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Sunday, August 24, 2014

Manage Online Accounts with IFTTT

If you ever get overwhelmed with how many online accounts you have and the stress of managing them all, you should check out IFTTT, which stands for If This Then That.

IFTTT is a free, online service that helps you manage your online accounts and/or create automatic notifications of routine events. Users connect their IFTTT account to dozens of other online accounts, their phone, their Nest thermostat at home, their Fitbit, etc. and tell IFTTT what to do with those accounts. When you tell IFTTT to do something, it's always in this format:

IF {this} happens, THEN, I want you to {do that}.

For instance, let's say that I have a blog for my class, and I want to post a link to my class Twitter every time I publish a new post on the blog. IFTTT makes that easy by allowing you to create a "recipe" (or instructions) to do it automatically.

For this recipe, I would go to "Channels" and choose "Blogger." You must activate each channel to give IFTTT permission to access your account and do things on your behalf (things that you tell it to do... nothing creepy. :) ). Once you activate your Blogger channel, you can choose which blog you'd like to connect. I have several blogs, so I chose from a drop-down list which blog I'd like to focus on:

Once activated, you can scroll down the page to see common recipes that Blogger uses. Those are great to get your mind thinking of all the possible things IFTTT can do for you on each channel.

It just so happens that the recipe I want -- post my blog posts to Twitter -- was the first suggested recipe.

Click on a recipe to use it.

Since my Twitter account is already connected to my IFTTT account, all I had to do was finish the recipe by telling it what to post on my Twitter account. Since this recipe was already created by another user, most of the work was done for me; I just edited the wording a bit by typing in the box below:

Then I clicked "use recipe" to finish. Click the recipe picture below if you'd like to use it on your own IFTTT account:

IFTTT Recipe: Send a tweet when you post something on your Blog connects blogger to twitter

You don't have to use pre-created IFTTT recipes, either -- you can create your own. On your "My Recipes" page, you'll see a blue button in the top, right corner that says, "Create a Recipe." 

When you click on it, IFTTT walks you through the steps of creating your own recipe. For instance, the first page looks like this:

I would click on "this" to decide what the trigger should be. Once you choose a channel, IFTTT shows you all the things that channel can do, and you just click on the one you want. IFTTT will continue to walk you through the recipe creation process until you have your very own.

You can use IFTTT for a variety of school-related things. Here are some ideas you might like:
  • Connect class social media accounts {IF I post a picture on the class Instagram, THEN upload it to a certain album on the class Facebook page}
  • Organize online information {IF I post a photo to the class Instagram, THEN upload a copy to my Dropbox account}
  • Know when you have to have indoor recess {IF the head index goes above 100 degrees, THEN send me a text... IF it's going to rain, THEN send me a text}
  • Track tutoring payments {IF I get a new payment on my Square account, THEN add the information to my Google spreadsheet}
  • Get apps for free {IF the App Store posts apps that are free for the day, THEN e-mail me}
  • Tell parents when you and the bus have arrived at field trip locations {IF I arrive at this zoo, THEN text these people}
  • Remind yourself when the grading period is ending {IF it's the end of the semester, THEN call me}
You can turn your recipes off or trash them completely at any time by going to your "My Recipes" page and using the gray buttons to the right of each recipe:
Turning a recipe off means it's deactivated but not deleted from your account. This way, your school-specific recipes can be activated during the school year {remember the heat index one from above?} and deactivated during the summer.

You can embed recipes into your blog posts {or another class website that accepts HTML codes} to help classroom parents organize all the information from you throughout the year. For instance, you might embed a recipe for "IF Mr./Mrs. X publishes a new blog post, THEN e-mail me," or "IF Mr./Mrs. e-mails me, THEN call my cell phone" or "IF Mr./Mrs. e-mails me an attachment, THEN put that attachment in this Dropbox folder."

After you create a recipe, you can copy the HTML embed code and paste it anywhere on your site {like below the spot earlier in this post where I said, "Here's the recipe in case you want to use it on your own IFTTT account"}. This way, parents don't have to necessarily know how to navigate IFTTT for it to work for them -- tell them just to create an account and add your recipe.

