Technology Think Tank: EDMODO– a Communication Hub for Education

TTT Edmodo logo

Are you looking for a communication hub for your students/classes/teachers? Edmodo, a free website, also available as IPhone/ IPad app and a Google Play app, simulates a Facebook-look for education. Several teachers in my district are using Edmodo to connect with students, other teachers (in our own building to as far as around the globe) and parents (if desired).

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Because the look and concept resembles Facebook, it appears familiar and user friendly almost immediately.

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Unlike FB, it’s as private as you want it to be. You can restrict it to a class or even a group of individuals, so privacy is not a concern.

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Teacher sharing: teachers can pose questions, post ideas, link to other professionals in any discipline from any district (from within the US and overseas).

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Establish classes: with a unique class code, students could sign into a class page where students

  1. Receive notifications on their smart devices as assignments are added or notes/ alerts such as a message you want to get out to one class or several classes
  2. Find linked assignments, complete w/ due dates and directions.
  3. Upload assignments for grading
  4. Confer with friends from their class individually or on a group basis
  5. Engage in a class/group discussion not unlike a blog
  6. Take a quiz
  7. View their grades for Edmodo assignments to track their progress
  8. Take a poll
  9. Receive badges for goals accomplished

TTT ED POSTER Discussion

Create groups within a class: for group assignments, the teacher can set up groups within a class as a hub to store files, send messages or have a dialogue with other group members.

Post student work for reference or to share with other classes or absent students in the form of images or links. 

TTT Ed Student Work

Establish a class calendar for viewing as a planner for teacher & students. 

Maintain a library of assignments added and those saved from other teachers. Organizational capabilities include establishing folders within classes. 

Enable a parent feature, so parents could check their children’s assignments. 

Promote discovery of other lessons, research, applications, and connections with other teachers. 

Grade and track students’ progress. Portability allows me to grade from my IPad! 

Download educational apps, like SUBTEXT(which I will feature in a later blog) for free and purchase.

TTT ED 1 Drawbacks copyNot all of the features on the website are available on the apps. For instance, when I want to add an assignment, I always do so from the website. 

There is a lot to it, so I’ve basically had to teach myself (it’s extremely user friendly), as there isn’t anyone on-site who is an “expert.” Several of us have adopted its use and share findings as we stumble upon them. 

Edmodo-specific apps are unique to the IPad (tablet), so you need a class set of IPads (tablets) to utilize some of them.

Give it a try! And please, provide some feedback if you do. Additionally, I’d like to hear from any of you who have used EDMODO (successfully or otherwise) and please share any other communication hubs you do or do not recommend. Thanks.

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 If you found this helpful, please LIKE this post. And stay tuned for more Technology Think Tank posts!

Love Letters for My Students: An Annual Affair

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As a parting gift to my senior high school students (and, more so, a gift to themselves), I ask them to write a LOVE LETTER TO YOURSELF which I store for four years and mail to them upon their intended graduation from college.

In order for the letters to have some meaning, particularly for those students who don’t know what to write, I provide them with some direction of a reflective nature and let them go from there.

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LLetter Love Letter to

Lletter hindsight

Reflect on who you were when you entered the high school as a freshman. What were your hopes and fears? How did the high school appear when you first entered it? With whom were your friends? What were some of the things you did outside of school for fun? What were your goals for the next four years?

Lletter insight

Reflect on your growth over the last four years. In what ways did you change? What were some of your crystallizing and paralyzing experiences during the past four years? How did you involve yourself in the HS community? How have your friendships changed? Who have been some of your mentors and how have they affected your HS experience? What are some of the important lessons you’ve learned along the way?

Lletter foresight

Project where you think you will be four years from now. What accomplishments will you have made? Will you be graduating, continuing your education or working? Who will you have kept in touch with from HS? What goals will you be making in four years for your future/career?

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While some students write the bare minimum, most expand upon what I’ve prompted them to write. I’ve seen some who ask their friends to write notes to them which they include in their envelopes. Some include a graffiti’d rendition of their four-year experience. Some are very decisive about how they want their signature to look in order to see if it changes four years from now. No matter what personal touches they decide to add, they are uniquely their own.

