Sunday, September 29, 2013

Flip Snack

Have you ever published a book? When I was in 4th grade, I created an entire book (from cover to illustrations to text), and my beloved teacher had it bound professionally so it looked as though I had been "published." She made two copies: one for me and one for my school's library so that my peers could actually check the book out and read it. I was in awe.

When I had the pleasure of watching my niece give her dad a very similar book as a gift last Christmas, it solidified my belief that being a "published author" is a definite motivator to get kids to write more {and love doing it}.

While publishing students' stories in a hard- or softcover format may not be a financial option, publishing an eBook with student work is completely do-able.

Via
Enter FlipSnack (a part of SnackTools). This website gives you the option to upload PDF documents and convert them into an eBook of sorts.

FlipSnack was originally intended to help website users/bloggers "create stylish digital flipping books out of your PDF documents. You can use it to share or embed into your website or blog all kinds of documents, from books to newspapers and magazines."

You can use FlipSnack to post assignments to a classroom websites, examples on your blogs, and/or eBooks that feature student work. While I think the first two are really cool, it's the last option that excites me the most. I posted assignments and examples to my website when I taught 8th-9th grade English. But making eBooks out of student work? That never occurred to me. {Plus, how fun would it be for students to see it?!}

Cool features of FlipSnack:

  1. It's free.
  2. Publish your eBook on several different websites {personal websites and social media sites}. There's an embed code so that viewers can actually see the eBook on your website instead of having to follow an external link to see anything.
  3. It uses Flash when posted on regular websites, but is also optimized for iPhone and iPad.
  4. There are several customization options so that you can personalize the book(s) in a variety of ways. 
  5. The end result looks professional.
  6. Many, many people can view your eBook for free. The way I understand it, people with a free membership can have a max of 25,000 views per FlipSnack book per day on sites external to FlipSnack (VIP members get 50,000 views). Even after all the day's views have been exceeded, the embedded codes won't work until the next day, but users can still click the link and view the eBook on FlipSnack's page. I don't ever expect to reach that 25,000 view maximum, anyway, so I don't see this as a problem. 
  7. You can enable the ability to download the file(s) inside your book.
  8. Besides all the customization options inside the eBook, you can decide which type of book you'd like to make: hard cover, soft cover (looks like a magazine), or wire bound (looks like a notebook)
  9. Display your collection of eBooks in a widget on your website. My favorite has to be the "bookshelf." How cool would it be to convert your students' stories into FlipSnack books and then display them on a "virtual bookshelf" on your classroom website?! It would look something like this:

Source

The website only allows users to upload PDF documents, but converting files to PDF is pretty easy, so I don't consider that a disadvantage of the website.

Details about $$ involved:

  • There is a free version, but there are a few limitations. The free version puts a watermark on all eBooks. There's also an upload limitation: you can only upload 3 PDF files to each book, and each PDF has a limit of 15 pages each.
  • You can have the watermark removed from individual eBooks by purchasing points. It costs 10 points in order to do this, and the price of the points varies, based on how many you purchase at a time. {A purchase of 10 points will run you $19, a purchase of 25 points will run you $39...you get the picture. There's a slight discount when you buy points in bulk.}
  • If you don't want to mess with the limitations at all, you can always purchase a VIP membership for $14/month. This membership actually gives you premium access to all of SnackTools's apps, so you're getting quite a bit for your money.
Here's an example of a FlipSnack book that I'm partial to:

Click the picture to see the book for yourself

I wasn't able to embed that particular book because I didn't write it. An embedded book looks like this, though:


Just click "click to read" to enlarge it. Use the arrows on the left and right of the screen to flip the virtual pages.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Vocaroo

Vocaroo is an incredibly easy and versatile voice-recording system that can be a huge asset to your classroom.
Via

Features:
  • Very easy-to-use interface
  • Completely free
  • No e-mail address or account registration necessary to use it
  • Ability to e-mail your recordings, post them on social media, or download the file to your computer 
  • Instead of recording, users have the option to upload a segment of audio
  • Ability to access recordings from iOS devices {although there is not an app for it...yet}
  • No limit on the number of minutes you can record using Vocaroo

Cons
  • Since you don't have to have an account for this website, you can't save any "works in progress" and edit them later
  • No app, and iOS devices don't support in-browser audio recording, which means you can't record anything from an iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad

