Tuesday: 5 Favorite Blog Posts

My clean iPad screen

My clean iPad screen

For today’s post I thought I would do a quick roundup of some blog posts that caught my attention at various times throughout the day.

Anyway, these are just a few posts from other blogs I found interesting and thought I would share. Enjoy.

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Friday’s App: Stuck on Earth

IPad, Apps, and Stylus

IPad, Apps, and Stylus

A Coincidental Discovery

I like Fridays to be easy going and laid back. So, it is in that spirit that today’s post debuts. One subject that I have not written about yet is photography. This is a subject that plays an important aspect of my teaching life and my personal life. I have always been a bit of a camera nut, but once I became a yearbook adviser my interest in photography went into overdrive.

Over the years I have spent an obscene amount of time on the internet looking for tips and techniques to help me become a better photographer. I scour website after website and devour article after article in an ongoing pursuit to capture that one great image. So, I am always on the lookout for whatever may help me in that endeavor. And that is what this post is really about: a recent finding.

About a week ago I was reading a photography article that Zite collected for me. The article was some blog’s weekly roundup post and it mentioned the app Stuck on Earth from Trey Ratcliff. The name sounded familiar, but I couldn’t immediately place it and decided to install the app and try it out. Once the app was installed, I realized why Trey Ratcliff’s name sounded familiar.

A couple of years ago I was invited to chaperone the senior class trip to Disney World. In preparation for the trip I dug around on the internet looking for tips on photographing fireworks. One of the sites I ran across was Stuck in Customs…by Trey Ratcliff. Even you have never visited this site, you need to go there…NOW. I would honestly recommend this website for anyone. If you are a photographer, then you will find the tutorials–especially the ones about HDR–very helpful. If you just like to look at INCREDIBLE images, then you will enjoy the site as well. And who doesn’t enjoy looking at incredible photos? One word of warning for my fellow photography hobbyists out there: the website will make you feel totally inadequate.

About the App: Stuck on Earth

My curiosity about the app Stuck on Earth came from its description in that article as a tool for discovering places to photograph near the user’s location. That immediately appealed to my ongoing–and highly procrastinated–desire to “just go wondering around sometime and take tons of photos.” Once I installed the app and started playing around, it fed that desire to just wonder around taking photos like someone had thrown gas on a fire.

Stuck on Earth is a visually beautiful app–even before you begin looking at the photos. Hands down, t is one of the best looking apps I have on my iPad. The app gives you a map of the Earth which you can scroll and zoom around on to the destination of your choice. Map markers then populate the map with attached photos which you can browse through. For example, if I zoom the map in on Nashville, TN markers start popping up with photos. I can then look at all of the photos associated with a particular marker–let’s say: the Parthenon in Centennial Park. I can then browse through a collection of photos users have taken at the Parthenon and see what notes they have written on their photo. The app will also give me directions to a location if I want them.  I think that is pretty handy since I am fairly directionally challenged and usually don’t know how to get anywhere. I need a planned route when it comes to things like this.

All of the photos I have looked at for various locations are extremely good–it doesn’t look like just any old photo makes the cut to be in the app. Apparently the photos are chosen from a curated Flickr community with editors.  To me that just keeps the inspiration level high for the photos–and that is what I want. I want to be inspired. Plus having the photos and locations so readily available enables me to try and replicate the shot.

One aspect of the app that I have not explored much is the travel side. Users can create and save trips for destinations which are shareable with other users.  There is also a travel guide voiced by a professional actress. I usually have the sound turned off on my iPad so I really can’t say much about what the travel guide does.

Although I got the app for personal use, I do see how it could be used by students. If a student was doing some type of project where they were learning about some local location, this app could be very useful. It can give them photos to look at so that they know what to look for and it can give them directions.

If you are a photographer looking for inspiration, a traveler looking for a destination, or just someone who likes to look at great images, then Stuck on Earth is a must-have app.

