Monday, June 27, 2011

Tammy's Top 20 Tools

We arrived at this session late after ditching another we weren't feeling (decided with budget constraints we would do better with free products rather than paid products). We raced around and ended up on the floor of a ballroom, listening to Tammy's Top 20 Favorite Web Tools. Below is a sampling - obviously not all twenty, as we weren't on time. 
  • Plurk: Like Twitter, but the conversations are threaded. Need to join, and wait around to get friends, and hang in there a while to see the value in it. 
  • BibMe: Free bibliography maker that plugs in the information for you. So search for a book by title or author, and then BibMe pulls in the information on publisher, publishing city, date, author, etc. from Amazon. You pick the format - MLA, APA, etc. Can then download into MicrosoftOffice.
  • Random Name Picker - Allows you to select a student at random. Enter your class list into the machine, pull the handle, and watch the "fruit picker" select a student name at random. Once a student's  name is picked, it's removed from the list. You can use the tool to call on students, create collaborative teams, etc. 
  • - Shorten multiple URLs into one
  • Evernote - Like Delicious, but instead of storing your bookmarks, it stores "stuff" online, and syncs it automatically with all your devices including your iPhone and iPad
  • DropBox - Cloud based file storage.
  • Google's new advanced filtering option that lets sort by reading level
  • Google's real time search feature
  • Qwiki - Cool visual/audio approach to wiki encyclopedia content
  • WolframAlpha - Search engine that gives you answers. For example, will solve an algebra equation. 
  • QR Codes - Visual graphics you snap a photo of with your phone. Snapping the photo/scanning the graphic takes you to a web site. QR codes in back of books that take you to a review, QR code scavenger hunts, etc.
  • TripIt - Builds your trip itinerary, collecting your hotels, flights and rental car info all in one place
Some great ideas here!! Check them out. I think I'm probably most impressed with BibMe -- so nice to ditch those silly index cards (at least for books).

View Tammy's complete list here. 

The Art of Remix: Collaborative Writing in the Classroom

I'm blogging from ISTE this morning in one of the BYOL (Bring Your Own Laptop) sessions and I'm excited to learn about a tool called "MixedInk." You can check it out for yourself here. It's being presented by teachers from Fort Worth Country Day School in Fort Worth, Texas.

My initial impression was, "Oh, a fancy wiki tool," but I'm quickly learning that it's a lot more than a wiki. MixedInk allows teachers to create virtual "classrooms" of students. Within a classroom students can collaboratively author texts in realtime (no stealing the lock, etc as multiple students can edit the SAME text simultaneously - unlike those pesky wikis).

MixedInk provides authorship tracking, color coding each person's contributions so students can see who is responsible for different portions of the text. MixedInk lets students rate different versions of a text. The version with the highest rating is known as the "top version," but it only remains the top version until another version gets a better rating. When students are writing competing versions, they can "remix" or pull portions of others work into their draft. When they use someone else's work, the other person is automatically added as a co-author.

As learners, we played with this question "What does it mean to be a teacher today?" To see what we created, check it out here: You'll need an account to check it out, but registration is free. 

Participants in the BYOL Session
Update: At least, you can see what we tried to play with. Looks like too many hits to the MixedInk server....we're down right now. 

Suggested format for use:
* Write your version
* Read other's versions
* Rate and comment on other's versions
* Remix your version
* Rate and comment on remixed versions until one rises to the top 

MixedInk is best used when there's some kind of problem solving involved, rather than asking students to interpret a text via a close reading. 

For example, provide students with a series of primary source documents about a "controversial" issue. Ask them to: 1) Decide who authored the primary source documents, 2) Place the documents on a timeline for when they were authored, and then 3) Justify their answers. 

Once students have answered questions 1-3 on their own, they can then read the answers compiled by their classmates. Students leave comments and rate individual versions. The next step is to create a remixed version, pulling from classmates' work to produce new products.  These remixed products are then rated and reviewed until one version rises to the top. As a final self-assessment activity, the teacher and class can discuss what the top version does well and how it can be improved. 

