MMEA Resources

Here are the resources from the three sessions I’m presenting at the MMEA Mid-Winter Clinic this week:

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bit.ly/MMEALittleHands

 

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bit.ly/MMEAChrome

 

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bit.ly/MMEASubPlans

What’s On Your Website?

When I first started teaching, I didn’t have a website and I’m guessing many of my colleagues didn’t either.  Since then, I’ve built a handful for my various jobs and roles.  In my current role, one part of my job is supporting teachers as they create their own websites.  I get the same question a lot: what should be included in a teacher’s website?

The problem is, there is no one-size-fits-all answer.  Every teacher’s classroom is different, so every teacher’s website is different.  That said, I have come to believe that there are a few basics that every teacher or classroom website should include as well as several “extras” you can add if you are interested in have time.

Before I jump into the “must haves” and “nice to haves,” there are a few other things I ask teachers to keep in mind regarding their website.  First, what do you need it to do?  What’s your purpose?  Are you simply communicating with parents? Will your students be accessing class materials on your site? Are you trying to advertise or promote your program?  All of the answers to these questions help determine what and how much needs to be on your site.

Second, how much time do you have to devote to updating your website?  Nothing is more annoying to me than going to a teacher’s website that’s horribly out of date.  If I’m still seeing pictures of Halloween in April, we have a problem.  I recommend keeping the bulk of the website static so it doesn’t need to be changed often.  You can incorporate something like a blog or Twitter feed to keep viewers up to date on what’s going on in your classroom.

Third, what other methods of communication do you already use?  This one particularly comes into play at the elementary level.  Many of my K-5 friends still compile and print a paper newsletter each week (and some do one for the month AND one for each week).  Then they also feel the need to update the exact same information on their website each week, resulting in them working twice as hard.  Consider uploading the digital copy of your paper newsletter so parents can see it there rather than retyping the information (or better yet, scrap the paper newsletter altogether!).

Okay, so what should you have on your site?  The most basic info is your name and photo.  Parents should be able to easily tell whose website they’re on and the photo confirms they’re in the right place (you’d be surprised how many parents know their child’s teacher by either name or face but not both, particularly parents with multiple children).

Next, include your contact information and how to best reach you.  This would likely include your email address and/or phone number.  It can also be helpful to let parents know the best times of day to reach you (if including your phone number) or when you check emails.  Even if you check messages more frequently, it’s helpful for parents to know that you will check at 8 am and 3 pm every day (for example).  It will keep them from wondering when you’ll get back to them.  One note: I never included my phone number on my website because I didn’t want parents calling during the day.  My first job is teaching their kids, which I can’t do when I’m tied up on the phone with one of their parents.

Tell a little bit about yourself.  You don’t need your entire life story, but families enjoy knowing a little bit about you and who you are as a person.  Maybe include a family photo or two.  Again, don’t share more than you’re comfortable with.  I also recommend to word your information in such a way that it doesn’t become out of date quickly.  For example, instead of saying I have a 2-year old son, I might say my son was born in 2014 or just skip his age/year altogether.

Finally, include information about your class.  At the secondary level, this is likely a syllabus or course outline.  For younger students, this might include a curriculum map or an outline of the majors units of study for that grade level.  You don’t need every single assignment or lesson here, just the big picture so parents have a rough idea of what’s coming.

Have some extra time?  I know, probably not, right?  Well, if you want to include a few more pieces of information, here are some of my “nice to have” extras you might think about including on your site.  Remember, some of these are only useful if you keep them updated regularly.  If you can’t commit time to do that, don’t include them!

  • Additional resources or websites for students to practice skills at home
  • Student photo gallery (should be updated at least once per month)
  • Student work examples (should be updated at least once per month)
  • Resources for students to use in class (handouts, assignments, links to websites, etc.)
  • Daily or weekly homework
  • Daily class agendas
  • Daily/weekly class blog

I’ve created a handy infographic to help you out:Teacher Websites

What else do you include on your website?