Tips

As with all audio recording websites, you do need access to a microphone in order to use this tool. If your computer doesn't have a built in microphone, you could always purchase a headset with a microphone like this one to help you:


{FYI: a headset microphone like the one pictured above might actually be the best option to record, no matter what kind of microphone situation you have on your computer. Because of the close distance between the microphone and your mouth, the headset microphone blocks out a lot more background noise than a built-in microphone does. I have the luxury of a quiet house, since I don't have kids yet and my husband works a lot, but for those of you whose homes are a little more hectic, you may have a harder time getting a clear recording without a headset microphone.}


How Do I Record?

The homepage of Vocaroo is incredibly simple:

...Seriously. That's it. So if you're normally a little intimidated by technology, rest assured that you can do this. :)

Click the giant red button in the center of the screen labeled "click to record," and just start talking. It is honestly that easy.

There is no time limit on the length of a recording through Vocaroo, so you can ramble away for as long as you need to. ;)

After you hit the "record" button, you'll see this screen, which means that it's recording:

After you've finished, hit "click to stop" to stop the recording. You'll then see this screen:

You have the option to listen to your podcast to make sure it sounds okay, and you can re-record if you don't like how it sounds. If you're satisfied with your recording, however, you can click the "click here to save" button, which is located in that last green box at the bottom of the page.

After you click to save your recording, you're met with this screen:

Ignore that link...I didn't say anything on this podcast; I was just taking a screenshot. ;)
Notice the options you have at this point. You can....
  • embed your recording on a website {which is what I did on our class blog last year to explain some of the features of the website}.
  • e-mail a link to the recording, right from Vocaroo {you don't have to download anything to your computer or attach anything to your e-mail in order to do this...it just sends a link to somewhere in the interwebz so that your recipient can listen. It's pretty painless. :) }.
  • share on any number of social networking sites, including Facebook and Twitter
  • link the recording to a QR code...and you already know how much you can do with a QR code
  • download the file in a handful of formats.
See how simple all of this is? If you do have any questions, you could always read Vocaroo's FAQ section.


How Can I Use This In My Class?
{A lot of these options work best if you attach the link to your recording to a QR code.}

Back to School
  1. Record yourself saying "hello" or "welcome" at back-to-school time. Embed the recording on your website or "meet the teacher" page.
  2. Verbally explain the features of your website and/or how to navigate it; embed this recording on your website.  
  3. Create a welcome message for students and parents, and place it on your door during Open House night. {This would also work well if you had to be absent during Open House night.}
  4. Record a welcome message and place it on your BTS newsletter or postcard. Hearing your voice and how excited you are to have them in your class might be especially helpful for little ones.
  5. Create an "I'll be with you ASAP" recording and place it on your door during parent-teacher conferences. Parents who arrive early and see a closed door could scan the recording to hear that you are there, but that you're speaking with another parent at the moment and will be with them shortly. 

Make a Substitute's Life Easier
  1. Record a message to remind students about behavior expectations and when you'll back, and let the substitute play it at the beginning of class.
  2. Record the directions for an assignment. Put it in a QR code and put the code directly on the assignment page. If you had a substitute, students could just scan the QR code at the top of the handout and get your directions. 
  3. Record directions to centers or stations, put the info into a QR code, and put the QR code at the center.

Make Your Life Easier
  1. Record directions to centers or stations, put the info into a QR code, and put the QR code at the center. Instead of asking you over and over what they're supposed to be doing, students could just scan the QR code to re-listen to the directions. If you're a fan of file folder games or compact centers, it would easy to place a QR code of directions for that activity on the back of every folder or Ziploc baggie. If this works like I think it would, you would only have to explain things once. Imagine how much time you'd save and how much else you could get done! 
  2. Record instructions or examples to an assignment or project and place it at the top of the worksheet/handout/rubric. Students could re-listen to these if they get stuck during an assignment. 
  3. Save audio files of things you use regularly so that you can access them later without having to re-record. 
  4. Record yourself reading a book, page by page. Embed the recordings onto a QR code and place the QR code on each page for the student to scan. This would be great for conquering the "listen to reading" portion of Daily 5 without having to physically read to every single student. 
  5. Record your instructions for a substitute. Put the files in a special folder that a substitute can access. Then all she/he has to do is play the recordings for the class. It's like you're "teaching" even when you're not physically there.

