Great Bookish Websites

Tome Reader

Summer is a great time for teachers to catch up on all the reading they may not have time for during the year. I have to have a book going at all times, and I have to read something every day—it feeds my soul and keeps me sane. But I do hear a lot of people say they don’t have time to read (you have to make the time, but I digress). Reading is often viewed as a solitary activity, but the advent of book clubs and bookish websites like the ones I share in the post make it much more social. I don’t think a lot of people who read this blog also read my book blog. I mentioned some of these websites in a recent post over there. I also learned about a couple of other great sites to share since I wrote the post.

  1. Goodreads: Goodreads is an excellent social network for readers. If Goodreads been around before I started blogging, I might have just posted all my reviews there. As it is, I do use Goodreads to connect with other readers, read reviews (they tend to be more critical than Amazon), scout for giveaways, keep track of my to-read list and let my friends know what I’m reading and have read, and play trivia games. Goodreads also allows users to add as many books as they like, and it’s absolutely free. Feel free to friend me on Goodreads.
  2. Shelfari: Shelfari is a pretty site, but it has a way to go before it’s as good as Goodreads. I have spent some time writing up book pages, and I do like the wiki user-generated aspect of the site. Goodreads allows you to do this if you become a librarian (which I have done), and you must meet certain criteria. Shelfari does not allow HTML in its reviews, which I think stinks. Until recently, it was better than Goodreads at tracking reading goals, but Goodreads has added a feature that allows for that. I spend more time on Goodreads, but I like to have a Shelfari profile just to connect with readers who may not be on Goodreads. I also do like the pretty shelves, I admit. You can also friend me on Shelfari.
  3. DailyLit: I mostly interact with DailyLit through my email, as I am always subscribed to a book in my inbox. I love DailyLit. I have read several books I do not think I’d have ever read if not for DailyLit. You can choose to subscribe via email or RSS, whichever is more convenient for you. Public domain books and some Creative Commons licensed books are free, and others are fairly cheap.
  4. PaperBackSwap: I just heard about this one last week. PaperBackSwap allows you to cull the books you don’t want anymore and put them in the hands of people who do. Each time a book you sent arrives at its destination, you earn credits that you can trade to receive books. I have two Sarah Addison Allen books winging their way to me, and tomorrow I will go to the post office to send out some books I don’t want that others want to read. All you really pay for is packing materials and postage, which are cheaper than new paperback books (not cheaper probably than used bookstores or library sales). Anyway, it’s kind of fun, and I’ve been spending a lot of time on the site in the last week. You can be my friend over there if you’d like.
  5. NetGalley: NetGalley is another site I hadn’t heard of until last week. If you have an e-reader, you can request e-galleys of yet-to-be-released books, and if you are approved by the publisher, you can load the book onto your reader. I scored a copy of Jennifer Donnelly’s The Wild Rose, which won’t be released until August. I have to finish the second book in that series first. NetGalley not only enables you to read for free, but you also have the opportunity to be one of the first readers. Pretty good deal!

Creative Commons License photo credit: Ozyman

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Girls in Tech

Child Using LaptopI think we are doing a better job encouraging girls to go into science and math. I think we still have some work to do, but we’ve come a long way. I don’t think we’re doing as well encouraging girls to go into technology. Next year, I’ll be the only female member of my four-person technology department, and that’s not unusual. Actually what’s unusual is that my technology department has any women. Our technology classes are populated mainly by boys, at least by my casual observation.

This month’s digital issue of Tech & Learning cites a College Board statistic that the Computer Science AP exam has the lowest number of girls of any of the AP exams since 1999 at 18%. I am showing my ignorance here, but I didn’t even know there was a Computer Science AP exam. The National Center for Women & Information Technology has published a fact sheet with more disquieting facts:

  • In 2009 women earned 18% of computer science degrees, down from 37% in 1985.
  • Women comprise 25% of computer-related occupations. Of these women, 2% are black, 4% are Asian, and 1% are Latino.
  • The number of women interested in majoring in computer science for undergraduate studies has dropped 79% from 2000 to 2009.

One way I plan to try to raise awareness of women/girls and technology among my own faculty is to coordinate some event, even if it’s just a newsletter, around Ada Lovelace Day this October. Raising awareness is all well and good, but what should be done to encourage girls and women to go into technology? What is at the root of the decline in interest?

Creative Commons License photo credit: Picture Youth.

