Posted in Edublogs

Free Web Tools

Hello Readers!

I am a lil behind on my Edublogs challenge posts, but that’s ok. Life happens and skipping posts or posting late is fine. I am actually trying my best to not skip any posts at all. I enjoy a challenge and I want to address each prompt.

Prompt 5 was simply to write a post about free web tools. That seems like a pretty simple post, but there are so many free web tools! Being that I am late to this post, I had the benefit of reading all the posts from other bloggers on this topic before adding my own. I didn’t want to duplicate what any of them said, so if you are in the market for free web tools, be sure to visit the link above and check the comments, there are a lot of helpful posts on free web tools and how to use them.

Now for my suggestions! Many of the tools I am about to reference have both a free and paid version.

  • Skype – Skype is a communication tool I use regularly in many ways. It is a great instant messenger, but is also great for long distance calls (both voice and video). I tend to use Skype most with my gamer friends and when I was running a remote Minecraft Club. As a Microsoft Innovative Educator, I love the promise of Mystery Skypes to broaded the horizons of our students. I was never able to do one while I had a class of my own, but I have been part of a few group Mystery Skypes and they are great fun. Microsoft even has a whole page of classroom ideas.
  • Gyazo – I LOVE this tool for quick and easy screen capture! I learned about it from my gaming friends as a way to show one another things in our game without needing to screen share. Gyazo can make instant screenshots or GIFs and provide you with a shareable link in seconds. So easy!
  • Poll Everywhere – I was introduced to Poll Everywhere at a conference where the keynote speaker engaged the ENTIRE audience in a few questions, with the live results projecting on screen. It was powerful. I have used this tool a few times and really enjoy it, but it is best suited for a secondary classroom and up.
  • Today’s Meet – Another goodie I was introduced to at a conference. Today’s Meet is essentially a back channel, where students or those attending a meeting or conference can talk about pretty much whatever they like with the other students/attendees. I have used it a few times and found it to be not only fun, but very useful.
  • PicMonkey – I mentioned this one last week and I really can’t mention it enough. A free web editing tool that is super easy to use. You get great photo editing results with very little effort and time. LOVE IT!
  • Screencast-o-matic – I forget where exactly I learned about this one but I have a feeling it was from watching a teacher tutorial and I saw the watermark. Screencast-o-matic is great for making tutorials. It is easy to use and very intuiative. I have found I really enjoy making my own videos and I can see students being able to use this tool quite easily too, even upper elementary students.
  • PowToons – I have been aware of this tool for a while but never got around to actually using it. It is a bit time consuming, but I enjoy the creative process of creating an animated video. I am sure secondary students could handle it and likely some very motivated elementary students. (If you visit my YouTube channel you will find some examples of Screencast-o-matic and PowToons in use.)

Do you use any of these tools? Are you thinking you would like to try? I would love to hear from you in the comments! Thanks for stopping by!blog-signature

Posted in Edublogs

For Fiona

Hello Readers,

The latest #edublogsclub challenge was released this past Tuesday. The prompt was simply: “Write a post that includes an image.” That seemed simple enough to me. I put images in my posts all the time, at least just one. There was some guiding text with the prompt as well to help generate ideas of what to write about, and I knew instantly that I would share about my favorite photo editing tool, PicMonkey. I was thinking about how I wanted to frame the post when something rather sad occurred in my life. I then debated on if I should bring that to my blog at all, if it was relevant, or if I should just do as I often do and pretend nothing sad at all has happened. So I will warn you reader, this post is not going to be a cheery one. It is going to be an authentic one, that will serve many purposes, including that of the prompt this week. So if you are not in the mood to read something sad, or you are simply looking for a quick photo tip, then it is best you read the next two paragraphs and skip the rest.

So I will start with the photo tip up front. PicMonkey is a web-based image editing and creation tool. It is free for basic features and has a small cost for extended features, which I highly recommend. I first learned about PicMonkey from Second Life blogger Strawberry Singh. Second Life is the 3-D virtual world I have been involved in since 2007 and that I blog about separately. If you are curious about it, Strawberry has all kinds of useful posts and videos that explain it all, so feel free to explore that if it interests you.

PicMonkey was a blessing for me. I had been attempting to learn and use Adobe PhotoShop and as with most Adobe software, learning it in order to be able to use it effectively can be rather time consuming. PicMonkey did pretty much what I wanted to very simply and I then lost all desire to learn and use PhotoShop. My life had been simplified! I have used PicMonkey to write on photos, to place frames around them, to add filters, to make banners for my website and for my YouTube channel…PicMonkey has been indispensable!

