Teaching/Tech...uh...Wednesday--Google Geo Teachers Institute 2011

After a ninety minute train ride, a four hour bus ride (courtesy of BoltBus...only $14 one way!), and a ten minute Circulator ride, I made it to the Google Geo Teachers Institute in Washington, D.C.  

It was so much fun.  

From top left in clockwise direction:  Capitol building, Washington Monument, Nat Geo bulding, Amy Chua (Tiger Mom!  Roar!) speaking at the National Book Festival, and the sign that greeted all of the participants on the first day of the institute.

The main reason I wanted to go was because a friend of mine had introduced me to Google Lit Trips a couple of years ago (post here) and I had heard that the founder, Jerome Burg, had presented at the last Google Geo conference.  I really loved that a fellow English teacher created such an effective and powerful resource using Google Earth.  The second I walked into the National Geographic building for the first day of the conference, I met Jerome Burg!  I got a chance to chat with him, as well as with other fantastic presenters the whole entire weekend.   It was very cool. 

Note:  If you want to check out everything I learned at the conference, you can look at Rebekka's Livebinder (really nice compilation of all the resources we used over the weekend).  You can also take a look at my notes for Google Maps, Google Earth, and Google SketchUp.  

Besides all of the wonderful tools we were learning about, the best part of the institute was meeting enthusiastic and amazingly creative educators and individuals who were really passionate about putting their best tech foot forward for their kids.  I loved it.  Everyone was so nice and knowledgeable.  It was great to sit at any random table and have a conversation that ranged from talk about cables for your multimedia projector to the state of the budget in a particular school district.  As a teacher, any kind of support is more than welcome, so this past weekend was a gift.  

At the end of the first day, we took a bus over to the Library of Congress. The staff of the Geography and Map Division were great about showing us some of their most interesting maps.  They were so quietly knowledgeable about all of the maps and globes in their division.  It was a rare opportunity to see how powerful maps could be to a nation's identity (see Waldseemuller Map).

Good times.

Once I got back home, I started playing around with Google Earth and created a path depicting the pilgrims' journey to the cathedral in The Canterbury Tales.  I just showed it to my kids yesterday and they were impressed (thank you, Mr. Google).  I've come to the conclusion that this school year, I'm going to have a "no fear" attitude and just try to integrate different tech tools whenever I see an opportunity for my students to go deeper into a text or get a visual of a difficult idea or concept.  My laptop, school multimedia projector, and extra long VGA cable are ready for this year!  


NY -> DC

So...I skipped a post yesterday, but I'm not feeling too bad about it, because I was on my way (by train, BoltBus, and Circulator Bus) to D.C. for the Google Geo Teachers Institute!  This is my first "long" solo trip away from my husband and kids, so I'm a bit nervous, but also well-rested.  I got eight blissful hours of sleep last night in my hostel room, ate a delicious chocolate cone (thank you, Koryodang Bakery!), and am now sitting in Starbucks, sipping my ever-ubiquitous iced soy chai latte.  

This conference should be amazing.  The founder of Google Lit Trips (post here) will be the very first speaker today.  I am so geeking out over this that I can't believe it.  I will have a pretty comprehensive post about my experience early next week, so stay tuned!  

I won't be able to check out the sights because the conference is from 8-6 today and tomorrow and I'm heading back to NY right after it ends on Saturday; however,  I am planning to have a relaxing dinner and shopping evening (Anthropologie, anyone?) later tonight.  It should be lovely.  


Teaching/Tech Tuesdays--Easy File Conversion (Zamzar)

Let's say your school blocks YouTube videos, but you found this amazing clip of someone reenacting a scene from Twelve Angry Men that you just have to show your students.  You've looked on TeacherTube and other resources, but the video just isn't available anywhere else.  What do you do?


I found out about this great website from one of the teachers at my school.  I just went to Step 1, clicked on the URL link, entered the YouTube website, converted it into a wmv file, and had Zamzar email it to my school account.  So simple.  


In Appreciation

"These are your golden years," the balloon artist said to me after I left his little kiosk at the county fair.  I'm not really sure why he said that.  Maybe he saw something in my eyes before I turned to push the double stroller down the path.  Maybe he caught a glimpse of my exhaustion--a stark contrast to my thrilled twins who were squealing with delight as they played with their new Elmo and horse creations.  I trudged along, deep in thought, as DN skipped alongside me, making her inflated dinosaur roar at the top of its lungs.  

I thought of that man's words again today as I sat in Starbucks filling out my gradebook.  It's been a hectic two weeks, with names to memorize, plays to read, assignments to grade, and lessons to teach.  Now that time is precious, I take the opportunity to relish the giggles, the hugs, and the craziness at home.  Of course, there are times when I want to curl up in bed and sleep for eight hours (that would be SO sweet), but it's been a pretty decent transition.  

It might just be me, but I feel like my kids are growing up so quickly.  RT stops me when I sing her a lullaby, insisting that she's the only one who knows the right words.  DN is currently on a Food Network kick.  She asked me over dinner tonight which task on Cupcake Challenge was the hardest (1000 cupcakes in two hours, of course) and proceeded to share her theories on baking.  LT is proudly opening every single darn door in the entire house and going where he pleases. 

