Saturday, August 25, 2012

First Week

Students started back to school on Wednesday, and this year it has been a crazy ride.  Over the summer, our very unique library was renovated.  An extremely hard working summer crew and custodial staff fixed walls, painted, installed new windows, black out shades and carpet. 
Two days before school

Two days before school started new shelving and tables were delivered.  That meant, the day before school started was spent trying to get books unpacked from boxes and shelved in the right space. 
Yup, the day before school

We didn’t finish.
I guess many people would be in a total panic about this, but for me it’s easier to focus on what is essential: making sure the kids could come in and sit down safely and making sure that I could convey to them the information I needed to explain.  

I wasn’t involved in the planning of the space because I wasn’t hired until after, but this is what I’ve learned from the experience so far:
·         When planning on new furniture in a library measure the existing shelving space to ensure that enough replacement shelving is ordered
·         Take into consideration electrical drops for computer needs
·         Give yourself some flexibility – we now have “floating” shelving units on casters that make it easy for two adults to move the unit
·         Consider seating arrangement – how do you want your library classroom to be set up so that everyone can see the technology being used?
The nearly finished product
·         From the circulation desk, do you have a clear view of all areas of the library – if not, how can you minimize your blind spots – through the use of mirrors, arrangement of shelving etc.
·         What furniture/storage pieces will you need for student materials, classroom instruction, etc?
Understanding that some things are in my control and some are just out – really helps. By Wednesday, despite some technology snags, I’d say it was a success; by Friday, all books were unboxed and shelved (well, some are on carts because we’re short a shelving unit) technology was in working order, and I really felt like I had hit my groove. The first three days were a win.

 Focusing on things I could control, I worked hard on my introductory presentation.  As I was prepping my  this year, I decided to give Prezi another shot.  I haven’t used it since last year at this time, and I was pleasantly surprised by the changes they have made.  You can now track which area of the Prezi you are editing on the left side – similar to PowerPoint and PowToon, and it is much easier to track and re-order your paths. 

The first time I used Prezi that was the action that drove me most crazy.  They have also added a lot of different templates, which quite frankly, helps to save me a lot of time.  The feature I am most impressed with now is the ability to easily search Google and YouTube for images and videos to embed.  While I am not very impressed with the images available as free source, I really love that I can embed a YouTube video so that I don’t have to worry about all the comments, ads and potentially inappropriate suggested videos on the right side.  While my elementary students responded most enthusiastically to the PowToon, I felt like Prezi helped me convey very important information – voice levels & behavior expectations in an efficient and professional manner.  One thing I couldn’t do – change my email address! I’m at a new school, so I wanted to use my new email address to sign in, but I couldn’t.  I ended up creating a new educator’s account, but that’s okay since my old account doesn’t have much on it.

I searched Voice Levels on YouTube and found a great student-made video that explains it perfectly
 I’ve got two more school days to get things in order for checkouts, so my next big win will be to just make sure everyone leaves with a book.
What will be your win for the upcoming week?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Avatar Madness

A few weeks ago I decided to venture into the world of avatar creation.  I think that using avatars may create interest in presentations and on my website, and with some thought and planning, I think they could be used to spark storytelling creativity in students and provide me with ways to help teach cybersafety.
The only real experience I had with avatars was creating a Wii Mii on the Wii and Madmen Yourself (which probably isn’t appropriate for elementary kids).  In surfing around for information about creating avatars, I knew that I wanted them to be kid friendly and free!
In the beginning, I didn’t have much time to browse for avatar creators.  I did find a fairly helpful eHow article, which warned to be wary of unfamiliar programs that required you to download things (viruses!).  For my first attempt, I did play around with Otaku Avatar Maker.  This site is pretty cool, and although I’m not an expert, it seems to me that the avatars you can make here are fairly traditional in a manga sense.  I felt pretty confident about site in general, and while it was easy enough for me to navigate and figure out, it didn’t seem very “kid friendly” to me.

My Otaku Avatar
A few days later, I checked in on The Daring Librarian, a blog I was introduced to a while back thanks to Pinterest.  And wouldn’t you know it, there was an entire post about avatar creation, “It’s a Cartoon, it’s an Avatar, it’s a New, Animated YOU!”!!  And that’s about the time I realized that thanks to The Daring Librarian – who is clearly more of a mind reader, I had hit the AVATAR JACKPOT!  For a fantastic list of online (and safe) avatar makers, be sure to download the “It’s a Cartoon! It’s an Avatar!” article close to the bottom of the post. 
Now, I haven’t had time to play with all of the avatar makers and cartoon strip makers (hello storytelling inspiration!) on the list, but I think the two that best meet my criteria (free & kid friendly) are Wimp Kid Yourself and BuiLD YouR WiLD SeLF. 
Wimp Kid Yourself is great because it taps into the Diary of a Wimpy Kid frenzy.  I cannot keep those books on the shelf, and you cannot beat making a connection between what the kids are reading and a fun exercise in following both picture and written directions to create and export your very own wimpy kid.

