I finally found one that I love in the Adonit Jot Pro

It has a fine-point with a small plastic disk at the tip, and while it's heavier than most pens I'd use, it is by far the closest thing to a pen-like feel that I've found for the iPad. I've had it since December, and I'm very protective of it. It's a must-have if you want to have more precision in your iPad creations, but be careful -- the small disk has popped off a couple of times in my bag, so you have to be careful about storage so you don't lose that piece. 

8. Canon SELPHY

I take a lot of pictures of activities in my classroom, and I like to be able to integrate those into bulletin boards to showcase student work. In the past, it was kind of a pain to print the pictures because I'd invariably have to get a bunch together, upload them to some website, and then have them printed by a 3rd party in a big cluster. I then received the Canon SELPHY as a gift from a family member, and it has eliminated all of the hassle from the process.

I can print from a memory card or send pictures straight from my iPhone or iPad to the printer, and it will print postcard sized borderless photos. I love that I can print wirelessly and as needed rather than having to put together an order that I eventually have to pick up from the store. It's much more efficient, and therefore more likely to get done.

9. IPEVO Point 2 View USB Camera

I use a document camera a lot in my classroom, but the ones my school has available take up tons of real estate on my desk. I also like to be able to have access to a document camera when I'm giving presentations for professional development sessions that I lead or presentations I give in my grad school classes, but I'm not likely to haul around a huge document camera from place to place. That's why I LOVE my IPEVO Point 2 View USB Camera

It is incredibly lightweight and compact, and it produces great images. I use it all the time, and at $69 on Amazon, I think it's a steal. I also like the fact that it can come off of it's stand, so if you're doing an activity in science where you want to look at something from an unusual angle, you have the flexibility to do so. If you don't have a document camera in your classroom, or you want something smaller, I highly recommend this.

10. Wireless Presenter with Laser Pointer

I find myself presenting a lot these days, both in and out of my classroom, and when I am, I absolutely hate to be tethered to my computer. I'd much rather be circulating among my students and interacting than staying in one place. I did some research on wireless remotes and ended up choosing the Kensington Wireless Presenter with Laser Pointer


It's small and comfortable to use, and with only four buttons, it's hard to mess up. My students love the laser pointer part of it, and I love how reliable it is. I've used it on many different computers -- Macs and PCs -- and I haven't encountered any hiccups yet. I've had my current one for three years, and the only thing I plan to replace are its batteries. 

Wrap-Up

So there you have my current top 10 list. With the exception of the ScanSnap and the Jawbone, all of the items are less than $100, and I've included links to each item on Amazon. (Those are affiliate links so Amazon will pay me a small commission if you choose to buy anything, but I'm only linking to items that I LOVE and USE constantly.) What are some gadgets that you love? I'd love to hear more in the comments as I start my back to school wish lists, so be sure to share. :-) And which gadgets do you currently use or would like to have in your own classroom? I'm always curious about the accessories as well.

Have a great week!

Friday, July 4, 2014

How to Outsource Your Running Records

Running records are the bane of my existence.

Ok. Maybe that statement is a little too strong. I really value the information that comes from conducting a running record, but my school requires that I conduct them every 6-12 weeks (depending on the student's reading level), and when I have to test 28 students, that takes a LONG time. Listening, recording, analyzing. Ugh. I can pretty much forget about teaching reading that week, unless I give some feedback after the students read (and then it takes 2 weeks to get through them all).

And then I went to ISTE and heard about Literably.



Literably is a service that audio records students reading Fountas and Pinnell leveled texts (A through Z) and sends you a complete running record within 24 hours. You set up your classroom, assign the level each student reads, and the student just hits "record" when he or she is ready to start. All that's needed is a microphone. Once the student has read for a minute, it automatically sends the recording off for analysis.

The analysis that comes back has all of the miscues, substitutions, and omissions labeled and analyzed for meaning, syntax, and visual errors. It also includes the rate in words per minute and the accuracy percentage. You'll also receive the audio file so you can share it with parents and listen to it yourself.

A free account includes 15 running records each month. If the audio quality is too poor for scoring, it won't count towards your 15. A premium account includes unlimited running records for one class and costs $19/month.

I will definitely be trying out this service. It will give me all of the assessment data I need while freeing me up to work with small groups and confer with students about the books they're reading. Talk about win-win.

