Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Best Prize

I consider myself a lucky person. My women’s kayak group holds a weekly prize draw and I have won so many times that I finally requested my name be removed from the hat out of sheer embarrassment. I’ve won % off coupons, free coffees, hats, pens, you know, all the usual prize items. What I’d really like to win is a Tech for a Week. Someone who can answer all those nagging techie questions I never seem to find time for. Someone who can look at my online spaces and suggest ways to maximize and streamline my efforts. Someone who will write a personalized handbook for me so that when I try to replicate something I have done a few months before I can refer to the notes rather than reinventing. Somehow it’s more frustrating to have to learn how do something a second time than it is the first.

I’m not always so lucky. Yesterday I had a brilliant (well in my own mind, anyway) post ready to go. I thought that I had published it but when I went back later it had completely vanished. No post, no draft, nothing. I suppose it’s out there somewhere circling Earth with all those millions of undelivered email.

cartoon from

Cartoon by Dave Walker. Find more cartoons you can freely re-use on your blog at We Blog Cartoons.

Things I found this week:

YALSA has published their 2008 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults themed booklists and also their 2009 nominations in the categories of Dead, Dying & the Undead; Fame & Fortune; Journey>Destination; and Spies & Intrigue.

The NY Times has posted it’s 100 Notable Books of the Year 2007 list and it’s Notable Children’s Books of 2007.

Clover Leaf Photo used under cc license from kaibara87 at with thanks to Compfight for finding it.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Independent Novel Units


One of your most powerful tools for making an independent novel study unit a success is to acknowledge those students for whom reading is drudgery. One student I know amazed himself by reading his book in a single night when he tried the Two Bookmark Trick. Here are some simple tricks I use:

• The Two Bookmark Trick - If you have a deadline to finish reading a book follow this simple rule. Divide the number of pages in the book by the number of days you have to read. Use one bookmark to mark your target for the day. Use the second bookmark to mark your place. Most people find that they can easily reach their goal and often read beyond their daily limit. Setting the goal gets kids into the first 15 pages of their book and hooks them.

• The Flood Book - Someone in a course I took some years ago suggested that everyone needs a book with them in case they are trapped by a flood. Take the book everywhere you go. All those 5 minutes you spend in the car waiting while your mum picks up a quart of milk or drops off your sister could be spent reading.

• The 5 Finger Test - many students learned this in elementary school but need to be reminded of it. Open the book at any full page of text and begin reading. For each word you don’t know hold up a finger (They can do this in their heads if they don’t want to be too obvious). If you have 5 fingers up before you reach the end of the page then the book is probably not at your recreational reading level.

• The Fast Return - If you are not into your book within a day or two return it immediately and find something that grabs you. Remember the point of this is to hook kids into reading not turn them off.

• Your brain is like a muscle. The more you exercise it the faster it will process information.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

New blog

Here's a promising new blog to follow by a middle school librarian: Eternal Learning of the Open Mind Here Miss M shares some of her good finds as well as suggesting ways to use them.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Video Tutorials

Just playing with iLighter to see how it works. Clearly I haven't got it right just yet as I've had to come back in and repost the link I was trying to save. I was trying to post about Woopid Video Tutorials but seem to have just embedded a link to iLighter. Back to the drawing board.

Woopid offers "free video tutorials for all your computer and gadget questions. Find a quick answer or learn something new. "

Saturday, November 15, 2008

First, a little something for all you English teachers and wordsmiths. A Way with Words: public radio’s lively language show. Listen online or download as a podcast. Scripts included. Jeffrey Hill describes it in his blog here. While you’re visiting Jeffrey’s blog, do yourself a favour and subscribe, it’s a goldmine. Here’s another entry of his on Scholastic’s Word Wizard Dictionary.

You say Tom–ay–toe I say Tam-at-toe
All the words in the world.

Not sure how to pronounce flibbertigibbet? Type it into Forvo and have it read back to you. Forvo often includes more than one pronunciation as in the case of the word ‘data’. If you’re not happy with what you’re hearing you have the option of adding your own interpretation.

I was just watching the SimplyBox demo and I see it as another powerful tool for students to clip and organize information from the web, add comments and share/collaborate with others. Oh for a classroom with one-to-one laptops!


Image credit to Victory of the People from flickr

Friday, November 14, 2008

Busy, busy, busy

Feeling more than a little overwhelmed, I made a resolution to slow down last weekend and do fewer things. That all went down the hatch once I was back at work. The big project was helping a Gr. 9 English teacher and her students create stories of compassion using iMovie. I had never used iMovie before but that didn’t phase me. Maybe it should have. I believe in relying on the expertise of students and often that works well as we learn together. We had moments of both triumph and extreme frustration.

The finished compositions will be part of a Compassion Project being undertaken by several local districts and as soon as the site is available to the public I’ll post about it here.

My second project was to help one of the Social's teachers start her own wiki. She is new to teaching and very keen. Listening to Wikispaces Illuminate session on using wikis in education was very helpful. It will be archived and information on how to access it will be posted on their blog.

I have been working on a presentation I’ll be giving in early December on using Thomson Gale’s online databases. I put up a new page in my wiki and started adding some student assignments and a SlideShare I created on using Biography Resource Center. Have a look and tell me what you think as I've only used SlideShare a little and would love some feedback before the big event.

While all this was going on several colleagues and I were practising to become comfortable video conferencing using Skype and MeBeam, a group conferencing application that can be run through Skype. Great fun although the kids all thought I was crazy as I seemingly chatted away merrily to myself in my office.

Altogether a very satisfying week and a great opportunity to increase the gray matter.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Bringing Technology to English Class

Yesterday a colleague emailed asking for ideas to infuse technology into the English curriculum. It's still a difficult task to get newbies hooked without scaring them off. If they are digital refugees the task is even harder. Is it better to introduce one idea, say blogging, or give them a smorgasbord? The further one gets from one's own first steps into the digital landscape the harder it is to put oneself into the headspace of newbies.

These are some ideas:

Look at sites such as flickr or pics4learning that are a rich source of images.
Then make up digital collections and have students respond to images, brainstorming about the feelings/moods/themes/topics that the images invoke. Or have students look for images as metaphors or symbols for a variety of topics and make up their own picture collections.

Use apps like Glogster or VoiceThread to create digital book trailers, reports, character studies, glossaries etc.

Use author blogs such as Alan Gibbons or author websites like Neil Shusterman’s and have students can ask questions or leave comments for the author.

Use a soundtrack to introduce a novel or have students create their own as suggested in Glogowski's Blog of Proximal Development.

Demonstrate essay types using examples. One good site for this is Jenny Eather's Writing Fun .

Have students create digital public service announcements like this one for Freedom to Read.

Have students contribute to the new collaborative online dictionary Wordia.

Use Google maps to bring a story to life – add comments, photos, etc. to a novel’s setting like this one about Marco Polo.