Now onto the photo and story.

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My 13 year old Labrador Fiona passed away Thursday night. Some might react, “Oh? your dog died? I’m sorry” and move on. Those of you who are, or have been, pet owners know it is much more complex than that. I am of the camp where our pets are a part of our family. They are loved and they matter. You do whatever you can for them to keep them comfortable and happy. Dogs are very special creatures who can truly bless our lives with their presence.

Fiona was the last of a very special kind of dog in my family. She entered my life as my second guide dog puppy in training. I had been a volunteer puppy raiser for Guide Dogs of America in Sylmar, CA. I had puppy raised a German Shepherd I got to name Frieda, Fiona was my second, then I had a black and tan Lab named Riva. None of my puppies actually made it to be guide dogs, but they sure did try! Frieda had an aggressive streak so she was not allowed to continue in the program when she was 6 months old and I got to adopt her. Fiona was considered for their breeding program because she was so well tempered and obedient, but she failed the dysplasia test (elbow or hip, I don’t remember which) and I got to adopt her too. Riva made it all the way to being turned in for official training, only to demonstrate mild aggression in harness and be offered to me for adoption as well. They were my guide dog pup trio. I adopted them all. Frieda and Fiona became therapy dogs. The only reason Riva did not is because my son had been born about that time (Riva’s birthday was my my son’s predicted birthday…he arrived 6 weeks early). I had to put Frieda down at 7 years old due to severe spinal cord issues. Riva died suddenly at 10 years old. Fiona outlived them all.

Fiona was an amazing dog from start to finish. She was the one I brought with me to my first school board meeting when myself and another teacher/puppy raiser in my district petitioned them to create a board policy allowing service dogs in training and therapy dogs on our school sites. Which the board ended up doing. Fiona then began to come to school with me as a guide dog pup in training and eventually as a therapy dog. I had her in class with me for years.The kids read to her and wrote to her. I created my own little books of the kids photos with Fiona and their words. It was my “Dogs in the Classroom” series. Kids at my school (DGE of course, see my post on Leadership if you don’t know what I am talking about) knew me as the teacher with the dog and there was no getting anywhere quickly. Everyone always wanted to pet and hug and generally love on Fiona and I never denied anyone that treat. When I retired her so I wouldn’t lose my mind trying to take care of an infant and manage a therapy dog at the same time, the kids were sad and often asked about her. She would come back for visits here and there. She loved school and she loved the kids.

Fiona was a change agent and she showed me how much dogs can do for others first hand. My life has gotten too busy to truly dedicate to the raising of another service dog puppy, but I highly recommend it.

We have the next generation of dogs at home now. When Riva passed I allowed my son to select our next dog. Since I am so techy we had to do that online of course. We used Adopt-a-Pet and my son found Dot, who just so happens to share his exact birthday. That fact gave me the chills as we did not know that beforehand. I only happened to notice it when I was signing the adoption agreement. It was clearly meant to be. Four month old Dot was too much energy for the then 12 year old Fiona, so I used the site again to look for a Lab mix (I am personally partial to Labs thanks to Fiona and Riva). I could not find what I was looking for so I turned to Purebred Breeders (who apparently now is known as PuppySpot) online and found Ryker, who was flown to me from Texas. Ryker is a handsome red lab that I have big plans for. He only just turned one and has a lot of training ahead of him, but I would love to bring him into therapy work once my doctoral studies are done. For now, my son and I attend obedience classes together with Dot and Ryker. Its a mother-son activity I really enjoy.

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If you made it this far, thank you for reading. I welcome your comments about PicMonkey or your own dog/pet story or whatever strikes your fancy!

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Posted in Edublogs

What Leadership Means to Me

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Hello Reader!

First I want to address the new theme for my blog! I had changed it when I left the classroom to something rather neutral while I transitioned into my new position as a Teacher on Assignment in our new Linked Learning department. Since beginning the #edublogsclub blogging challenge I have felt my blog take on a new feel which called for a new look! I hope you like it, because I sure do!