Guided Access on iPads

Have you ever used iPads with your students and caught them using a different app than what you asked them to use?  Frustrating, right?  Wouldn’t it be nice if you could keep them in the app you wanted in the first place?  Oh wait, you can!

The iPad has all kinds of tricks and hidden gems built in to make life easier for its users.  One of them is called Guided Access and what it does, among other things, is lock the iPad into a particular app.  It’s not exactly straightforward to find and turn on, but with a little digging, it can make classroom management with many iPads much simpler!

Guided Access is hidden in the accessibility settings.  To find it, follow these steps:

  1. Go to the Settings menu.
  2. From there, click General.
  3. Click Accessibility (there are actually several features here you might want to check out, but we’ll move ahead for now).

Screen Shot 2016-03-21 at 8.14.32 AM

4. Scroll down to Guided Access (near the bottom).

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5. Tap the switch to turn on Guided Access.

6. Then click Passcode settings.  (You will need to create a passcode if you don’t already have one.  This is what you will need to exit Guided Access when your students are done working.  Be sure you keep track of the passcode!)

You’re all set!  To activate Guided Access, enter the app you’d like students to use and then triple-click the home button.  The window will shrink a bit and you will see the Guided Access controls appear on the screen.  Click Start at the top right corner and Guided Access will be activated.

Screen Shot 2016-03-21 at 8.14.03 AM

Now when your students use the iPads and try to back out of an app, it won’t work.  They also can’t double-click the home button to scroll between open apps.  When you’re done using that app, triple-click the home button to reveal the Guided Access controls again.  From there, you can either end or resume Guided Access.  You can also use the Guided Access menu to turn off access to particular parts of the screen.  This can be helpful if their are buttons you don’t want your students to bump accidentally.  Remember, Guided Access has to be turned on each time you enter an app!

Google Drive: Collaborate or Copy?

Most people will admit that the introduction of Google Drive and its collaborative features, has been a game changer in the world of education.  Gone are (or should) be the days of emailing documents back and forth only to be working on outdated copies and trying to sort through multiple versions to find the “right” one.

The ability to share documents and other files with colleagues and students with just a few clicks is amazing.  We can work together on a single document in real time without having to crowd around a computer screen.  Participants can add to a meeting agenda without needing to email the items to the organizer.  Teachers don’t need to photocopy documents or manage hundreds of emails from students (particularly if they use Google Classroom).

Sometimes, however, collaboration on a document can be problematic.  Sometimes we want to share something with a colleague, but we still need to keep our original.  We remind them to make their own copy (which they can do), but they often forget and just start editing away.  This causes some teachers to revert back to old methods of emailing a document so they make sure their work doesn’t disappear.

But there is a little trick!  Did you know that you can force someone to make a copy of your document?  By making a small change to the URL of the document, the recipient will see a screen like this:Screen Shot 2016-03-16 at 10.26.20 AM

Clicking the “make a copy” button will automatically create a copy of the document in THEIR Google Drive.  Your document is intact and you’ve still shared your work with others.

How do you do it?  It’s actually pretty simple.

  1. Open a Google Doc (actually any Google file type should work).
  2. In the address bar, you should see a URL that begins with https://docs.google.com…
  3. Somewhere relatively near the end of the address, you should see the word edit (it may be followed by additional words or characters).
  4. Delete the word edit AND everything that follows it.
    Untitled drawing (2)
  5. At the end of the address, now add the word COPY.Untitled drawing (3)
  6. Highlight the entire address, and copy/paste it into an email that you send to anyone who needs the link.  When they click it, they will see the screen above.

So now you have the choice: collaborate or copy.  Both serve very useful functions in different situations.  For example, any time a group of teachers will need to have access to the SAME document, they will want to share the document with the group and edit on the same document.  Any time I’m sharing a document outside my organization, such as at conference or with Twitter friends, I tend to force the copy.  There are times, though, that I still use the force copy feature with colleagues within my district.