Are there any apps or online services you use for reading assessments in your classroom? I'd love to hear about them in the comments!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

July Currently

How did it get to be July already?!?!

I'm still recovering from 3 days of EdTech awesomeness at the ISTE conference and linking up with Farley at Oh' Boy 4th Grade for this month's currently.


Listening - My two-year-old has recently become obsessed with Sofia the First on Disney Jr. It's a cute show, but not my favorite of the toddler choices...not that I've become a connoisseur of toddler TV or anything...

Loving - I started a garden last summer, but it became somewhat overgrown when Georgia had its monsoon season last summer, and it didn't turn out as well as I'd hoped. This year, we're in a new house, and while I don't have the yard space (or HOA permission) for a full garden, I have space on my deck for a container garden. I'm growing bell peppers, jalapeno peppers, herbs, tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, and carrots, and they're really coming along! My daughter and I check on them every afternoon, so it has become a fun summer project.

Thinking - This was my first year to attend ISTE, and I learned SO much. It was overwhelming, exhausting, and inspiring, and I just need a little time to process it all. I'll start blogging tomorrow about some of the coolest stuff I learned.

Wanting - I'm moving into a new classroom this year, so I had to box up all of my stuff at the end of the school year. I'm hoping (*fingers crossed*) that it all got moved to the new room (in a different building on our campus) so I can begin unpacking soon.

Needing - I'm a little panicked that it's July already. I have a lot of projects that are in various stages of completion, and while I know better than to think I'll get them all done, I'd like to check a few more items off my list before I go back to school in a few weeks.

4th Plans - I'm looking forward to a three day weekend with my husband and daughter. We don't have any big plans, but we may take Sydney to see her first fireworks extravaganza.

On a final note, as I prepare to move into my new classroom, I'm starting to think about decorating. The wall colors are very different in my new room, so my old stuff might not work. Here's a quick pic of the new room from my Instagram account:

I'd love to hear your color schemes/decorating ideas if you have any! The move-in and shopping spree will start next week!

Have a great weekend!

Friday, June 27, 2014

From Literature Circle to Student-Created Movie in 10 Steps

I'm continuing my summer book study of When Writing with Technology Matters by Carol Bedard and Charles Fuhrken, and I was blown away by Part 1 of this book.




Part 1 describes a project of reading and writing to launch moviemaking. It is a great example of incorporating authentic reading and writing tasks in the classroom, and it is definitely the type of project that is enhanced through technology integration. I've broken down the contents of this section into 10 steps for you to use in your own classroom projects.

Step 1: Choose books for reading groups

This project functionally starts with literature circles. Students are offered 4-6 book titles to choose from that reflect a variety of genres and themes. Bedard and Fuhrken point out a few considerations that are particularly insightful:
- Fantasy promotes more creativity in the movie making
- Realistic fiction will be more relatable
- Historical fiction facilitates research skills
- Protagonists should be similar in age to students
- Open-ended texts can be adapted into sequels while interesting main characters support prequels 

Action step:
(  ) Create a WebQuest that includes author websites and book review sites about each of the candidate books. This will allow students to make a good decision about which book is the best fit. 

Step 2: Set up Student Blogs for facilitating book discussions

Blogs allow students to engage in deeper discussions about their books and practice writing about texts. As a teacher, you can facilitate this by offering open-ended questions to guide student responses. Later, as students become more comfortable with the platform, you can model appropriate blogging behavior by leaving comments on students’ posts. Eventually, as students become more versed with the logistics of blogging, you can take more of a hands-off approach with limited interventions so the students can discuss the books independently.

Action step: 
(  ) Choose a blogging platform to use with students. One I recommend is KidBlog, which I’ve written about in the past

Step 3: Adapt the book into a screenplay.

Once students have finished reading the book, they should consider ways to adapt the book into a screenplay. In order to make sure the writing engages the students creatively, they should modify the story in some way. This would be an example of the types of creative reading often associated with fan-fiction. A downloadable poster of possibilities is below.



At this stage, students are working independently on their writing, taking the stories down different avenues according to their interests. It’s not necessary to complete the writing cycle at this stage—they merely need a workable rough draft.

Action step:
(   )  Give students time to write their story ideas for a screenplay. At this stage, it can remain a narrative and doesn’t need to be formatted into a script.

