Back to school with Edmodo

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Ah-the beginning of another fine school year. The printers are warm and busy, teachers are shaking hands and hugging each other catching up from the summer holiday and bulletin boards are being covered getting ready for that all important first day of school. Another thing that teachers are getting ready is their Edmodo groups.

If you haven’t heard yet, Edmodo is a learning management system – in fact I dare say it is the most popular one in the world! It’s free to use, powerful and doesn’t take too much time to set up.

Still unsure, then check out my Edmodo guide. You can find it on Scribd here or check it out below.

Edmodo by Patrick Cauley

Don’t copy and paste that image yet!

Most teachers I know (this includes me) often break the law. No we aren’t knocking over banks, stealing cars or performing identity theft. No, we are strictly small time crooks. What we do, is steal images that have been copyrighted. Yep, we are a truly nefarious bunch but it is nonetheless the law we are breaking and we are supposed to be a good model for our students.

The problem is most teachers have no idea what they’re doing is wrong. They search for images on Google, find one, copy and paste it into their document and have no idea if they are allowed to use it or not. Just because it’s there doesn’t mean it’s there for you.

So how do you know? You want that cute kitten in your newsletter, homework assignment, rubric or class blog but now you’re worried the FBI will swoop down and lock you away for 25 years.

Fear not my fellow educators. I saw this flow chart the other day on Lifehacker that will help you answer your questions.

The flow chart was created by Curtis Newbold at The Visual Communication Guy. It pretty much covers it all, but if for some reason you are still unsure then the safe bet is to not use it and make your own from scratch.

For the actual link to the original post on the Visual Communication Guy click here.

Managing devices in your classroom

Going into a school with a BYOD or one to one device program can give teachers a moment of pause and even create a little trepidation or anxiety. There are usually a lot of questions about where to start and how to use these devices which are now so powerful.

One thing to remember is that these devices are tools. A friend of mine told a group of teachers that it should enhance your classroom-not dominate it. So starting with how to manage these devices is a logical place to start. Something to take note of is that I’m not going to be revealing any sacred teaching secrets here. A lot of what I’m going to write about is just good old classroom management techniques. This doesn’t make them any less effect but having dealt with technology in my classroom for the past seven years I know these work and work well.

Nonverbal technique

One teacher told me that his students walk in his room, open up their computers and then he spends the next ten minutes trying to get them off Facebook and on task and focused.

An easy solution here is to make two signs. One that says when it is OK to use computers and one to let the students know that computers need to be put away and focus needs to be elsewhere. So when your students walk in, see the sign, they know what to do. You can have the sign outside the room, on the board, just as long as it is very conspicuous. This is best introduced very early in the year and of course consistency is the key here. Be sure to use this method all year long and every now and again remind them that it’s always in place.

Here are some fun images (everyone loves cats right?)
No computers allowed.

Computers allowed.

Feel free to use these free royalty free images. I found them at morgueFile.

Another technique is to use a sound that allows students to know that they cannot use their computers. I made one in Garageband and it works quite well. I just took a few of their loops and threw them together. You can do it and easily make it as long as you want.

You can listen to mine here:

 

You can download it here:

Expectations walking through the door

Another easy one is to teach your kids what your expectations of them are when they enter your class. Maybe make it a policy that there are no computers for the first thirty minutes of class (or whatever suits your needs).

That way when students walk in, they know to keep that device away an put down.

Another alternative would be to have them complete a task using their device. They walk in, see the task on the board and get to work. The task could be to read an article that you’ve shared with them (Google Drive, Edmodo, Schoology, there are lots of ways to share documents or links), completing a short quiz on last night’s homework – basically anything you want. Just make sure that it is meaningful and not just something to kill a few minutes. If students think it’s useless, they won’t do it and how can you argue with them about that. They’re right.

Again, consistency is the key here. You don’t have to do it every day, but if you do it every Wednesday, then make sure you do it every Wednesday for the whole year. Just doing it willy-nilly will send the message that this is not very important and thus making things much more difficult for you to pull off.

Notes

A number of students like to take notes using their computer. They may use Evernote, Simplenote, Google Keep or even an online word processor (Google Docs, Zoho or Microsoft Live or 365). If you want to give them a choice – that’s fine but make sure you discuss how to take notes effectively and how to make the most the program and its features.

There are a lot of people out there who discourage note taking on a computer and they have some research to back it up. This doesn’t mean that the programs mentioned above can’t be utilized. What I like to do with notes, is to take them by hand and then refine them in Evernote. This is not a new practice I know a university professor who said he would take notes, rewrite them again and then (with a small study group) type them out. That way he was looking over the material often, not just once and not alone. Computer programs can be great for this.

It is all up to you though but make sure you think it through and convey your expectations to your students. Don’t just let them decide for you. If you believe it will hurt them and the class in the long run then do something about it early on.

