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!
I have missed having my Minecraft Club and learning as much as I can about Minecraft in order to make it a meaningful experience with students. I have officially launched my Minecraft Club again and I am looking for Miners who would enjoy working on projects on my private server.
I have a new flyer that can be given to parents of students who might like to join.
I learned so much from the first round of the club, and have made some great contacts since then. I am hoping some of my former club miners will join me again and pick up some new miners ones. This round should be better than before for sure!
Our second time meeting on the server went much smoother today. I attempted to deal with any lingering tech issues before we met so I could have the whole time on the server with the kids. I even extended club time from one hour to two hours because one hour just didn’t seem like enough. After two hours today, I felt that was a much more appropriate amount of time and will likely extend the club hour from 4-5pm on Thursdays, to 3:30 – 5:30 pm on Thursdays.
We are still trying to establish our community on the server. I was trying to direct them to build our school, but the kids kept breaking off and building their own homes. I am currently brainstorming ideas on how to bring 20 “lil miners” (as educators in the Minecraft Educator Google+ group I am in call them) into focus. After viewing all of their newest creations, I broke off at the end of the session to try some building on my own. I didn’t want to build our school myself, but perhaps once I give it a footprint, the kids will then be more focused about making it happen.
We are using Edmodo in conjunction with Minecraft and Skype, so I will have to put up some more assignments there, mainly on planning our community, which should hopefully bring them into better focus. I think perhaps assigning them to regions of the school build is a start. I would also enjoy seeing what they have in mind for our Minecraft school, like drawings or blueprints.
Since I am presently unable to use Minecraft EDU, the suggestion of a Bukkit server was made as it allows for more options than a standard server. I am new to not only Minecraft but running a server and mods so it is quite easy to be overwhelmed. This week I plan on focusing my research on what a Bukkit server is like and what additional commands it can allow me and my students that our current vanilla server cannot. I have several experienced “lil miners” who are used to playing with several mods in place and are feeling a bit restricted by our vanilla server. Those experienced miners ask me almost daily (our Skype group is always up and running and chat there is frequent) about when I am going to allow mods and give them more command ability.
Here is a video I put together of some of the kids in the club telling me what they think Minecraft is along with some footage from day 2 in game. Enjoy!
In light of my current displeasure over the lack of necessary technology in my classroom, I have decided to conduct an experiment. I would like to put to use all of the wonderful things I already know about Web 2.0 tools as well as what I will learn as a part of the DEN STAR Ambassador program and through my studies as I work toward my Masters in Educational Technology. I have one student I am free to do anything to, one I can do anything with, post his work, his image, keep after school…and that would be my son. He has access to some of the latest technologies because I believe in them. He has an iPad mini, a smart phone, 3DS, and access to newer computers…all of which can be used as educational technology. So with him I will explore what it would be like if I had all of these devices to teach with in my classroom and what I would do. I will share my ideas, my son’s work, and the results here on my website so if there are any other parents like me who would like to experiment with me, feel free to do so and post your comments. I will post my first experiment idea soon.
Today I reached an all time high level of frustration, which had nothing at all to do with my students. It is more to do with the incredible lack of resources my school and classroom have. I don’t blame my principal for this, or even my district. I blame the government.
Today I attended what was the first of a three part series of sessions by Discovery Education as a part of their STAR Ambassador program. While I understand this program to be designed to expose teachers to the various aspects of Discovery Education for use in the classroom as well as the latest web tools available to enhance student engagement and outcomes, it only served to remind me how much my students have lost in the way of technology.
I have spent my entire 14 year teaching career as a part of the Fontana Unified School District. I have worked at Maple and Cypress Elementaries and transferred to Dorothy Grant Elementary because it was the newest school at the time and had far more technology than any of my previous schools. I have always been relatively well versed in the latest technology and I was very excited to be able to teach with it and did for several years. I have been at Grant since 2005 and over the past 9 years I have witnessed and experienced our technology dwindle. When I first arrived at Grant I taught a 4/5 combination and had 4-6 classroom machines, mobile computer lab, site computer lab, digital cameras and video recorders at my disposal for students to use and create with. Over the years since my arrival I have watched this technology break or become outdated and dwindle to barely anything at all. Presently in my classroom I have one working student machine. We no longer have a mobile lab, digital cameras, or video recorders. We do have a computer lab with relatively up to date machines, but with the amount of mandatory school-wide student assessment required, I am unable to take my class to the computer lab for our allocated once a week 45 minutes due to the lab being frequently closed to class visits due to assessment.