Me, the Wimpy Kid
I really love BuiLD YouR WiLD Self, by Wildlife Conservation New York Zoos and Aquarium. While this one is a little more involved and for a young student may require some additional help, the product can really be used as inspiration for research.  When you “build your wild self” you choose all the different components of a person, then add parts of different animals.  When you click done, it shows you your avatar creation with facts about the different animal parts you have included.  The site also allows for a teachable moment in that it requests your name – this would be the perfect time to talk to students about information we should keep private and what we should do when a website asks for private information.
Now, that's one WiLD child

For now, I plan to challenge the kids to build their own avatars using Wimp Kid Yourself and BuiLD YouR WiLD SeLF.  As part of the challenge they will need to tell me a book they’ve read this summer and a fact they learned about an animal.  I also plan to use the sites in the upcoming weeks to help me talk about cybersafety.
A few other sites I’ve played around with that are equally fun, but maybe more suitable for older students are:
 WeeWorld (for this one you have to create an account and you can earn points by doing different things – there’s also a live chat function that really wouldn’t be ideal for elementary aged students)

My Wee
HeroMachine 2.5 (this one is more mature in content, and it didn’t appear that avatars were downloadable as with the other sites)
Voki – is a site that a colleague sent me – it allows you to create a talking avatar.  It looks perfect to use with a SmartBoard.  It shows promise, but I haven’t had a chance to compare the difference between the free account and the classroom subscriptions. 
What avatar/cartoon makers do you like and how do you use them to engage the interest of your students?

Monday, August 6, 2012

I know my Curiosity is piqued!

Clip art from Microsoft

Sometimes I’m ashamed of how poorly I pay attention to big events – especially the cool scientific ones. This morning was such a day.  “How in the world did I miss the fact that a new land rover, landed on Mars?” I asked myself.  I had to learn about it from my 15 year old cousin’s Facebook status!  I guess in my defense, I could claim ignorance as a result of the Olympics – which, by the way, have taken over my life these past few weeks.
When I got the chance, I looked up this new land rover - Curiosity.  And I have to say, I felt immediate geek crush, so much so, that I’m not following it on Facebook, and I kind of want a miniature replica for my desk (I looked it up, Hot Wheels is going to be making one).  But, I think what I really dig about it, is it reminds me of Number 5 –who growing up in the 80’s didn’t get a kick out of Short Circuit?

What is awesome about Curiosity is the Mars Science Laboratory that NASA has designed to help share the experience.  I have already put a link on my library website.  From the main webpage, you can check out topography photos, find out where Curiosity is, see images, there are fact sheets and videos, and more to explore.  On the Participate: Follow your Curiosity page you can see a counter that shows how long Curiosity has been on Mars (21 hours at this time), and you’ll find links for all sorts of interactives, including a videos, a link to games for kids, and learn about me section which could be great for a quick lesson on comparing and contrasting people to robots – just to name a few.
 I really want to work this into my curriculum.  Maybe we’ll go on a cyber-fieldtrip during cybersafety lessons (Mars for KidsBe a Martian would be a great addition to a lesson on private information and asking an adult for permission to give this info out), or maybe I’ll challenge students who finish early to find a new fact or interesting photo with description to share with the rest of the class- making sure to give credit to the website.   I think given the opportunity to explore, we can all find our curiosity piqued!
What are your favorite science related web sites?
By the way, the Olympic Google Doodle, for today, August 6 2012 was modified to include this informative YouTube video about the doodle, however, it's a blimp:)