Close the lid/Shut off the screen

A quick one that I learned very early on is that you cannot, I repeat, CANNOT compete with a glowing screen. It offers for more entertainment than you could ever hope to provide and it is far more accessible for your audience.

A quick way to kill this distraction was to have the kids shut their laptop lids or just put their devices to sleep and place it on their desk. I would even walk over and carefully shut laptop lids if students didn’t react quick enough (not angrily though). Other times I would wait until everyone had complied. Long silences can be a lot louder than a raised voice.

Don’t let them kinda close the lid – make sure it is completely closed. If it is kind of closed they will most certainly try to sneak a peek which is a distraction. Remember you aren’t hurting their machine closing the lid – your just putting it to sleep. It’ll wake up and be just fine-all their work will be there. I’ve done this with students and adults and let me tell you the result is the same – you gain the attention of your audience.

If it is a tablet or mobile I tell them to keep it on their desk and keep their hands off of it. If they “put it” in their bag or in their lap it is far too easy for them to take a quick look or fire off a quick text to their buddy. If it’s on their desk it’s harder for them to accomplish that discreetly. If you catch them using it and you’re fed up with it just walk over, ask them to power it down and then take it until the class is over. Trust me, they’ll remember to pick it back up before they leave the room.

Plan

I know this sounds kind of silly but make sure that you plan on how your students will use their computers in class. If you just let them walk in, open their computers and keep them open the whole time you are begging for them to be off task.

If you want them to use their computer give them direction and purpose. Maybe, they are in a group and are refining notes from early in the class. Maybe they are peer editing other student works. Maybe they are using a specific program to gather or organize specific type of data.

Either way, you decide when they can use it and what they are doing when they are using it.

Don’t use them

Just because your students have a device, it doesn’t mean you have to use it every day. If you want a class discussion and see no benefit to using devices, tell them the class before they won’t need them. If they do bring them, just remind them they won’t need it and to have them put it away.

Remember it is a tool. It is a a very powerful, flexible tool, but it’s not always the best tool for the job. You wouldn’t dig a hole with a screwdriver. As a teacher you need to make this decision and communicate that with your students.

In conclusion

If you’re still with me – thanks for that. This is longer than I intended. Just remember you’re in charge of your classroom. If you let the students be in charge and you don’t like how things are going blame yourself. You let that happen. This doesn’t mean you are powerless to do anything about it. You can make positive changes happen but you have to remember any good classroom management comes down to consistency and following through. Also, that if you don’t clearly set up these routines and expectations at the beginning of the year it’ll be harder to implement later on.

Once these are set up I think you can pull off some incredible lessons and learning opportunities for your students. Have fun with that and know that it can be fun – not a chore.

If you have some good techniques you use be sure to share them in the comments below.

Who needs books? Not me

OK, I just finished reading Arthur C. Clarke’s 3001 on my Nexus 7. After reading it I came to a two conclusions. The book wasn’t all that great and I can’t see myself purchasing or borrowing a physical book in the near future and I’m more than OK with that.

As far as the book goes, the Amazon reviews are a pretty good place to start. It just didn’t seem complete and the conclusion was pretty lack luster and just a bit of a disappointment. At any rate, the other books in the series are pretty good if you like sci-fi and probably worth your time.

Now onto my other conclusion. I can’t really see myself holding a physical book (if I have a choice in the matter) again. I just don’t see the point of it. Let me go to the beginning.

For Christmas of 2013 my wife bequeathed to me her old Kindle Keyboard as she upgrade to the newer Paperwhite. So I immediately started to find free ebooks by heading over to Project Guttenberg. Here you can find books that are out of copyright and can be downloaded for free – Shakespeare, Conrad basically a lot of classics. It was great and reading on the kindle was sweet. It was fast, easy, convenient and I can do it almost anywhere and the battery life oh man – it was a month! It fit in just about any bag, was light and comfortable to hold. I was hooked – this is how I wanted to read.

I also had the ability to borrow books from Amazon because I’m a Prime member, but Guttenberg and Amazon didn’t always offer everything I wanted and Amazon only let me borrow one book per month. So if I polished it off in a few days I was left waiting another 27 to borrow another one and there are some books I’d like to read but don’t necessarily want to buy. That’s OK because these two options were not my only source of literature my good people. I could also borrow books from my local library in Ohio.

Yep, I live more than 7,000 miles from my hometown and I can still access, browse and borrow books electronically. That is truly amazing. If you’re wondering, I use the my Kindle (if it allows it) or the Overdrive app Nexus 7. Of course not everything was available but that’s OK – a lot of what I want is there which is awesome! So why do I need a physical book to enjoy it?

