Inspiring Pages with Adobe Spark


I’ve always thought it was important for teacher’s to have a web presence in a society that is saturated with technology. It always made sense to me that if I can order a pizza on my computer, my students and parents should be able to find out of their education on a computer.

Now there are great learning management systems like Google Classroom, Canvas and Schoology that let teachers share and receive information immediately with students. Everything is just a click away. Miss class? “Check Google Classroom” How can I turn this in to you? “Check Google Classroom”. There are even parent/”shadow” options on these so parents can see every educational transaction as it’s happening too. Plus almost every district has online grade books where parents can check grades and contact teachers through email.

I had a pretty good website. It didn’t require a lot of updating throughout the year, gave an extensive amount of information and looked not too shabby. But it wasn’t a high traffic area. Not often visited by anyone. Why was that? I deduced that it generally was not needed. My lesson plans were easy to find elsewhere. People who wanted to contact me already knew how to do that. Anyone that had questions about policies and procedures would rather just email and ask than click and read.

I maintain, however, that it is important for a teacher to have a web presence.  So I went small-scale and created a one page “hello” website about my Spanish class. Gives info, biography and has links to syllabi but otherwise it’s just some showcase photos.

I love Adobe Spark. Like, love it. It’s incredibly easy to put together a beautiful “web” presentation. I’ve used it only once before with my students but would really like to make the effort to use it more often. Just have to find the right inspiration.

I recommend you play around with Adobe Spark and think about how you can incorporate it into your world. It took me about 1 1/2 to create my new web presence with Adobe Spark and I think it’ll do the trick for a 2017 tech-saavy educational world.

Mrs. Huff's Spanish

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Also check out my TPT store between June 28-Jul 1 2017 for a 20% off everything sale. I’m working on adding new resources and welcome feedback and suggestions.

My Store

Triptico Classroom Resources


A few years ago I downloaded a classroom resource application called Triptico.  It had a great graphics look and some nice and easy tools to use in my classroom.  Recently Triptico launched a web-based application where you can save your activities to the cloud for easy use anywhere.  It’s great!

There are tools in Triptico that any teacher can benefit from—regardless of content area or age group.  All of the resources are dynamic and visually appealing to your students.  So besides being useful, they are fun to look at.

Below are some of my favorite uses of Triptico:

  • Student Groups  I created a class list for each of my classes.  On days when we do group activities, I bring up the Triptico Group Maker resource, load that class list and remove any students that are absent.  Then I tell Triptico how many groups I want and it will randomly generate them for me.  The kids love watching the colors pop up and waiting in anticipation to see who is going to be with them.  And it’s very easy for me to use.
  • Timers  There are a lot of online timers and stopwatches out there.  These timers are dynamic and visual.  I like the hourglass timer because it doesn’t show students the exact amount of time they have left (or that you set the timer for) so instead of being focused and worried about seconds, they can just get a visual snapshot of time remaining.
  • Selected Spinner  I’ve only used this one recently but it has been fun!  I put in a list of questions and answers.  Then when I’m ready to run the activity for a class, I put in the names of the students.  With the click of the button, Triptico will randomly choose a question and then randomly choose a student to answer it.  It’s fun to watch, totally random and the kids were glued to the board.  A great way to do a simple review for any test or quiz.

Check out Triptico for these resources and more!

Educational Value of Kinetic Typography


I previously wrote a post about creating kinetic typography videos.  I love finding Spanish kinetic typography lyric videos because they A) are attractive and visually pleasing to watch and B) include Spanish lyrics and words so that you can match the Spanish audio with a word.  I have used these videos as supplemental content for a few years.

But this year I wanted to “up the ante”.  I wanted my students to have to make a kinetic typography video of their own–using Spanish songs and Spanish lyrics.  It was a hefty creative task that required some time from the students.  I just finished grading the final products and now I can reflect on the educational value of this project.