Now onto business. This is the 3rd post of the #edublogsclub challenge. This week’s prompt was: Write a post that discusses leadership, peer coaching, and/or effecting change

I had really wanted to stay on time with my posts, but this one made me pause to think for a while, and then life happened and prevented me from really and truly thinking about it. I have probably written this post over about three times as I wrestled with what I really wanted to say about leadership. What brought it together for me in the end was a quote I was introduced to as a part of my school district’s aspiring leadership program:

Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.
– Jack Welch, former GE Chairman and CEO

We had been presented with several leadership quotes that day and had been asked to move toward the one that spoke to us. There had to have been at least 10 quotes plastered around the meeting room we were in and the one above was the one that stood out the most to me. It gave me cause to reflect on all the great leaders I had worked with at my last school site, Dorothy Grant Elementary (aka DGE). Now I am going to try VERY hard not to go on a long rambly, nostalgic post about how amazing this school is, but this school changed the trajectory of my teaching career. The truth of that fact was something I had never given conscious thought to, but when thinking on leadership and the qualities of a good leader, and the type of leader I want to be, my experience at DGE has everything to do with outstanding leadership.

I arrived at DGE just after my 5th year of teaching…a rather crucial turning point for many teachers. It is widely recognized that a significant number of new teachers do not make it to or past their 5th year of teaching. I needed to be at DGE. I had already suffered through 2 previous schools with significant leadership deficits. I was transferring to escape them, to hopefully arrive at a school that was right for me and equipped with an inspirational leader. I wonder if I would still be here 12 years later and in my 17th year as an educator had it not been for DGE and its leaders.

I was very fortunate to have met and been selected by Dr. Ken Decroo to transfer to the open 4/5 combo position that was available. DGE was a shiny new school then, only one year old. As I had shared in a previous post, I had NEVER gotten to work at or attend a new school, so this was certainly a perk for me. Dr. Decroo was new that year, but he was very well liked and did a lot for the school’s climate. I remember enjoying his handling of the school and interaction with the staff. He was by far the most mellow, friendly and knowledgeable principal I had ever had at that point. While he and I had several interactions over that year, one in particular has always stood out to me. I remember being in his office, talking about something I don’t recall at the moment (and likely never will) when he said to me “You should consider becoming an administrator.” I remember my reaction. Shock. I remember backing away from him as if he was trying to infect me with something and shaking my head and waving my hands “What? Me? Oh no…no I could, never… Was that the bell?” Now I could be paraphrasing just a bit, but that exchange really did occur and it has stuck with me. I don’t know what he may have seen in me, being too caught of guard to really ask and too quick to dismiss it.

Dr. Decroo’s time at DGE was far too short for me when he retired the next school year. Chris Ridge was the next principal assume the office. Mr. Ridge was driven. He had a mind for innovation and staying ahead of the academic curve. He wanted the best for DGE students and it showed. Some teachers didn’t care too much for him because of his drive, but I did. DGE was in at the top of the elementary rankings in our district, we were leaders in trying new techniques out like RTI and data driven decision making. Talk about data! Mr. Ridge was always equipped with a report of some kind. I had never looked at data so much in my whole life, but he took great care in explaining to us why we needed to spend so much time with the data and how doing so could help drive our instruction and in the end help our students achieve. I amuses me now to think back on it. Data driven decision making is so common place now, just as is RTI, but thanks to Mr. Ridge I was exposed to both a lot earlier than others in and out of my school district. Mr. Ridge stayed at DGE several years and then his time came as well, not to retire, but to pursue other opportunities. I was sad to see him go, I had learned a great deal from him.

Sadly, DGE had a year of administrative uncertainty after that which is really not relevant to this post apart from saying that in year where we did not have stability in our leadership, the overall DGE community had already become so strong that we weathered that storm just fine. Thankfully we did receive another solid leader in Anne-Marie Cabrales. I have to say that I wasn’t certain about Mrs. Cabrales when she first arrived. She wasn’t like any leader I had before. It has been hard to put my finger on, but in the end I believe it was that she still felt like one of us. She felt like a teacher. She did not feel like a principal to me, and I don’t say that in a negative way at all. It was just something about the way she carried herself and how she got to know the staff. There was something very personable and humble about it. Mrs. Cabrales became very well liked immediately. She fit right in with the staff and was very passionate about DGE and its students. She works tirelessly to keep DGE at the top of the rankings and has continued the trend of keeping DGE at the front of the pack when it comes to new approaches to education. She did a great deal in supporting me and the various projects I wanted to do with technology and our kids, and it was she who encouraged me to consider a position at the district office level. I remember conversations with her turning toward me branching out and getting known in the district so that I could advance beyond the classroom. Dr. Decroo’s words would echo in my mind at those times. I had tried for district positions before, only to not be selected. My home was DGE, and I took the fact that I was not selected for a position as a Teacher on Assignment for Instructional Technology on more than one occasion to mean that I did not have what the district wanted for that position and that I was best suited to my work in the classroom at DGE.  I had become a teacher leader at DGE – in technology as a site coach and as a part of our leadership team where I spent a several years being a grade level leader. DGE had become my cozy, comfy blanket that I never wanted to be without.

Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.
– Jack Welch, former GE Chairman and CEO

So here is my favorite leadership quote again. It expemplifies the leadership that I experienced at DGE in the 11 years I was there. 11 years that felt nothing like 11 years. I was having so much fun there I had lost track of the time. I felt successful in the way I had grown as an educator and the way DGE had nurtured that growth. Dr. Decroo, Mr. Ridge and Mrs. Cabrales were all amazing leaders in their own right for their own reasons. I have recently realized that they were helping me to grow so that I could be a leader too. I cannot thank them enough for that. This post has likely already passed the point of rambling nostalgia, but it has captured what leadership is to me and that is the kind of leader I want to be – one who creates a space where leaders can grow.

Always a Volunteer,
Mrs. Ruiz

leader

Posted in Edublogs, General

The Places I Work

prompt-2This post is part of the #EdublogsClub – a group of educators and edtech enthusiasts that blog around a common theme each week. Simply write a post and share it to join in, or sign up to receive email reminders of each new prompt. 

Hello Reader!

Thanks for stopping by. Today’s post is about my work space. The task was laid out as follows:

This week, we want to take a closer look at where we spend the majority of our work days. Our classrooms, our offices, cubes, home offices, coffee shops, or anywhere else where we “get work done”.

Write a post that discusses your classroom or place of work. Some topics you may wish to address include:

  • The physical space – how you approach layout of furniture, technology, etc.
  • The aesthetics – share a photo and/or discuss decorating your space
  • Staying organized – how you do (or don’t) keep organized
  • Tips, tricks, or advice related to the above
  • Anything else you wish to share!

We want just a little window into your daily work life.

I could probably fill this post with various photos of the work spaces I have had. I am not sure any exist of my first classroom. I was teaching 2nd grade at the time at a school that had been built in the 1950s. I was in a room that was primarily brick walls, except for its interior walls that were those accordion wall thingies from back when they did some kind of communal teaching. (Which I actually remember from my own 3rd grade experience at another school in the 80s.) In the center of the building were communal learning spaces that were accessible from the back of the classroom (there was no door and the accordon wall did not close all the way). These spaces were clearly no longer used for any useful purpose other than exposed and cluttered storage. It was a sad sight. In my classroom there were a few high narrow windows on the exterior wall and that was it. I did my best with that space, but it was a challenge.  When I think back on that room I wonder if the teachers there now have made better use of those center spaces…they would be perfect to make over for more innovative learning spaces. I would love to go back and see. After that classroom I became a “roving” teacher. I had a 4/5 combo class, 4 rolling cabinets, and no classroom of my  own. It was my district’s solution to a multi-track year round school calendar. I moved another teacher’s room every 6 or 8 weeks when they went “off track.” It was quite the experience.

My second classroom was a portable at another school in the same district. I was teaching 5th grade now. I got to experience the joy of a portable (no sarcasm intended!) and my own space. I really did enjoy it. Every wall in a portable is a bulletin board! My only complaint about portables is the floor and heavy footed students. 😉

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Outside one of my classrooms at my last school.
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A lovely day on the playground.
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One of the school computer labs.

Then I transferred to my last school where I had a few rooms based on grade level assignment.  The school was only a year old when I arrived and I was thrilled. All my previous schools had been old…and I don’t mean just schools I taught at. ALL my schools had been old…from K to college. It seems they suddenly got fancy new makeovers once I had long been through. So it was a real treat to work at a new facility. I had several rooms with nice built in cabinets and shelves and SOLID floors! Oh the little things in life. In my last year at this school I ended up in a portable again, which I didn’t mind. I enjoyed the lack of the built ins because it allowed me freedom to place furniture where I liked. It was a brand new portable to the school (one pulled from another site where it wasn’t needed and brought over so it wasn’t a NEW portable, just new to the school.) I got all new furniture which was nice, but the district was slow in getting it to the school and it didn’t arrive until just a few days before the school year. It was a mad race to beat the clock in getting it ready. I worked a few VERY late nights, but in the end it was good enough to go the first day of school. I loved it.

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Inside my new portable the night before the first day of school.

