TETC 2014: My Take Away

Photo of a sticky note on my iPad

photo by Andrew Atkins 2014

TETC for a First-Timer

Earlier this week I had the chance to attend TETC (Tennessee Education Technology Conference) for the first time. I jumped at the chance to go because I like going to conferences and I like technology. The only other conferences I have attended have been for the NCTE and NWP. Those were big national conferences, so TETC was my first time at a state-level gathering. It also gave me a chance to see the new Music City Convention Center for the first time.

Overall I thought the conference organizers did a good job putting everything together. I never expect any of these types of events to go off without a hitch, so the 1 or 2 changes to session topics didn’t bother me that much. The first session I had planned on attending did have an unannounced change, but I just found another session to sit it on.  I guess my biggest complaint was having to wait so long for the schedule to come out–the Thursday before the conference. I was getting a little antsy by then because I really wanted to plan out what to attend.

My Take Away from the Day

As I plotted out which sessions to attend, I made a deliberate effort to avoid any vendor sessions because I really didn’t feel like sitting in on an hour-long sales pitch. I was looking for ideas I could use in my classrooms right away without having to beg my administrators to buy something. While I didn’t come away from the day with a notebook full of mind-blowing, game-changing new tools or techniques to use, I did come away with 3 or 4 ideas on a list that I felt made the day worthwhile. Here are some of the items from that list:

Google Apps

The first idea that made my list is that I need to go back and really look at, evaluate, and learn more about all the various Google apps that are available. I have been a big fan of Google since almost day 1. I even had a friend in IT hook me up with Gmail before it was available to the general public. But, for some strange reason, I haven’t used many of the other tools they offer. As I sat in the first break-out session of the day, the presenter was talking about Google Forms and some of the other apps and I decided that there are lots of ways I can use those in my classes. As she was talking about Google Docs being used for collaborative writing–which I had before and read tons about–it dawned on me that I could use it in my journalism class, along with Google Forms. I don’t know why I hadn’t realized this before, but when it came to me as I sat in that session, I decided that I needed to look at all of Google’s apps and maybe think about them again, or in new ways.

Remind101 and Celly

I don’t remember which session I was in that introduced these apps, but I immediately liked the idea. Both of these apps allow a teacher to send out group text messages as reminders or alerts for students and parents about tests, assignments, or anything else. The reason that I plan on using this type of app is that neither one of them require that any phone numbers be exchanged. All i have to do is give out the instructions for signing up to my groups, and whoever signs up will get those alerts. They don’t get my phone number and I don’t get their number. Additionally, people cannot reply back to the alerts, the whole thing functions as a 1-way broadcasting system. Celly looks a little more advanced because it allows you to alter the appearance of the website interface option. Remind101 seems like it is a little simpler to set up. At this moment I think I am going to try Remind101 for my classes because it doesn’t require anyone to make an account when they opt in for the alerts. Celly does. I plan on trying remind out with one class to finish out this year and then roll it out for all of my classes at the start of next school year–if all goes well.

My Last Take Away from TETC2014

The last bit of take away I want to address here is blogging. I have used blogging with most of my classes for the last 3 or 4 years, but I think I need to reevaluate how I approach it. I don’t think I have done a very good job with it when it comes to my students. I want their blogs to be more than just a “OK, now that we have read this story, or novel, write something about it on your blog.” I would really like for the students to have a more authentic experience of writing a true blog. I probably need to devote some of my summer break to exploring some possibilities in that area.

 

How do you use technology in your classroom? How do you use blogs with your students? As always, feel free to leave comments or shoot me a question.

Advertisements

I’m Back…with an Apology

My Bad

 

Well. I’m back. I took “a bit” of a break from blogging…if you can count almost 2 years as “a bit” of a break. Why did I stay away for so long?  Hmm…basically, I think I burned myself out in a rather short period of time. At the time I was becoming obsessed with trying to post more and more stuff in order to drive up traffic numbers.  So, I started following a lot of the advice out their from “professional” bloggers–schedules, post types, post lengths, best times to post, etc. etc.  The result? I sucked the fun right out of writing. I was turning this space into a job and I wasn’t really ready for that.

Why did I decide to come back now and try again? I guess that could be chalked up to guilt. I attended a tech conference for teachers today and in a couple of the sessions I attended one of the messages was how our students should blog and how we should blog. That hit a nerve with me because that was a thought or feeling I had in my mind ever since I abandoned my blog here. I had pushed that thought to the back of my mind as best I could, but it came roaring to the forefront today. So here I am.

