Can’t read it now? Put it in your Pocket!

Since us educators are always pressed for time, it is useful to have a way to store all the great content we come across when browsing the internet, Twitter, or over 300 other apps, for when we have more time (yeah right).  Pocket is an application that allows you to save web content to a list that is accessible through an app on your phone or tablet, or on the web.  One of the best things about Pocket is that once content is saved, you don’t need an internet connection to look at it later.  Once items are in Pocket, you can easily share them via Twitter, Facebook, and email.  You can also tag and favorite items for further organizational purposes.  Pocket extensions are also available for your web browser which enables you to save items and then have easy access to them later on your mobile device.  Overall, Pocket is extremely user-friendly and is sure to boost your efficiency while making more efficient use of your online teaching resources and personal learning network.  


Visually Stimulating Ways to Present Information

These days it seems like there is a new presentation creation site or app available almost every day for teachers to try out.  Whether it be comics, videos, cartoons, animations, interactive images, or the myriad of other types of media, any or all of these options have the ability to increase student engagement.

There must be a better way - ToonDooVisual media is undoubtedly a great way to present information.  Comic strips like the one above made with ToonDoo can be used to get a point across or stimulate a discussion.  They can also provide a nice comedic counterpoint to any presentation, and make great openers or closers.  Even better is that students love to make them.  ToonDoo itself offers quite a variety of options in its free version.  Different comic layouts are available and are completely customizable in tons of ways.  You can create characters in addition to the available templates, upload your own images to include in strips, and even use paint tools to further customize the panels of your strip.  Once completed, ToonDoo comics can be downloaded as image files, embedded in websites, and shared via email, Twitter, and Facebook.

It seems like infographics are all the rage these days, and I must admit, I’m a sucker for a good one myself.  Combining the attractiveness of visual images with sleek design and information, a well-made infographic beckons with a siren-like call.

“Come to me, look at me, study me, learn from me…”

Grading PolicyI used Piktochart to create the sample above.  My intent was to show students the different components of their grade as well as to explain how each component is intended to contribute to the whole.  Piktochart allows users to choose from over 100 free templates (more available with a paid upgrade) and then offers a variety of customization options within the template, as virtually all aspects can be altered to the user’s specifications.  Once completed, infographics can be downloaded as image or .pdf files, Tweeted, and shared with Facebook, Pinterest, or Google+.  The tricky thing about creating infographics is having a clear idea of what information you want to present, figuring out how to do it in a concise way, and then presenting it in a way that is aesthetically pleasing.  Admittedly, this will come easier to some than others.  Infographics are powerful communication tools, and sites like Piktochart put their creation into the hands of teachers and students where they can be used for a variety of purposes.

Tired of PowerPoint?  Me too (even though I have tons and tons of them and still use the program regularly), but I have been looking for something new.  One of the problems I have with PowerPoint is the tendency to include too much information on my slides and thus my presentations get bogged down and I find myself reading slides more than discussing the topic I am presenting in an engaging way.  I love the way Prezi looks, but I spend a lot of time making presentations, but can’t seem to get the hang of making them come out really great.  Enter Haiku Deck, a sleek slide-based presentation design platform that is free, extremely easy to use, creates beautiful looking presentations, and forces you to be concise with your text.  While it doesn’t have all the intricacies of Prezi, or even PowerPoint, its beauty and ease of use lie in its simplicity.

Haiku Deck is available as an app for iPad or on the web (it’s currently in beta).  There are a few basic templates and simple slide types to choose from, and then you can customize the location of text on each slide.  Image search is built right into each slide and makes inserting high-quality pictures a breeze.  You can also upload your own images.  When your Haiku Deck is finished, it can be shared in a variety of ways, embedded, and even downloaded to work with PowerPoint.  Haiku Deck is a great tool for creating visually stunning presentations that provide a foundation on which to build your discussion of a topic.

ToonDoo, Piktochart, and Haiku Deck are just three of the literally hundreds of options available to teachers and students looking to spice up their presentation with highly engaging visuals.  Their use is really limited only by an individual’s creativity.  Although it can be overwhelming, many of these sites are very easy to sign up for and start using and the novelty-factor will help to engage students.

Phones, Collaboration, & Microscopes

A few weeks ago I came across this post on Instructables detailing an inexpensive way to turn your smartphone into a digital microscope.