Thursday, August 2, 2012

For Social Media - I use the Mema Rule

This summer I took an education and law class, and in it I wrote a paper about an educator’s rights and responsibilities when it comes to social media.  In an age where, for many educators social media is a major source of fear, and where a social media blunder or a lapse of judgment can ruin a career, I thought it might be a good idea to share some of what I learned from my research.  Above all, it just reaffirmed to me that when online, the "Mema Rule" is the best policy.
Laws, Rulings and Standards that Apply
Many teachers would argue that when it comes to expressing opinions in a social media forum, that they are protected, like everyone else, by the First Amendment.  While we do have a right to free speech, we need to take into consideration the Supreme Court’s findings in the Pickering case. In short, this case explored a teacher’s right to publish editorial remarks in the newspaper in regards to school policy.  The Supreme Court found that a teacher may be disciplined if:
1.        The teacher’s speech disrupted superior-subordinate relationships or resulted in a breach of loyalty or confidentiality
2.       The teacher’s speech created a disruption of a material or substantial nature, affected the efficient operation of the school, or rendered the teacher unfit based on the content of the speech (Essez)
Additionally, in the state of Kentucky, every teacher must follow those standards and ethics outlined by the Educational Professional Standards Board (EPSB). Under this code of ethics, teachers should demonstrate that they “believe in the worth and dignity of each human being and in educational opportunities for all” and “Shall not knowingly make false or malicious statements about students or colleagues.”
Another consideration educators must take into account when using social media is the case of LaShonda Davis. In this case a student was consistently bullied at school and complaints were ignored by the school and district. The Supreme Court found that in such a case a school board can be sued for private damages if there is a case of deliberate indifference to known acts of bullying and if the known acts limit the victim’s access to his/her education.  Although untested in this respect, it could be found that in “friending” students on Facebook, or “following” them on Twitter, a teacher has a responsibility to report instances of cyberbullying for investigation.
What to do?
Obviously, it’s important to follow your district policy in regards to the use of social media.  If you district does not have a policy – then it might be a good idea to work with administrators to develop one.  Some states, like Missouri, have attempted to totally limit teacher/student social media interaction (the initial recommendations have been revised).  I personally don’t believe this is the solution.  The use of social media in education can really be a great communication tool.  Additionally, it could provide us with great “teachable” moments – including modeling appropriate online behavior.  In an environment where people thoughtlessly post mean and negative comments, post unfiltered rants about the topic of the day, and of course disregard proper grammar, spelling and convention, it would be good for a student to see his or her favorite teacher setting a consistent, positive example.
My Approach
For me, when I was a high school teacher, I never accepted a friend request from a student until he or she graduated.  I explained this policy on the first day of school, so as I not to offend.  I’m not much of a “Tweeter” so Twitter has never been an issue for me.  Now, as an elementary librarian, I like to have a library “Fan” page, where I post about what is happening in the library.  As an elementary librarian, it isn’t likely that a student is going to send me a friend request – but a parent might, and I 100% welcome that on my personal Facebook page – but I always remember that I am posting as a representative of my school. 
I would totally put a picture of Mema here - but she might be embarrassed!

As a representative of my school and the profession, I do not post about work – unless it’s something so positive or cute I can’t help it, and before I post something, I always think to myself: would I be proud if Mema saw that? (my grandma!).  If she wouldn’t, I don’t post it.  I also have my privacy settings set so that I have to approve of all photo tags and checkins…I love my friends, but let’s face it, there are times when photos are less than flattering and let’s face it, I have been  caught doing some pretty hair brained things I don’t want to share on my timeline!  I also reserve the right to delete negative stuff that gets posted on my page. Speaking of negativity, I haven’t ventured much into the world of YouTube, but if I did, I would for sure turn off the comments section on videos – people can be so mean! And I don’t want anything I post to generate negative comments that could be hurtful – especially if the videos are from school projects.
Overall, I really try to just use common sense – and for me that means sticking to things that are positive and make me feel good. If Mema wouldn’t like seeing it, then there’s no reason to post it.
What do you do?
Resources I used for my paper
Canzano, Anna. “Reports of Teacher Sexual Misconduct on the Rise.” KATU. 14 May 2012. Web 9 July  2012.        students-Oregon-151370805.html
Cohen, Adam. “Why Students have a Right to Mock Teachers Online.” Time U.S. Time. 20 June 2011. Web 9 July 2012.,8599,2078636,00.html
"Davis v Monroe County Bd. of Ed. - 526 U.S. 629 (1999)." Web. 2 Aug 2012.
Essez, Nathan L. School Law and the Public Schools: A Practical Guide for Educational Leaders. Boston: Pearson: 2012. Ebook.
Fort Thomas Independent Schools. “Student Access to Electron Media: Acceptable Use Policy”. 08.2323.
Hanna, Jim. “When teachers cross lines: sex with students gets headlines, not studies.” Gannett. 11 June 2012. Web 9 July 2012.|newswell|img|OH%20Courts|p
Johnson, Craig. “Missouri law bans some teacher-student contact on Facebook, other sites.” CNN. 1 Aug 2011. Web. 9 July 2012.
Lieb, David. “Missouri Repeals Law Restricting Teacher-Student Internet and Facebook Interaction.” Huffington Post. 11 Oct 2011. Web. 9 July 2012.
"Pickering v Board of Education - 391 U.S. 563 (1968)." Web
Preston, Jennifer. “Rules to Stop Pupil and Teacher from Getting to Social Online.” Media & Advertising. The New York Times. 17 Dec 2011. Web. 9 July 2012.
“Professional Code of Ethics for Kentucky School Personnel.” Education Professional Standards Board. 2000-2011. Web 9 July 2012.
“School board files tenure charges against N.J. teacher who made anti-gay comments on Facebook.” Star Ledger. 12 Jan 2012. Web. 9 July 2012.
Solomon, Nancy. “Friendly Advice for Teachers: Beware of Facebook.” All Things Considered.NPR. 2011 Dec 7. Web. 9 July 2012.
Zagier, Alan Scher. “MO. Teachers protest Facebook Crackdown.” Tech and Gadgets. MSNBC. 5 August     2011.  Web. . 9 July 2012