Modify
  1. Modify work for ESL or LD kiddos by reading things to them, repeating directions, or telling them to skip every other problem... etc.
  2. As a modification, read an assessment and the possible answers and place it in the top corner of SpEd kids' papers. They could go into the hallway and listen to the test being read to them...they could even pause to comprehend and answer questions.
  
Help Students and Parents
  1.  Record project or homework explanations so kids can listen to instructions at home. Embed this recording next to an uploaded copy of the presentation template or written instructions on your blog. 
  2. Language teachers: record yourself naming items around the classroom in the new language. Put the recording on a QR code and put the QR codes around the room. If students forget how to say "door" in Spanish, they can just go scan it to get a refresher. :)
  3. Record instructions, the agenda, etc. for students who are absent. When they return, students can scan the QR code to see what they missed.
  4. Place vocabulary word pronunciations and/or definitions right next to the word in books available in your library.
  5. Place thinking/discussion questions on back covers of books or at the end of chapters so that students can have a starting point for group discussions in Book Club.  
  6. English teachers and librarians: record book reviews.
  7. Put the mp3 file on your iTunes and then upload it to your class iPods/iPads. If students are absent, they can hear instructions/the agenda/whatever fits your class best from the day they were gone. You can provide headphones so that students can catch up quietly during their free time.
  
Student Use:
  1. Let your students record book reviews for other students. Attach the review to a QR code and post it in your library! 
  2. Allow students to dictate their stories/essays. 
  3. Allow students to perform reports/presentations into Vocaroo. Embed on the class blog to share with parents. 
  4. Allow students with speech issues record themselves speaking/reading. They can listen to it and make self-corrections. 
  5. Ask students to talk about a project they completed, a poster, or an assignment that they're particularly proud of. Students who are afraid to speak in front of others might be able to give their oral presentation via podcast, and just stand in front of the room, holding their poster or prop, while the recording plays.
  6. Ask students in a group to explain their role in the group activity. 
  7. Ask students to be in charge of classroom announcements or an audio newsletter. Let kids talk about upcoming events and what's been going on in class lately; embed this recording on your class blog or post the link on your newsletter.
  8. Let students draw a poster to define a vocabulary word. Then they can record the actual definition using Vocaroo, put the recording in a QR code, and post the QR code on the definition poster. 
  9. Let students create book summaries, embed them into QR codes, and stick them on the inside cover of books in your library. 

Vocaroo lets you embed the recording widget directly onto your blog, so you can try it for yourself without ever leaving this page:

Punchbowl

Punchbowl is a free website that allows you to send digital cards and invitations.

Via
Their selection of eCards is quite extensive. Each category has free eCard options and paid eCard options. The free ones are actually cute, unlike some other "free" sites you may opt to use.

Although you can use Punchbowl for free, the free version limits you to 10 cards per month, and I believe you can only have a maximum of 10 or 12 recipients per card. {Bummer.} The other levels of Punchbowl membership obviously cost money, and you get more features the more you pay:
Comparison plan found here
Each level comes with a 30-day free trial.

Users have the ability to send an invitation {complete with RSVPs and reminders for people who RSVP yes} or plain cards {with the option to include a gift card}.

Here's an example of a digital card I made at Punchbowl {click any picture to see the animations on your screen}:




I'm thinking this would be a great way to thank parents, volunteers, and PTO members -- no postage or expensive Hallmark card required.

Punchbowl Features:
  • Lots of free card designs
  • Several categories of eCards: birthday, thank you, just because, apology, good luck, holidays, graduation, anniversary, congratulations, thinking of you, sympathy, get well
  • No trip to the store, $5 card, or postage necessary
  • Ability to send a gift card with your eCard
  • Change the digital postage to a design of your choice
  • Change the stamp on the outside of the envelope
  • Change the envelope liner to something cute and matchy
  • Ability to customize text inside the card
  • Ability to import e-mail addresses from your mail account
  • Plan an event from start to finish -- such as parent/teacher conferences, classroom parties, field trips, etc. Allows you to send digital invitations, RSVPS, etc. 
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P.S. This post goes into more detail about how to send an invitation, and this post reviews how to send a digital card through Punchbowl.