What apps do you use for photography? Feel free to comment with any ideas or suggestions; I am always happy to get feedback.

10 iPad Apps Every Teacher with a Blog Needs

My iPad

My iPad

Apps for the Blogging Teacher

In previous posts I have thrown out lists of my favorite apps, apps for teachers, apps for yearbook staffs, and websites for yearbook advisers and students. So, today I thought I would post a list of apps that teachers with blogs might find useful since a great deal of teachers use blogs in the classroom, run their own blog, or do both.

When I started thinking about the iPad apps to put on the list, I decided that I would include apps I use to create posts or pages, help manage the content, or find and store ideas. So, for better or for worse, here it is:

  1. Blogsy ($4.99) There are times when I don’t feel like sitting at a desk or having my laptop restrict my positioning on the couch. So, when these moments hit–and they are becoming more frequent–I can use Blogsy to write and publish my blog posts. It is a pretty cool blogging app that supports multiple blogs for platforms like WordPress, Blogger, Posterous, and Typepad just to name a few. It also makes it easy to insert photos and videos from Picasa, Flickr, and Youtube even if you have multiple accounts at those sites. This is a pretty handy, robust little app when the full-on couch potato mode kicks in.
  2. Diigo Browser (free) A nifty little browser app that lets me highlight and make notes on material from web pages and then save them to my Diigo account. I originally set up the Diigo account to experiment with social bookmarking, but it quickly dawned on me that I could use in conjunction with my blog as one more weapon in my arsenal of tools that lets me save bits of the web for ideas.
  3. Feeddler (free for lite version, $4.99 for Pro version) Whether you follow a multitude of blogs for personal reasons, or need to keep track of student blogs, an app for RSS feed aggregation is a must in my book. This one is my personal favorite.
  4. Twittelator ($4.99) If you use Twitter in conjunction with your blog at all–be it to promote your blog through social media or to simply provide some additional, quick content, Twittelator is an easy app to use for whatever your Twitter needs may be. It is a really nice looking app and is very good at switching between multiple Twitter accounts.
  5. Dropbox (free) I’ve said it before and I will say it again now: I don’t know how I would get through a typical day without using Dropbox. I move a ton of stuff between my laptop and iPad. If you need to do a lot of file juggling, this is the way to go.
  6. Photoshop Express (free) I have been a heavy Photoshop user for years as a result of being a yearbook adviser. And I will admit the idea of using anything with the name “Photoshop” on anything other than a full-blown desktop or laptop still seems strange. That being said, if you need to do a quick crop, noise filter, or other basic adjustment to a photo on your iPad, this app easily gets it done. That is pretty handy if you want all of the photos to be yours so that you don’t have to worry about copyright issues.
  7. Pages ($9.99) As far as my blog goes, Pages comes into play because I keep a list of possible blog topics that I add something to almost every day. I started the list on my laptop using Word, but I decided to upload it to my Dropbox just so that I can get to it on my iPad. Pages lets me add to or edit the list if I don’t have my laptop with me when an idea strikes.
  8. Zite (free) The last 3 apps on the list all fall into the category of apps I use to find and store inspiration or ideas. The Zite app creates a personal magazine for me from a list a topics I choose. I read through it everyday at some point and when I find an article that strikes a chord I can either email to myself or save it using Instapaper or Read It Later. When I run out of memory on the iPad I am sure it will be because of all the articles I have saved after finding them on this app.
  9. Pinterest (free) This app is for the latest hot trend in social media. Pinterest is the fastest growing social media site that has come around in awhile. By letting members clip–or pin–bits of web sites to personal boards they share with others, Pinterest enables people to become curators of information on the web. This app lets you access your account so you can look at what you or your friends have put on their boards–another place to go for ideas and inspiration. Some experts in the Social Media field are saying Pinterest is becoming just as vital to blog promotion as Twitter and Facebook.
  10. Springpad (free) This is the newest app to make it onto my iPad. Springpad is another app that lets you save bits of the web to an account which you can access either through the app or through a web browser on a computer. The twist that Springboard brings to the game is that it tracks prices of all sorts of things–music, movies, books, restaurants, etc. It also has a built-in barcode scanner function if you need to find out prices. While bar code scanning might not affect me that much, I can see how some blogging teachers might find it useful. Oh, Springboard also has a built in audio recorder that could be pretty useful for a blogger.