Finally, you could use your IFTTT account to teach students about cause and effect. Show your IFTTT account to students, let them choose a trigger and a result, and show them what happens afterwards. Then students could create "recipes" on paper for other, non-technological events in their life {like "IF I study for my spelling test, THEN I will get a better grade"}.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Social Classroom

The Prezi below is an overview of the discussion in my mini-session about social media in the classroom on our district's "digital day of learning." Press the "play" button in the middle of the screen and use your arrow keys to navigate through the presentation. Click the square button in the bottom right corner of the Prezi to show the slides full-screen.

Friday, August 15, 2014

How to Diplay Your iPad on the Promethean Board for $12 or Less

If you have an iPad, you know that it has so many cool features that you'd like to share with your kids, but sometimes getting your iPad to display on your Promethean board is a pain.

Before this summer, I only knew of two ways to show your iPad on your Promethean:
  1. Purchase an outrageously-priced and stupidly-short dongle... and be tethered in one spot whenever you use it
  2. Shell out $100 for Apple TV.
I am excited thrilled doing happy dances about an alternative I was shown this summer; it's called AirServer.

AirServer basically works just like Apple TV... but it is $12.


And you can actually get it for less than that if you buy more than one copy at a time. :)

You must have iPad 2nd generation or newer -- including retina and mini models, iPhone 4s or newer, or iPod Touch 5th generation or newer for this to work. You also have to have iOS 4.3 or newer, but if you have one of the devices mentioned above, you probably also have the updated software.

You can check out the features on this page of the AirServer website, but here they are, in a nutshell:
  • Download the AirServer software to your computer. There is nothing to download on your iPad. Connect it to your iThing with AirPlay. Your iThing screen shows on your computer screen. {Of course, if your computer is connected to your Promethean, your iThing screen will show there, too}
  • Any person in the room who has a compatible device can join the display. If multiple people join, AirServer will shrink the displayed screens so everyone is displayed simultaneously.
  • Choose to enable a password for your AirServer so that no one without the password can display their screen. {Toggle the password off and on as you please.}
  • This is 100% wireless, so you can move freely around the classroom with your iThing without losing connection.
If you have AirServer, you have the ability to roam the room while you teach from your iPad without being tethered to your Promethean. You could display a whiteboard or brainstorming app and then pass the device around the room to let every student contribute to it...without getting out of their seat.

This was LIFE CHANGING for my students and me!

The educational pricing is anywhere from $8.00-$12.00. I actually purchased two copies of the software -- one for my MacBook at home and one for my school laptop, which is a PC. {I planned on presenting with my laptop later in the summer, so I wanted to have the software on both screens.} I was able to purchase both software access codes for $20, which obviously brought the price down to $10/each. I'm not sure how many copies you have to purchase at once to get that $8.00 pricing, but I do know it is more than 4.

When you purchase, you immediately get the access code(s), which you type in to the AirServer website to verify that you did, indeed, purchase a copy. The entire set up process took less than 10 minutes!

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Thursday, August 14, 2014

Use QR Codes to Display Student Work

Someone recently inquired about #22 on my post on using QR codes in the classroom. Here's what I said on #22:
Hallway decor: use QR codes in hallway decor for Open House or conference nights. You could display students' pictures (or self-portraits) on the bulletin board, and attach a QR code to their latest and greatest achievement right next to each student. Parents could get a "quick response" on what positive things have been happening for that kid lately! This would be easy to update as the year went on, since you'd just change the content of the webpage (not the actual QR code).
{You could use the title, "Students are having a 'scantastic year!' -- borrowed from this picture.}

Short answer: Each student needs to have a page on the web where the URL stays constant throughout the school year, but the content on the page can be changed whenever you want.

Need more info? Below, I'll go into more detail about 4 different options for using QR codes in a bulletin board display to show students' portfolios.