How are things going to be different this time? Well, the main change I am going to do is to only write and post when I feel like I really have something to say. No more scrambling and scratching to try to come up with ideas for 3 or 4 posts a week. Maybe some day–but now for awhile. My goal as I write this is to shoot for 1 post a week. Having said that, I would like to write another post this week with my thoughts about the conference I attended today. We’ll see. I’m not going to stress about it.

If there are any followers out there who followed the blog before, I truly apologize for such an extended break. I will try to do better going forward.

What World of Warcraft Can Teach Yearbook Advisers and Staffs

A screenshot from World of Warcraft

A screenshot from World of Warcraft

Bringing Warcraft to the Yearbook

It is no secret to anyone who knows me—students, family, friends, colleagues—that I am an avid video-gamer.  I grew up playing them—going all the way back to Pong—and I really see no need to stop because it is no sillier or serious as walking around a field whacking a ball with a crooked stick. As an English teacher, I often spend a great deal of time talking about some of the fascinating tricks writers do with language like symbolism or analogies. In my role as a yearbook adviser I spend a great deal of time and energy looking for inspiration–both for myself and my staff members.

What does any of this have to do with anything that is even mildly important? Well, in my search for inspiration for a blog post I thought I would use my gamer background to make an allusion or analogy. That line of thinking led to the idea for this post. So, if you are already wondering what a video game can teach you about yearbook, hold on to your mouse…

5 Things Yearbook Advisers and Staffs Can Learn from World of Warcraft

  1. Know Your Role: You often hear this piece of advice given to new players in WoW. When you are part of a group you have to know what your responsibilities are and that your role can change from situation to situation. You might be the healer for a group one run and then a DPSer (damage) on the next run so you have to know how to do those different tasks. This definitely applies to the yearbook. Staff members need to know their responsibilities for a given situation and then they need to make sure they handle those responsibilities. You might be responsible for the photographs for a particular spread one week and the article for a different spread next week–know what you have to do to accomplish those different assignments. One noteworthy consequence about “Knowing Your Role” is that by knowing how to perform more roles–you become more valuable to your group. The lesson advisers can take from this is that they are the “Adviser”. That means let the students do the work as much as possible–easier said than done sometimes.
  2. Grind it Out: In Warcraft if you want to make it to the maximum level with your characters, or if you want the best gear, or if you want a lot of gold, or if you want a cool reward, you have to “Grind It Out”. You have to put in some serious time to reach some goals by doing some things over and over and over and over. There are very few things that happen on the first time attempt at anything. And you can bet that anything that will get you noticed will take some serious effort. I frequently tell my students that “cool” takes time. If you want your spread to look “cool”, it is going to take some serious time and real effort to make that happen. So, just like trying to get the 300 tokens to get some awesome mount in Warcraft–creating an award worthy spread or yearbook is going to take work where you may only see small steps forward each day, but may add up in the end to something greater.
  3. Gear Up!: In Warcraft if you want to participate in certain events or activities, you have to meet certain gear requirements. This is even scalable and more applicable when in a group situation; if you want to be of any real value to your group, you better have good gear. When you don’t have good gear–you die. A LOT. No one enjoys that. To apply this to a yearbook situation, try thinking of it in terms of what you bring to the table. What can you offer to the other staff members? What can you do that will help make things better for those around you? If you want to be the photographer for the group, it helps if you have a camera–and more importantly you know how to properly use it. If you want to design all the spreads, if helps to have creative ideas–or know places you can find some inspiration.  Most importantly, and this really is the heart of the “Gear Up!” call, you have to find ways to improve. Get better gear. Learn new skills. Master skills you already have. Just get better.
  4. Have a Plan: Going into a Warcraft Raid or boss encounter usually entails having a plan if you do not want to die repeatedly. When there is no plan bad things are guaranteed to happen. Groups get angry. Tempers flair. Nerves fray. No one has any fun. Those things happen to yearbook staffs as well when there is no plan. A strategic course of action saves a lot of grief down the road. Individuals also benefit from planning: whether it is plotting some way to get that new piece of gear for your rogue, or what you want to do with your Homecoming spread, a plan makes these tasks manageable and easier to accomplish.
  5. Don’t Freak Out: So, you ground out a bunch of repeatable quests so that you could gear up. You know your role and are in a good group that has a solid plan. You and your buddies are ready to take on some top-tier, end-game content. You are dreaming of all the great gear, titles, and rewards that await. Then, on the first attempt downing the first boss everyone dies within 30 seconds. Don’t Freak Out. No matter how good everyone’s gear, no matter how prepared they are, no matter how sound the plan, some times things go wrong. Unexpected events will happen and mess everything up. Just stay focused and take another run at it. You might have to tweak the plan. Being able to adapt and overcome the unexpected is crucial–whether it is Warcraft or yearbook.

