#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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Back to School

Pencil on PaperTomorrow is the first day of the 2010-2011 school year. I think the year I don’t become nervous and excited about the first day of school is the year I should probably retire. I teach because I like to learn and I like to share, and I can’t imagine not getting excited about wanting to learn and share more and better each year.

I’m trying out BuddyPress and a wiki for my classes. Our school has Edline, but I found it too limiting for what I wanted to do. I’m looking forward to seeing what my students will be able to do with both.

This semester is my last semester of grad school. I should graduate in December if all goes well this semester. I’m very excited to be finishing. In case you were wondering, I did receive top marks on the project I spent my summer working on. If you haven’t seen the finished product, you can visit it here.

Other stuff I have on tap this year: my first ever presentation at NCTE. I’m both nervous and excited about that. It will be good to see some friends at NCTE, too.

Today I am working on my first week’s plans, which include introductions to British lit., American lit., and Joseph Campbell; teaching the lede and 5W-H questions in journalism; and beginning novel studies on A Farewell to Arms, Brave New World, and The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Chris Campbell

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ITMA Project Finished!

Finish lineI am very pleased to announce that my ITMA project is finished. I have turned it in and am just awaiting the feedback.

If you would like to check out the finished product, visit the wiki.

The first thing I thought when I woke up this morning is that I didn’t have to work on the project today because it was finished. I am hoping to enjoy the last couple of weeks of my summer and not work on anything.
Creative Commons License photo credit: ThisIsIt2

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My Favorite Tools

Day 79/365: ToolboxIf you’re looking to try out some tools to make teaching, sharing, discussing ideas, and planning easier, you might want to check out some of these tools.

Twitter

I you want to ask a quick question or have a conversation, there’s nothing as efficient as Twitter. It’s also a quick way to get the word out about blog posts or other projects. Many people have it running in the background using a client such as Tweetdeck, Hootsuite, Nambu, or Seesmic. I was skeptical about Twitter until I tried it. I think it’s one of those things you will have to try out for yourself in order to see its potential. It can be as useful as the people you follow. I have a great personal learning network on Twitter.

Diigo

I first started using Delicious a few years ago because Firefox kept losing my bookmarks. I became so aggravated by this bug that I decided at least with Delicious, I could have my bookmarks with added benefit that they are available on any computer. A couple of years ago, I switched to Diigo for two reasons: 1) it has the added capabilities of annotation, groups, and easy integration with my blog; and 2) I can integrate it with my Delicious account, so there’s no need to leave any of my Delicious subscribers high and dry.

Firefox

Though Firefox is perhaps not the fastest browser, its array of plugins enable me to customize my browsing.

WordPress

I use WordPress to manage the content on all of my blogs. Elegant theme designs and plugins add functionality. I’ve tried Blogger and Movable Type, and I found WordPress superior to both.

iPhone

As the commercials proclaim, if you can think of something you want to do, there’s an app for that. My iPhone helps me manage my to-do list, my Diigo bookmarks, and my Goodreads account. I also have the complete works of Shakespeare and a great many other books in my pocket. I can keep track of gas expenses and find the cheapest gas nearby. I can manage my grocery list or look up first aid information. I can check TV listings, listen to music, or take pictures. The two most recent apps I downloaded enable me to create packing lists and see what’s down the road at the next few exits.

Evernote

I haven’t used Evernote very long, but I recently planned my entire trip to Salem using it, and I found it incredibly handy. You can clip and save websites and take notes. I am only beginning to explore Evernote’s capabilities. Be sure to check out their blog post on the Evernote trunk and see how a former student of mine uses Evernote.

Google Reader

Google Reader helps me keep up with all the blogs I read. I would never be able to keep track of my favorite blogs without it.

Facebook

Despite some bad press from what I believe are some poor decisions about privacy on the part of Facebook, I still use it to stay connected to my family and friends. Most of my friends and family are not on Twitter, but they are all pretty much on Facebook. It’s an easy way to share news, photos, and videos.

Wikispaces

I haven’t found another wiki service that’s friendlier to educators or easier to use than Wikispaces. I use it for all the wikis I create now.

Ning

I won’t use Ning for my classes anymore because of the changes to their pricing scheme, but I very much enjoy the English Companion Ning and the Making Curriculum Pop Ning as tools to help me share and learn.

What are your favorite tools?

Creative Commons License photo credit: fran.pregernik

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The Unquiet Library

The Unquiet Library, run by media specialist Buffy Hamilton at Creekview High School in Canton, GA., has a wonderful writeup in American Libraries.