One example would be when you have created an assignment, assessment or template that you’d like to be able to share with your team.  In this case, if it’s important for every student to do the exact same assignment, you would want to share.  If you want each teacher to get the document but be able to customize it, you might want to choose force copy instead.

Again, both ways are helpful, so choose what works for you in your particular situation!

Google Classroom: Class Workflow Made Simple!

How many of these have ever applied to you as a teacher:

  • You have had to send students to the library to print an assignment they forgot.
  • Students left their papers at home.
  • Someone was absent and now needs to know what the assignment was or needs a copy of a handout.
  • Your shoulder is sore from hauling home a massive stack of papers to grade and comment on.
  • Your shoulder isn’t sore because you forgot all of the papers you needed to grade that night on your desk at school.
  • You’ve gotten several papers turned in with no names on them.
  • You have students share their finished Google documents with you only to get dozens of “shared with you” emails and then have to try to sort through all of them to put them in folders so you can find them later.

If any of these apply to you, you need to stop what you’re doing and get yourself on Google Classroom.  I’m not kidding; stop reading right now and go set it up.  I’ll wait until you get back.  It’s that awesome.

So now that you’ve set up your account, here are a few things you can do with Classroom to make your (and your students’) life easier.  First of all, it provides a place where you can post any class announcements, handouts, and assignments.  It’s a one-stop shop where students should be able to find any and all information they need to do their work.  No more “I can’t find my _______.”

Since it is a product within the GAFE domain, it works extremely well with Google Drive.  In fact, when you create assignments and have students submit them, Classroom will “talk” to your Drive account and automatically create a folder for each class and assignment, meaning you no longer have to deal with students sharing documents with you (and the dozens of emails that go with that) or trying to organize all of them in your Drive.

Evaluating student work becomes easier with Classroom as well.  Once assignments are submitted, the teacher can use the built-in commenting or suggesting features of Google Docs to leave feedback for students.  Tools like Doctopus and Goobric make rubric grading and other evaluation go much quicker (learn more here) and one like Kaizena allows you to leave voice feedback instead of writing or typing comments (check out Kaizena).

My absolute favorite feature of Google Classroom is that when you create an assignment and need to share a document with students, you have three options: students can view file (no editing privileges), students can edit file (everyone edits the same document), or make a copy for each student.  The last one is my personal favorite because if I attach a Google document or other file type, it will automatically generate a separate copy for every student AND put their name on it.  And again, because it’s Classroom, all of those files are neatly organized in the appropriate folder in your Google Drive with no additional work from you.  I suggest to teachers that they create a template for their students (even if the entire thing is blank) because then each assignment will come in with the same title and include the student name.

For those of you who teach more than one class at a time: when you post an assignment, you can assign it to any of your classes simply by checking a few boxes – no need to recreate the assignment for every section.  You can also add students easily by giving them the 6-digit alphanumeric code that Classroom generates for you; this is much more efficient than entering hundreds of students names yourself.  You can even add a co-teacher if you share your class with a colleague.  Finally, for all of my primary teacher friends out there, Classroom can even be used with your students!

If I haven’t yet convinced you of how awesome Google Classroom is, then feel free to check out some other resources.  There are several guides to Google Classroom for sale on Amazon, the most popular of which is Alice Keeler and Libbi Miller’s 50 Things You Can Do With Google Classroom (available here).  Keeler also has a tremendous amount of blog posts, suggestions, and tutorials on her website (www.alicekeeler.com).  I also wrote a short e-book that can help get you started with the basics of Classroom (free e-book here).

Ditch The Textbook! Find Your Passion!

This past week, I participated in the #ditchbook Twitter chat.  Named after the book by Matt Miller (see on Amazon here), the chat focused on moving students from being consumers to creators and pushing teachers to be creators themselves, particularly when it comes to their own curriculum and resources.  The teacher side of the discussion particularly challenges the traditional way of thinking of curriculum and resources in the classroom.