Focus on Spanish Lyrics

This type of video is a lyric video, which means the students had to spend a great deal of time with the lyrics of the song.  I did not give them a copy of the Spanish lyrics.  I gave them other lyric video examples that they could copy from or I think some of them just Googled for the Spanish lyrics to the songs.  Regardless, this creation required students to spend a great deal of time working with the Spanish words.  Even if they didn’t know what the words meant necessarily, it was valuable to have them spend so much time immersed in the target language.  I heard a few comments throughout the last few weeks that “I have that word in my song” or referencing that they learned different Spanish words that we didn’t learn in class just because they are used a lot in their song.  This was the main benefit of the project for me: a way to force my students to spend more time absorbed in the Spanish language.

Hearing Spanish Words

In addition to just working with the lyrical text, students had to work with the Spanish audio of the song. They repeatedly had to listen to their song, making them more familiar with the way Spanish sounds.  A few students commented that they can’t hear the original English version of the song anymore without hearing the Spanish lyrics in their head.  And some commented that they listened to it so often the Spanish song got stuck in their head and they kept repeating it.  Even if they didn’t know the direct translation of the audio stuck in their head, having Spanish of any kind floating around the brain is a great learning experience.

Matching Audio to Words

The lyrical text should be matched to the audio.  When students made their videos, they had to make sure the Spanish words appeared in sync with the Spanish audio.  This requires students to do a few different mental tasks at once (always of great educational value).  Students had to listen to the Spanish audio, look at the Spanish lyrical text in their presentation and physically get them to appear together.  This process of audio and visual matching is a great learning activity for them.  It isn’t enough just to have the Spanish lyrics or just to listen to the Spanish audio.  Having to take both pieces and work them together in sync really established a unique learning experience.

Content Creation

Aside from Spanish, a project like this is rewarding just because it allows the students to be content creators: authors of their own learning.  I gave them project parameters, specific benchmarks they were to be graded on but they were allowed to choose their own path of completion.  Some students chose to work together in small groups while others worked alone.  Some created their presentation using Powerpoint and others used Prezi or just IMovie. The finished projects I saw reflected the individual students: I did not receive two identical projects. Each project reflects the individual or individuals responsible for it.  My students that were a little more tech saavy used that to their advantage to create something really innovative.  Students that were less techy produced simpler projects that still met all project guidelines.  Allowing students to be content creators gives them the freedom to publish their own path to learning.

As a teacher, I’m satisfied with that the projected learning outcomes associated with this project were met. I’m proud of the creations my students ended up with and hope they are too.

The Paperless Classroom Experiment


My school has been 1:1 with laptops for 2 years now.  Eventually the tech coordinator and I believed that going 1:1 would gradually lead to a decrease in printing, photocopying and general paper use but it hasn’t really worked out that way.  Two weeks ago I was preparing my lesson for the next day and began printing some copies of example assignments I wanted to show my students.  The thought just popped into my head and I hit Command+P and printed without even thinking about.  Like a reflex.

So I challenged myself for one week to use no paper in the classroom.  I continued lesson planning like normal, but I had to find ways for myself and my students to work without the use of paper.  I just wrapped this up on Friday, so here are my main reflections on how it all went:

To each their own

Each of my students are different.  There are some students that thrive in a digital environment with hyperlinks and online filing cabinets.  Other students find that harder to navigate and understand.  I tried to, for the most part, give my students digital copies of everything the day before class in case they wanted to print them out on their own.  Is that cheating in a paperless classroom?  Maybe, but I felt like I had to give the students that option.  Almost no students chose to print anything out though.

Sometimes there is no substitute

Sometimes paper is just the best option.  This week I introduced new vocabulary to my Spanish 2 students.  They normally get a paper vocab sheet with the words.  They use that sheet as a reference when we do different activities and I’ve seen them use it for an easy way to study during lunch or before the quiz.  This week they just got a digital copy of the sheet.  I think it definitely impacted the way they studied and learned their vocabulary.  I wasn’t very pleased with assessments results associated with the vocabulary this week.  The students definitely seemed weaker without holding that solid reference sheet.  If I ever did decide to make the move to a 100% paperless classroom, this would be my biggest concern and condition to consider.