Step 4: Develop the pitch.

Screenwriters pitch their story ideas to studios all the time, making this an authentic part of the moviemaking process. Rather than simply reading their screenplay to the class, the authors describe 3 key components of a good pitch: 
* It grabs the audience’s attention through a hook or a teaser.
* It summarizes the story and identifies the genre without giving away everything.
* It’s delivered with high energy and excitement.  
A complete mini-lesson on giving a pitch is featured in the appendices of the book. 

Once students have developed and practiced their pitches, they’ll want to deliver them to their classmates to determine which movies will be made. You could have the class vote on a pitch for each book that was read, or you could invite an impartial panel to come in and watch the pitches.

Action steps:
(   ) Teach students how to develop and deliver a pitch.
(   ) Determine which story idea(s) will advance into the movie-making process. The number of winning pitches determines the number of movies your students will be making so consider what you can manage.

Step 5: Collaboratively revise the story from the winning pitch

Students can work together in their book club small groups to help revise the story from the winning pitch for their text. As they discuss, they may find that details from the other students’ stories could enhance the winning story in some way. The revised story becomes the property of the group, and it will benefit from opportunities for conferring just as any other writing would.

Action step:
(   ) Consider using outsiders for conferences to give a new sounding board to the young writers as they develop their ideas for their audience.

Step 6: Storyboarding

Students essentially take their stories and turn them into comic strips. This forces them to think about scenes, key events, and dialogue. Interestingly, the authors advise against using technology for this stage because the students can get too caught up in playing around with features, perfecting their storyboards, etc. 

Here’s a great Prezi I found for introducing and explaining the purpose of storyboards:

Action step:
(   ) Create story board templates for students and support them as they develop their complete storyboards.

Step 7: Write the script

Scriptwriting is a great way to teach students how to show, not tell, how characters are feeling because they can’t rely on a narrator to describe feelings - actions and dialogue have to do the heavy lifting. Such a process will help students revise and tighten even more as they modify their stories to meet the conventions of an actual screenplay.

Here is a workbook that I previously downloaded for free from the Young Writers Program Script Frenzy website, but it seems that Script Frenzy has since died, and they no longer offer this resource on their website (only stuff for NaNoWriMo).



Action step: 
(  ) Consider downloading scriptwriting software (e.g., www.scripped.com) to ease the process.

Step 8: Learn about the jobs in a movie-making process

Students will need to decide on roles such as actors, set designers, directors, and camera operators. The authors offer some mini-lessons for this in the appendix, and they recommend having the students apply for jobs. Given the size of some groups, it will likely be necessary for students to assume multiple roles or participate as actors in multiple films. 

Action step:
(   ) Use your blogging platform to have students apply for jobs. They should explain what skills they possess that make them best suited for that particular role.

Step 9: Film the Movies

Much like a Hollywood movie, students should be given a timeline for completing the filming process. They’ll need to plan locations, props, costuming, and any other special effects that need to be considered prior to the day of filming. They’ll also want to rehearse their lines and block scenes to enable the filming process to run smoothly. Given a tight schedule and limited resources for their no-budget films, they’ll realize the importance of collaborating to make the process work. 

Action step: 
(   ) Develop a timeline for filming. Communicate expectations for filming days so that students can plan in advance.

Step 10: Edit the Final Films

The authors discuss Windows Movie-Maker, but you could also use iMovie for this process. At this stage, students will work together to piece their scenes together and add special effects like slow motion, music, voice overs, green screen backgrounds, closing credits, etc. Some groups may also opt to include bloopers and outtakes in their final versions. This will be the culminating product of their weeks of hard work.

Action steps:
(   ) Determine the editing software students will use to edit their final films.
(   ) Plan a film festival/viewing party to create a deadline for project completion. Consider inviting parents and/or other classes to diversify the audience.

I really enjoyed reading this chapter, and I’m definitely looking forward to trying a project like this in my own classroom. If you haven’t already picked up a copy of the book When Writing with Technology Matters, I highly recommend it. They have student examples, handouts, and mini-lessons that enhance these steps even more. 



What are some good books that you use in your classroom reading groups that you can envision as a screenplay? I’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments!