Many districts still spend time and money on traditional curriculum review cycles, which ultimately result in the purchase of some sort of textbook and related resources.  The thing is, though teachers spent a fair amount of time and district money to choose the textbook, they are almost always dissatisfied with their purchase.  But by then it’s too late; there’s not usually a return policy for a mass purchase of textbooks.

Then once the books arrive, teachers are always so excited because they think that this book might just be “the one;” the one-stop shop that allows them to just teach and not have to scramble putting together extra resources when the book doesn’t meet their students’ needs.  Yet time after time, they eventually come to the same realization that they will still be hunting and gathering to get the job done.

So why do we keep doing this?  If we have been buying textbooks for decades only to be continually disappointed, why haven’t we figured out that the only way to fix it is stop buying them? Even when some teachers are on board with not purchasing textbooks, districts often say no and force them to purchase them anyway.

One reason I hear from teachers who cling to textbooks is that it would take far too much time to curate or create all of the resources they’d need to teach their course.  A fair point to some extent. But if you’re already scrounging for extra resources to fill in the gaps of a textbook, why not just start there to begin with?  Start with the standards you are expected to teach and then select the best resources available to teach them.

Textbooks are boring.  When was the last time anyone was at all excited about the content in a textbook?  This is particularly true when I look at texts for English/Language Arts.  I have yet to see a textbook that can remotely compete with the excitement of a good novel or short story.  How on earth do we expect to create kids who are passionate about reading if all they ever get to read are the awful, canned stories from the textbooks?  Why not teach using the latest YA novel that kids are raving about anyway?

On top of that, textbooks in some subjects, such as science, are virtually out of date the moment they’re printed. And since many district don’t purchase new texts for at least seven years, there could potentially be drastic changes to the information before a new purchase is made.

Guess what else?  Teaching boring materials is boring.  Remember how most teachers got into education because they were excited and passionate about teaching kids?  It’s pretty hard to be passionate about textbooks.  Textbooks don’t make subject content come alive; passionate teachers do.  How much easier would it be to spring out of bed each morning if you knew you were teaching a concept you were absolutely nuts over using resources that were exciting and engaging?  Now compare that to your excitement about teaching chapter 5, page 12.

A word of caution here: teachers sometimes confuse teaching with passion with just teaching whatever they want and throwing standards out the window.  That doesn’t work either.  But good teachers can use something they’re excited about to teach virtually any concept by the connections they make with the material and the resources they support with learning.  In fact, they might even become more efficient because they will realize that they can tackle multiple standards with a particular resource.

One thing I haven’t mentioned yet is the fact that some teachers might feel compelled to use the resources provided by the district.  It’s as if the teachers need to hold up their end of the bargain in exchange for the district pulling out its wallet.  That needs to stop right now.  Yes, I know there are districts that mandate textbook use; some even go so far as to designate what is taught on a given day in each classroom with the excuse being high numbers of transient students.  I actually do see the benefit of some consistency in what standards are being taught when, but I believe it should be up to the teacher to determine how that happens.

Finally, what works with one group of students doesn’t work with all. And what is relevant one year might not be in five years. Creating or curating your own curriculum resources ensures that the person who knows the students best is choosing materials specific for them, rather than some generic textbook that is supposed to “fit” students all over the country.

This process I’m suggesting here is not an overnight fix.  Building these types of resource collection takes time and effort.  So start small.  Choose one standard or group of standards that is presented in a particularly terrible way in your current textbook and completely transform it.  How could you teach it so it would absolutely blow your students’ minds?  What resources would you choose?  Where could you allow students some choice in what or how they learn?  How will you have students show you what they know?  How might technology fit in?  I promise, if you take the time do really do this well, it will likely grow to be your favorite unit all year.  Imagine if you worked up to all of your units being taught that way – you’d have the best job ever!

Full disclosure, I haven’t even read Matt’s book yet and I know I’m totally on board.  In nine years of teaching, I never used the textbooks provided to me by the district (unless you count using one or two to prop up a projector or flatten something).  The material wasn’t great quality, the books themselves were not great quality, and the book didn’t support the sequence of concepts and skills set forth by our district.