I’m always looking for new ways to utilize smartphones in my classroom to enhance student learning, and as a biology teacher, this particular idea seemed like a no-brainer.  Not being the most savvy person when it comes to building things, I sent the video to one of my colleagues in the engineering department at school asking him if we could make this happen.  He thought it would be pretty easy and two days later showed up with the first prototype during one of my biology classes.

Looking at a fern leaf

Looking at a fern leaf

As we explained what the contraption was, students were of course anxious to try it out.  The spent the next twenty minutes crowed around my desk figuring out exactly how to use the microscope, looking for things to magnify, trying different phones and photo settings, taking pictures, and joyously exploring a cool new toy.  Of course, I was thinking about all the possible ways I might incorporate this into engaging learning activities.

The almighty dollar

The almighty dollar

We plan to try and make more of these microscopes, and even possibly have the engineering students work on improving the design, adding features, and decreasing the cost of production.  Reflecting, I’m amazed at how a cool and useful idea emerged on the internet, was so widely disseminated to the point that I saw it, and then how quickly it became a reality in my classroom through collaboration with a colleague.  Watching the students enthusiastically explore also reminded me how important it is to remember that while there are certainly many unbelievable and amazing ways to engage students using web tools and resources, nothing really compares to giving them a hands-on experience.

Onion root cells

A pictured of onion root cells taken with a student phone camera using the microscope and then shared via Twitter using the #mrvigs122bio tag


My First Week & A Half In The Professional Twitter World

I must admit, I never knew that people used Twitter for anything other than sending witty (and not so witty) messages back and forth, wasting time, and seeing who could come up with the most ironic hashtags.  I have been continually amazed for a week and a half as I’ve immersed myself in the most robust, dynamic discussion of education that I have ever witnessed, complete with how-to’s, videos, articles, and support and encouragement from passionate educators all over the world.  I have been exposed to resources I probably never would have found on my own, lurked and participated in #edchat, been favorited and retweeted, created hashtags to facilitate discussions for my classes, posted twitpics, and most importantly, have been continuously making connections with people I almost certainly will never have the opportunity to meet in person who will now contribute to my professional development (and hopefully I to theirs).  All of this, and practically no negativity, just enthusiasm for sharing ideas, integrating tech, and discussing education – very cool!

An Initial Attempt to Use Twitter With Students

After using Twitter for a week, as well as thinking and reading about how it may be used to engage and interact with students, I’m going to try starting an ongoing conversation with my students by creating some hashtag conversations.  I’m going to ask students to use the hashtags in order to share interesting articles or videos related to class content, ask questions, and generally discuss class and school related issues.  I will try to actively participate as well, and hopefully students will engage and continue the learning process outside of the classroom in a way that is meaningful for them.

I’m going to start with two hashtags in order to differentiate the general subjects that I teach.  They will be #mrvigs122bio for my Biology students and #mrvigs122sis for my Studies in Science students.

For anybody looking to get started with Twitter, I have found the link posted by SaraKLMS to be extremely helpful (The Twitteraholic’s Ultimate Guide to tweets, hashtags, and all things Twitter), but for those overwhelmed by gobs of information, A Refreshingly Simple Guide to Twitter For Teachers might be more your speed (it’s where I encountered the infographic below).

Getting Connected With Twitter

In my continuing effort to become a connected educator (and with the encouragement of Sara K), I am tossing my hat into the Twitter ring.  Using Twitter to follow other educators as well as science news and content providers gives me access to amazing amounts of information that is both high quality (as it is vetted by actual users and professional organizations) and timely (not out of date like so many websites).  I had already started using my Facebook account in a similar way by “liking” pages of science content providers, which enables me to constantly see links to cool news stories and videos that I can use in my classes, and Twitter allows me to take this approach one step further as it adds even more layers of connectivity.

I’m a little nervous about becoming an addict, as I really don’t want to spend any more time looking at my phone then I have to, but if it provides me with some good resources then it is worth a try.

Follow me @MrVigliotti

The Evolution of Tech in Schools

Here is a pretty cool infographic published by the Master of Arts in Teaching program at the University of Southern California, which details the evolution of technology in schools.  The current rapid rate of technological advancement makes it more necessary than ever for educators to collaborate and find the best ways to integrate new technologies.

Although we can never be sure of  what exactly will come next, one thing we can be sure of is that the exponential increase in the amount of tech available to educators will continue to dramatically alter the educational landscape.