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Thinking Like an English Teacher

Moleskineh

I’m packing up my classroom this week. I won’t have my own classroom next year as I will only be teaching two classes. I am not weepy over losing my classroom. I don’t view it as home or anything like that. I have accumulated a lot of stuff over thirteen years of teaching English. I have been throwing a lot of stuff out. Not in the crazy way I did in 2001 when I swore I was leaving teaching for good and never turning back (I still lament some of the things I lost then). I think I might teach English again some time, but I’m not sure when. For the record, I am teaching a writing class and newspaper next year.

The weirdest thing is trying to turn off the English teacher in me. For instance, just now, I was reading Holly Tucker’s Wonders and Marvels blog, and she is giving away three copies of Mary Chesnut’s diary. I thought first that I could use that for my classroom library. What a great primary resource for the Civil War era if I teach American literature. But then, I reminded myself, I won’t be teaching American literature any time soon, and where would I put it if I just wanted it for some time in the distant future (just in case, you know)? This incident is not the first of its kind, nor do I think it will be the last. In some ways, it makes me a little sad. I am an English teacher, and it’s hard to switch gears and think of myself differently. I think in some way, I will always be an English teacher, even if I never teach English again (which I don’t believe will happen). Some things happened as I began the transition to Technology Integration Specialist that have left a sour taste in my mouth, and they have contributed to my mixed feelings—I won’t get into them here.

I am excited. I love working with teachers, which is something that presenting at conferences has taught me. I also love technology. Indeed, I have a passion for technology integration. I have a lot of ideas that I couldn’t necessarily implement in my classroom, but that I would love to help others implement. I have always been interested in other subjects besides English, and working with teachers will enable me to explore these interests alongside them. I will need to think more broadly about an educator. Instead of keeping my eyes open for interesting English ideas, I need to look for ideas of interest to teachers in all subjects. I think I will find the new role challenging and interesting.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Amir Kuckovic

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Tech Frustrations

I'm sitting here in pieces, and you're having delusions of grandeur!I hate it when I become dependent on a piece of technology and its creator decides to stop updating it. I feel kind of lost and directionless. I have been frustrated trying to find methods of keeping up with replies to comments I leave on blogs without subscribing to a bunch of comment RSS feeds that will clog up my feed reader. So as a result, I feel like I have just dropped out of the conversations I start. I used coComment‘s Firefox extension. It was great. Every time someone replied to a comment thread in which I had left a comment, the little coComment button turned orange. New comments! I could easily go check them and see if any of the replies were to me, and I could continue the discussion if they were. After Firefox 4.0 came out, coComment was broken. It’s been like that since March, and despite several comments in their help forums, no one representing coComment has said whether they intend to update the extension or let it die. And I can’t find an alternative. You know of one? If so, please, please tell me about it. Some folks allow you to subscribe to replies via email, but not everyone has that feature enabled on their blogs.

Another frustration: I used to use a WordPress plugin called Apture to add links to all kinds of content. I could click on a button in my post editor, and I could search for information on the Web using a variety of search engines and easily link to books on Amazon or Wikipedia articles. I thought it was great because it made writing posts a snap. Then Apture decided not enough people were using the plugin, and they pulled it. It didn’t even work if you already had it installed. I was not alone in my frustration on this one, but it looks like the folks at Apture felt that what users liked most was the Apture Highlights, which allow readers to highlight text and search right from your page without leaving it. Well, I don’t care because I can always open a new tab rather than leave a site. What I liked was the ability to easily create posts that had links to relevant material. I found a great Amazon plugin called WordPress Amazon Associate that enables me to easily link to books and other items for sale at Amazon the same way that Apture did, but there is not another plugin that does everything Apture did.

I think a lot of Delicious users had a similar panic attack when it was announced that Yahoo intended to “sunset” Delicious. After Chad Hurley and Steve Chen acquired Delicious, users had a reprieve from losing a social bookmarking service they loved (I had moved on to Diigo and cross-posted links at Delicious so that anyone subscribing to my Delicious bookmarks would still receive them).

It is anyone’s prerogative to take their toys and go home, I guess, but I just find it frustrating when I really enjoyed playing with those toys and can’t find any like them to have for my own. I also don’t know how to build them myself—which is a fixable problem, but a one that will not be fixed without a whole lot of work.