Discovery Education is a wonderful company with much to offer teachers. I became a Discovery STAR Educator shortly after my arrival at Grant and learned a great deal from them that I employed in my classroom. I went to many summer institutes which were always fabulous, and even presented for Discovery a handful of times. A few years go I let my STAR status lapse as the realization that my access to up to date technology was rapidly dwindling and doing any further work with Discovery would only make that painfully obvious. I was not wrong in that assessment. Today’s session with Discovery reminded me of all that has been lost to me and my students the last several years as technology has died at my school.
What exacerbates this issue is the Common Core and it’s requirements. I wholeheartedly embrace what the Common Core means to do, what I do not embrace are those expectations being placed on my students, my colleagues, my school, and myself with NO FUNDS to purchase the technology we need to teach our students with so they can be successful. Lofty expectations with NO SUPPORT is will fail. How can my students pass a rigorous computer assessment if they RARELY get to use a computer for academic purposes?
I am not one to sit back and do nothing when an issue disturbs me this deeply. I have chosen to educate myself via these sessions with Discovery, and with my pursuit of my second Masters Degree in Educational Technology along with an Administrative Credential. I have chosen to be more vocal about my opinions on education, positive and negative. The issue of technology in schools and equitable disbursement of funds needed to serve ALL our students has been a long time issue for me that I have largely only voiced my dissatisfaction with among my immediate colleagues. That will no longer be the case. A life motto of mine is that we are all entitled to our opinions. I will always respectfully voice my opinion as I am not out to offend anyone, but merely have my voice heard. I am tired of teaching in silence.
In case you missed it here is the body of the email I just sent to parents whose email addresses i have. If I don’t have yours, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks!
We had another great week and I wanted to share a few things with you.
1. Our fundraiser ends this coming week on September 5th! Please support PTA and your child by purchasing and selling the items. It is through PTA’s fundraising that our transportation to the LA County Fair is paid for. Thank you PTA! 🙂
2. The Class Dojo website was not cooperating with me this afternoon and I was unable to print the weekly reports. I had previously sent home your child’s code and perhaps you made a note of it as well off the weekly report. Please feel free to log into it and check how your child did. I cannot guarantee I will check my work email over the weekend as I am terrible about remembering when not at work, but I will do my best in case their are any questions. If you are able to log in a print a report of some kind, please sign it and return it with your child on Tuesday so they can get a parent signature point.
3. Monday is Labor Day! There is no school. No letter was generated by the school for this and I am not sure why, but now you know!
4. Chapter 2 OARS test report for math was sent home today. Make sure you check how your child did and sign it so they can earn a parent signature point on Tuesday.
5. We have begun Accelerated Reader! Some of you may already be aware of this educational tool and some may not. I have known about it for years, but I was never fortunate enough to be at a school that had it. We now have it at Grant and I am one of the site coordinators for it. It is an excellent tool to aid in reading comprehension. The class just took their pretest today and I will be sending more home soon about Accelerated Reader that is specific to your child.
6. The 3rd grade team has been planning our RTI and it will likely begin late this coming week. There is a chance you may have to pick up an additional notebook or composition book for your child, but more will come on that next week.
7. The Harvest Festival is coming soon! We will need parents to help with games and make donations for prizes. If you are interested in helping with this, please let me know.
8. Your child has a list of their user names and passwords for all the websites we are using at school presently. Ask them about this paper and have them show you the sites we use. On Discovery Education they can even show you how they did on their last comprehension and vocabulary test!
Well that list turned out to be much longer than I thought it would! Guess I had a lot to say after all. This year is continuing to be off to a strong start and I am enjoying this class of students very much. Thank you all for your support!
Melanie Ruiz National Board Certified Teacher Dorothy Grant Elementary, 3rd Grade
Fontana Unified School District