Just do it

Kind of like a diet or a lenten resolution, there were some times throughout the week where I just thought I could cheat or cut a corner here and there.  I could have the students write down those answers and turn them into me on paper real quick.  I could just make a classroom copy of this or that.  But this was a challenge/game for me, so I just did it.  And for the most part, everything was just fine.  I think the biggest obstacle in creating a paperless or paper-lessened environment is the decision to plan it that way.  It requires a decision from the teacher to go that route.  It becomes like a discipline behavior.

Worth it?

Sounds like a lot of work or willpower for the teacher.  So is it worth it?  There are certainly benefits to a paper-lessened environment.  I never took home anything to grade — every piece of assessment data I had was on my computer in one form or another.  Easily organized and accessed.  I used digital assessments (on Canvas LMS) vs. regular paper quizzes and that allowed the students to get immediate feedback.  They knew their score before I did.  Which makes sense since it is their score.  Physically less photocopying and printing makes my tech guy happier with the budget, so there are monetary concerns if you look at this large scale.  I also found that doing things this way made it easier to get things to students that were absent.  Normally I have a little table in the corner with handouts, and when I student is absent, they come and ask for a handout that they missed and we search through the piles until we find what they need.  Everything was online for everyone all week, so there was no lag in the distribution of materials.

Future Implications

I can’t go full on paperless.  At least not until the students get more accustomed to that lifestyle.  I only have them for about 50 minutes of their academic day.  When they leave me, they have to go into classrooms where paper exists, so it isn’t helpful to them to put them through that shock just for the heck of it.  But I am going to try and be paper conscious and create a paper-lessened classroom, with less photocopying and printing.  And I’m going to promote this with other teachers to try and create that environment everywhere.  Once the students learn to learn without paper consistently, we can talk about a truly paperless classroom

A funny thing happened on the way to the paperless classroom

I’m going to add this anecdote as a post-script to this paperless classroom blog.  It’s an interesting little thing that happened with my Spanish 3 class of mainly junior students.   Using Doctopus (a truly lifesaving Google Script), each student had a personal online Google Doc where they needed to take notes over Argentina.  I introduced the notes in class but students were supposed to read and take notes on their own outside of class and come back in two days ready to discuss and talk about the information.  As they got settled in to their document and to the online notes, one student asked why they just couldn’t work on this all together.  They had previous experience using Google Docs and Presentations to collaborate with each other and take group notes, and they wanted to know why they couldn’t just do that.  I explained that for future activities that we were going to do, I wanted each student to have their own individual copy of the notes.  I said that I would be checking their personal note sheet to see how they did—but if they wanted to find a way to work together they could.  Then I kind of stepped back.

First they tried to share their personal note taking sheets with each other, but I had blocked that option.  So then a student created a new document and invited the class to all be collaborators.  They worked together to take notes on that document.  Then they went through those group notes and copied them into their personal note taking sheets.  I watched them work through that and thought how transformative that was.  It was completely something that didn’t and couldn’t exist with only paper and no technology.  And it turned out great.  The notes they took were very good and the students were ready for the tasks we had in class later that week.  Certainly they did it because “it was easier” but I choose to focus on the fact that they wanted to collaborate and figured out a way to make it work.

Getting Started with LanSchool


LanSchool is a program that we have at Denver Community Schools that allows teachers to monitor computer activity and control computer activity.  As we have all of our students 6-12 on Macbooks during the school day, it sounds like it would be a lifesaving and proactive dream program for teachers.  (see why it isn’t that simple below)

Before a teacher can begin controlling computer activity or even monitoring the students in individual classes, a teacher needs to create a class list of computers.  This way, the teacher is only looking at the monitors in his or her room and not everyone on the network.  Looking at the 20 monitors you care about vs. looking at 200 monitors of everyone.

See a tutorial video here.

All computers on our network can be found at Channel 0.  You need to be on Channel 0 for the first initial set-up of LanSchool.  After you have created your class lists, get off of Channel 0 and put in your own personal channel.  At Denver, your personal channel is your phone extension.

Your students need to be on their computer in your room in order for you to build your individual class lists.  This isn’t something you can prep at night and have ready for class the next day.

The tutorial above shows how you can build and save your class lists.