Creative Commons License photo credit: pinkpurse

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Reflection

Once in a Blue MoonI have been very absent from Twitter and from this blog lately. My education buddies might be wondering what happened to me. My reading buddies have seen me more often on my book blog. I have been retreating into some very fine reading lately. If you are looking for a good book, I have several to recommend.

The school year is winding down. We have two weeks before final exams. After that, graduation. Four former students came by to visit this week, and it was wonderful to see them. I am so proud of my students. They are doing such wonderful things.

Next year, as I move into the position of Technology Integration Specialist, some things will change for me. I will be teaching two English classes, but my primary responsibility will be in technology. The more I think about it, the more right it feels for me to do this. It seems like a case of the the circumstances lining up just right—I decided to pursue a master’s in tech and finished just as my school decided to focus on integrating technology more. I have had some weird, complicated feelings about the move. One would think that such a positive change wouldn’t introduce any sort of conflicted emotions, but I did wonder if I was making the right move for myself. I think I am making the right move for my school. I think trying to sort out how I feel about all of it has contributed to my silence online lately. Even though it is a good change, it is still a major change. Please be patient with me and my quiet little blog while I’m figuring it all out.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Kuzeytac

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QR Codes: Integrating Technology and Art

Canon 550d - Coloured PencilSome time back, I approached our art teacher with an idea for using QR Codes. We could video students talking about their work, upload the videos to YouTube, and create QR Codes that could be placed next to student art for the Fine Arts Showcase. The art show would then become interactive for anyone with a smart phone. She loved the idea, but I wasn’t sure whether she would have the time to pull it off this year. She and the students shot all the video, and she asked for help in creating the QR Codes. I went to her room and showed her how to edit clips in iMovie and upload to YouTube. Then I showed her how to create a QR Code. I only helped once, and she was off and running. Our drama teacher created a quilt with photographs and QR Codes, and she showed me a site where you can create color QR Codes. I didn’t realize you could print on fabric, but she showed me that, too. The quilt is wonderful, as was the students’ artwork. When the school publicized the art showcase, they made sure to recommend that smart phone users download a QR Code reader. I was told that the QR Codes were a big hit on the Fine Arts Showcase.

I’m not sure if you can see this video, as it’s on the Weber School’s Facebook page, but here is a link. The video includes several pictures of showcase attendees using their smart phones to view the material embedded in the QR Codes. Let me know if the video doesn’t work for you. We are on Passover break, so I won’t be able to ask about possibly uploading the video to YouTube or if it is OK to take pictures of the students’ artwork and post it here. You can, however, view the videos linked to the QR Codes on our art teacher’s YouTube channel.

Helping teachers integrate technology will be an important part of my work next year, and I was pleased with the outcome of this early experiment.

Creative Commons License photo credit: doug88888

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Technology Integration Specialist

NewspaperMy school will have a Technology Integration Specialist next year.

Me.

I was offered the position a few weeks ago and readily accepted, but I waited until the announcement was made to my colleagues at work before discussing it here.

I will still teach English part time (two classes), which I view as a good thing because I love teaching English and also will be able to stay fresh as a classroom teacher. The rest my day will be devoted to professional development in technology for my colleagues and team teaching or working with colleagues integrating technology into their lessons.

I have no plans to change my domain name to reflect my new role, but you might find more technology around here, and you can expect that I’ll broaden my focus to include subjects aside from English from time to time. I hope you’ll stick with me on this new journey.

Creative Commons License photo credit: just.Luc

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My Ongoing Search for the Perfect Twitter Client


I am growing increasingly frustrated with my Twitter client, but I can’t find one I like better. Here is what I need:

  • Mac compatibility.
  • A color scheme that isn’t too dark or too bright (both versions of the Tweetdeck theme are out as a result).
  • An unread messages count. Really I need this. It’s a deal-breaker, and it’s one of the reasons I’ve stuck with Nambu despite being unhappy with their progress and development.
  • Multiple columns.
  • Notification of new tweets. I prefer Growl, but Air is OK.

Things I’d like to have:

  • Syncing across devices (an iPhone app, so my unread count is same on both).
  • Client rather than web-based (not a deal breaker—was checking out Hootsuite, but not a fan).

I wondered aloud to my husband a few minutes ago just how hard it would be to create a Twitter client that did what I wanted. I have never designed software before, but I am willing to learn. I have rolled up my sleeves and made myself learn HTML and Flash (though I can’t say I’m a proficient in Flash at all).

Out of curiosity—what would you want in a Twitter client?