Well, there it is. I have no pretense that this list is the end-all, be-all list of apps for teachers with blogs. So, if you are a teacher who blogs, what apps do you use or suggest? If you are a blogger of any sort, what apps do you like?  Please feel free to comment, like, or share this post as you see fit. Thanks.

The iPad and Changes for Teachers

A Stack of Books

Some book on one of my classroom bookshelves

Time to Change My Ways?

Bringing technology into the classroom presents many challenges for students, administrators, and teachers. No matter how much time teachers and administrators invest in planning before a tech roll-out of some new system, it seems that a greater amount of time is spent playing catch up. What do I mean by this? Well, from my personal experience it boils down to spending a lot of time thinking of ways to use something before school starts in August and then spending even more time once school starts adjusting that plan.

This readjustment typically comes from some aspect of the classroom experience or procedure not working quite the way I anticipated. In years past, this readjusting was contained to various lessons or activities and how they might need to change in order to be more effective. Thoughts like “This novel didn’t seem to grab the class’ attention the way I hoped. Maybe I should try a different one.” Or, “I don’t think I explained this concept as well as I anticipated. Maybe I need to present it differently.”  Those types of thoughts are pretty normal for teachers–at least I think they are.

Now all my students have iPads and I find that other types of questions are popping up as I think about my classroom. Sure, I pretty quickly planned on going paperless before the school year began; but now, I am beginning to think more and more about HOW students learn in this new digital classroom. I am beginning to think more and more about HOW I need to adapt the way I teach in this new digital classroom.

For example, in my dual enrollment American Literature class today I was going through a PowerPoint presentation about Rationalism. I was going through this much the same way I have every year. Today, however, I was very conscious that there were only 4 or 5 students out of 21 taking notes as I went through the slides. I know not every student is going to take notes–even if they were writing them down on paper. But the number actively taking notes today seemed very low–especially for a college credit class.

I am pretty certain that when it comes time for a quiz or test, the notes those 4 or 5 students took today will find their way to everyone else in the class: All with the simple push of a button.

Where Old PowerPoints Go to Die

This has stuck with me all day. I have thought about note taking in our new iPad environment before today; but it usually centered on what app the students could use to take the notes, or what I could do to encourage them to take notes. Now I am starting to wonder if I should change the way I present new information to a class.

Now I am starting to wonder about the day when I have to introduce our next area of study in American Literature. When the day comes for me to introduce Romanticism, should I just break out the PowerPoint with all my nice slides listing characteristics? Or should I approach my class and students in a different way? Maybe I should just say “We are going to begin studying Romanticism in American Literature now. Go online and find the characteristics of Romanticism and share them with me and the class.” I could even say “Everyone in this row find the characteristics. Everyone in this row find the differences between American and European Romanticism. Everyone in that row find the American authors most commonly associated with Romanticism.” And so on and so forth.

Is it time for many of my PowerPoints to head off to the presentation graveyard? Is it time for me to make that move from being the “authoritative repository of information” in the classroom to an “information guide” for my students? I know I have a great deal more thinking to do on this particular subject. It will probably be one of those subjects I continually question. And that is one of the things we teachers are supposed to do.

How do you handle introducing new information to students?

iPad, Apps, and the Yearbook

My iPad 2

My iPad 2

Using the iPad in a Yearbook Class

It seems pretty obvious to me that the iPad has impacted my English classes the most so far. The 1 -1 program allowed me to move towards a paperless classroom mainly by changing the way I distribute and collect assignments in those classes. While ideas on how to use it in an English class came pretty fast and furious when the administration announced the plan, ideas on how to use it in my journalism class, and, by extension, the yearbook were a little harder to develop. In a lot of ways they still are.