If any of this resonates with you, join the #ditchbook Twitter chats on Thursday nights at 7pm CST and follow Matt Miller on Twitter!

iPad Full of Photos? Send Them to Google Drive!

Photos and videos can be a powerful tool for students and teachers.  But getting photos from place to place can be tricky.  It used to be the only way to move photos from your iPad to your computer was to email them a few at a time.  It took forever!  Not a good use of any teacher’s time!

Many teachers find themselves with very full iPads. Often, this is because they and their students are documenting their learning through photos.  Pretty soon, though, the iPad is full but we still want to keep those pictures.

Your iPad has limited storage, but your Google Drive does not.  You can now easily move photos from you iPad device to your Google Drive, where you can store as many photos as you need.  Once the photos are uploaded, you can delete them from your iPad and free up much needed space.

Teachers can opt to do this in one of two main ways: manually or automatically.  Now, you might be asking why I would even mention a manual option when it can be done automatically.  I like teachers to have options that meet the needs of their workflow.  If you have students taking photos, you may want to go through them before they end up in your Drive, so you’d rather upload photos as needed (Manual).  Or maybe you’d prefer an automatic solution and you’d like to go through the photos on your computer instead (Automatic).  No right or wrong answer here because both will accomplish what we need to do.

I have created directions for performing both options (click each option to see the directions I created for my teachers):

Manual Uploading

Automatic Uploading

Hope it’s helpful!  And keep taking photos!

Update: In the short few days since I created these tutorials, I’ve shared them with at least a half dozen teachers in my district! Apparently, I was more timely than I thought!

Voxer: Professional Development in Your Pocket!

Many educators out there have been touting the merits of social media sites like Facebook and Twitter for connecting with fellow educators for promoting ongoing learning and development.  I agree with them, and I’d like to add another app to the list: Voxer.  It’s a free website as well as an app for iOS and Android and it will literally change your professional life.

Voxer is essentially a walkie-talkie where you can either listen to people talk in real time or hear their recorded messages later.  Messages can be sent to individual people or multiple users can send messages back and forth in a group conversation.  The result?  You can listen to colleagues from around the globe asking questions, providing solutions, and offering support in real time.

I discovered Voxer a few months back after joining in on some Twitter chats with some fellow Minnesota educators.  I was added to the group and at first I wasn’t sure if I liked it.  Then I was added to another group that made me almost give up Voxer entirely – the group was huge and I couldn’t keep up with the messages!  But then I found the #TOSAchat group and it has been the best thing that has happened to me as an educator!

The group is active, but they make it okay to come and go as you please.  We use a hashtag system, which allows users to know the topic of the message so you can skip over it if it doesn’t apply to or interest you (this was me when some of them were talking about some standardized testing issues in California when I’m in Minnesota).

Just like Twitter, some people actively participate in the voice chats, while others prefer to listen and lurk.  You can record voice messages or you can write text messages.  You can like another person’s message and you can forward them to a variety of other apps to store them for later reference.

I take advantage of my commute time by listening to Voxer messages while I drive.  Time that would normally be “wasted” in the car is now time I use to enhance my practice and connect with other educators.  No other social media can do that!  Others listen during breaks during the day, others at night during Twitter chats.  Because you can listen to messages any time, you can hop in and out as you please.

Have a question? Throw out a message in the morning and you’ll likely have a response later that day.  Just need to vent?  Throw out an “edu-rant” and get support from like-minded colleagues.  Want to celebrate a major “edu-win?”  Share it with your pocket pals who will be more than happy to celebrate with you!

The friends I have made and connected with the past few months have literally changed my life.  Being the only TOSA in my district can be a lonely life sometimes, but I know I’m not on my own because I have an entire network of fellow coaches in my phone who support and challenge me to grow every single day.

Your first step is installing the app and creating an account.  Next, you need to find the right group.  I have seen lists floating around Twitter of all kinds of groups around a variety of topics.  Many times Twitter chats will also have a Voxer group on the side for continued discussion.  If you’re having a having trouble finding a group, reach out to me on Twitter (@halversonandrea) and I will try to help you find a group that meets your needs.