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QR Codes

qrcodeWhat is a QR Code?

It’s a kind of bar code that encodes information in a square like the one you see to the left, which is a QR Code for this website. “QR” stands for “Quick Response.” You can learn more about these codes at Wikipedia.

How can I read them?

These codes can be read by cell phones, so you will need an application. I found a list of QR Readers here, and if you have an iPhone or an Android, you can search their app stores for QR Code Readers. I use an app called Red Laser (iTunes link) to read QR Codes.

What can you do with QR Codes?

I’ve been learning about them for a couple of months, and while I can’t claim I have an exhaustive list of ideas for how to use them, I have a few.

  1. Put them on handouts or make stickers for textbooks. Students can scan the codes to learn more information about any topic. You can embed links to any website. Yes, you can also include the URL, but the QR Code will allow students to scan the code and go directly to the site.
  2. Put them on displays and signs around the school so students can learn more. Example: A scholarship contest sign could have contact information or a link to the website embedded. Students can quickly scan the code, and take the information with them more easily and quickly.
  3. Put them next to student work in the hallways and link them to text that tells viewers more about the artist and the work. Sure, you can display a block of text, too, but you have more options with QR Codes (links to other media, etc.). For example, you could include a link to a video in which the student is interviewed about their work, which is harder to do with a bit of text on the wall.
  4. Add them to large maps. Students can scan them and be directed to Wikipedia articles or other websites where they can learn more about the area. For example, putting a QR Code on a map of Georgia next to Milledgeville could bring up a list of writers from that town. You could also link to GoogleMaps so students could zoom around and explore the area in more detail or to images of people or events in the area. Videos, too.
  5. Encode answers to the assignment so students can check their work when they’re done. Perhaps the extra step of decoding the QR Code will be enough for students to try it out first before checking.
  6. Use them in scavenger hunts. Students can be directed to different websites and complete different tasks.
  7. Have students use them to turn in work. It would be great for multimedia projects incorporating video, audio, blogs, and images.

Jeff Utecht also has some great ideas for using QR Codes. I love the idea he shares about putting QR Codes on books. Students can be directed to reviews. QR stickers on books might be a fun way of sharing an assignment, such as a literature circle role.

Check out this great LiveBinder on QR Codes.

I have to admit, it’s kind of fun to take images of QR Codes and see what will pop up. Which also means they can be used by students for more nefarious purposes, so you should be aware of them for that reason, too.

How can you make them?

Kaywa has a great QR Code generator. Give it a try.

What if you don’t have mobile devices, or what if they’re banned in your school?

qrcode

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#EngChat

TwitterI wanted to let everyone know that I will be hosting a discussion about integrating technology into the English curriculum on #engchat this Monday, August 30, from 7:00 P.M. to 8:00 P.M. EDT. For those of you who are unfamiliar with #engchat, it’s a regular forum on Twitter for English teachers to talk about various issues related to the teaching of English. For example, one past discussion centered around vocabulary instruction. Jim Burke has hosted a discussion on how we create community in the English classroom.

Honestly, I had to try Twitter myself before I could be convinced of its usefulness because it appears to be a giant, narcissistic time-suck from the outside; however, if you follow smart people talking about interesting things, it’s a great way to learn. If you haven’t tried Twitter before, following the discussion on #engchat might be a good introduction. Also, if you are interested in how we go about integrating technology in the English curriculum, I invite you to join us. English teachers sometimes get a bad rap as the dinosaurs who miss ditto machines and chalkboards. A commenter on a blog I used to contribute to once noted that English teachers are usually the most resistant to technology (actually, the problem was that my buddy Joe Scotese and I didn’t agree with what he said about it). Is that true? Is it fair? Why do people feel that way about us? English teachers are doing exciting things! I am so tired of hearing we teach like we just stepped out a time machine from the 1850′s.

In other news, I am more frustrated than I can express over the lack of time I seem to have to blog. Reflection here has become essential to my growth and well-being as an English teacher, and with school starting up, I’m exhausted every day. Between school and home duties yesterday, my day was 14 hours long. You know you’re tired when you can stop after the first chapter of The Hunger Games not because you’re not dying to see what happens next, but because even though you’re dying to see what happens, you’re too exhausted to read.

It’s about balance, and if I ever figure out how to do it, I will let you know my secret. Or else I will not let you know my secret unless you pay me. I’d make a mint.

Creative Commons License photo credit:  Mark Pannell

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