Thursday, March 19, 2015

Get Connected... for FREE!

No, this isn't an advertisement for Education Connection's website or program, but I can't write this post without singing their original jingle. So ... you too must hear and sing along with me! "Get CONNECTED! For FREE! Education connection! Get CONNECTED! For FREE! Education connection!" (You can thank me hours from now when this jingle is still stuck in your brain!) 

Now, on to the REAL reason I'm writing this post: to share one simple tool to help educators get connected to other like-minded educators. 
Today's tool: Voxer. It is a walkie-talkie like FREE app for your smartphone (get it on iTunesGoogle Play or Windows Phone), allowing you to send live voice messages, text messages and even pictures. When "voxing" with others, you can talk in real-time like the walkie talkies we used as kids (in other words you can listen instantly as the person is voxing) or you can send/listen to a vox at your convenience. There is also a Pro Voxer web-version that costs money but offers additional features. (See the comparisons.) 

Educational uses for Voxer:
  • Leaders: create a Leadership Team Voxer Group with other leaders in your school, district, region, state, etc. Use the private Voxer group to share struggles, celebrations, reflections, etc. as well as collaborate on solutions to challenges or completely new programs to improve your own skill set or the learning environment on your campus. 
  • Principals: start a Voxer group with your staff to share out a thought or question of the week. Encourage teachers to share their thoughts or responses with the Voxer group before the end of the week and listen as the conversation evolves. You could randomly draw a name throughout the year from those who participate and give out a free jeans day or even some simple recognition at a staff meeting to someone who shares a great response. Principals could also use a campus Voxer group to plan upcoming school-wide events. 
  • Teachers: use Voxer to brainstorm, collaborate and plan lessons, assessments, fieldtrips, etc. with your teammates. Participate in Voxer groups with other grade level or subject area teachers from all over to discuss, share and collaborate on lessons, activities or ideas that you can apply in your classroom. 
  • Educators: participate in Voxer groups to learn and grow at your convenience and in areas that you feel are most applicable to you. This is lifelong learning at its best and gives you a "choice and voice" in what you learn!
  • Other Voxer ideas: participate in book studies via Voxer. (I'm currently participating in a Voxer group with nearly 100 educators across the country to read and discuss Eric Sheninger's Digital Leadership book and I am learning a TON!) You could also use Voxer in your personal life to plan baby showers, birthday parties, or just simply use it as a walkie talkie to chat with friends and family near and far. 
Connect with me on Voxer at aprilrileytx!

Read more about Voxer at any of these exceptional resources:

Happy Voxing! 

"Voxer makes it simple for friends, family and colleagues to talk from anywhere in the world, whenever it’s convenient."

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

I'm so excited! And I just can't hide it!

Ser-i-ous-ly, I AM SO EXCITED and I just can't hide it! If this tool is new to you, I think you'll be singing along with me and will be just as excited. Do you use Google Slides or even PowerPoint to create your presentations? Do you get tired of the same ol' same design themes? Or perhaps you're like me and spend hours upon hours trying to design your own theme. Well, this nifty little site/tool that I just can't wait to share with you is going to give you time back AND make your presentations look like a professional created it!
As an instructional technologist, I am constantly creating presentations to share with staff, parents, and students. Since my district is a newly established Google Apps for Education district, I have really tried to model the use of Google Slides. I love the ease of use to create a presentation and the fact that I can jump on any device to pull up my presentation to share with others. What I am not in love with are the presentation design templates; however, I've recently discovered Slides Carnival thanks to Matt over at Ditch That Textbook.

The best part about Slides Carnival is that the tool was developed specifically for Google Slides making it extremely easy to use with your Google account. Truly! I know there are LOTS of other presentation tools out there to create some amazing presentations, but this is the first that I have come across that seamlessly integrates with my GAFE account.
In a matter of minutes I can
1) click on a template,
2) click the "use this presentation" button which opens the template in your Google Drive,

3) go to "File" and "Make a copy" of the presentation (this is a vital step in order to edit)

4) begin editing the information on the template to make it your own.

Ta-da! You'll have a professionally designed and well-organized presentation that will make you look official.

BONUS: Just think, if your students use Slides Carnival, they'll have a guide to help them stay organized when creating presentations to share with the class, making it much easier for you to create a rubric to evaluate their work!

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Teachable Moments

It's that time of year when schools make decisions to dismiss early, delay, or close due to winter weather. For me, that often means being available to publish announcements regarding those decisions on our district website. Yesterday was definitely one of those days! First, on my way in to work I received the call to announce that we would be releasing schools one hour early due to expected winter storms. I immediately pulled my car over, turned on my phone's hotspot and jumped on my laptop to post the early dismissal in order to get the news out to parents as quickly as possible. Then, last night I received the call to announce a late start for today, followed by another call about thirty minutes later to post the school closing announcement. So where is the "teachable moment" in all of this?

When I received the first call of the evening regarding a delayed start, I was in the middle of watching our favorite show on DVR with my family. When my cell rang, my husband paused the show and I grabbed my laptop and started typing the delayed start announcement on our district website. A few seconds after clicking the publish button, the calls, texts, and direct messages started coming in! It appears that I completely botched the date in my delayed start announcement. (Not only was the day/date wrong, but the combination doesn't even exist on the calendar!) As I fired my laptop back up and my husband paused the DVR, I was beyond frustrated with myself that I would make such a horrific error on our district website that hundreds of people look to for accurate information. Granted, the error only appeared on the website for approximately five minutes, I was still beating myself up over making such a public blunder.

Thankfully, though, this little mix up provided me with the following "teachable moments!"
1. Don't pause the DVR of last week's episode if it has the scrolling banner about school closings across the bottom! <<< Apparently the closing from last week was subliminally stuck in my mind causing me to type the wrong weekday! 
2. Everyone makes mistakes, even educators! (Cue the Hannah Montana song!) 
3. Everything you post online is permanent, even if you delete it! <<< This is the biggest teachable moment of them all and I will share it with students and teachers when teaching about digital citizenship. 
While my blunder was only posted for five minutes, one of our students captured it and tweeted about it on Twitter. You just never know who or when someone is taking a screenshot of something you post, and even more so you never know who or how they will share it! ... Now that's a real-life teachable moment!