Thursday, April 23, 2015

Teach it!: Confer

Since downloading Confer on my (well, the family's) iPad, I have touted the app to many people.  I've run through the program with a principal, team members, and friends.   It has been difficult to get people together to discuss it, but I have found time to walk several people through the app. It is a very intuitive app, and as such it is very easy to teach.  I found myself quickly explaining many of the features, and I found that my audience was always intrigued.  I think that the biggest hurdle with this app is the price.  For an iPad app, it is very expensive ($25.00 USD).  I don't regret paying that much, but I'm sure the price has dissuaded its fair share of potential users.  Members of leadership discussed buying the app for teachers of English, but as an iPad only app, it would mean the teachers would also need iPads.  I do think it would be a great purchase for a school, but probably on a want basis.  Many teachers are still more comfortable with a pencil and paper to take their notes.

Thing 11: Choose your Own - Confer

Confer is a pricey app.  However, at the start of this school year I decided that my goal was to make conferences a more consistent part of my students' classroom experiences.  I've tried various electronic and paper methods, but nothing really worked.  However, a colleague mentioned Confer for iPad, and I thought I would give it a try.  The demo is not great, but it did give a window into the functionality of the program.  I decided to bite the $25.00 bullet (steep for an app), and I haven't looked back.  It is an excellent tool for monitoring student progress.  Now, I often have my iPad with me so I can jot down any notes I think of.  My conferences with students have become more directed and specific, and I have been able to understand the clusters of needs in my classroom in more depth.  I already have further ideas for how I will use it next year.  It is a great tool.

How to use Confer:
- open up the app
- click on the + sign to create a new classroom
- once a name is chosen, you can add your students.  I put in both first and last names.  You can later organize students by either and more.
- Once your class has been created, click on it to see your list of students.  From here, you can select an individual student or a group.  You can also organize the list in a variety of ways.
- If you view an individual student, you will initially see only a comment box with a flag to the left and a pencil to the right.   The pencil lets you change their name, the flag "flags" them for your attention.
- above the pencil is a plus sign.  Click it and you will be able to create a conferencing note for that student.  It is automatically dated.  Here you can:
     -Take/include a photo
     -leave a comment
     -create a tag (I use this to mark what task they are on - ex. Novel Study)
     -highlight their current Strengths, Teaching Points, and Next Steps.  These titles can all be customized to suit your own terminology, or you can delete them and create new ones.  These are essentially tags for specific things the student can do well or is working to do well (Strength - Capitalization).
- You can print/email all notes, which is great when you want to attach a note to student work.
- That's pretty much it.  It is a very easy to use program.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Thing 10: Google+

I initially dabbled in what Google+ was offering when it first launched a few years ago.  At the time, though, it was still very early and very few people seem to be using it.  Again, I was using it as an extension of my personal life (mainly connecting with friends around the world).  However, since joining ISM and seeing how connected our school is through Google and their suite of apps and programs, I am becoming more and more interested in Google+.  For the complaints I had about using Twitter professionally, Google+ eases some of them.  During my day-to-day life at school, I am connected to Google almost constantly.  I leave my email open and work through Google Drive often, so Google+ is a more natural extension of my professional life than logging into a Twitter account would be.  I can imagine Google+ becoming another Google product I use daily.  I think the trick is finding communities that key into my interests as an educator.  For this activity, I visited the links given in the activity description and ended up joining a few communities.  One of these already provided me with a neat online tool I had never heard of: Thinglink.

I played around with making a screencast using Google Hangouts earlier in the year, and it was a neat experience.  I can really see Google Hangouts as another neat tool to use.  If I didn't have Skype, it would probably be a great way to connect with friends and family around the world.  I could see using it in the classroom too, if I didn't teach 12 year olds that is.  I wish that our kids had access to Google+ and Hangout, as I think they could be neat extensions of our classroom learning.  Despite that, I can see myself using Google+ more and more this year!