Twitter Guide for Teachers

Confused about Twitter? Here's a simple guide to the basics, from this article at Edudemic.

Click to enlarge | Via

Feel free to test your tweeting skills by talking to me: @ckarasedu.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Book Retriever App

Organizing your classroom library can be a total pain in the you-know-what. A fairly new app called 
the Book Retriever app {from Classroom Library Company} might help make that organization process easier.


Book Retriever App icon

This app costs $0.99, but it seems like a good dollar to spend on your classroom.

This app will catalog all of your library books by scanning in the bar code.  It stores student information (so you know who to contact if a book comes up missing) and even allows you to print labels for your books (if you have access to a wireless printer). Um, where was this app about five years ago when I was painstakingly taking a HANDWRITTEN inventory of my 500+ children's books?!?!? Ack! 

I'm going to give you a tour of the app and show you what this baby can do.

When you open the app, you're greeted by this loading screen:




After it gets done loading, you see the home screen:



I think you can click that picture to enlarge it, but just so you know, you're looking at 12 different options here:
  1. Book Info
  2. Add Book
  3. My Classroom Library
  4. My Students
  5. Check Out
  6. Check In
  7. Search
  8. Hot Books
  9. Classroom Library Book Sampler
  10. Leveled Reading Chart
  11. Catalog Request
  12. About Us
Of course, I had to poke around everywhere and see what was going on, so I'll try to talk about each of these sections, one-by-one.

First things first, though: I had trouble logging in. When I went to the app store website to get the link for the Book Retriever app, I saw a couple of comments where it looked like other users had trouble logging in, as well. When I e-mailed Mr. Conn, the owner of Classroom Library Company, he responded (in one business day) with a very easy fix: do not put spaces or symbols into your username.

See, when you try to register, the app just asks for your  name. It doesn't say that that is going to be your username. So you, of course, enter your first and last name with a space in between because that is how we write names. To save yourself some frustration, just know that that "name" box actually means "username." After you take the spaces/symbols out of your entry, you'll be able to log in easily.

Now for the section-by-section recap:

Book Info
When you click on this section, a bar code scanner camera comes up on the screen. Once you scan a bar code, the information about that book pops up. (You do have to have that book already in your Book Retriever system for this to work.) This comes in handy if you've put in information such as the grade or Lexile level; students can easily see this type of information without having to actually check out the book.

Add Book
This section lets you add books to you library. When you click on it, the bar code scanner camera screen comes up. You just place the book's bar code within the confines of the frame (easier than it sounds), and the app reads the bar code. If it recognizes your book, all the information is already filled out. If it doesn't recognize the ISBN of that book, you'll need to fill in some information yourself. Here's what I saw:




You can fill in as much or as little information as you'd like; all the app really needs to have in order to catalog your book is the ISBN number. I was scanning a rather obscure science-experiments-for-kids book (Science in Seconds for Kids: Over 100 Experiments You Can Do in Ten Minutes or Less, in case you're interested!) that the app had never heard of. I only put in the title and author, and everything was fine. :)

My Classroom Library
After you've scanned a book or two, you can click on this section to show you what you have cataloged so far. Mine looked like this:


Of course, the more books you have in your system, the longer your list will be:

This is actually a screenshot from the examples at the app store
Notice the arrow pointing to the right of each book title; clicking on that will allow you to see the details of each of the books:


I'm assuming that the prices would fill themselves in automatically if Classroom Library Company carries that book in their warehouse. I do think that is one down side to the app; I would love to be able to list the price of the book in case the student does not bring it back. However, I guess this is information that can easily be looked up online.

Anyway, notice that you can see the status of the book. In that screenshot above, the book is available, which means that it is currently sitting in my library right now -- no one has checked it out. If you click the box with the arrow (in the lower left corner), you're met with this screen:


This is an interesting feature. If you have the ability to print wirelessly, this might be a really neat screen for you to visit. I have to be honest and say that I couldn't read what the label said, but Mr. Conn let me know that it is a "leveled label." I like the convenience of this feature a lot!

My Students
On instinct, I tried to "check out" the one book I'd just entered, but you cannot do that unless you've got students. So I clicked on the "my students" section to add one.