I don't want this Golden Age to end, but I guess I'll just have to appreciate every joyful moment right now.  Cupcake, please.  

I’ve told you a hundred tall stories,
I’ve sung you a thousand sweet songs,
I’ve wrote you a million ridiculous rhymes
(Though sometimes the grammar was wrong).
I’ve drawn you a zillion pictures,
So being as fair as can be,
After all that I’ve writtensungtolddrawn for you,
Won’t you writesingtelldraw one for me?
"WRITESINGTELLDRAW" by Shel Silverstein


Teaching/Tech Tuesdays--Wikispaces

I really like using Wikispaces with my students, especially if we need to go over a large amount of material in a few days.  I thought it would be perfect for our study of The Oedipus Cycle.  My seniors had to read this trilogy over the summer, but we still needed to review them pretty thoroughly.  Three plays in six days...here we go:

I signed up for Wikispaces a few years ago and used them to great success with both my seniors and sophomores.  Anyone can sign up for an account. 

Of course, it's always nice to have educator accounts for the free upgrades.  

 Create your Wikispace.  You can specify whether you want the site to be private, protected, or public.  The settings are pretty easy to control and you can change them for each of your wikis at anytime.

Wikispaces.com is really user-friendly.  You can edit your Home page and then create new pages.  You can add images, videos, links, etc.  You can also embed various widgets.  

You can also click on the discussion tab and create questions for your students to answer.

For The Oedipus Cycle, I included everything we covered in class.  I embedded the Prezi on Greek playwrights and Greek theatre I created last week for easy access.  If you click on the Oedipus Rex link (see lower left below), the kids worked on groups on various motifs and themes that are found in that particular play.  They typed in their findings onto a Notepad document and then I cut and paste them onto the Oedipus Rex Wikispace page.  

For the Oedipus at Colonus page, I collected their responses to a sixteen question study guide and typed the questions and answers out.  

My students are currently working on their Antigone page.  I created linked pages where they will discuss the various conflicts found in the play.  Each of my two classes were divided up into six groups.  My second period class is going to analyze the first four conflicts on the bulleted list and my eighth period class is looking at the last four conflicts.  The four groups left over are each answering three discussion questions (click pic to see details).    

The four groups left over are each answering three discussion questions (click pic to see details).  I didn't post a screenshot of my questions because some of my kids created user IDs with their full names.  Tomorrow, they're going to finish up their assignments and then spend some time responding to the rest of the discussion questions.  Friday we will have our unit review and then they'll be ready for their exam on Monday.  

Wikispaces really helped my sophomores during our To Kill a Mockingbird unit.  They were responsible for creating pages for each major character...no more "What do you mean Scout's a girl?" moments!  The discussions were also really valuable.  The quieter students tend to be more comfortable sharing their thoughts online as opposed to speaking in front of a large group.  I've also had students create their own pages about books they enjoyed in my class.  

Before I forget, I did want to include one quick hint.  Leave your Wikispace public when you have your students join it.  They can edit the pages immediately instead of waiting for you to approve each request.  You still have to approve their membership, but now you don't have 25+ kids milling around waiting for everyone else to join.  Once all the kids are in, change the Wikispace Permissions setting to either "protected" or "private."  

Good luck!



I can't even describe how many emotions were swirling in my mind as I read hundreds and hundreds of comments:

NY Times Interactive Map:  Where Were You on September 11, 2001?

Today was a day for listening, weeping, and spending time with loved ones.  


Teaching/Tech Tuesdays--The Fabulous Prezi

I got a really warm welcome from the staff at my high school today. It was great seeing everyone again, but it was still a long day filled with meetings and last minute details. It was funny because I felt a little like a tourist as I walked around the school and noticed all of the changes. Most of it felt familiar, but I still have a lot to get used to. I'm meeting my students tomorrow, so I really have to get my brain into gear.

I wanted to do something a little different on the first day. I'm still going to go over the course requirements for both of my preps and hand out questionnaires, but instead of a "Bueller, Bueller" moment with handouts, I'm going to use Prezis.

I learned about Prezis last year, but I finally buckled down earlier this week and made two of my own (one for my senior classes and one for my sophomore classes).  Technology can be really intimidating, especially since it can be so time-consuming, but I've decided to jump in with both feet and see what works for me.  Prezi is really great if you want to add a little oomph to an otherwise boring lecture or presentation.  It's much more fun than Powerpoint.

After you sign up with a school email address (for educators and administrators only), you can create your own Prezi.

Choose your template:

I chose "Understand a Topic" because it already came with frames and the format was perfect for my course description, rules about lateness, and grading policies:

You can see the menu on the upper left hand corner (it looks like a bunch of bubbles).  You can start writing your content right away.  When you move your mouse over each section, the text, frame, or image will appear to lift up.  This indicates which part of the text you can either write or manipulate.  This can get a little frustrating because if you're working on a really small detail, you can accidentally move the wrong element. After a little practice, it gets much easier.