Option #1: Use Weebly.
  • Create a free classroom website with Weebly. {Weebly is the best website for making your own website, IMO! It's SO easy to use, and there are lots of options for free.}
  • After you create the site, you can start adding pages {these can appear as tabs at the top or side of your site}. You have the option to make all of the pages visible in a tab view, stack them on top of each other {only to be revealed when mousing over}, or make them all invisible. Whatever you choose, make a page for each student in your class. 
  • Grab the link to each students' individual page and put it into a QR code. You can add, edit, or delete things on each students' page whenever you want, and the QR code on your bulletin board will always link to the newest version of that page.

Option #2: Use Dropbox.
*Reminder: Dropbox is an option for storage in the cloud. You get 2 GB for free, plus an extra 500 MB for signing up with and/or having someone else sign up with  your referral link. Store files of all types in folders, and organize them very similarly to how you would organize folders on your computer.
  • Create a folder for each student in your Dropbox account. {Don't have a Dropbox account? Use my referral link to sign up, and we'll both get extra, free space!} 
  • Grab the link to each students' folder and put it into a QR code.
  • I haven't tried this option myself, but in theory, it should work. Dropbox annoyingly seems to change the link whenever an individual document is updated, but as long as the name and location of the folder remain the same throughout the entire year, you should be able to edit the content inside the folders without changing the link.

Option #3: Use LiveBinders
*Reminder: LiveBinders is a digital 3-ring binder that is fabulous for organization. Free users get tabs and subtabs in which to organize their things. Paid subscribers get tabs, subtabs, and base tabs -- great for even deeper organization. Embed webpages or HTML components, upload any document, type directly onto a page, and/or add a page of mixed media split the way that makes the most sense to you. 
  • 3A: Because the space in a free LiveBinder account seems to hold quite a bit of things, you could probably create an entire binder for each student {or have them create their own on their own account, if you don't want to manage it yourself}. Link to the binder in your QR code. The beauty of this is that students can add SO MUCH to their online space.
  • 3B: If your LB space is lacking or you simply don't want to create and maintain a binder for each student, create ONE binder, and then create a tab for each student. Students can add and organize things to their tab by creating subtabs underneath. Students can still add lots of items to their space, but not as much as if they were to have their own whole binder.

Option #4: Use Smore
*Reminder: Smore is an online tool that creates pretty posters for free. The posters can be e-mailed, shared on social media, printed, or embedded into another website. Users can make 5 Smores before they are asked to pay. Add titles, text, small pictures, large pictures, links, videos, and a few other things into the poster, and finish by customizing the background and theme.

  • Each kid needs their own Smore account if you want to keep things free. {If you want all the kids' smores on your account, you'll have to upgrade to the premium version.} 
  • Each students needs 1 personal Smore for their portfolio. 
  • Put the link to their Smore poster in a QR code. As far as I know, you can make Smore posters infinitely long, so you could keep adding all year long.

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Pinterest: My Board

Although I have a Pinterest account for personal use, I decided to create one for professional use so that I could link it to this blog. Below is the board where I pin all things Pinterest-related:

Here is my general social media board:

And here is the link to this blog's Pinterest profile if you want to see all things technology:

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Twitter: My Board

Although I have a Pinterest account for personal use, I decided to create one for professional use so that I could link it to this blog. Below is the board where I pin all things Twitter-related:

Here is my general social media board:

And here is the link to this blog's Pinterest profile if you want to see all things technology:

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Instagram: My Board

Although I have a Pinterest account for personal use, I decided to create one for professional use so that I could link it to this blog. Below is the board where I pin all things Instagram-related:

Here is my general social media board:

And here is the link to this blog's Pinterest profile if you want to see all things technology:

Monday, August 11, 2014


I've been making lessons with Blendspace for my classes this year, and I really enjoy it so far.

In a nutshell
Blendspace is a free service that allows you to pull content from various sources for a single lesson, and then store and present that lesson online.

More details
Blendspace allows you to import media from a variety of places on the web or upload your own stuff {from a cloud service, any website or embed code, from your computer, or just by typing directly onto the page} and keep it all in one space. It's set up like a grid, and you drag and drop your lesson components into the grid's boxes where you want them. You can rearrange the boxes however you'd like, which is, essentially, rearranging your lesson.