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

PowerPoint, Prezi & PowToons!

I love PowerPoint.  As a high school English teacher, I used it daily and challenged my students to create incredible Illuminated Texts –engaging higher order thinking - using advanced features.  With the Illuminated Text, the combination of the movement, images, audio and timing helped to create fluid and powerful messages. 
As an elementary librarian, I got the chance to work with a group of struggling readers to create simplified Illuminated Texts that included one quote, an image and an explanation for why the quote was so important to the text.  They only “illuminated” the quote slide with different effects and features- but the results were incredible. 
The elementary aged students really picked up the advanced PowerPoint skills I showed them quickly, but the process is still very time consuming and a student can get easily frustrated and bogged down in applying effects and especially in establishing the timing of it all.
In making a move to the elementary level, I have worked harder to engage students a little more with the presentations.  While I love PowerPoint – it’s not always the best method of communicating information to an elementary aged student.  PowerPoint can be boring – and to make it interesting – with Illumination – it can be time consuming. 
Enter Prezi.  You can really do some cool things with this online presentation software.  I think it is a great tool for showing the relationships between ideas and for generating timelines with key details – take a look at almost any of the examples under Education, and you can see that the software really helps students (and teachers) keep the message short and sweet – and visually appealing.  For me, and I think I haven’t worked with it enough, I find Prezi to be a little frustrating.  I have a hard time finding what I want to add and then maneuvering things around in the order I want it to go.  I also had a hard time saving and opening my Prezi on the off chance the Internet would be down at school and I wouldn’t be able to access the presentation I had made. On the plus side, even though you have to create an account, they have a free educator account, and there are tons of training materials.  I guess I just haven’t given it enough time to really get the full benefit. I did show a group of technology students how to use this software, and while they were entertained, it didn’t really stick with them either.
Most recently, I have been playing with PowToon, another online, subscription presentation software.  Everything about it is fun.  You even create your “Presentoon” in a “Playground”.

Screen shot of my PowToon presentation

Like Prezi, you save your presentation to a “cloud” or for this, you could upload it to YouTube, but as of right now, I could not find an option to download the presentation to your computer for use offline – this could be very problematic.  This service is new, so the full details of the service are not entirely clear to me.  The “free” subscription allows you 20 uploads to YouTube, and there appears to be an educator subscription – although I just signed up for the free one and will hopefully get more information about the educator subscription soon.  I made a PowToon to introduce myself to my new school, and I didn’t really want to upload that to YouTube, so I just shared it on the PowToon site and linked to that. 
When you make your PowToon, you have to have your screen resolution set to 1280x768 (that took me awhile to figure out), but once the resolution was set correctly, I saw that they have it set up so that you can easily see text types and characters you can add. You can also view the presentation in “movie” format, but you create it like you would a PowerPoint presentation with slides.  Setting the timing is really easy – it’s set up a bit like MicroSoft MovieMaker with the timing bar located at the bottom, and it is easy to tell which element you are working with on the timeline. The training videos they have available are quick and easy to follow.  From my previous experience with creating presentations, this one is very intuitive and entertaining. 
I think the kids, especially if I ever get around to adding an audio track to it, will really enjoy watching it.  The only drawbacks I can see right now, is that the product is still in development, and I’m not sure how open then will make it to educators.  Since I haven’t added audio (mostly because I would need to create an audio track to add using a different program) I can’t really comment on how easily that would work.   Finally, the program says that presentations can be downloaded to a computer, but I haven't had luck with that yet - it looks like you can only download for a fee. Being restricted to online use, especially if you are in a school with slow or spotty Internet connection could cause a problem.
I hope to continue working with the online presentation software like Prezi and PowToons as the year progresses – especially because of the great possibilities for collaboration and sharing that online tools like these use – but I have a feeling I won’t give up PowerPoint for my daily activities just yet.