I'm heading to ISTE here in Atlanta for the next few days, but I'll be back next week with lots of ideas from all that I'll learn at the conference! Be sure to follow me on Twitter and Instagram @eberopolis if you want a sneak peek of all that I'm seeing and learning!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Reading in the Wild - Chapter 1

I absolutely loved Donalyn Miller's book The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child, so I was very excited to see that she released a new book - Reading in the Wild: The Book Whisperer's Keys to Cultivating Lifelong Reading Habits AND that Catherine over at The Brown Bag Teacher has organized a summer book study of it.


Chapter 1 - Wild Readers Dedicate Time to Read

Already, this book has lots of ideas that I can integrate into my classroom. In fact, I suspect that I will re-read each chapter just to make sure I'm recording all of the ideas so I remember them in August. (And I may go back and re-read The Book Whisperer, too!) But one thing that I really want to emphasize this year is building a community of readers. I like the idea of students sharing the books they're reading and making recommendations to each other. Personally, I use GoodReads to track that information for myself (I've blogged about that before here). I've also had my students blog about their reading (see here). But what I'd really like is something more like GoodReads - a social networking site - but appropriate for fourth graders. 

I recently stumbled across the site Reading Rewards through a Twitter Chat, and this might be the answer I'm looking for. 



This site allows you to set up your class into a reading community where they can create libraries of the books they've read, write book reviews, get and make recommendations, and make a wishlist of books they want to read. There is also a reading log component and a reward system that allows you and parents to create rewards based on achieving individualized reading goals. I haven't had a chance to try this out with students yet, but based on my exploration of the site, it looks very promising.

Do you have any experience with the Reading Rewards website? Have you come across any other sites you'd recommend for building a community of readers? I'd love to hear about it in the comments.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Georgia Bloggers Blog Hop


It's time to teach the country about yes ma'am and ya'll.
Down here in Georgia, we talk with a drawl.
We're bringing you some freebies as sweet as our tea.
Enter our contest, you might get some things free!


I moved to the Atlanta area eight years ago when my husband decided to go to law school at Emory. It didn't take long for us to decide that we'd say goodbye to the cold Michigan winters and make Georgia our permanent home. 


We eventually settled in Decatur, a quaint suburb of Atlanta, and we love our little town. Decatur has more festivals than any town I know, and we have a thriving downtown with local shops, concerts, and amazing restaurants. We're minutes from downtown Atlanta, but we've somehow captured a small town feel, and I love it. 

Image of Concerts on the Square in Decatur via visitdecaturga.wordpress.com

This weekend, we've paused from our peach picking to give you a taste of Georgia. Twenty-five teachers invite you to take a road trip through our southern state. Hop through our blogs to get freebies.
                                          

This weekend only, I'm giving away my Standards for Mathematical Practice posters from TpT for FREE! You can pick up mine just by clicking here



My entire TpT store will also be 20% off this weekend only -- June 20-22, so check it out! 

We'd also like to give you a chance to win a bushel basket full of our products. To enter from my page, you just need to follow my blog on Bloglovin'. Already do that? I'd also love for you to follow by email in the link at the top! You can enter once from each person's blog.



a Rafflecopter giveaway



a Rafflecopter giveaway

So what are you waiting for?! Time's a wastin'. Go get more free stuff and sign up to win!




Monday, June 9, 2014

10 Must-Have Tools for the Busy Teacher

This year was uniquely challenging for me. I had my biggest class ever (28 students) , and I was co-teaching all day with teachers and paras from the special ed department--also a first. Meanwhile, I started working on my PhD, and my toddler constantly kept me busy. My plate has never been so full!

If you're a teacher who often feels pulled in every direction, then this list is for you. These are my top 10 tools for juggling it all. Hopefully you'll find some to use as well!


1. Nozbe



Nozbe is the ultimate task list manager. You can organize by projects -- school, work, home, etc., create recurring tasks, and so much more. I can access it from any device, add attachments, and email stuff to my to-do list. I started out with the free version, and I quickly upgraded to the paid version. At $96/year, the paid version has a hefty price tag, but this app was SO much better than any other task manager I'd tried, and it's been worth every penny. If you're someone who has lots of projects going at once, this app is worth exploring.


2. Evernote


This is my brain online. All of my coursework and notes are in Evernote, and all of my anecdotal records and student work samples are in here as well. I was able to use the free version for many years, and then once my husband and I decided to go digital with all of our financial documents, etc., I upgraded to the premium version. At $35/year, it's pretty affordable.