Blank lesson template

It's a great way to pull in a variety of media types for one lesson and not have to hunt down each component separately. For instance, I have one lesson where I uploaded a YouTube video, Google images, my direct typing, a PDF from my computer, a picture from my Dropbox, another website, and a Prezi presentation. I like that Blendspace keeps it all in one place so I don't have to hunt down each component on its own when I'm teaching the lesson.

Users can "play" a Blendspace lesson much like they would a PowerPoint presentation -- just click the arrows on the right and left to scroll through the slides. Depending on how details you make your  lesson, I think you could literally just type the link to the Blendspace into our lesson plan book and be done with it. I particularly love that I don't have to write a lesson plan that lists every single component I'm going to use because Blendspace corrals it into one space for me.

There are a few ways to share a Blendspace lesson: you can link to it {which is short and sweet}, share an automatically-generated QR code, share on social media, and/or embed it onto another website. 

Here's an example of an embedded lesson that I made for my 2nd graders about the scientific method:

If you are doing a flipped classroom, the ability to share on social media would be nice. I could also see a teacher just showing the pre-generated QR code on the Promethean for students to scan as they walk into the room... Then students can immediately begin working on the day's lesson without the teacher doing anything other than clicking a couple times.

Speaking of lesson planning, if you ever have a substitute, all you'd need to do is send them the link to your Blendspace lesson. As long as they have some way to log on to the computer, that link would be all they need to get through the day. You can even print them a copy of the lesson so they know which slide is coming next. The printed version of the lesson above would look something like this:

Blendspace allows you to make your lessons public or private, AND you can share and collaborate on them with your team. The collaboration portion would be great if you are team teaching because you can all work on and teach from the exact same Blendspace lesson. And because some Blendspace lessons are public, you can search for other teachers' lessons, copy their to your account, tweak them for your needs, and then share them with students.

Browse other teachers' lessons by subject or search for one on a particular topic
You also can create classes and assign Blendspace lessons to each class. I use this portion for sorting the lessons I use for my five different Science Lab classes so I can easily find the lesson I need, but there's another use for it, too: Blendspace allows students to connect their account to their teacher's.  You, the teacher, can assign lessons for the students to view, and then you can see when or if the student views it {another great option for those you that are doing flipped or blended classrooms}.  Additionally, if you add any quizzes into the Blendspace lesson, the students can take those quizzes on their own account, and Blendspace will grade the quiz and send the results back to you. I personally haven't been able to utilize that option because my kids are so young {and don't have access to many online accounts because of their lack of e-mail address}, but I think that would be amazing for any teacher trying a flipped classroom.

The top toolbar doesn't give you a lot of options -- just enough to get you by -- so the website isn't overwhelming.

Blendspace saves your lessons continually as you work -- much like LiveBinders -- so there's no need to remember to hit the "save" button over and over again. In fact, there isn't a "save" button.

There are 5 templates, which just give you different ways to show the grids in your lesson. You see the first template in the picture of the grid toward the top of this post. Other templates make the boxes larger or put them into a scrapbook-like format, with some squares bigger than others.

There are only two themes: gray or colorful. The gray theme makes the top of every square gray. The colorful theme give each square a color based on what type of media is inside the square -- you do not get to choose the colors. For instance, the video below has a red-orange title, while the picture has a teal one.

Text that you type directly into your Blendspace lesson has a purple title, and links you import are blue.

You can add a title to every box, which shows up above the element when you are "playing" your lesson in the enlarged view. Other users can also add comments to the different squares in your lesson, which means that your students could add comments if they have an account.

Additionally, you have the ability to add captions to all of the boxes in your lesson grid except the "type directly into it" boxes, and those captions appear in a white space to the right of the squares when you're playing the lesson. You can choose to show or hide the captions while you're playing the lesson.

Here are some video tutorials I made about Blendspace {remember to type in the password to have access to the videos... CISD employees, it's our plural mascot}:
Also: this link provides you with some ideas about how to use Blendspace in your classroom.