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.


Useful Websites for Yearbook Advisers and Students

Magazines to read

Image by Longzero via Flickr

Websites Every Yearbook Adviser Should Know

My last few posts have been about apps for teachers, my favorite apps, going paperless, and the possibility of the yearbook as an ebook. So, instead of writing more about iPad apps,  I thought I would post a list of websites that I find useful in my role as a yearbook adviser since that is a huge part of my teaching life.  Some of these sites I use regularly, some occasionally. But, no matter the frequency I visit them, they have all helped me at some point or another.

I’ve broken the list into categories in order to give a better sense of where I go when looking for something applicable to a particular need. I’m sure this list is not definitive by any stretch of the imagination. If you know a useful website, let me know about it. Please.

Design Inspiration and Ideas

During my 12 years as a yearbook adviser I have found that I spend a lot of time looking for design ideas for spreads. When trying to find some ideas or inspiration, here are some websites I like to use and send my students to.

Various Publication Types

These are sites I mainly use to look for magazine spreads.

  1. The Society of Publication Designers A great site for looking at layouts from all types of publications. The site also has articles discussing various design topics.
  2. A board someone put together on Pinterest Pinterest is the latest hot, up-and-coming social site that lets it users “pin” images and pieces of websites they like into collections called boards which they organize by interest. I just recently found this board of images showcasing some really good spread designs. One thing to note about Pinterest is that you have to be invited to start your own boards.
  3. A Flickr group devoted to layouts There are several groups on Flickr devoted to layout design. This is just the one I happen to like the most.
  4. issuu.com  Issuu lets people and publishers post their magazines. You can look through and entire issue of the magazines listed on the site to look for design ideas or inspiration. One thing to be cautious about before sending staffers to the site is that some of the magazines may contain images that are inappropriate for your students.
  5. Google’s Image Search Sometimes I like to go  to Google’s Image search and use “flickr magazine layouts” or “great magazine layouts” just to see what pops up.

Yearbook Publishers Showcases

All of the big school yearbook publishers have sections to showcase some of the work in their clients’ books. Some of the sites also make it possible to view issues of the magazines they send to the advisers of their client school.

  1. Herff Jones’ Design Showcase This link will allow you to look at different layouts for some of Herff Jones’ schools.
  2. Walsworth’s Showcase You can look at covers, layouts, and award winners from Walsworth’s schools here.
  3. Josten’s Lookbook, Adviser & Staff Magazine Go here to look at the publications Josten’s makes available to the advisers at its client schools.
  4. Josten’s Yearbook Contests Josten’s runs one of the largest national yearbook contests and you can go here to look at the winners.
  5. Balfour/Taylor Publishing  You can look at the current issue of Taylor  Talk here.

Getting the Word Out and Sharing

I decided to include these sites on the list because of their ability to help yearbook advisers and staff stay connected with the students and parents at their school.

  1. Facebook You can create a page for your yearbook on Facebook. I have used our school’s yearbook page to give hints of spreads, share some photos, and, most importantly, post messages about ordering dates or other information.
  2. Twitter Another way to get important information out to students and parents is by setting up a Twitter account for the yearbook.
  3. Flickr  A popular site for sharing photos. You could set up an account for the yearbook and get students and parents to share their photos through this service.
  4. Picasa  This is Google’s photo sharing site; so, if you already have gmail, all you have to do is activate your Picasa option to start using this service.  The adviser for my school’s elementary yearbook uses photos parents submit through Picasa.

Journalism Associations and Organizations

The following websites are for national press associations and organizations related to high school journalism.  They all have tons of information about journalism, contests, workshops, and other general topics a yearbook adviser or journalism teacher will find helpful.  I tend to go to these sites when I am looking for lesson plan ideas, contest information, or critique services.

  1. Quill and Scroll Society
  2. National Scholastic Press Association
  3. Columbia Scholastic Press Association
  4.  Journalism Education Association
  5.  High School Journalism from ASNE

Well, there is the list such as it is.  If you use a website that you find useful as a yearbook adviser please let me know about it.

