MakerSpace and Adobe Spark: Tell the Story

My class visited MakerSpace for the first time this year.  MakerSpace is new to my campus.  What is MakerSpace?

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I used Adobe Spark to document the experience.  Adobe Spark is simply amazing.  You drag and drop media into pages, posts, and slides to create and document the stories you want to share with the world.

I am truly excited to see what my students will do with this technology.  It is simple to use.  There are themes to choose from.  You don’t have to do much yourself, except have your photos, and video ready to go.  And best of all, it’s free!  You can sign in with an Adobe account if you have one.  Or, you can sign in through a Google account.  My team and I already have some plans on using Adobe Spark with our kiddos.

Click Here to view the page I created about MakerSpace.  My video is included in the page.  You have to scroll down to see the whole page.

screen-shot-2016-09-18-at-4-34-16-pmhttps://spark.adobe.com/page/D4sDduoAHmkXz/

 

Have you used Adobe Spark?  Have an idea for Adobe Spark?  Please share in the comments.

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The Joy of Reading Online

I didn’t learn to read until I was in 3rd grade.  I remember struggling with homework and hating every minute of reading.  When I was in 3rd grade the school zones in my town changed and I began going to a new school.  It was actually the oldest school in town, but it had been remodeled into an open concept environment.  There are many wonderful things I remember about this school, but there are two things that changed my life.  The first is the teachers and kids at this school actually called me Jan.  This is the only name I had ever gone by until first grade in the old school.  I didn’t know who the teacher was talking to the first few days of first grade, and she wasn’t very nice about it either!  Calling me Jan was a game changer at that particular time and place.  The other significant event, that changed my life forever, was I learned to read.  The first book I made a connection with was The Blue Bay Mystery, A Boxcar Children’s mystery by Gertrude Chandler Warner.

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I checked that book out over and over until the librarian talked me into reading another Boxcar Children’s book.  I read them all eventually, and to this day my favorite genre is the Mystery Genre.

So what prompted this post?  This week a parent came to me concerned about reading with her child.  She wanted to read more at home, but they just don’t have any books.  The first thing I did was assure her that we could find reading material for her and her child to enjoy together.  The number one place to get free books is the local school or public library.  This parent and child have a tablet and a smart phone so I let them know about some online sources for free books.

My favorite source is the Northeast Texas Digital Library Consortium.  Many people my age prefer to have a traditional hard cover or paperback book.  Well, I have so many I could open my own library.  So, now I love to read online through this library or on my Kindle.  You can sign up for public online libraries through your school or public library.  They are free and a wonderful source of reading material.  You only get one copy of the book, so teachers can only download the book once and share it with students on one device.

Kindle is another great source for free books.  You can also find some inexpensive books through Amazon, both online and traditional books. Barnes and Noble have an e-reader also.  It’s called a Nook.  There are both free and paid books available.

Epic books is another wonderful place for free or inexpensive children’s books.  Epic is free for teachers and fairly inexpensive for parents.

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Epic has a wide variety of reading material available.  When parents and teachers sign up, they get to pick from a broad range of interests.  I pick them all as a teacher so that all my kid’s interests will be represented.

Another favorite source is StorylineOnline.  This site has many favorite classics.  It operates on donations and is sponsored by the Entertainment Industry Foundation.  My students always find a favorite book here.

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TumbleBooks is a paid site my school purchases.  We love it.  One of the things I like best about TumbleBooks is that it can be accessed after school hours.  I share the login information with my students and parents and they have multiple books at their fingertips.

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Free kid books and StoryJumper are a couple of sites you might want to check out.  The easiest way to find free online books is to search for “free online kids books” on Google.  You will find many sites available. Start checking them out to find favorite ones for you and your kiddos.

When I was a kid, you could get Little Golden Books at the grocery store.  We got them almost every time we went.  My mom says she doesn’t remember how much they were, but she is sure they were less than $1.

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Today it’s almost impossible to find new, affordable books.  You can spend a fortune pretty quickly when book shopping.  The next time you need a child’s gift for birthdays or Christmas, check out Kohl’s Department Store.  That’s right Kohl’s.  They offer hard cover children’s books for $5.  You can also get the stuffed friend to go with the book for $5.  A nice gift that may inspire reading in a young mind for only $10!  This has become my go to gift for the kids in my life.  100% of the proceeds from these books goes to various children’s health initiatives.

Have a favorite online book site, share it with us in the comments section.

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Getting the Word Out

Parent communication – the bane of a teacher’s existence!  Each year teachers strive to find a means to communicate with parents that will reach all, engage all, and inform all.  There are so many forms of social communication available.  How do you know which one to choose?  How do you even know if you should just choose one?  How do you decide if your communication with parents is effective?

Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, email, Google drive, blog posts, e-newsletters, the list can go on and on.  I’ve used just about every form of communication a teacher can think of.  I usually determine what is best on a year to year basis.  Two years ago I used Instagram successfully.  Last year, the parents of my students (overall) were not interested in Instagram.  I made my own newsletters in Google and sent them via email.  I had more than one parent request they be sent in PDF form as not all parents had a Google account.

Creating a newsletter in Google isn’t difficult.  You can make your own template that can be re-used each week.  You can send these newsletters directly from your drive through a Google email account.  I did that, and also downloaded the newsletter in PDF form for those parents who requested a PDF format.  Here is a screenshot of my Google newsletter.  I made it using drawing tools.  It only took a few minutes to create my own template.

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Creating a newsletter through Google or as a Word document and sending it to parents via email is a quick and easy way to keep parents updated.  It is basically a newsletter, conveying through written word, information parents need to know.

Instagram is another quick and easy way to stay in touch with parents and for parents to feel as if they are staying in touch with their child’s classroom.  Create your own Instagram account.  It’s free!  Take pictures of what’s happening in your classroom and post them!  You can even teach kids to take pictures and post.  (We’ll talk about teaching kids how to post soon!)  Parents who are Instagram users themselves generally love following and responding to your classroom.

This year I’m using Twitter and Smore to reach out to my student’s parents.  Twitter is much like Instagram;  take and post pictures with brief descriptions of what your kiddos are doing throughout the day.  You don’t have to post throughout the day, but any and all activities are usually twitter worthy.  Parents can follow you and see your tweets throughout the day as well.  These types of daily communication allow parents to feel more connected to their child’s life while at school.  Remembering to take those photos and tweet them can be a bit hectic at the beginning of the year.  Here is a screenshot of a tweet from a few weeks ago.

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Smore is an e-news platform that allows you to create all sorts of flyers to keep your parents informed and connected to your classroom.  I’m using it as a newsletter each week.  I can post information about upcoming events, what we’ve been learning, and anything else I want parents to know about.  Photos can be added throughout the flyer.  This gives each flyer a personal and relevant touch.  Smore also lets you see how many viewers have accessed the flyer.  There is a free version and a paid version.  Here is a screenshot of the free version.

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I’m also creating a flyer with important information about my classroom procedures.  I plan to keep these flyers available all year so parents can go back and access them if necessary.  I will be doing that by creating folders within my Smore account and saving each flyer instead of re-using each flyer.  Once a flyer is complete and ready to view, you just send the link to parents through email or a Learning Management System.

I enjoy taking photos of my students as they are learning and growing.  Keeping parents abreast of what is going on in our classroom is a treat and a privilege.

How do you communicate with parents?  Please share in the comments.  Don’t forget to click the Follow button in the bottom right hand corner to journey with me through classroom technology.

All Things PicCollage

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I love PicCollage.  It is a versatile app that can be used in your classroom in multiple ways.  PicCollage is one of the first apps I teach my 2nd graders.  Every year about half of them are familiar with PicCollage and about half are not.  For this reason, I always start with a simple lesson on how to use PicCollage.

We have been learning about Science.  What is science?  What are scientists?  What do scientists do?  What tools do scientists use?  We are preparing our 2nd graders for becoming scientists and STEAM learners.  I used PicCollage to let my students showcase what they learned about science topics.

PicCollage is an app that allows users to take photos or upload photos from the web.  Students can add text, background, and stickers to their collages.  These are simple and easy to use.  There are also templates available.  I always begin in freestyle mode.  I show students how to use the web search feature to find images they are interested in using.  I show them how to add text and change the font.  I show them how to add background.  PicCollage is so user friendly that “how to” lessons take a very short period of time.  Students catch on quickly.  PicCollage becomes a favorite app for use in the iPad station.  Students will create collages for friends, family, birthdays, favorite sport teams, and all sorts of topics they find  interesting.  Very soon, I will be teaching them how to email these collages to the family members for whom they’ve been created.

I love PicCollage for the simple fact that it allows my students who avoid paper/pencil tasks like the plague, a quick and easy way to show me what they have learned.  Many children have fine motor skill issues that make completing paper/pencil tasks pure torture. Many children are so 21st century oriented that they would truly prefer to use technology to show what they know.  I have had students in the past that I truly didn’t see from their paper/pencil activities what they were capable of.  Those students often excel at iPad activities such as PicCollage.  I like to see higher level thinking in my students.  PicCollage allows kids to shine in ways that paper/pencil activities often do not.

Take a look at a few of our first PicCollage assignments.  This is a simple, easy way for kids to show what they have learned and for teachers to assess that learning.

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As our skills in PicCollage grow, and we become more fluent digital learners, I will be updating and sharing the many ways we will be using PicCollage in my classroom.  Please share in the comments the ways you and your students apply PicCollage to 21st century learning.

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