3. Dropbox


 I don't think I could function without Dropbox. I switch between so many devices between work, home, and school each day, but Dropbox allows me to keep track of everything. All of my lesson plans, TpT purchases, readings for class, and more are in my Dropbox account. I'm still living off of the free space, but I'm getting the daily reminders that my Dropbox is nearly full. Might need to upgrade that soon, too. Premium accounts offer 100 GB of storage for $99/year.

4. GoodReader


 I've used this app a lot with my students, but I'm finding it to be totally clutch for my grad school stuff, too. I'm doing tons of research for my courses and scoping out dissertation ideas, and GoodReader allows me to annotate all of the PDF's I'm amassing. I've created a folder on Dropbox for all of the articles I've gathered, and I can sync that folder to GoodReader so I can read it all on my iPad. I can also send it back to Evernote when I finish. One of my dear friends told me that I'd have laundry baskets full of research cluttering my house while I worked on my PhD, but not so...It's all electronic!


5. GoogleCalendar

I have a variety of calendars on Google -- class schedules, deadlines, school events, etc. Some of these I share with my husband so we can both be aware of each other's events. Other calendars I share with my students and their parents so they can be aware of upcoming events and tests. I like that all of my calendars are color-coded so I know which calendar I'm looking at, and I can select/de-select different calendars to narrow my focus if I'm looking for something in particular.


6. YouCanBook.Me

This free site allows me to share portions of my calendar with parents so they can schedule parent-teacher conferences. I choose the days they can see, set the times they can schedule, and manage the maximum time blocks they can reserve. They don't get to see any of the events on my calendar, just whether I'm available or not. If they reserve a time slot, it will automatically add it to my calendar and send me an email. It's eliminated the back-and-forth process of conference scheduling and allowed me to manage my time better.


7. Planbook.com

Since I was co-teaching this year, I needed to find a way to share my plans easily from week to week. I tested out Planbook in August, and I loved it. I like that you can extend or bump lessons, attach files, and customize the fields that appear. It's a great resource that's keeping me much more organized. You can get a free trial of it before paying the $12 for an annual subscription.

8. Typinator

This is a tool that's new to me, but Typinator is a text expander tool. There are several pieces of text that I find myself typing or copying/pasting over and over. Typinator allows me to create typing shortcuts for all of those. For example, if I want to type my blog address as a hyperlink when I comment on someone's blog, I can simply type "~bl" and it will place the text there for me. I also use it for standard replies to emails such as when parents email me to say their child will be absent. I can type "~abs" and it will write: "Thanks for letting me know about the absence. I hope your child is feeling better soon! Today's assignments will be posted on our class website, and let me know if there's anything else you need." Four key strokes = all of that. I find typing way faster than using the mouse, so this is a time saver that quickly adds up. It's only available for Macs, and it's priced in Euros (converts to around $36 US), but I use it all the time.

9. GoodReads


Distinct from GoodReader, GoodReads is an online community surrounding books. It allows me to keep track of the books I'm reading and which books I want to read next. As I'm starting my dissertation research, I'm constantly finding book titles that I want to check out. Similarly, there are lots of teaching books and children's books that I want to investigate someday, and GoodReads helps me organize all of that. Best of all, I can use its scanning feature to scan barcodes when I'm browsing in the bookstore.

10. Edmodo

I used Edmodo a lot for collecting student work and grading tests/quizzes this year. It managed all of the submissions and kept the work organized for me so I could be more efficient with tracking these things. It also allowed me to create assignments, give and grade quizzes, communicate with students and parents, and so much more. This is a great free learning management system that was a centerpiece of my classroom this year.


With the exception of Typinator, which is only on my computers, all of these apps are cloud-based or mobile-friendly so I can get to them from any device. When I'm shifting between my iPhone, iPad, laptop, and desktop, that's critical. I may be busy, but I can get to my projects anytime, anywhere, and I'm not hauling around tons of materials everywhere I go. These tools boost efficiency and minimize life clutter.

What are some tools you're using this year to help with productivity? I'd love to hear more recommendations in the comments.


This post contained some affiliate links meaning that if you click on the link and purchase the app, a small part of your subscription cost will go to me instead of entirely to the company. I'm only recommending products that I highly use and pay for myself, however, and I hope you'll find value in these resources as well. 
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