AWESOME! I can't wait to try this with our pre-AP Global Studies classes as they learn how to write essays and analyze documents. 

Sunday, June 26, 2011

ISTE first impressions

I'm sitting in the convention center waiting for my iPhone to charge and the first keynote to begin. And I'm overwhelmed.

Initial impressions:

* Unlike library conferences, there are actually men here. Gosh, that's different.

* More specifically, there are also lots of teenage boys.  Which, oddly, makes this place feel even hipper.

* This place is cool. And huge.

* There's a battle for outlet space - everyone needs to recharge.

* The keynote feels like a rock conference. 

* Wow!!

And now I've been here for an hour and I'm still overwhelmed.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Saturday, June 25, 2011

ISTE here I come!

This week I'm headed to ISTE - the International Society for Technology in Education conference. (Thanks, OCM BOCES SLS, for the scholarship!) I can't wait! This is one conference I've never been to, but I think every single session sounds intriguing!

Here are some of the sessions I'm looking forward to:

* The Art of the Remix: Incorporating Collaborative Writing in the Classroom
"Discover how to craft a collective essay by writing, remixing, and voting on submissions with MixedInk's free collaborative writing tool. Requires MixedInk account."

I'm pumped for this session because our 8th grade English classes are held in a writing workshop format. I've never heard of MixedInk, but I'm loving the little description and hoping it's something I can utilize in the fall!
* The iPad Revolution: Innovative Learning in the Classroom
"The iPad brings interactive learning and amazing resources to the fingertips of all learners. Discover the possibilities of learning in your classroom with the iPad."  
If you follow  my blog, you already know I'm all about integrating mobile devices into our instructional practice. I loooved everything we did with our iPod Touch cart this year, and I'm excited to delve into other things when our iPad cart arrives in September. I always get a little nervous in sessions like these, where the topic is something I've been exploring for a while - I hope I hear something new!
* A Gardener's Approach to Learning: Cultivating your Personal Learning Network
"Digital age classrooms require teachers who are master learners-- educators who are curious, connected, and accomplished at cultivating their personal learning gardens."
I'm hoping that David Warlick's presentation can provide a few new ideas on "growing" my PLN. I love sharing via my blog, Twitter, and Facebook, but what else is out there? How can I make connections to people I've never met before?
And this is just the beginning! I'm sure my brain will be nearing it's implosion point come Wednesday afternoon, but I can't wait for all this new learning!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Adios, Dewey. Hello, Chaos.

We're saying "Adios" to Dewey. Our non-fiction collection doesn't see a lot of use other than for research projects. We've got some great stuff in there, and I want kids to pick up and explore these books for FUN! (Especially with the informational text emphasis in the new Common Core Standards.)

To help stimulate increased interest in the area, we're eliminating the Dewey Decimal System and moving to genre classification -- a more "Barnes and Noble" style approach. Our kids still haven't mastered the Dewey by the time they reach 8th grade and I don't have time to reteach it. So, to make our collection more accessible, we're just going to get rid of it. Our fiction books are already shelved by genre, so doing the same in non-fiction makes sense (for us).

This isn't exactly a new idea. Libraries around the country have started to move towards a Dewey-Free system. Here's a few places with this set-up already in action: Frankfort Public Library District, Albany Public Library, and Tates Creek Media Center. One of our elementary libraries went Dewey-Free last summer, and they've been very happy with the results. So, I decided it was time for us to jump on board.

We'll explore our process and more of our rationale at a later date, but I thought I'd share the current chaos with you. We've got about 2,500 books to relabel and relocate and exactly 8 days to get it done. I was really nervous on Tuesday afternoon and decided I was in over my head - it was total chaos.

Above: Going Dewey Free - The Chaos

Above: Going Dewey Free - Piles and Piles!