But it is the possibilities of how the iPad might provide some change in the journalism class, the yearbook production process, and the yearbook itself that keeps whispering in the back of my mind. I can’t quite make out the whispers, but I think they are hinting at some big changes in the future.

While I have already mused about what the iPad and ebooks might mean for the yearbook of the future, I still want to figure out some ways to use it now that engages my yearbook staff more, makes their tasks easier, and transforms our yearbook. Is that too much to ask?

I suppose I have a hard time envisioning ways to use the iPad to do a lot of yearbook tasks in a new way because, in some aspects, our yearbook program has been pretty tech centered for years. Many of the practices that are new to my English classes this year are an old hat in the yearbook class. The staff creates the book online. I send messages to the staff via our yearbook company’s online program. The staffers write all of their articles on computers in the lab. They save them on the school network and email them to me. Bringing in the iPad doesn’t seem to offer anything that warrants changing so far. As for the biggest and most important activity: creating the page`s, that can not be done on the iPad because our online design program requires Flash.

Despite my desire for a game changing impact involving the iPad and the yearbook, I do recognize that there are some apps that yearbook staffs may find useful.`So, think of the following as possible starting points while we wait for the revolution.

iPad Apps for Yearbook Staffs

  • The iPad camera: While the built-in camera on the iPad too isn’t all that great for yearbook purposes, the photos it takes can be used on a spread if you keep them small. My staff sometimes uses these when a small mugshot is needed to go with a quote. They also use it to make videos for something new we are trying–more about that later in the post.
  • Notes: The biggest plus for this app is that it is built in. So, if a student doesn’t want to buy an app for taking notes, this will work. As for how staff members might use it, Notes is good for writing to-do lists for their assigned spreads or writing out interview questions.
  • Pages: The staff can use this solid word processing app for writing articles. Setting up questionnaire handouts is another good use for this app.
  • Notablity: If staff members want to invest in a more robust app for taking notes, this is a good one to get. With handwriting recognition and audio recording options available, this app is good for interviewing people.
  • Smugmug: My staff uses this app to quickly view photos we store in a Smugmug account. It definitely makes life easier when several people are trying to choose photos at the same time–no need to worry about printing contact sheets or fighting to get on the one computer housing the photos.
  • Flickr or Picasa Apps: The adviser for my school’s elementary yearbook uses Picasa to easily get photos from parents. If you want to give crowd-sourcing a try for more photos, then setting up an account through either Flickr or Picasa may be a good option. There are a multitude of apps that can access either of these photo sharing sites, so choosing which to use probably boils down to personal preference.

Apps for New Yearbook Features

It may seem a little strange to list video editing apps when talking about yearbooks, but I am mentioning them because of something new my yearbook staff is trying for this year’s book. We are going to use QR codes in our book to add an interactive element and expand coverage.  We haven’t announced this to the student body; so–sshhh–it’s a secret.

We decided to create QR codes that students can scan using their iPads, or smartphones, which will then take them to collections of extra photos, videos, slideshows, polls, our yearbook’s Facebook page, and possibly a yearbook Twitter page.  So, these are some apps that can come in handy for a staff wanting to try something similar.

  • iMovie: Apple’s video editing app makes it easy for staff members to edit video anywhere they go. They don’t have to be chained to a desktop in the lab.
  • Avid Studio: Avid’s video editing app was recently released and comes with some pretty high expectations.
  • QR Code City Scan: This is the app I installed in order to test things when we started discussing the possibility of using QRC codes in the book. It is reliable and I haven’t had any problems with it at all.
  • QR Code Generator: This is the app I use to make the QRC codes which will appear in our  yearbook. I had never used a QRC code, much less tried making one, when we started down this path and I was cranking out QRC codes within 2 or 3 minutes of installing it. Once the code is ready, I save it into the iPad’s camera roll; then I just email it to myself and upload it to our online yearbook program from my laptop.