Want to keep track of things? Try Google Keep!

It seems like there is a never-ending stream of information for teachers, staff, and students to keep track of.  You write it down, but then that post-it note falls off your computer. Or you can’t remember where you saved a file with some important info.

One possible solution is Google Keep.  It allows you to create notes that look like sticky notes, but with so much more power!  Here are a few great features you might like:

  • Title your notes
  • Choose a note color to keep yourself organized
  • Add a note reminder
  • Search your notes for any words in the title or body of the note
  • Share notes with colleagues
  • Tag notes with keywords (which allow you to pull up all notes with that tag)
  • Add images to your notes
  • Copy a note to a Google Doc if you need to do more work with it
  • Can access on mobile devices (iOS and Android) or on the web
Use them with your PLC to have shared notes with reminders.  Use different colored notes to keep track of different things (students, parents, PLC, grade level, etc.).  Collect information or data on students and tag with the student’s name to find quickly.  Keep track of teaching resources, websites, etc. that you need to reference later and tag by subject or standard. The possibilities are endless!

To check it out, view the video below or visit https://keep.google.com/.

Reaching All Learners With Web Tools

You probably know that the Internet is a great tool for education, but what you might not know is that there are many tools and websites out there that can make learning easier for students.  Unfortunately, many educators believe that the only students who can benefit from such tools are students receiving special education services.  Not so!  These resources are available to anyone – no IEP required!  Any student or teacher can use these resources to help them be successful.

Here are some I’ve been checking out this week:

1. Announcify

Announcify is a Google Chrome app that reads the text printed on a webpage.  Not only that, but it blurs out any other bits of information or text that are not currently being read.  This can be particularly helpful for students who might be distracted by objects on the page or have trouble tracking while reading.

2. Closed Captions on YouTube

Showing a YouTube video but have students who have hearing impairments or have trouble keeping up?  Maybe the text on the video is just unclear?  Many YouTube videos include an option for closed captions. Videos with captions available will have a “CC” icon in the video summary in search results. When playing a video that has captions, you can turn on captioning by clicking the “CC” icon in the bottom right corner of the video window.

3. Speechnotes

For anyone who doesn’t want to write or type!  This is one of MANY voice recognition/dictation programs that allow the user to speak their text rather than type it.  They can also add punctuation by voice command as well.  They can then copy/paste their text into a Google Doc or other assignment platform.  One caution: while the dictation programs out there now are pretty good, it is always a good choice to go back and have the student edit his or her work before submitting as you can occasionally get some interesting results!

4. Clearly

Made by the makers of Evernote (another favorite tool of mine), Clearly gets rid of all of the “junk” on websites so readers can see the material more “clearly.”  Users can also print the Clearly version (or better yet, save it as a PDF for sharing with others!).

These ideas don’t even scratch the surface of all of the tools that can improve accessibility to the web and its content!  Teachers or students who would like to use these Chrome apps and extensions can install them themselves on their Chrome browser.  See below for some helpful videos!

What’s a Chrome Web App?

Who Are You and Why Are You Emailing Me?

This is a common question I ask myself several times a week.  While I have met many new faces in the district, there are still several I haven’t yet met.  So, when I get a request for help and the only identifying information is the person’s name, I need a little more information.  Where are you located?  What department do you work in?  What age are your students? Are you a teacher, paraprofessional, secretary, or something else entirely?

Now imagine you are a parent, particularly one with multiple children.  Now imagine they’re all in middle or high school and they have several teachers at the same time.  You send an email saying they did a great job on a test, or maybe that you’re concerned about their grade.  But they have no idea what class you teach because they can’t keep all their kids’ teachers straight.

A solution?  Create an email signature!  It’s an easy way for anyone receiving your email to know who you are and what you do.  It takes just a couple of minutes – see below!

Too Many Passwords? LastPass Can Help!