The students are skeptical when the librarian says, “I want everyone to take out their cell phones and check to see if you can get reception in the library.” The young scholars hesitantly pull out their mobile devices unsure of what to make of this request. “Your assignment is to charge up your phones for class on Friday.” This wasn’t like any librarian they had met before.

Here’s how much of a library nerd I am: I teared up as I read the last paragraph. Good for you, Buffy! And for Creekview and its students and teachers.

Buffy does some amazing things. I’m so jealous of Creekview. Check out her online presence and enjoy learning from her:

An April morning in the Unquiet Library

Creative Commons License photo credit:  theunquietlibrary

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Audacity and GarageBand

Modified Podcast Logo with My Headphones Photoshopped OnFor my ITMA project today, I did quite a bit of playing around in Audacity and GarageBand. I have made a few podcasts, but I haven’t honestly played around with the software beyond recording and editing. I wanted to learn how to add music tracks to podcasts and how to diminish the music so it functions like an introduction.

Both programs allow you to add music and diminish it, but it’s much easier in GarageBand, and it’s also much more intuitive. I found I really liked GarageBand’s interface, too. I know that Audacity is free and available on multiple operating systems, whereas GarageBand is $79.00 as part of iLife ’09 and only available on Macs, but I would go as far as recommending using GarageBand over Audacity if you have a Mac. Everything I tried to do was just so much easier, and I had more options.

If you want to see what I’ve done so far with the podcast lessons, you can check out my work. I’m not done.

As of today, 98.25 hours on this project as a whole (150 hours required). I want to try to finish before I go on vacation in mid-July.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Colleen AF Venable

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ITMA Project Update

A spider loves its workI apologize if you’re getting tired of these project updates. This ITMA project IS my summer, apparently, so I’m not really working on anything else to reflect on. Since my last update on June 18, I’ve done a lot. The first objective in the professional development wiki I’m creating is for the learners to create their own websites. I learned a great deal about video last week that will prove useful as I forge ahead, particularly with the podcasting lessons.

I have completed four modules for this first objective, which means my lessons on choosing a site type and selecting models; RSS and feed readers; selecting a site service and creating a website; and copyright, fair use, and Creative Commons are all finished.

I learned a lot I did not know about fair use. I am hoping that module will be informative for learners, too. It’s strange how some parts of the project I thought would take a long time haven’t, while others I didn’t anticipate taking much time took a lot of time. Case in point is the section on copyright, fair use, and Creative Commons. Altogether, I spent about 9 hours and 30 minutes on that part. Most of that time was research. On the other hand, I have already completed 3/5 of the module on adding content to a website (adding text, adding images, and adding videos). I worked on that part of the project for four hours today, but probably about an hour of that time was going back and finding the original Flickr images I used in the project and making sure I gave proper attribution. I really would have thought it would take longer, but with so many site services offering easy content management, it didn’t turn out to be difficult to learn how to do anything. That’s a good thing. I think the easier it is to create websites, the more encouraged the teachers who do the program will be. I really hope they utilize our Google apps and create Google Sites.

I am still not 100% happy with the quiz service I used to create the two quizzes on the site, but I have not yet found a better one.

If you want to check out what I’ve done, you can find the wiki here. If you want to check out specifically the parts that are new since the last time I discussed the project, take a look at these pages:

I track my hours using a time log in Word that details each task I’ve done and also in Excel, which figures out the math for me. As of today, I’ve spent 79 hours on the project. I am required to spend a minimum of 150 hours.

Creative Commons License photo credit: kadavoor.

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Uploading Videos: Lessons Learned

As part of my ITMA project, which I’m just going to go ahead and create a tag for, I decided I would create several screencasts. Often when I want to learn something about a piece of software or how to do something on the web, nothing is as helpful to me as a screencast.

My tool of the trade for creating screencasts is Snapz Pro X, which I downloaded initially at the suggestion of my ITMA program as a good screencap tool. I know it’s not absolutely necessary to have an additional tool when you can capture your screen using tools native to your computer, whether you’re running Windows or Mac OS X, but I took their advice. I eventually sprung for the additional license to create videos. Creating screencasts with Snapz Pro X is very easy. However, I have often found the first time I try to do something new technologically speaking, I have to fall flat on my face and really mess it up, maybe even do it a few times, before I finally get it right. Screencasting has proven to be no exception.