Problems:

As we’ve found with most monitoring software programs, LanSchool isn’t perfect.  The average “success” rate is about 80% – – meaning that if all of your students are on their computers, LanSchool will only be able to discover about 80% of them.  There are constant updates and things that we can do on our end to try and help that, but we need to accept that reality.  Silver lining: it’s better than nothing!  And it’s sometimes perfect.  I was using it for the first two weeks out of the year with 100% success everyday.  Then, not so much.  It’s just glitchy.

What It Is I Do


I recently signed my contract to be a Spanish teacher next year.  That’s my official title when people ask me: Spanish teacher.  In simplified terms, that’s what I am.  But what is it that I do?  I just finished my 9th year of teaching and I’ve been doing some thinking about that.  These are the two most popular responses I used to give (and I’m guessing fellow teachers would to):

A: I teach Spanish to my students.

B:  I help students learn Spanish.

And I think I finally realized that these statements are not interchangeable or at all the same.  And somewhere along the line of figuring that out, I got closer to understand what it is I do and want to do.

Statement A

Within this viewpoint, the teacher is the one actively doing something: the teaching.  It’s a teacher centered statement, meaning that my job is based around the things that I do.  I do the instructing, the creating of assessments, the giving out of information.  I give “the learning” to my students.  I do it.  They are there to get it.  And that’s a fine construct, one that higher education and traditional educational settings are set-up for and encourage.

Statement B

Whereas in Statement A the teacher is in the limelight, Statement B shadows the teacher into a supporting “helping” role.  The people actively doing something here are the students.  They are doing and are responsible for the learning part.  They have to do that.  The teacher is there to help and make that happen.  The students are the stars of the classroom and the teacher is there as a coach, as back-up, to provide a path but not to just give information.

Neither of these perspectives is right or problematic and a successful teacher probably needs a mixture of the two, but moving forward, I’d like to say that I’m more Statement B than the other.  It’s a completely personal perspective, built upon your own educational philosophy. (click here for my philosophy).

Continue reading “What It Is I Do”

Join Me at Join.Me


With the increase in technology devices in the classroom, what alternatives do teachers now have as far as displaying content?

Remember the overhead days?  I thought that the switch from that to a digital projector was a big deal but now that all of my students have mini, individual screens right in front of them, do I need one large projection in the front of the classroom.  What if I want to show content (a picture, file, presentation, map, etc.) and I want just want that shared with all my students?  What if I want them to see what I see on my computer screen?

I like the free-ness and the simplicity of Join.me.com  At Join.me, a teacher can download the software and be able to broadcast their computer screen to anyone that logs in with a passkey.  I run the software on my computer and the students go straight to https://join.me/.  They don’t have to log-in or download anything on their end; they just enter a code that I generate for my sharing time.  Once they enter that code, their computer screen turns into my computer screen.

The student (or the joiner) is just a vistor.  They cannot access or manipulate your screen without being granted access, so it’s safe.  The teacher can see who is all in the session and can see when anyone drops out.  There are some communication options too, where students can type in questions or answer your questions or have a complete discussion chat-room style while still viewing your screen.

There are some applications of this that are great but here is one important thing to remember:  there is about a 5 second lag between the real time on your screen and action that the students see.  I don’t see this as an ideal replacement for showing video or fast moving content.  But I think it’s great for pointing out or looking at stationary content for a little while.

Whenever the teacher ends the session, the code evaporates and all students are “dismissed” from the session and return to their originally scheduled programming.

Best Part:  Obviously it works through the Internet so it’s good on Chrome, Safari and Firefox, but there is also a free IPad app that lets IPad classrooms see a teacher’s computer screen.

Nearpod: Mobile Learning + Interactive Presentation App


For classrooms that have 1:1 access with IPads, Nearpod would be one of those tools I would say absolutely had to be used in classroom instruction.  Mandatory use in instruction.  It combines presentation and lecture, quizzes, polling and formative assessment, video and hands on demonstrating.  There are two sides to Nearpod: the teacher side and the student side. From the teacher side, one can create interactive lessons by creating a presentation in Nearpod that is like a PowerPoint on steroids. There are six different types of features a teacher can add into a presentation.  The presentation can have multiple features, all one feature or a mixture of whatever the author wants.