Another password?!
As teachers today, you probably have anywhere from 5 to 15 passwords (or more) for various accounts that you use in your teaching. That doesn’t include passwords you use in areas of your personal life, such as banking, shopping, and website memberships. Some of you likely try to use the same password for all of them, and understandably so. But experts agree that doing so is one of the biggest risks to your digital security.

Solution – A Password Manager!
Now, there are websites out there that specialize in managing the passwords to all of your various accounts while maintaining high levels of security. Some offer paid versions, but several are free. My personal favorite is called LastPass.


What Does It Do?
-Remembers passwords for websites you choose
-You Create ONE master password that gives you access to your password list
-Automatically fills in passwords on websites you’ve saved

Do I have to save a password for every website?
No. When you enter your password on a given website, you will be asked if you would like to save the password for that site. You can choose: save site, not now, or never save site depending on your needs.

How Do I Start?
Visit www.lastpass.com to get started!

To Share or To Sell: An Internal Debate Over TPT

Full disclosure:   I do not have a store on Teacherspayteachers.com, but I do have an account for purchasing items.

Remember a time before the internet when teachers had to make everything themselves because nothing else was available?  Hours of designing lesson materials that got used once and were put away in the file cabinet until the following year.  Thinking to yourself, “Man, I sure wish there was someone to do this for me.”

Or maybe you are the one who is always creating those same lesson materials for your whole team, or maybe your entire district.  You probably think to yourself, “I sure wish I got paid for this.”  Meanwhile, your teammates are probably thinking, “I’m sure glad I don’t have to pay for this.”

Enter Teacherspayteachers.com, a website where teachers can post the materials they’ve spent hours working on and make a little money from them.  And other teachers can save themselves the trouble, so long as they’ve got the money to pay for it.  Teachers can post lesson and unit plans, lesson activities, games, classroom decor, and so much more.

TPT_icon.141103705_std

TPT, founded in 2006 by a NYC school teacher, now claims to have 1.7 million resources posted on their site (https://goo.gl/gKwO7a).  They also claim that teacher-sellers have earned $175 million. According to an article on Business Insider, the all-time top earner on TPT earns around $80,000 a MONTH (http://goo.gl/BP8Wtb).  Excuse me?!  I don’t think I know any teachers who make that much in an entire year.

So, what’s the problem?  For the most part, nothing.  I commend these teachers for seeing an opportunity and making the most of it.  I have friends who pay their car payments each month because of their TPT earnings.  Other friends have been able to cut down on their own or a spouse’s working hours because of the extra income.

And I’ve spent plenty of my own money on the site, too.  While I’m certainly capable of creating my own resources, I can free myself up to do other things if a teacher-seller I trust has already made the same thing.  Why recreate the wheel, or in this case, recreate the SmartBoard file?

My biggest issue with TPT comes when it starts to deteriorate a community of collaboration and sharing among educators.  I remember teachers who would never share anything they had created because they wanted to save it for themselves so they would look like some amazing teacher in the eyes of someone else.

But who does that help?  A teacher who might get a better evaluation from their supervisor?  Certainly not the students in the other classes who might have benefitted from their knowledge.  And not the health of the team that may grow to resent the teacher who never shares her genius.  I would be curious to know how TPT sellers handle working with their teams in their own buildings.  Do they share with their teammates?  Or do they expect them to pay up like everyone else?

Having spent the past year on Twitter growing my PLN, it would absolutely change the dynamic if during a chat someone posted a great idea but then wasn’t willing to share it.  Or worse, sent me a link to buy it for $5.00.  And now attending professional development conferences takes a little different tone when you realize the presenter is, in many cases, presenting in hopes that you will go to their store and buy what you see.

I don’t have a definitive answer on this one.

What do you think?  Are you pro-share or pro-sell?  If you’re a TPT seller, do you share with friends and colleagues?  I’d love to know what you think!

Schedule Your Email With Boomerang!