There you have it: some lessons World of Warcraft can teach advisers and students about yearbook. I hope you were able to take away something useful from that.

And just in case you were wondering, the picture at the top of the post is an actual screenshot I took while playing. This particular shot shows a group of guild-mates  going into a raid area for the first time. As an added note I should point out that you cannot actually see my character in this shot–I know that makes you sad.

What advice would you offer to yearbook students or advisers? What games have taught you some lessons, or created some insight to other areas of your life?

As always feel free to leave comments, or questions. If you like this post or site, like it on Facebook, follow it on Twitter, subscribe, or share it with someone. The more, the merrier.

Some of My Other Yearbook Posts:

Shaking Up Student Presentations

Ipad with glare

My Ipad with some glare

Searching for an Alternative to Horrible Slideshows

Recently my colleague over at awritablelife posted about a project her students were doing. While describing the project she mentioned a specific type of presentation called PechaKucha and said that any sort of blog post about it was mine to do since I introduced it to her.  So, this is going to be that post.

A couple of years ago I came to a realization: Student presentations made me want to gouge out my eyes…or at least cry. They were all the same. When it came time for students to stand up in front of the class, the presentations seemed to boil down to putting as much information as possible on a set of slides and then reading those slides to the class. No matter how I phrased the instructions for presentation assignments, they never changed.

Such began my desire to find something different for my students to do when it came to presentations for my classes. Luckily I didn’t have to wait too long. A former student dropped by one day and was telling me about a college communications class he was taking that turned out to be very challenging. We were mainly talking about photography and how the instructor was really pushing them when it came to the images they used in Powerpoint or Keynote. When we finished talking the former student offered to lend me the book he was using for that class.

The book turned out to be Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds. One possible answer to my frustration with student presentations was inside. This is where I first learned about PechaKucha and it struck me as having potential to really shake up how my students handle presentation projects.

My Typical PechaKucha Assignment

When I give this particular assignment the rules are pretty simple:

  • 2o slides
  • Each slide automatically advances after 20 seconds
  • No more than 6 words per slide
  • Must provide a handout
  • Must turn in your notes

A word of warning is probably needed here–the first time you give this to a class, the whining and complaining will be deafening. By the time they have done this 2 or 3 times the complaining will vanish and they’ll actually be pretty good at it.

The way I look at the overall assignment is that is consists of 3 components: 1) the slideshow, 2) the handout, and 3) what they say during the presentation. What I really like about this approach is that is puts the focus on #3–what they say during the presentation. And isn’t that what a really good presentation is supposed to be about? The presenter and what they have to say.

What Works With this Format

I try to explain to my students that when they are putting all of this together they really have to think about their information and the best place for it to be. We talk about how the slides are acting as visual reminders, or bookmarks, that correspond to what they are talking about at that specific time. If the student really gets it and chooses powerful, fitting images, the slides will serve as memory aids. I tell them the handout should contain information that is important–but that they knew they would not have time to cover during the actual presentation. I encourage them to create handouts they contain some reminders of key elements while pointing the way for the audience members to learn more later.

It is in that process of evaluating and ranking the various bits of information students want to bring to their presentation that the true value of this format shines. Students can’t just copy and paste text or images on a slide if they want to create a good presentation. They also quickly realize that they cannot just get up in front of the class and just wing it. They may have to actually–gasp!!–practice what they are going to say. No single student or group dominates the amount of time in front of the class. If they really want to stand out, they just can’t be in front of the class longer than anyone else–what they say. and how they say it, becomes the most important element.

While having a 1-1 Ipad program makes certain aspects of this assignment easier, the first year I did this was before our school’s Ipad program. That group of students handled things just fine with only being able to do everything at home of in the computer lab.

If I can find a way to make my students think a little more, I am always for it. So far assigning this type of presentation has done just that whether it is an individual project or a group assignment.  Plus, I no longer feel the need to hurt myself during every single student presentation.

How do your students handle presentations? What do you do differently when it comes time to use Powerpoint or Keynote?

As always feel free to leave comments, or questions. If you like this post or site, like it on Facebook, follow it on Twitter, subscribe, or share it with someone. The more, the merrier.

Something Completely Different

ABC Award

For some strange reason my colleague over at awritablelife decided to throw an ABC award my way. So, I will begin by thanking her for this undeserved honor.  It seems that the honor comes with a bit of a tradition which requires that I compose a list revealing information about myself using the letters of the alphabet.