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A few observations about the features:

  • If a teacher already has PowerPoints created and wants to incorporate those slides into a Nearpod presentation, it would be complete possible!  Just go to PowerPoint and save the PPT as images (this is an option in the File Menu).  Now each one of your slides is an image file that can be uploaded to Nearpod.  I think the whole “Save as Images” option is key in using Nearpod with materials you’ve already created.
  • The quizzes and Q&A make great formative assessment.  It’s a little bit tricky to do an open ended question or a question with multiple answers, but it is do-able.
  • “Draw it” is pretty awesome.  I tested it out in a math presentation at halfway through the presentation, the teacher included a “Draw it” slide where the students had to work through the problem.  The teacher sees all responses on his/her IPad.

The teacher creates an interactive, instructional presentation or lesson on the web.  When it’s time for the lesson, the teacher uses and IPad and logs in to the Nearpod app as a teacher.  The students type in a code assigned to that presentation and are immediately taken to the lesson.  It’s a teacher-paced presentation, so students are only able to see the part of the presentation the teacher wants.  When the teacher is ready to move on to the next screen of the presentation, the teacher swipes the screen and all student screens will go to the next feature.  It’s a great instructional app that allows the teacher to move through content while allowing students the opportunity to get involved and participate, all while collecting data on understanding.

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Nearpod is one of those progression instructional tools.  Content used to be delivered through lecture.  Then overhead.  Then PowerPoint presentations.  Now the presentation includes interactive elements and is right there in each student’s hands.  It’s best used in situations where there is 1 IPad for every 1 student involved (either a 1:1 environment or a small group setting).  I think that in the future of IPads in Education, Nearpod will be the instructional tool that all others are measured by.

The Unlimited Powers of Skitch


I really love Skitch.  So much so that I have it (and use it) on my Macbook and my IPad.  It’s a product of Evernote – – another tool that other people just go crazy for.  Skitch is essentially an annotation program.  It allows you to add text, diagrams and other notations to any blank document, map or picture from your computer or the web.  It has amazing instructional potential for teachers.

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One of my favorite things to do with Skitch is to do graphic directions.  Providing step by step instructions on something is good, but pairing that with visuals is even better.  With the IPad, you can instantly take a snapshot with Skitch and start annotating it.

I’ve seen students use Skitch consistently in math and science; taking pictures of something and then using Skitch to apply their knowledge of the concepts learned.  One teacher practicing graphing has the students take a picture of graph paper, draw their graph while showing the work and then email their work directly the teacher.  In science, young students took pictures of their little seedling and used Skitch to label the parts.  Basically anything that involved labeling is a cinch with Skitch.

I love that, from within Skitch, you can go out to the web and take a snapshot of anything.  I think this could potentially be great reading activity: take a snapshot of some text, highlight the main idea, underline key words, etc.  There are so many possibilities to use Skitch in the classroom.  I recommend you download it, play around with the features and immediately start thinking of ways to use it to make your life easier.

Extend your Professional Learning Network with Edmodo


Teaching an elective subject in a small school district and make building a professional learning network difficult.  Teachers using Edmodo are fortunate to have subject based communities that they can access for resources, suggestions and discussion regarding education in their content area.  These communities are the perfect extension of anyones professional learning network.

Edmodo Communities
Edmodo Communities

The communities are built around content area and not grade level, so each community includes teachers from all age groups.  Edmodo reaches across the country and into several different countries around the world.  The diversity of teacher ideas within the content area is amazing.  You can check in and look at the community activity any time you want: twice a day, once a week, once a semester – – it doesn’t matter.  The community is there for you as you need it.

The greatest gift of the Edmodo community is the sharing of ideas, resources and content specific information.  You can simply go to the community, post a question and within a day, have 15 responses from across the globe to try and help you out.  Since the information comes from other Edmodo teachers, there is a huge focus on technology and how to make it work in all tech savvy environments (IPad, 1:1, mobile carts).