I created three screencasts for my module on RSS for the project. Each demonstrates how to subscribe to an RSS feed using a different reader. I uploaded the screencasts to TeacherTube and waited. And waited. Finally, I tweeted a question about the moderation time and learned the terrible news. TeacherTube’s moderation period is glacial. Most people said anywhere from one to three days. So I waited to see what the videos looked like because I didn’t see any sense in reshooting or uploading anything to YouTube unless I had to. When the videos were finally approved, I learned that they looked horrible. I suspected it had to do with the size of the video, so I tried some experiments uploading the video to YouTube, changing the size, and finally decided I needed to reshoot it in a smaller size if it was going to look right on YouTube.

Eventually I tried uploading the video again, this time with the smaller size, and I discovered that there was no audio. I am not sure why it happened, unless it has something to do with the file format. I chose Quicktime Movie (.mov). I opened up iMovie and added a title to the beginning, then tried uploading to YouTube from iMovie, and voilà! I managed to get the video up with a picture I could actually see and sound.

After having gone through this process of trial and error, I learned how to upload a screencast properly. Even though I had created screencasts before, I had never posted them to YouTube. I have a horror of the folks who leave comments there. So, I just turned the comments off. I know that comments can be moderated, but I didn’t want to bother with it.

Oh, here is the one I managed to revise and get working today. The other two are tomorrow’s first task.

YouTube Preview Image

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ITMA Project Progress Report

Caution Works in Progress & Reflection by u07ch on FlickrAre you getting tired of my progress reports on this project? I hope not! It’s all I’m doing aside from summer stuff—reading good books I don’t have the time to read during the school year, making pies for the family reunion, trying to figure out if the oven is broken (it’s not), and updating WordPress.

The project, if you haven’t peeked at it yet, is a professional development program that will allow beginners on up to learn how to create their own websites and podcasts and teach their students how to do the same. At this point, my storyboard plan has 48 pages, but I have discovered the need to add pages here and there, and the final project may be longer. I have (almost) finished the first two modules for the first objective: creating a website. I uploaded some screencast videos to TeacherTube not realizing their moderation process was so long. I don’t know why, given how much of my writing is available online, but I felt squeamish about posting the videos to YouTube. So I am still waiting for the videos to appear on TeacherTube, and therefore, the RSS module is not quite finished.

I don’t think I explained the modules before. The lesson on creating websites has five modules:

  • Module 1: Choosing a Site Type and Selecting Models
  • Module 2: RSS Feeds and Feed Readers
  • Module 3: Selecting a Site Service and Creating Your Site
  • Module 4: Copyright, Fair Use, and Creative Commons
  • Module 5: Adding Content to Your Site

I am in the midst of building Module 3. I have completed the first segment, which concerns wikis. I’m not sure if I will work tomorrow because it will be a busy day, but when I do pick up the project again, I will be working on the blogs page. So far, I am having a lot of fun creating the project. I am finding all kinds of websites, particularly blogs and wikis, that I didn’t know about.

I haven’t started the podcasts lesson yet, but it will have three modules:

  • Module 1: Subscribing to Podcasts
  • Module 2: Selecting Podcasting Software
  • Module 3: Creating and Editing Podcasts

You can check out the work in progress here, but it’s far from being finished. Still, I feel good about the progress I’m making.

Creative Commons License photo credit: u07ch

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ITMA Project Update

NECC 2009 Wednesday Day 4  - 07I am making some good progress on my ITMA project. You can read my project proposal here. I finished my instructional analysis, which was a lot of work, but valuable for planning.

I have just begun creating the actual project. I have been having a lot of fun with the project. So far, I have completed six pages on the wiki that will house my project. For the first module, I have teachers exploring what kind of website they want to create. I had a lot of fun finding models of wikis. Some teachers are doing some great things with wikis. Here is my model wikis page.

I’m possibly looking for something else to use for the personality quiz on types of websites. I don’t have a lot of confidence that the one I used will do what I need (it seems to limit the number of quiz takers, forcing me to reset the numbers). If you know of a good personality quiz maker that I can embed in a wiki, please share.

A while back I promised more regular posting. I am going to commit to three days a week for the summer, starting this week. Here’s the schedule:

  • Mondays: Reflections on professional reading, professional development and grad school.
  • Wednesdays: Sharing lessons, tools, or ideas.
  • Fridays: Wild card. Whatever I feel like posting goes.

Creative Commons License photo credit: krossbow

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