The Journey into the (Almost) Paperless Year

Photo of paper and books from my desk

Paper and books on my desk

The Challenge of Going Paperless

So, we are a little past the halfway point of the school year and my jump into trying to go paperless in my classroom. When I set up this blog back in the summer, one of the things I said I wanted to do was go paperless–at least as much as I could. I thought now would be a pretty good time to take an assessment of where I stand on that journey.

During the summer I knew that I needed about key areas and come up with some kind of plan before school started. The more I had in place and ready to roll on day 1, the easier my life would be in those first days and weeks of school. I felt that with all the students coming into class with an iPad for the first time they were going to expect some differences while they were learning to use the new device in their hands–why not change the way they receive, complete, and turn in assignments. Just about all of the planning I did centered around my English classes because my journalism students did most of their work on computers anyway and computer class speaks for itself.

So, with my English classes in mind, I thought about the following:

  1. Reading assignments/textbooks
  2. Distributing and receiving assignments
  3. How to handle big projects
  4. What to do about quizzes and tests
  5. How to give feedback

I thought that if I could come up with a plan that required the students to use only their iPads in regards to those areas I had a pretty good chance of going paperless in my classroom.

The Plan

1. Reading assignments/textbooks: I knew this was going to be a problem area pretty quick. Our school was adopting new literature textbooks; and while I hoped for an accompanying etext or online version, I knew chances were slim. Most of the online version of high school literature books required flash–and we all know the iPad doesn’t do flash. Shortly after school started I discovered that our new textbooks did have PDFs available of almost every page in the hard copy. So, students didn’t have to lug home the heavy textbook if they didn’t want to. I am also able to email copies of the reading assignment to students who were absent.

For my college credit English class I knew from the start that their textbook was not available. So, I just accepted that the best I could do was to provide additional reading materials in an electronic form, usually through email.

For any outside readers like novels, the students have the choice to either buy a hardcopy or an ebook.

2. Distributing and receiving assignments: This was probably the easiest area to plan. I decided that anything that would have been given to students as a handout would now be emailed to them. As far as turning in homework, the students wold just email them in to me. I set up a gmail account just for sending and receiving assignments. On the first day of school I had the students send an email to the account so that I had all the email addresses and could sort their addresses into groups by class period. I also set up folders for each class period to hold their assignments. This has worked pretty well so far.

3. How to handle big projects: When I say “big projects” I mostly mean things like research papers, or assignments that are a collection of smaller, linked assignments. For this I decided that I would set up a blog for each student using Edublogs with the intent of having them use the blog as an alternative to a 3-ring binder or portfolio. My classes are just about to begin their big projects for the year, so I can’t come to any conclusions on the project aspect yet. The students do use the blogs regularly to complete various assignments that have them respond to what we are reading and each other’s ideas. To keep track of the blogs, and to speed up assessing them, I used Google’s reader service on the account I set up for receiving homework. I then installed Feeddler Pro on my iPad and have it linked to that gmail account. The blogs are listed in groups according to class period so that I can tell at one glance who has completed their blog assignment.

4. What to do about quizzes and tests: During the summer I worried that this was going to be the area that kept me from completely gong paperless. I wanted a system that allowed students to take quizzes and tests on their iPads but minimized any temptation to cheat. I found some apps and software systems that would work, but they all meant the administration would have to spend some more money. So, I am still in a holding pattern on this one. My students take quizzes and tests in the traditional paper form.

5. How to give feedback: This turned out easier than I thought. For ordinary homework assignments I reply in an email to the assignment the student emailed me. For blog posting I leave a comment on their post. For longer assignments like formal essays, I use the Goodreader app on my iPad to annotate a PDF of their essay and then email that back to them. I absolutely love Goodreader because I can circle, highlight, and write comments on the essay like it was a printed version.

The Results Thus Far

At this point in the school year, I think the move towards a paperless classroom has gone pretty well. On the few occasions that there are stacks of paper on my desk from students, it is far, far smaller than in previous years; it also means that the stack consists of quizzes,tests, or a homework assignment from a student whose iPad is out of the picture for some reason.

At some point in the future, I may have to do a post about some of the challenges involving some students having their iPads–and some general challenges that pop up from time-to-time.

As always any comments, questions,  or suggestions are welcome.