It actually asks for quite a bit of information about each student, but again, you can fill out as much or as little as you want:



I do like that you have the option to put in a couple of phone numbers and an e-mail address per kid. I'm not sure that I'd want to sit there and type all of that out, so I do wish there was a way to easily import information from a desktop, but I really can't complain. The important thing is that you get the first name and maybe a last initial of each student who might be checking a book out from you.

One reason you may want to painstakingly type out all of that contact information is that, if a book is late being checked back in, the app automatically sends an e-mail notification to the parent to let them know it's overdue! Not only that, but if the book is sold at Classroom Library Company, the e-mail gives a link where the parent could replace the book (if it's lost). Classroom Library Company boasts that all books are 30% off and there is no minimum order. I'm totally in love with this automated feature -- overdue books are one less thing I don't have to worry about! 

When you view your student list and click on individual names, you also have the option of seeing which books he/she has checked out. This could come in handy if the kid has forgotten which book(s) he/she has and needs a gentle reminder. :)

I was also thinking that you don't really need to limit this section to just students -- you could put in teacher names, too! I know that we all work hard and spend a lot of our own money on materials for our classroom. It can be frustrating when a colleague borrows a book from you and never returns it. So you could catalog all of your professional books in here, as well, and put in teachers' names so they can check out as they wish. No student would be able to check out a book like that, since you have to have the book to scan the ISBN of it.

I'm also thinking that you could purchase some of those bar code stickers (from Amazon, probably?) and catalog non-book items, too. Huzzah!

Check Out
Now to the check out screen. This is pretty simple and there's not much to say about it: a bar code scanning camera comes onto the screen. As soon as it finds a bar code, the app retrieves the information about the book. 

From there, you (or the student) can select a name from the list of members. I suppose it is concerning that a student might accidentally (or on-purpose) check out a book to another student instead of him/herself, but you could combat that easily by just handling all check outs yourself (or appointing one very responsible student to be the librarian). When you pick a member the screen looks something like this:

This is another screenshot from the app store!
You just scroll through the list of names until you find the one you're looking for. Notice that you can change the due date before you hit the "check out" button. The due date defaults to a date two weeks from the day you scan, but you can change it to whichever date you wish. (I like that part!)

I checked out my science book to my test student, and then I viewed that book's information. Notice that it marks who currently has the book under "status":


This feature could be really helpful if you're looking to show one particular book to your class and need to track it down quickly.

Check In
The check in process is even easier than the check out process. Click the "check in" screen and watch as the bar code scanner camera comes into view. Hover over the bar code and watch as the app automatically checks the book in. Simple -- just the way I like things. :)

Search
Pretty self-explanatory screen:


Hot Books
See a list of popular books, as cataloged by Classroom Library Company. Here's the current list:


These books are changed monthly.


Classroom Library Book Sampler
This is a 19-page free eBook on the importance of reading, the importance of setting up a classroom library, how to make your classroom library more inviting, etc. It really is a neat addition to the app.




Leveled Reading Chart
This is a chart listed on the Classroom Library Company website, but you can access it quickly via the Book Retriever app.  I know it looks small in the picture; I wanted to capture the whole chart. :) But you can use your fingers to zoom in to read it more easily:


Catalog Request
Self-explanatory. :) You can even do that on a desktop via their company website. 

About Us
This section is a little blurb to help you learn more about the company behind this cool app: Classroom Library Company:


This inexpensive little app will help you keep track of all of your books and help you better maintain your classroom library. After you get everything cataloged and all students' information in the system, all you have to do is scan and go! I think the initial set-up might be a lengthy process (depending on how many books and students you have), but it would be SO worth it to save all that time later throughout the year.

Book Retriever – Classroom Library and School Bookroom management app for teachers, parents and students - Classroom Library Company, Inc.

Google Voice

Although I am a big fan of Remind, I realize there is a flaw with that program: no one can reply to the teacher's messages. While that may be great for informing parents/students of school information, it's not a true conversation because no one is allowed to talk back.

While I fully support after-hours educational conversations, I am also a firm believer that teachers deserve to separate their professional life from their private life. I learned the hard way that if I give my cell phone number to parents, I don't get the privacy that I crave. So what's a girl to do?

Fortunately for me, Google Voice was created to save my life. Okay, maybe that's a bit dramatic. But it's pretty darn cool.


What is it?