But, we've made rapid progress!! With four days to go, we're more than halfway done. We've managed to assemble an amazing team of helpers - it's going so much faster than it would if I'd tried to tackle the project by myself over summer vacation.

Above: The first sign of progress!

Stay tuned for progress updates!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

A Big Fattening Thank You

Thank You Party!
Our library supports a robust student volunteer program. In total, we "employ" around 35 students, both 8th and 9th graders. We have two to four students assigned to each period. Their duties range from running errands and working the circulation desk (their favorite tasks) to dusting shelves and watering plants (their least favorite tasks).

Most of the volunteers are REALLY helpful, especially by this point in the year when they're well trained and thoroughly versed in their duties. Sometimes, though, managing the volunteers can be a full time job in itself. I'm really lucky that my secretary willingly takes responsibility for these students. There are days when they drive her batty, but for the most part, they really are quite helpful.

An "Everything But The Kitchen Sink Sundae!"
To thank our volunteers this year, we held an after school ice cream sundae party. We scooped ice cream, and then had tons of toppings for them to pick from, including whipped cream, hot fudge, sprinkles, strawberries, pineapple, caramel sauce, gummy worms, Oreos, and brownies (but no nuts!). It was delicious! Our timing was perfect, as we had our first 90+ degree day yesterday. Since our school (except for the library) isn't air conditioned, ice cream was an especially fitting treat!

How do you thank your volunteers?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Overhauling the Library Web Site

I'm in the begining stages of overhauling our library's web site. My reason for doing so is twofold:
  1. We're slowly making the transition from a "library" to a "learning commons." I need the new site to reflect the new name, and our slightly different mission.
  2. My current site, although visually appealing, lacks opportunities for student to interact. The new site MUST be interactive. Have I figured out how I'm going to do this yet? NOPE! But we're working on it. My current site is also difficult to keep updated. There's no easy place to post news items or links that is "obvious."
Here's a screenshot of the old site. Click here to check it out in person. (Ignore the nagivation on the left hand side of the screen -- that's part of the NEW site and doesn't really exist under the current site).

And here's a picture of the new site. Click here to check it out in person (though there's not much else to see right now). It's definetly a WORK IN PROGRESS so don't hate on it too much.

One of the biggest changes I've made is to move away from image map navigation, and instead use a fixed menu on the left hand side of the screen. Image maps aren't very accessible, and it sure does make it a pain in the butt to edit the content. Also, we've added a few sections:  the "News Flash" area on the new site allows me to post announcements and event information, "The Spotlight" will allow me to feature student multimedia projects (photos, videos, etc.) on the front page (super important to me), and the "Hot Links" gives me a place to post survey links and timely, project specific sources.

The new site will also provide opportunities for two-way interaction with students. For example, there's a dedicated tab on the left called "Interact." How am I going to use this? Not quite sure yet. I'm thinking embedding a Wall Wisher, but still open to other options. Also, within many of the different tabs I'll include interactive elements. For example, in "Books" our new Mandarin catalog will allow students to rate and review books.

As I look at the new site this morning, I'm noticing some things I'm not yet happy with:
  • Man, that's a lot of yellow. Maybe too much?
  • The background doesn't really look like a honeycomb, does it?
  • The new site, while simpler, looks a little less sophisticated
  • Although it's the correct size for my monitors at home, you have to scroll to the right to view the whole page here at school. That's annoying. It needs downsizing.
  • I still need to add my social media icons for Facebook, Twitter, Blogger, etc.
  • I still need to create an "Ask Us a Question" feature on the main page
  • Only the main page is done -- everything else needs moving/creating
It's been a challenge to design a new site because I'm really limited in what I can do because of the hosting program used by my school district. I'm pretty much restricted to static HTML and don't have a lot of opportunities to change screen layout - leaving me with limited real estate to work in.

If you're overhauling your site, or thinking about a redesign, here are some helpful articles I've consulted:
What must haves / design changes are you thinking about for next fall?