I was encouraged to apply for my current position as an Instructional Coach by my principal and ultimately by the director of the department I work in. I really didn’t want to leave mid-year but that is the way it happened. I had to pack up right before winter break 2015. I came over to the district office only to find they had no place for me and the 2 others they had hired for the department. So I was roving again, but in a much smaller way. I had my own devices and hotspot so I could do work anywhere (I have long been that way). Myself and my two colleagues spent several weeks huddled around our new director’s table in his office before they finally got us a small room of our own off site at the adult school. I was there for a fair amount of time before real estate (cubicles) opened up at the district office and we were summoned back, where I claimed a spot for myself, and I have been there ever since. It has been an experience scaling down from an entire classroom to myself (and 30+ students) to sharing a cubicle with one other person. All my classroom stuff lives in a storage unit now. I can’t let it go just yet because…you never know! I do wish I had at least an office with a door than a part of a cubicle…oh and a window would be nice.

Moving into a temporary space at the adult school.
Another angle of the adult school space.
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My new space at the district office.
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My desk at the district office.

At home I have an office which I am always changing. Because I am prone to WAY TOO MUCH screen time, I removed any actual desk and put in my treadmill (which I turned into a treadmill desk with a wood shelf and some clamps) along with a bike desk. So if I am going to be on the computer for hours at a time doing coursework for my doctorate or gaming or otherwise entertaining myself, then I am going to be moving!

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My office right after I moved my desk out and my equipment in.
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My desks: treadmill desk & bike desk!
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The view from my bike desk.

I also make pretty much anywhere a work space if I need it to be. I never go on a trip without my laptop or my Windows tablet. Even now, I made a work space at the dealership while waiting for my husband’s car to have it’s battery replaced!

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Me using the “customer business” table as my work space.
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It even has a window!

So this post turned more into “The History and Eccentricity of Mrs. Ruiz’s Work Spaces” than addressing much about the prompt blogging points, but I suppose that is alright. I am sure some of you can identify with me.

Posted in Edublogs

My Blog Story

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Every year I want to blog a bit more as an educator. This year I am really going to try to make that happen as I have joined Edublogs weekly #edublogsclub. I am pretty sure I have joined other blogging challenges and failed to participate fully, but I am not going to allow that to happen again!

In order to satisfy the first blogging prompt this post can contain any of the following:

  • Your experience blogging – is this your first post? Are you an experienced veteran? Somewhere in between?
  • Do you read other blogs? What are some of your favorites? How do you keep up with them?
  • What are your goals for the #EdublogsClub?
  • If you are new to blogging, do you have any questions you want answered or fears you wish to share?
  • If you are more experienced at blogging, do you have any advice for newbies?
  • Anything else you wish to share!

This is not my first post, but I don’t really consider myself a veteran. I have had my own website/domain for a while, but I have not really been an avid blogger. I have had my own domain so long I had to go look up exactly when I acquired it – June 2008. I had been teaching only 8 years and at my third elementary school, Dorothy Grant Elementary. It was at this school where I finally found a group of tech-minded educators that I could confidently move forward with and develop my passion for educational technology. I remained at this school up until December 2015, when I went on to be a Teacher on Assignment in my district.

My blog really wasn’t a blog at first, it was a class website…a tool I used to communicate with tech savvy families and guide my students to the links I wanted them to use when they had lab time or had time in class to use one of our few computers. I used to publish it with Tech4Learning‘s Web Blender program.  It wasn’t until 4 years ago that my class website became a blog when I transitioned it to WordPress, and even then I continued to use it as a tool to communicate with parents, publicize events going on at my school or in my classroom, and a place to house links for my students and families.

Now that I am out of the classroom and at the district office I have struggled with what to with my website. I always knew who my audience was, but who would it be now? I have no students and no families to communicate with. I have my work as a Teacher on Assignment and a teacher website among a sea of teacher websites. The transition from a classroom teacher to a teacher on assignment has not been an easy one, and the transition in the purpose and audience of my website has been almost as challenging. I find blogging to be a very useful outlet, but I wrestle with what I have to offer the broader teaching community with my blog given that there are so many excellent teacher blogs already in existence. Addressing this issue is actually my main goal in participating in the weekly prompts  of the Edublogs Club. I am hoping through participating I will be able to clarify the new purpose and audience of my site.

As for other blogs, I read so many its hard to recommend just one. I have recently started using Bloglovin’ to keep track of blogs I am interested in, but for the most part many blogs are delivered right to my inbox via various subscriptions I have. Many of the blogs I read are quite “newsy” and I feel like it might be nice to connect to other blogging educators. I guess that would be another goal of mine in participating with these weekly blogging prompts.

In the end I want my blog to evolve, be robust and have a distinct purpose, while helping me to connect to other blogging educators and building a whole new sort of professional learning community (PLC).