Well, there it is. Some possible ways to use the iPad and apps in conjunction with the yearbook. While most of the apps listed aren’t the sort of game-changing event I think may be in the yearbook’s near future, they are at least a start.

What apps does your yearbook staff use? What are some apps that you think can be helpful for staffs putting together a yearbook?  Leave a comment and let me know what you think. Input and feedback is always welcome.

10 Things Every Yearbook Adviser Needs to Know

Pens and pencils on my desk

Pens and pencils on my desk

Being a yearbook adviser has been a big part of my life for 12 years. I’ve had my share of good years and bad years and I hope I’ve learned a thing or two. If I could offer any advice to other yearbook advisers out there, I would start with the list below.

10 Pieces of Advice for Yearbook Advisers

    1. Just because it worked last year doesn’t mean it will work this year: This belief probably comes from my class situation. Every year my staff is mostly new; I may have 1 or 2 people who were on the staff the previous year. In my 12 years doing this only had 2 students have been on the staff for 3 years. So, every year is like starting over. Just because one way of doing something worked for the last staff doesn’t mean the new staff can do it that way. One staff may need to be walked through every single little step for every deadline while the next one is pretty self-sufficient. One group may generate an idea and run with it while the next has to be handed an idea. Some groups will require you standing over them every class to get them working while another group will come in and get right to work without you muttering a single word.
    2. If it can go wrong, it will go wrong…at the worst possible time: I am a firm believer in Murphy’s Law. And when it comes to yearbooks, Murphy takes steroids. The more crucial something is to a deadline and the nearer the deadline, the more likely something will go wrong.  Need the article to finish the last spread for the deadline? The student responsible for that article will be sick the entire week before the deadline. If you can only get to one baseball game to get pictures, the game will be rained out. Be ready to adjust. Always have a Plan B-plus a C, D, and E in place for everything.
    3. You are the only one who REALLY cares about your deadlines: The only thing everyone really cares about is if the book is delivered on time. So, do whatever you have to do to make that happen.
    4. Mistakes are going to be in the book…learn to live cope with it: I have a hard time with this and it has taken quite a few years for me to even think this much less write it down. I tend to be a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to the yearbook and mistakes drive me nuts, but I have come to realize that there is always going to be something wrong.  My personal favorite is a headline in one of our books that had to do with our basketball team winning the district championship–the problem is that we didn’t win the district that year. Why is this the one that really sticks with me? That particular mistake wasn’t pointed out until 3 years later. After my staff of 22 had passed that spread around 4 or 5 times looking for every single mistake, after I had looked at it countless times looking for mistakes, after an entire school had looked at the book for 3 years, no one had noticed that particular mistake until that one person showed it to me. It doesn’t matter how many times you and your staff proof every single spread in the book, something is going to slip by. Just try to come to some kind of terms with it that works for you.
    5. Your staff will surprise you…if you let them: I’m not advocating turning the staff totally loose here–it is more about the adviser letting go. Give the staff some room to run while you set the boundaries on the field where they run. For a long time I insisted on handling more than I should have. I still struggle with some things, but I have let go of the reins on a lot of things I wouldn’t have let the students handle a few years ago. I think the staff feels more invested when they have more control.
    6. Identify your staff members’ strengths, and weaknesses, as fast as possible: Identifying who is good at writing, photography, design, captions, headlines, etc. as quick as you can will make everyone’s yearbook life easier. Know who is dependable and who is shaky when it comes to handling critical aspects of a spread or section.
    7. If you are going to change a “tradition” make sure you have a reason: When I took over as the yearbook adviser, there was a “tradition” of having “Senior Wills” in the book. What I saw was 12-16 pages of solid text in a size 6 font, single spaced, and running margin to margin. Plus, it was replete with hidden messages, codes, and insults. Just saying “We are not going to do these anymore” didn’t really work–I had a fight on my hands. It wasn’t until I began using reasons based on journalism standards that I was able to banish this particular “tradition.” Basing any changes on this or that journalism standard has helped me get rid of a few antiquated “traditions” over the years. There have even been times when I have explained the standards we would follow to the staff when they have suggested we get rid of something before I can even mention that particular item. This approach seems to work pretty well with parents too–at least the reasonable ones.
    8. The secretary/receptionist is your best friend: Whoever answers the phone in your school is the fount of all knowledge. Why? Because they are answering the phone with questions from parents every day. They know which team has changed its game schedule for the week. They have directions to any place your school’s teams are playing–and their directions are better than any you can find online. They know who that slightly out-of-focus kid in the photo is.  They can print out lists of students sorted according to any criteria you need because they have more system privileges than you. Do whatever it takes to get on their good side and stay there. You will need their help.
    9. Know when to be flexible…and inflexible: Does a staff member have an idea for a spread you have never done before? Does the staff want to try a theme you don’t fully buy into? Does the staff want to change something that had been in the plan for a long time? Be open to suggestions on new things if they are accompanied with good reasons. Have your standards and don’t stray from them.
    10. Accept outside help..just don’t count on it: Find out who all those parents with cameras are you keep seeing at the games. If you or your staff missed out on getting photos of some event, one of those parents may have shots you can use. Just don’t expect all of the shots to be usable. And don’t count on getting them in time for the deadline. Sometimes, though, outside help can save the day. If you want to go all out on really try crowd-sourcing, set up a Flickr or Picasa account where parents can submit photos for your staff to use.