I forewarn you now that I am not very good at these MEME type activities. So, with that in mind, here we go:

I am/I am a

  • Andrew
  • Brother
  • Christian
  • Dude
  • Exiting the building
  • Frequently in need of a nap
  • Gamer
  • Homebody
  • Incoming
  • Joking
  • Killin’ it
  • Large and in charge
  • Musician (once upon  a time)
  • Ninja wannabe
  • Old-ish feeling lately
  • Photographer wannabe
  • Quicker than you would think
  • Reasonable (most of the time)
  • Son
  • Teacher
  • Uber-excited
  • Viable
  • WINNING!!
  • Xbox hater
  • Yearbook adviser
  • Zero losses, all wins (riiiight)

There. First part of the “tradition” or “requirements” completed. Now I just have to pass the award along to some other unsuspecting blogger. This will require some research on my part before I pass the award along to some blogger who is far more deserving than me.

Link of the Week: TodaysMeet

My Ipad

My Ipad

Online Discussion in the Classroom

For this week’s link of the week I thought I would suggest a site that my colleague over at AWritableLife introduced me to over the summer: TodaysMeet. After having used this a few times this year with different classes and grade levels, I can honestly say that this is a great resource for the classroom.

TodaysMeet allows the teacher to create a room for online discussions. It honestly only takes a few seconds to set up a room and get the ball rolling. When you create the room, the site gives you an address as todaysmeet.com/your_room_name that you share with your students. Once the students go to that address, they just sign in with a name and can begin contributing to the discussion. No one has to sign up for any sort of account or even give an email address. You just think of a name you want to use for the room, tell the site how long the room needs to be up, and that is that. Plus, the site will work on Ipads. If you are lucky enough to be part of a 1-1 program this is a great benefit.

If you happen to teach at a school where Twitter is blocked, like mine, then TodaysMeet is a great alternative. The comments are limited to the same number of characters as Twitter, so students get the Twitter experience with having to choose their words carefully. When I have used this in my classes, we have even used hashtags to make things easier to follow. So, if you have ever wanted to host a tweetup for a class, this is an easy way to do that if you are blocked.

My 2 Favorite Aspects

The aspect I like the most about using TodaysMeet is that I have been able to get input from students who I never hear from during a traditional class discussion. I have noticed students who I would have thought were clueless about what we were reading had some really great insights to offer. That is a priceless thing and has reminded me to not judge students so hastily. Along with this, I have gotten more discussion about texts compared to times when we discussed things outloud.

The second aspect of TodaysMeet that I really like is that once we have finished the discussion I can save the entire transcript of the meeting. I usually save it as a PDF file and email it to all the students when we are preparing for discussion or essays questions at test time. When my senior, college credit class was discussing The Crucible the transcript for that session was 40 pages long. That is a pretty hefty study resource.

I really recommend you check out the site. I know I plan on using it even more next year and will devote time this summer trying to dream up some different ways to use it.

How have you used online discussion in your classroom? If you have tried TodaysMeet, what are your thoughts about it?

As always feel free to leave comments, or questions. If you like this post or site, like it on Facebook, follow it on Twitter, subscribe, or share it with someone. The more, the merrier.

Link of the Week: Idea Garden Blog

My Ipad

A Blog for Yearbooks

Since the first 3 post for the Link of the Week covered Neil Gaiman, Orson Scott Card, and Hack Education, I thought I would offer up something for yearbook advisers and students out there who are looking for a little inspiration. As a yearbook adviser for 12 years I know that I am always looking for inspiration. So, when I find a new place to fill that bill, I get pretty excited about it.

The Idea Garden Blog is a blog I stumbled across recently and really liked. It has a couple of nice sections showcasing some spread ideas and suggestions that many yearbook programs should find useful. In addition to the sections devoted to yearbook spreads, there are also sections that provide some tips and checklists.

There really is something here for everyone involved with yearbook program. Organization, sales, photography…you name it and the Idea Garden seems to have you covered with at least one post. While any adviser or student should be able to find some really useful resources or ideas here, a new adviser will really benefit from the material.

About the only knock I could give the site is that I wish that it was updated more frequently. But, knowing how a school year goes for yearbook advisers, I can’t really hold that against the site too much. When the yearbook really gets rolling, it can take up an insane amount of time outside of the normal class time. And if things aren’t going well it just gets worse.

What sites, or advice do you have for other yearbook advisers? What sites do you like to use for finding some inspiration?