I think of Google Voice as a free call and text-message forwarding service. After you sign up for a phone number through Google Voice, you choose which existing phone line of yours you'd like to connect it to. From then on, calls to your Google Voice number will come through that phone.... without giving the caller knowledge of any of your personal information.

If you hook it up to your cell phone, you can answer "regular" calls and text messages, as well as those coming to your GV number, at any time.


Features
  • 100% free.
  • Ability to pick your own phone number (and area code) -- especially helpful so you can pick a number that you'll remember and/or that is free for others in your area to call from a land line. 
  • Ability to discard your Google Voice number at any time and stop receiving calls/text messages from it. 
  • Ability to switch your Google Voice number at any time. 
  • Connect your Google Voice number to an existing phone line of yours -- do not buy anything extra in order to use Google Voice.
  • Ability to connect your Google Voice number to your cell phone, which means that you can take screenshots of text messages if you need documentation of your conversations. 
  • Transcribes voicemail for you -- handy when you can't listen to a message or need written records of communication.
  • Keeps your personal number completely private. 
  • Free iOS app from which you can call and text message; it even imports your existing contacts!
  • "Click2Call" feature, which allows you to screen phone calls to your Google Voice number.

Why might this be useful in the classroom?

  1. Students and parents can contact you with questions or concerns. 
  2. Most people I know would rather text than call, which you can really only do from a mobile phone. Google Voice allows you to do that without revealing your personal cell phone number. 
  3. Although you take phone calls on your personal phone line, you do not have to give your "real" phone number to students or parents, so your information is still private. 
  4. You can trash your Google Voice number and replace it with a new one at any time. This is handy if someone starts abusing the privilege of having your information... 
  5. Document voicemails and text messages for your admin, in case there is any question about the content of the conversations.
  6. Don't get stuck at school at 5 pm, trying to finish all your phone calls home. Call from your cell phone {using your GV number} while you're stuck in traffic on the way home.
Logistics

One of my best teacher friends uses a Google Voice number with her freshmen Algebra students. She gives them her number at the beginning of the semester, inviting them to text her with homework help, project questions, and/or grade inquiries. She tells them that she is available until 9 pm and will not answer texts until 6 am the next morning.

Surprisingly, she has only has two "incidents" in the two years she's been using this. One happened over spring break: a kid got bored and decided to prank her. Unfortunately, he did not block his phone number, so she called him out on it when they got back to school; he was embarrassed to be caught and didn't do it again. Another student texted too late. Again, my friend addressed it the next day at school, and it was never a problem again.

If your "incident" stories don't turn out as successful as my friend's did, you could always just change your Google Voice number.

 
How do I set it up?

You have to have a Google account, but if you have a gmail address, a Blogger blog, or a YouTube account, you already have one. If you're not a member of one of those sites, signing up is quick and easy. Besides, you get to take advantage of so many of Google's features that you really should have a Google account, anyway (IMHO).

Once you sign up or sign in, you have to access the Google Voice website. I usually just Google-search the term. But I've included the link various times in this blog post for you -- click on any of them to be taken directly to the website you need! :)

Users are directed to choose their own phone number. You can choose anything you'd like, so long as it's not taken by another user. This worked great for me, since I moved here with an Oklahoma area code and had no plans of changing my phone number after 10+ years! I wanted people to be able to call a local number, and I was able to easily choose a number in the local area code.

After you pick which phone number you'd like to call your own, you get to choose which phone you will connect your calls to. I chose my cell phone.

Finally, confirm your number with Google. To do this, Google will give you a confirmation code (I believe it's a 5-digit number?) on the computer screen as soon as you pick your phone number and which of your personal phones you'd like to direct your calls. Afterwards, Google gives you a call. When you pick up the phone, you're instructed to enter the confirmation code with your phone's keypad. It's super simple!

I'm not entirely positive as to how this works on a house phone, since I've got mine set up to forward to my iPhone. But let me tell you what I do know:

I almost immediately downloaded the free Google Voice app for my iPhone. When I launch it and log in, I see several screens that look almost the same as the regular call screens in my iPhone "phone" app. I can access any of the online Google inbox options via my iPhone:



I can also text and call phone numbers (already in my address book or not) directly from the Google Voice app. This ensures that the recipient will see my Google Voice number on their screen -- not my personal cell phone number.