What advice would you offer yearbook advisers? Have some advice from your experience as an adviser to offer me? Please leave a comment.  Input is always welcome.

Laptops, iPads, and Projectors: A Puzzle for the Ages

I was talking with a colleague today and he asked me if it was possible to make a wireless connection between his iPad and classroom projector. I thought about it for a few seconds and gave him a sagelike response of “I don’t know. I would think that is possible.”  So, I did a quick search and didn’t find much that looked all that promising–given the technology set up at our school.

Therein lies the problem for a lot of teachers when it comes to technology. A teacher gets an idea for using a piece of technology, asks the question, “How can I get _____________ to do ________________?” More often than not, the answer usually goes something like, “Yeah, it is possible to do_____________. But, not with our current set up. We could make it work, but someone has to buy __________ and it is going to cost X amount of dollars.”

Usually when a teacher wants to try something with technology, they want a solution that is simple, sturdy, and cheap–preferably free. None of us wants to go to our administrator and ask for money because 9 times out of 10 we know the answer beforehand.

Want to connect your iPad to the projector in your room wirelessly? Well, it looks like you will have to go out and buy a $90 to $200 dollar wireless connector that only works with brand X’s $1200 projector. Want a way to monitor what each student in your room is doing on their iPad and block, or shut down, apps they shouldn’t be using during class? Well, you just need to install this free app on your iPad and then install a little program on each teacher’s laptop that costs $200 per laptop in order to actually use it.  Want your students to use their iPads  interact with your whiteboard? Well, all you have to do is buy the software and licenses for this other program package for X thousand dollars–too bad you didn’t get that software last year when you got all these interactive whiteboards.

My laptop

My personal laptop

I understand that change takes time. I understand that integrating new technology systems with older systems is a challenge. I understand that companies exist to make money. But all of that means squat when a teacher has thought of a way to engage their students in a new way and they can’t do it because tech piece A won’t work with tech piece B; unless you go out and get tech pieces C, D, and E after administration approval and board approval to spend some amount of money that a teacher can’t afford to spend out of their own pocket.

It is frustrating.

What frustrations do you have with fully utilizing technology in your classroom? Let me know; I want to hear about it.

By the way, if you know of a way to wirelessly connect a laptop and iPad to a projector that doesn’t require the purchase of a new projector, please let me know.