In case you haven’t figured out yet, I am all about any technology that makes my life better or easier.  Isn’t that the point, anyway?  Well, not long ago I wrote about one solution for cleaning up your email inbox (Unroll.Me – read that post here!) and today I have another handy tool for making your email life easier – Boomerang!

What is it?  Boomerang is an extension that you can add to your Gmail or Google Apps account.

What does it do?  Boomerang allows you to have better control over your email.  The two main tools I use are Send Later and Reminders.

Send Later  Have you ever needed to send an email, but not right now?  Maybe you want to get a little work done on a Saturday morning but you don’t want to send the email until Monday morning?  Or maybe you know an email reminder for an event needs to go out in a few weeks but you want to write it up now so you won’t forget?  Sure, you could just set a reminder and write that email later, but with Boomerang you can choose!   You can choose to send your email in one hour or in one month.  You can also specify a date and time for your email to be sent.

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Reminders  Sometimes I find myself dealing with some kind of issue that really needs some follow up.  In the past, I’d just keep the email in my inbox; maybe I’d star it in Gmail or maybe I’d set some calendar reminder to deal with it.  Boomerang reminders allow you to select an email conversation and set a date and time for it to return to your inbox when you’re ready to deal with it.  You can even specify that it only returns to your inbox if nobody responds.  I use that feature quite a bit.

Cost  For the most part, Boomerang is free.  You can use Boomerang up to ten times a month for free (this includes Send Laters and Reminders).  This has been more than enough for my personal use.  If you’re an email heavy hitter and you really love it, they also have monthly plans for greater usage.

Want to check it out?  Click this link here to visit Boomerang’s site, install Boomerang for Gmail or get more information.

Twitter for Schools: Tell Your Story

Right before school ended this past spring, I presented to my building colleagues about joining Twitter and using it to build their professional/personal learning network.  A few of them joined, but I know most of them were in “OMGIjustneedtosurviveforafewmoreweeksuntilsummerbreak” mode and weren’t ready for the information.  So when I traveled to #ISTE2015, I saw a handful of sessions talking about using Twitter in education and I knew I wanted to check them out to get some tips about using it more efficiently and how to get more teachers on board.

One session I attended, “Creating a 140 Character Culture: School-Wide Twitter Adoption,” talked about using Twitter for personal use as a connected educator.  More than that, they talked about how schools can and should use social media in general to tell their story and promote what they do.  While some educators and administrators might think they don’t have time for social media or that it should be avoided for safety, public relations experts would disagree.  There are many quotes out there all saying something to the effect of, “Tell your story so nobody else tells it for you.”  This is becoming more and more important as schools are often the target of public scrutiny, and outsiders are quick to tell our story because we don’t advertise what really goes on after the bell rings.

In addition to getting all teachers on board with social media, the presenters recommend using a schoolwide hashtag that everyone posting about the school can use.  This helps anyone searching for social media posts to find all of the good things going on at your school.  This could be done on the smallest level with only one or two teachers or it could grow to become building-wide.

Another reason the school hashtag is helpful is because of tools like TagBoard, TweetBeam, and TwitterFall.  TagBoard collects social media posts from various sites (includingTwitter, Facebook and Instagram) and collects them in one feed, so long as they use the specific hashtag.  The result?  A neat display of everything amazing happening at your school.  Some schools even use something like this on a display screen in the school, perhaps in the front office where parents and other visitors are waiting.

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TagBoard pulls from many forms of social media

TwitterFall and TweetBeam are similar, but they have different visuals and so might be better suited for different types of displays.  I particularly like the look of TweetBeam but there is a cost involved (TagBoard also charges for its “presentation mode” which is what schools would likely want to use for display purposes).

So create that hashtag and share it out!  Get teachers, students, and parents tweeting about all of the awesome things your school is doing.  What a great tool to promote your school!  Plus, how excited will your students be to see themselves pop up on a TweetBeam screen in the office?  I plan to get back on the Twitter bandwagon this fall and use some of these ideas with my new colleagues.  Hope to see some new hashtags popping up in my feed!