I used my Google Voice number to call my husband's iPhone to test it out, and his caller ID always registered my Google Voice calls calling from an "unknown number." When I called my GV number from his iPhone, I saw his name pop up on my screen, since he's a contact in my phone.

Google gives you the option to use "Click2Call," which is basically a screening service for your incoming Google Voice phone calls. Via the instructions on the Google Voice set-up page, I had recorded a message with my name. When I enabled "Click2Call," callers would hear my recorded message while Google called me. Callers were instructed to state their name and reason for calling; Google would play this for me and allow me to accept or reject the call. That portion didn't work as well as I'd hoped, so I eventually turned the "Click2Call" feature off. Now I get calls just like I would on my regular phone -- no screening. I'm OK with it, though, because I know that I could change my phone number for free at any time if things ever got out of hand.

Google Voice is completely free to use -- and pretty easy! It would be so simple to put this on your syllabus or classroom website so that students and their families could contact you at any time. As cliche as it sounds, communication really is key, so the more ways you can give families to communicate with you, the better.

Google Voice - Google, Inc.

Remind



June 2014 edit: This company just changed their name from Remind 101 to Remind. While you can still visit their website from the old, Remind101 links, all links in this post have been updated to reflect their new name. Remind is advertising their name change as, "new name, same mission" on their website. Read more about their name change by clicking HERE.

Remind is a service that allows teachers to text information to parents and students without ever revealing the teacher's phone number.

Great features of Remind:
  • Easy to set up and use, even if you're not tech-savvy
  • 100% free
  • Parents/students can choose to receive the teacher's messages by text message and/or e-mail, so having an unlimited texting plan is not necessary for this service to work
  • The teacher's contact information is never revealed to the subscribers
  • Teachers can have up to 10 separate "classes" of students. Need more? The Remind team invites you to e-mail them to request more classes
  • Easily explain to students and parents how to subscribe to your updates using the pre-made full screen presentation and/or the printable PDF page of instructions created by Remind
  • No one except the teacher needs to sign up for an account
  • Easily unsubscribe any spammy followers that happen to find your account
  • There's an app for that -- Remind -- and it's free, as well, so you can send updates on the go
  • Remind keeps a record of all messages every sent with the service -- they are not deletable -- so you can take them into conferences, if needed
  • On the same note as above, export a list of all the messages sent and print it if you prefer paper copies
  • Teachers can view the number of and names of the subscribers to each class

How do I sign up?

1. Go to www.remind.com to find this screen:


2. Click "sign up" and fill in the appropriate boxes. It's safe to enter your first name; when a message is sent to your classes, Remind will tell them it's from Mr. or Mrs. xxx (or Coach, Professor, Dr....whichever title you prefer!).


3. Create up to 10 classes (more about class ideas later in this post).

4. Click the "invite students and parents" button on the top right side.


5. Look at this pop-up and decide which way you'd like to invite students and/or parents to subscribe to your updates.


You can e-mail everyone the link, or you can copy and paste it onto any of your social media sites. {Just remember that if your social media sites are public and you find some whacko that is obviously very bored, he/she could opt to subscribe to your updates without even being affiliated with your class. You do have the option to delete subscribers whenever you want, though.}

On parent-teacher night or during conferences, you may want to click on the full screen presentation to show people how to subscribe. You can also click the "download PDF handouts" option. You can attach that instructional PDF packet to e-mails home or to your class website(s).


How do I send a message?

The message-sending screen appears automatically in your home page as soon as you log in:


You can choose to add classes or subscribers individually in the "to" field, and then type your message in the large text box underneath. Click the calendar icon to schedule your message to be sent at a later time/date, and click the paperclip option to attach a photo in your message.

There is a limit of 140 characters per message -- like Twitter -- but it's easy to stay under that limit.

Click send when you are ready for the message to either go out or be scheduled.


Video Tutorial
If you're more of a video person, feel free to watch the tutorial below. I'll walk you through how to use the app.

video


Ways to use the "schedule later" button:

  • Reoccurring events {weekly quizzes or club meetings, for example}
  • Calendar events that cannot be changed {winter break, spring break, last day of school, etc.}
  • Birthday reminders for each of your students? That might be fun!