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Each May, I pull out the bulking envelope of 40-80(ish) self-addressed, stamped envelopes including their letters written four years earlier. Although it takes me a few weeks, I write little “love” notes to each of them who had kept their envelopes open (as I encourage during the writing process). Some notes recall an outstanding memory I have of them, some best wishes for their futures, some more detailed, as it depends upon our connection when they were in high school. No matter the words, the message is the same, I care about them and their development as people, the kind of caring that extends beyond their short time with me in the classroom.

LLetter katie

With eager anticipation, I take one envelope at a time (never reading their letters, as promised, because I want them to write honest and personal), reflecting over our time together. It’s something that is a gift to me, too, because it reminds me the purpose of my job beyond the doldrums that come at the end of a long year, trudging through the last months of school with senioritis at an all-time high, on the students’ part, and exhaustion at combating it, on my own. The purpose is to validate how far they’ve come and how much they’ve grown since our time together; further, it’s a gesture, on my part, to foster the love of learning in each and every day, and beyond their short time with me.

Most students, many of whom contact me after receiving their letters in the mail, had forgotten they’d even written them, so this truly comes as a surprise. Here are some of the responses I’ve received after mailing them out in May:

letter 1

letter 2

letter 3

letter 4

Love letters to yourself aren’t exclusive to the classroom. In fact, the night before our wedding, my husband and I wrote letters to each other and opened them on our first anniversary. It was neat to see what we’d been thinking on the cusp of a day that would change our lives forever. Also, I have written letters to each of my children during their high school years that I give to them when they graduate. As any parent of a teenager knows, there are some trying times during those high school years, but letter writing to your children helps put it all in perspective. Beyond the nostalgia, it’s a reminder of how far we’ve come and that we do surprise ourselves even when we don’t expect to.

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Lletter question

Counting down to tomorrow!

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Tomorrow, I’ll begin a 10-day tour of England w/ my colleagues, family & 26 students. I am jumping out of my skin excited to begin our journey together.

Although, this will be my fourth tour with students, three of which to England, each trip is different than the last.

I hope you’ll follow my on my sister travel blog: Jubilant Journey. We’re sure to create some memories.

And stay tuned… many photographs to follow!

JJ London poster copy

 

Camp NaNoWriMo Frenzy (with STUDENTS!)

A FIVE STEP PROCESS TO NOVEL WRITING

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As if participating in NaNoWriMo during the month of November (and WINNING!) wasn’t a lofty enough task to take on, I’ve decided to invite my students to take the ride to CampNaNoWriMo during the month of April. While some had entered my second semester Writers’ Workshop class relieved to hear that November and the opportunity to write 50k words in one month had passed (after hearing of some of the first semester achievers and defectors), others were clearly disappointed.

Only last week did I hear of the Camp and the opportunity to write in whatever genre you want and set your own word count. So I put it up to a vote in my class. Two thirds elected to take the journey with me; majority rule, so even the unenthusiastic need to embark. I offered to set some guidelines as to how it will equate to a grade– as for many, that is always the bottom line. We came up with a 25k word count as a good goal to begin with (B-ish grade) and word counts in excess of  +10k will be in the “A” range and less thAn will be in the “C” range, so on & so forth. In addition to word count, they will need to submit a representative excerpt to be included with the grade along with a written reflection speaking to the process and what they’ve learned. I’d say, we’re well on our way.

camp lesson photo

 

So two weeks is NOT a lot of time to plan a novel; hence, I’ve condensed my usual fiction writing lessons and morphed them with some of the NaNoWriMo Ready, Set, Novel! Writer’s Workbook activities.

 

Lesson 1: The Inception

I. Brainstorm ideas, drawing from personal experiences, reading that resonates with you, fracturing stories (whether from novels, television shows, movies…).