Thing 9: Twitter

I have used Twitter in my personal life for a little while.  I mainly use it to keep up-to-date on a variety of interests and hobbies.  I find it to be a great way to self-curate the media I want to consume.  Twitter tends to be my go-to place for world events, technology news, hobby-related information, sports highlights, etc.  It provides me with a quick shot glance at the world at large, and from there I can drill down further if I want to.  I use it to keep in touch with some friends back home too.  I have used Hootsuite on mobile before, but I am cell-phone dumb now so I no longer use it.  I don't really enjoy being quite that connected either.

I haven't used Twitter for professional learning or as a professional community, but I do see the advantages.  The D123 video was great, and it definitely got my interested in the idea of having a professional Twitter account.  I like keeping my personal life separate from my professional, so I would need to manage two separate accounts if I create a professional one. Colleagues don't necessarily need to read my angry tweets about how poorly my favourite hockey team is doing, and my friends don't need to read about classroom planning.  Having said all that, I don't know how soon I will create an account for professional reasons.  As it is, I don't tweet a lot.  I mainly use the platform to passively engage with my interests outside of my professional life.  In creating an account for the teacher side of my life, I fear I wouldn't contribute enough to keep me motivated to continue using it.  My interest is piqued, but I'm not quite there yet.

Thing 8: Digital Storytelling

I have toyed around with digital stories before, but never in any great detail.  I think that students could get a lot out of a project that lets them create digital stories.  The biggest problem is access to technology that allows them to create these sorts of projects.  However, our students will usually have the access required.  I can see using this type of activity in a few ways over the course of the next school year.  We have several assignments in Grade 6 where we encourage students to complete them in more non-traditional ways (ways other than slideshows).  I could see showing students examples of these digital stories to help them think outside of the box.  I don't imagine doing this sort of thing consistently in my personal life, as I don't really see a purpose there.  At any rate, it was/is a neat project.

Here is my example:

Monday, July 21, 2014

Thing 7: Infographics

I had a good time making the inforgraphic on  I think that the site is incredibly easy to use and visually appealing.  I was able to play around with it, and I never once felt that I didn't know how to do something.  I had it crash on me, but the site automatically saves what you do so I didn't lose any of my work.  Learning to read infographics is an important skill, and it is one that we are trying to teach in Grade 6.  I think that a greater focus on how to access the information contained behind to beautiful visuals found in most infographics is an important skill for young students to learn.  I would like to use this program to get the kids actually making their own infographics too, as I think making them will give the kids insight into how to read the content to understand the purpose.   Very useful website!

Friday, April 25, 2014

Thing 6: Organizing and Saving Content Online

I briefly used Evernote several years ago, but I didn't stick with it.  I am someone who loves using technology, but I am frequently finding myself to be a luddite when it comes to many organization programs.  Similarly, I prefer to write stories by hand, initially, rather than on the computer using a program like Scrivener (despite my terrible printing).  For me, typing on a computer lacks  something that I get from writing notes down on a piece of paper.  I am slowly transitioning away from this, but I don't know if I will ever be able to do so completely.  I tried to start using Evernote again, and I ran into the same issues that I had before.  It just doesn't seem to fit my lifestyle.  I forced myself to clip items, make notes, type ideas and thoughts, but at the end of the day I rarely referred back to these things.  My life and the way I use the internet just doesn't seem to be conducive to a program like Evernote.  Yes, I am one of those people with several thousand tabs open.  I am typing this in a tab that is one of many in a browser window I have dedicated to this course.

Pocket serves me better than Evernote.  I like the simplicity and lack of features of pocket.  Evernote is a bit bloated.  However, I run into the same issue with Pocket as I do with Evernote.  I am not a clipper.  I just don't do it, and I have tried.  I think that both of these programs are great for students, though.  If they existed when I was in university, I may have found a better use for them.  Next year, I can see introducing Pocket (since it is the simpler of the two) to my sixes during their research projects.  It is intuitive enough, and with a little demo I could see them clipping/saving articles that they want to read more fully later.