One thing to reminder about Remind is that parents/students do not have the ability to text you back. If they try to reply to a Remind message you send, they'll get the following message: "Sorry, you can't reply to your teacher. You can only join his/her class." But it's not a huge deal, since they should all have your e-mail address, anyway!


Remind's multiple-class feature:
Most elementary teachers probably don't have more than 1 class, while most high school teachers probably don't have more than 3 or 7. However, you can always divide your class into small groups or include extracurricular activities you sponsor. Here are some ideas:
  1. Assign different students into different groups. Perhaps you have Spelling Group A and Spelling Group B. Maybe you could arrange those into different groups so you could text the appropriate spelling words each week to the appropriate people. This could also work if you're doing, say, a book study, and wanted to make a separate "class" for each book that is begin read.
  2. Make a class just for volunteers or homeroom moms. 
  3. Create classes for athletic teams and extracurricular clubs. You could go further by making your starters or officers a separate class of their own. 

Ideas for use
  1. Reminders about assignments that are due or upcoming quizzes/exams/projects
  2. Reminders about snow days, picture days, sporting events, field trips, spirit days, etc. 
  3. School events and/or their outcomes (plays, musicals, art shows, academic meets, etc.) -- especially ones where your school won/did well or is playing a rival :)
  4. Hints about how to complete an assignment or project
  5. Helpful websites that could assist students academically (StarFall, CliffNotes, etc.)
  6. Apple/Android apps students might find helpful.
  7. Books you recommend (I used to read books from my classroom library and tweet blurb-summaries to interest students in the book.)
  8. Vocabulary words/definitions in a Word of the Day (#WOTD) format
  9. Exit ticket answers (If students ask a question on an exit ticket, you could answer it via the classroom notification center. This allows everyone to benefit from the answers without taking up any class time.)
  10. Motivational/inspirational quotes

Friday, September 13, 2013

How to Create a QR Code Scavenger Hunt {the Easy Way}

Have you ever tried to make a QR code scavenger hunt? If you create one on your own, it can be a HUGE pain! Because the QR codes don't show information unless you scan them, I found myself re-scanning and re-naming codes all afternoon, trying to get my hunt "just right."

But making them has become a lot easier since I found QR Treasure Hunt Generator on the classtools.net website.

How to Create a QR Code Scavenger Hunt {the Easy Way}:

1. Go to the homepage and see a page that looks like this:


2. Click the "get started" button, and go to a page like this:


3. Follow the directions to fill in the necessary forms. You must have at least 5 questions, but that's usually not a problem, since most scavenger hunts have way more than that. Tip: You do not have to write the number, as shown in the example. That's just a way to show you an example without having to think of scavenger hunt clues. :) The only thing you must remember is to put an asterisk (*) in between the question and answer, and to put each question/answer on a separate line.

Notice that you need to provide a password at the very bottom, too. 

4. Click "create the QR challenge" to proceed. You'll see a page with this at the top:


and a unique link; that link is for your QR hunt. You can use this link to go directly to your hunt on the web at any time. You can also put in your password and be able to edit the hunt if, let's say, you made a mistake or need to delete a step. 


When you first click on the link, you can view this "teacher notes" page. I personally find this very helpful. It tells you how to set up for your hunt and some other tips/ideas for making your hunt go smoothly. 

Notice these selections at the very top:


I won't go over all of these options, but I do want to review the top two. One thing you can do is view your questions and answers: 


Obviously, I just have test text in there, so there's not much to read right now. But if I went back and edited those, it would be really nice to be able to see exactly what each question asks and what the intended answer is without having to re-scan every QR code!

You can also view the codes for each of your questions individually. This could come in handy if you were going to print your codes for any reason. {One reason I might print codes is so that I can stagger groups of students at the stations. For instance, I might start group A on step 1, but then I might start group B on step 4, just to space things out a little. I want minimal congestion in my room, as I'm sure you do, too.}


If you go ahead and scan the code above, you'll see that it's the "welcome message" to this particular hunt. The website conveniently gives directions in the welcome message so that you don't have to do that part at all. When kids scan each subsequent code, they see a count at the top {1/5 or something} so they know how far along in the hunt they are.

My kids love QR codes and scavenger hunts, so I was pumped to find a tool that helps me combine the two more easily. Best of all? There's no registration, and it's FREE. Yippee! :)