II. Next, decide what genre your story will be told  in (fantasy, mystery, sci-fi, romantic, historical, literary fiction or non-fiction) and how you will tell it (linear/non-linear narrative, point of view, short/long chapters, exposition/dialogue/combination…).

III. Finally, create a loose timeline of how you see your story playing out (no details, just yet).

IV. Come up with a summary, perhaps a one sentence tag-line that you might use to sell your story.

camp dialogue

Lesson 2: All about Character

I. I provide my students with a four page dossier for them to fill out everything from what their protagonist looks like to his/her life experiences to what matters most and his/her worst nightmare, to how he/she cuts their toenails (I’m not kidding, it’s that specific). It needs to be. Every writer needs to know everything there is to know about their major characters in order to understand what motivates him/her and determine what choices he/she will make.

II. I throw a bunch of baby name books on the table and ask them to choose a name for their character that is symbolic to who he/she is.

III. Create a day-in-the-life agenda to learn what the typical actions of the character is

IV. Create a time line for the character’s life including where he/she lived and major life experiences

V. Write dialogue from your character to at least 3 other characters whom he/she might come in contact with to learn the nuances of character.

VI. Form the same knowledge of other characters in the story

camp conflict

Lesson 3: Creating the Story

I. Decide what your character wants. Every character is driven by conflict. Determine what conflicts (major and minor) your character needs to overcome to make a change.

II. Determine your story arc: inciting incidents, climax, resolution

Camp Plot arc

III. Make a more detailed outline of the events of the story including all major and sub-plot points

camp pt of view

IV. Determine the point of view your story will be told by experimenting with different points of view (ie. write part of it in the 1st person, then write the same part in 3rd person omniscient, repeat with 3rd person limited, then change the character…). Experiment, consider the pros and cons of each choice, and go with what feels right.

camp setting

V. Set the story where it needs to be. Consider your story arc. What will the major settings be? How will they be necessary to the character and your plot? Understand how setting affects your character and the story.

 

Lesson 4: It’s all in the Details

I. Given time, do some research on your situation. For example, the protagonist in my most recent novel is a 20-something young woman who hates her job and wants to find love. She’s a social network guru, so I needed to become one, as well. I researched blogs written by ppl. looking for the same as she in her demographic, I visited dating websites, I researched current relationship topics, I talked to people who are in similar situations… you get the gist. Uncover as many stones as you can; knowledge is power.

II. Write from what you know. Infuse aspects of your own experiences to make the writing rich and real. Not necessarily in the literal sense, but think about how you or people you actually know or know of would make decisions or behave in like circumstances.

III. Figure out the logistics. There are 30 days in April. Decide on a word count goal, divide by 30 to determine your daily minimum and stick to it, and, if one day, you fall short, plan on compensating the next day. Also figure out where/how you will keep all of your notes so they are readily accessible when you’re writing.

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Lesson 5: Ready! Set! Go!

I. Now, feel confident that you are ready to begin. Feel the adrenaline pumping in competition with the fear. It’s all there and it’s all good.

II. Just write… even write through the mundane and acknowledge when you’ve written something good! Your writing will ebb and flow. Expect it, never losing sight that you can go back later and make adjustments; in fact, editing LATER will be necessary. But, for now, don’t give into the urge to edit.

III. My best advice: never end a writing session at the end of something (the end of an event or a chapter), always end in the middle, so you know, upon the next session, where to pick up. This will help alleviate writers block. And I find what while in the writing zone, the flow maintains itself, at least most of the time.

IV. Expect to feel both euphoria and frustration. Experience it. Embrace it. Share it with your cabin mates; that’s what they are there for.

V. Expect the unexpected. Allow your story to deviate from your original plan. Writing should always be an organic process. Trust it and yourself, as a writer.

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And so, we are ready to begin. For one month, we will give in to literary abandon. We will become novelists, writing each class that we meet, and outside of class as well. As I mentioned earlier, I took the NaNoWriMo challenge in November and it changed me as a writer. I ended up far exceeding my 50k goal by the end of the month and writing well past that to complete a draft which ended up being 134k words that I’ve been editing ever since. When I sent my what-I-thought-to-be polished and edited draft to an agent, he said I’d need to cut 40k from the draft before he’d read it. So my goal for CampNaNoWriMo is to cut back and revise instead of write, and equally intense, perhaps more difficult process. Together, we will take this journey, whatever the outcome, supporting one another as writers.