I know people love to go to bookstores, sit, peruse and browse through the stacks, maybe sit and have a latte and talk with friends. I get that, I do, but living where I live, there aren’t that many places here to do that and even back home I rarely felt the urge to jump in my car and head out to a Barnes and Noble or a local haunt just to kill a couple of hours. It just wasn’t my bag baby.

I know that textbooks for example allow you to write notes in the margin, highlight more easily than a tablet or e-reader will allow but for general reading – I see no reason why I need to pick up a physical copy of a book ever again.

What do you think?

How I blog

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I just wrote about workflows in school and I thought I would share my blogging workflow and how it has changed over the years. Obviously I currently use Byword2 right now but before I start talking about how this works, I figure I will start at the beginning.

The Old, Old Way

When Omar and I started IT Babble over five years ago (damn that’s longer than I thought) I simply logged into our WordPress blog and then wrote my posts there. What I found was that it was a bit of a hassle. I had to have an Internet connect, I had to log in, I had to get to the posts section of the dashboard and I had to upload each and every image. It just wasn’t convenient.

I tried stand alone programs like Microsoft Word and Apple’s Pages but the problem here were the images. I would put them in my post, but when I copied and pasted my post over to WordPress, the images didn’t come over.

Enter MacJournal

So I started looking for programs that would let me publish directly to WordPress. I was surprised to find that my options here were quite limited and even more so on a Mac. What I ended going with was MacJournal.

macjournal

MacJournal is pretty sweet actually, I set up my blogging credentials.

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Then all I do is write and add my images. When I publish it goes directly to the blog. I can even select categories from MacJournal, set the date it will appear on the blog – I mean it is pretty sweet and that’s what I’ve been using for the past five years pretty exclusively. So why did I switch – what were the shortcomings?

The Shortcomings

MacJournal was very good but there were some issues. On rare occasions the images wouldn’t publish. There was no rhyme or reason behind it – MacJournal just failed. Again, this was rare and not a big deal. Another reason was I had no access to the HTML code at all. There was no way I could tweak it, embed certain media from various services. At first this wasn’t a big deal but as my blogging progressed and my needs grew I often found that MacJournal was adequate but just not meeting my needs all the time.

As far images, I was using Voila which is a great screen capture tool. I could resize, add images, add borders, blur out areas. It was lightweight and easy to use. It even let me organize them and then I would copy and paste them into MacJournal.

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The workflow was clunky but there really wasn’t anything out there that could do what I wanted. There was MarsEdit 3 which seemed to be my answer, but when I tried the trial I just couldn’t get comfortable with it. So I resigned to using MacJournal and Voila.

The Change and MarkDown

Recently I started using Coggle as my preferred Mind Mapping tool. I like Coggle a lot and one feature that it boasts is using Markdown instead of a rich text editor. This frees doesn’t clutter the workspace with floating palettes that contain formatting choices like bold, italics, font size, etc. It clears out all that stuff and let you focus on one thing – your ideas. After figuring out how to use Markdown language (that took a whole 30 minutes for the basics people and no need for coding experience is necessary) I found it an efficient and very quick way to work especially as the mind map started to grow – there was then nothing really in the way which is very nice – especially for presentations.

Not only was it a good way to work but it supported images as well (as long as they were published on the web).

Recently I started looking again for another blogging program and came across Byword2 which is a markdown editor check out this post in markdown (I’ve taken a screen shot of the very beginning).

byword_doc

Looks like a word processing app, but all formatting and images are handled with Markdown – which is easy to learn people. Also, Byword lets me focus on my writing. Right now, that’s all I see – no underlined red marks, no images, no formatting bars – just my thoughts and like Coggle – that’s the way I like it.

Skitch

OK, now to an area that was a bit of a problem – images. I needed a screen capture tool that was easy to use, flexible and could let me annotate when needed. As I mentioned before, I used Voila for this previously and it is great. So why switch to Skitch? In one word – sharing. With Skitch I can take a screen shot, annotate it, resize and then publish it directly to the web and give me a full link that WordPress will recognize and work with.

Granted Skitch is not as robust or as good as Voila but I can work with that and am willing to give up some of those features in order to have all my images in one document and the ability to simply focus.

Another plus is the cost. MacJournal costs $50 US dollars and Voila costs $30 (if you get it from the website you may find discounts there). Byword (with the publishing feature) costs $15 and Skitch is free and this makes my workflow much easier and more efficient.

Why Should You Care?

Good question and honestly maybe you shouldn’t so much, but the point I am trying to make here (as I did in my previous article) was that I didn’t just find something that was “good enough.” I wanted it to be better. I kept looking and refining my workflow to get it the way I like. I spent time researching and thinking about it and for you maybe blogging isn’t something you’re all that keen on – that’s cool. It’s not for everyone, but what about grading papers? What about planning out units? These are definitely tasks that I think all teachers should look into and can find some improvements? What do you think? Leave them, there comments below.