You can click on the existing text and edit it or click anywhere on the template and create new text:

You can rotate the words or make your text bigger or smaller.  This is great because you can layer the text. For example, I wrote "Writing" and created tiny explanations of what I was looking for in their writing and tucked them into different parts of the word.  This allows you to focus on "Writing" and then zoom into the explanations...a very cool effect.  

If you want to add graphics to separate your points, you can click on "Frames" on the bubble menu and make frames for the different groups you want in your Prezi.

Once you're done with all of the elements of your Prezi, you need to create a path.  Make sure you have a good idea of the order of presentation.  It was easy for me to make my path because I just looked at my list of course requirements and followed that sequence of points.  Once you make a path, you can't delete any one section.  You have to erase the whole path, which can get really annoying.  

I took out my school email address and some identifying details, but wanted to post the final result (click on the right arrow to see each part of my Prezi):


Wish Me Luck!

Tomorrow's my first day back as a teacher after 2 1/2 years at home with my three kids!  

*deep breath*  

We'll see what the year brings.  =)


The Stylish Classroom/Office--Courtesy of Anthropologie

I was clicking through a NY Times slideshow about back to school accessories, when I saw a desk organizer by Anthropologie (8 of 9).  I had no idea that my favorite store sold office supplies!  Once I started looking at the "Room Decor" and "At the Desk" sections on the website, I was smitten.  

My top ten:

All photos in collage from Anthropologie.com

  1. Typeface Calendar, $21.95--Total typeface nerd, right over here.  
  2. Voice One Loudspeaker, $498--Way too expensive, but really lovely to look at.  Perfect for adding a little design element to my video presentations.
  3. Inch Marks Pencil Cup, $20--Whimsy in a cup
  4. Poet Journal, $32--For when inspiration hits
  5. Obliging Bird Clip, $18--Perfect for late passes (might have to empty it out every week though)
  6. Cover Story Postcards, $25--The vintage covers on the postcards are great for quick notes to colleagues.
  7. Flowering Twig Pencil, $5--Rustic and modern
  8. From the Desk of Notepad, $15--I really like how it adds "Metaphorically speaking" at the bottom of each note.
  9. Pinwheel Push Pins ,$15--They're so much prettier than the average push pin.
  10. Clothbound Penguin Classics, $20 each--I've always had a soft soft for beautiful books.


Enter September

Clockwise from upper left:  DN at today's butterfly release, LT at Storm King, RT making bubble soup, 
and DN's pre-Hurricane Irene list for my grocery run

Fall is right around the corner.  As I drove to a friend's tag sale this morning, I noticed the leaves were tinged with reds and oranges.  The sun is setting as I begin to type and I see the last few streaks of pink and baby blue in the sky.  DN's schoolbag is packed with everything on her school list and hanging on the doorknob, ready to be grabbed on the way out.  My classroom is almost completely set up (I got some brand spanking new literary terms and figurative language mini posters yesterday that are going to look fabulous on my bulletin boards) and the twins have already RSVP-ed for their fall playdates with my moms' group (thanks, CL!).  It's a pretty normal start to September.

View of my backyard from left to right (starting in the upper left hand corner) the day Hurricane Irene hit

Meanwhile, a mere hour or two from my house, Hurricane Irene has decimated parts of Ulster County, the Catskills, and the Mohawk Valley in New York as well as Vermont.  Major flash floods (relatives of friends saw creeks that usually ran a few inches in depth transform into 6'+ angry rivers) took everyone by surprise.  An employee at a nearby farm market told me how the owner lost half of everything he owned and how a neighbor lost 1000 fruit trees.  He had asked the owner if they should put out a donation box next to the register, but the farmer was too proud to ask for handouts.  He was just thankful that they still had half.  Numerous families and individuals were trapped in their homes for days because flash floods and mudslides swept away bridges and destroyed roads.  Middleburgh High School, as well as many, many other schools, are scrambling to salvage whatever they can and clear out the buildings before black mold sets in.  

From Twitter:  @GlitterandGray I'd never wish having to comb through trees, dirt, water and muck to find your belongings stretched over two miles of destruction on anyone. 

Watershed Post has been a lifesaver for people suffering from the aftermath of Hurricane Irene in the Catskills.  For the first couple of days after the hurricane, people (as well as friends and family members of victims) added themselves (totally mindblowing) to a Google spreadsheet that listed people who were still stranded and in need of aid.  Now there is a spreadsheet that contains the names and contact info for donation centers both in the area and all the way down to NYC.  I have been riveted to their Twitter feed as they tweet and retweet the most uplifting and heartbreaking stories and videos from those who are experiencing this firsthand. 

Ways to help:
  • Text REDCROSS to 90999 to donate $10 to American Red Cross Disaster Relief
  • If you are in the Catskills area or know someone who is planning to go there as a volunteer, click here to see a list of what donation centers need.
  • Donate to The MARK Project, a local organization committed to rebuilding many of the communities that have been affected.
  • If you're in the NYC or Hudson Valley area, support local farmers by buying your fresh produce at farm markets and going apple picking.  Their livelihoods really do depend on your continued support.
  • Donate to Bags of Hope for the Children of Schoharie County.  Kayla is creating and handing out small bags of toys to kids who have lost everything.  
Thanks for your time!