First Day of School

I stand in front of the mirror, a dry run for tomorrow, full-front, then turn to one side & then the other, smoothing out the wrinkles of my pristinely new dress. This will need to be ironed. Slipping the brown, flat, flip-flops on. No, the heals will look better even though they aren’t new. They’ll make me look taller. A taller teacher gives the impression of greater control. On the first days of school, it’s all about presence and tone. There’s something to be said about making a good first impression.

My book bag is ready. New multi-colored gel point pens. Folders of first week’s curriculum I’ve been reacquainting myself with. You’d think after eleven years of teaching the same courses, I’d have it all committed to memory. Not so. Mostly, I do, but I want to make sure I come off polished, not sloppy. Besides, I always change it up a bit to keep it fresh for me and, ultimately, them; if it isn’t relevant, it goes unremembered. New clips for holding large stacks of paper and plenty of white out (the school never supplies the good white out, it’s always the gloppy kind). And my IPad, including my rosters of names that usually take me no more than 2 weeks to learn. I direct my students to sit alphabetically, at first, to facilitate learning their names. Nothing more embarrassing than calling a student by the wrong name; I can literally see the expression on their faces, when I address them incorrectly, show signs of disappointment (eyebrows straight, eyeballs  dilated, no curve at the edges of their mouths) imagining their stomachs sinking, thinking I’m not memorable enough for her to know. The truth its, it’s easier to learn the names of the loud ones, the odd ones, the uber nice ones before the others who choose not to stand out; if there is guilt to be had for succumbing to responding to certain stereotypes, I own it in the first weeks of school. Also, on my IPad is this new Planbook app I piloted for our school; I’ve been working with a beta group to test the compatibility of the Windows version. I like to be a pioneer.

The first day of school is hardly about that first day. It’s about the planning that begins weeks before. It’s about constructing each course like building a house. You need to understand what needs to be conveyed through the big concepts before you can plan out the details. It’s about creating an atmosphere that is a stimulating learning environment and slightly different than the year before, so repeat students don’t become complacent. Two weeks prior, I went into school with my daughter to reassemble my room. It’s important for me to have spaces that reflect who I am as a person and a teacher, but it’s equally important to have students spaces, so they feel welcome and comfortable there. In particular, they enjoy the colorful touches. The whiteboard paint in neon colors. The Expo markers of Caribbean hues. The college board, inviting students to write where they plan on attending complete with hash tags. I’m always proud, at the end of the year, when students tell me their college board in my room has the most names on it. Not for a competition or anything, but more to acknowledge my efforts in inviting them to take ownership of their space in my room.

When I walk in tomorrow, initially it will be close to silent. What stands out at first are the shiny floors and clean lockers which are like arms waiting for me to come in. Slowly, the voices can be heard. At first a hum, then so loud you could hardly hear yourself think, but it’s comforting to hear the laughter and see all of the smiles reacquainting themselves with one another.

I will wait in my room, greeting each student with a smile. My name written largely and neatly on the board to help them be sure they are in the right place. A bowl of Skittles will sit at the center of the round table in the front of the room. About half of them notice it; their curiosity already piqued.

I anticipate reminding myself that through all of the business and dissemination of information that needs to be dispersed, today, the most important thing is to convey my philosophy of teaching. I preface this by stating, “On the first day, I feel as if I’m vomiting information all over you. I promise every day will not be like this.” Then I continue, “This will be a student centered classroom; after all, you are the reason we are here. My expectations will be high but not unattainable, and I will be here to assist you achieve your goals in whatever ways I can. I don’t see teaching English as teaching students to learn to read or write. While you will be doing that too, the focus will be on using English to become a critical thinker. I hope to impart you with ways to be curious about and question your world, using different kinds of discourse as a vehicle for discovery– to discover new things about not only your world, but yourself and your place in your world.”

Yes, the anticipation is mounting. I can’t wait to meet these new young people with whom I will share my year. I know they will have just as much an impact on me and my thinking as I hope to have on them. I can’t think of another job I’d rather do. Second only to parenting, being a teacher, I believe, is the most rewarding job of all.

BE ONE WORLD

This was the theme of our B-1 day today. Eleven years ago, in response to the Columbine Massacre, a group of students came together wanting to do something to address the horrible incident at Columbine. They came up with a day entitled B-1, a day about students created by the students. Over the years, I have been touched again an again by what I have witnessed by the students at my high school on this day– one that they come together as a whole community with the sole purpose of celebrating our diversity in an effort to realize our commonalities.
Typically, the day begins w/ a panel and a video, both student run/created. The panel usually has about 7 speakers whose speeches generally speak to an obstacle they have overcome. Half of the school sits in attendance of this panel listening attentively to their peers, an often one adult, relating a personal story of adversity, strength, courage… At the end of the panel discussion, there is always open mic time where students spontaneously can come up to say whatever is on their minds. Meanwhile, the other half of the school, is watching a student made video with diversity/ tolerance themed topics– completely executed by a host of members of the student body. Both groups switch. Afterwards, there are break out sessions in various parts of the building; some of these include, a coffee house, open mic, free store, crafts, poetry readings, live musical performances, demonstrations… they vary from one year to the next.
Today exceeded any other B-1 day I have been a part of. I’m not sure of the reason, or perhaps I feel this way every year, then life resumes and I forget only to be reminded again at the next B-1 day. It’s funny how life does that, isn’t it?
I’d like to share some experiences of my day that will last in my memory of it.
In the video, there was a short film about a girl who had died in an accident, but she didn’t realize she was dead until half-way through the film. Revealed was the presence of empty alcohol bottles- the cause of her death. I was amazed at the professional quality of the video and the strong message. The film ends w/ her parents bent over her grave sight, and the girl looking down upon them grieving.
During the video, there was a flash-mob type skit, where students enacted destructive behaviors (peer pressure, drinking, smoking, fighting, abuse, violence, suicide, bulimia) all through non-verbal communication. It was very powerful.
The visual image of a student, who is absent of her hair due to her chemotherapy treatments, holding up a sign that reads “I feel ugly.”
At the panel I attended, I witnessed 3 students of teachers, discussing different subjects:
1) She is the epitome of grace, an academic student, always seemingly put together, revealed how her first relationship w/ a boy was physically, violently, sexually, & verbally abusive and she masked her pain for so long.
2) This student revealed she suffered from delayed development as a baby in an orphanage in Russia before she was adopted which resulted in her inability to bond– this caused difficulties learning, depression– she cut herself to feel better– and several hospitalizations.
3) This young man spoke about his dedication to B-1 day for four years. He spoke w/ a maturity few high school students possess. He gets the meaning of B-1 day!
And the open mic brought out students who realized achieving perfection was impossible, that only when she focused on what she cared about more than others that she truly found happiness, also students who came out as gay or bi-sexual, those bullied and alienated, those who lost friends through death or abandonment. Perhaps the one that touched me the most was the football player who accompanied one of the Best buddies kids up to the microphone to talk about how he found his family at CHS. Then there was the guidance counselor, who will be retiring at the end of the year, who said at the end of his speech about personal, face to face communication, that he had one thing left to say,
“I love this place!”

I can write so much more about my day, but I’ll end it by saying that today reaffirmed for me that one should never ever judge another because you never know what is really going on in another’s life. Also, that people need to go out of their way to be kind, to make a positive difference in someone else’s day.

At one point, I thought about going up to the open mic, but I didn’t because I was emotional, as I always am on this day– not because I was sad, but because I was in awe of the courage I witnessed by so many. If I had gone up to the mic, I would have said that the next time you judge someone, to think about what you are judging, because it always says more about you than the person you are judging.