Sunday, July 31, 2011

Searchable & practical reviews of teaching resources

New TeachersFirst Website

    Recently, TeachersFirst  redesigned their already useful website, which includes searchable and detailed reviews of hundreds, possibly thousands, of Internet tools, websites, lessons for K12 teachers. 

    In sum, the website provides:
  • Free Internet resources for K12
  • Evaluated by teachers for teachers
  • Searchable by grade, keyword, subject
  • Addresses teacher concerns such as logistics, student safety and privacy
  • Mobile-friendly and ad-free content
     I’ve used TF for several years, and always recommend it to other teachers.  With the new website, I needed to update my “cheat sheet” to help other teachers use TF effectively.  There's so much here, I don't want teachers to miss out on all TF has to offer.

    The cheat sheet is available on Scribd at

    Take some time to explore this terrific resource.  You’ll be glad you did.

Disclosure:  I am a member of the TeachersFirst Educator Advisory Board.        

Saturday, July 30, 2011

How to block people in Google+

While G+ is a nice way to control where your content goes out to, it is now also possible to control what comes in.

Because anybody can put you in their circles (think the Facebook user with 5,000+ “friends”). 

But you may not want their content. 

If you click on notifications, find one with the green circle in it.  Click there and you'll see everybody both in your circles and who has added you to theirs.  When you see new people there, you can opt to add them, hide them so you don’t have to look at them again, or block them.

There is one guy who put me in his circles whose content is both profane and juvenile – just what I want showing on my desktop when I’m demonstrating G+, right?

Now I can block him, so his content is gone from my stream.  Thank you, Google.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Google Plus or Minus?

Used it for a week and here’s what I think. 

The hangouts will definitely be useful – an easy way to have a conversation / work session / parent-teacher conference / snow day that’s no snow day / office hours ... 

The feed:  I’m seeing random conversations, sometimes interesting, but the feed seems disorganized and waaaaaay too long.  The order that things post still isn’t apparent to me – as new material shows up far down in the feed, at the top, in the middle.

I’m afraid I just don’t like one big feed – that’s why I use #hashtags and Tweetdeck with Twitter, with each #hashtag in a separate column.  Without organization it’s just a lot of stuff thrown together.  I'm thinking: Do I need still another stream of stuff to scroll through?  While I read my raw Twitter stream at times, mostly I concentrate on the hashtags.  

Hard to send a message to an individual.  I was able to leave a comment on a colleague's page, but never saw her response to me until I happened to go back to her page. 

Also it can be hard to send a message to a group.  G+ seems to default to try to send your post to whatever circles you used on your last message.  Then makes it hard to reduce the circles - seems to only want you to add circles for a message.  I ended up sending to the larger number of circles just to get the darn thing sent.  Definitely still Beta.   

(It's easy to report problems, though you don't receive any direct response.)

Here’s the biggest problem I've encountered.  If somebody adds you to their circles, whether you want it or not, whatever they post (to the circle they put you in) shows up in your feed – including the profane, the inappropriate, and the juvenile.   You don't have to have them in your circles either.

And though G+ has directions for blocking somebody, the directions don’t work.  You’re supposed to find Chat on your Home page, enter the name of the person you want to block there, click on Action, then on Block – except the only thing you can do there is click on start a chat. I don’t want to speak to this particular person, just block his content.  I can mute individual posts, but not ALL that person’s posts.  They’re still clogging up my stream.  And do I want to show somebody else G+ when this guy’s idea of humor and vocabulary are streaming by?  I don’t think so.

Since I reported the problem somebody (Google?) deleted all the posts from this person.  Thank you!  But I’d prefer an easier way to block somebody than filing a trouble report (or going through interminable steps...)

Hangouts have a real future, but there are a lot of wrinkles Google has yet to iron out. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Working with Moodle calendar

I just added all my school’s 2011-2012 dates into my Moodle website, and wanted to share some of the things I learned. 

You should know that due dates from assignments are automatically added to the course calendar if you’ve included them when creating an activity, which is a real time-saver. 

But to display the calendar so you and your students can use it, you need to add a calendar block.

You can add a calendar to the website as a whole, or you can just add a calendar to your class (which will pull in dates from any website calendar if there is one).  To do this, add a Calendar block.  After you've turned editing on, use the Add-a-block block to add a calendar to your site or course.

Click on the month name in the block and you’ll be able to start editing/adding dates.  (Or use the arrows to get yourself to the month you want, then click on the month name.)  You’re now in the calendar editor.  Click on New event (top right in the big monthly calendar).

You then get the choice of making this a user event (personal), a course event, or a site event.  Make your choice. 

The important things here are Name, Date, Duration, and Repeats.  Name should be short and descriptive.  Date is the date this event starts.  Use the drop down menus to select the day/month/year.

Duration gets a bit tricky.  If your event lasts just one day, click on Duration,  enter the same date as above, be sure to click on Until (bizarrely, the default is to repeat forever) and Save changes. 

However, if this event lasts for several days (say a vacation or testing period), you have to do a bit more.  First, click on Duration and enter the ending date.  Second, within the ending date, make sure you add some hours (doesn’t seem to matter how many).  Then click on Until and Save changes. (If you don’t, you’ll end up with an event that displays one day shorter than you want, and you will be exercising your vocabulary as you try to figure out why.)

It’s possible to put in a weekly repeating event, which will be handy if you give a test every Thursday. 

Finally, when using the calendar, global items display in different colors than course items, and mousing over an item displays the contents.  If the student clicks on the month name, the entire calendar for the month will show, with the description of each event on each date.

Altogether a very handy tool, and one I must be sure to remind my students to use. 

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Moodle for Dummies review

   There’s a lot to like in Radana Dvorak’s Moodle for Dummies.   

  •     Lots of valuable information here.  I’ve been working with Moodle for more than 2 years, and still found a lot that I both didn’t know and can use.
  •     Includes a lot of Moodle Admin material, so as a teacher you might be able to do without some of the heavier Moodle Admin books. 
  •     Many things are described step by step, so helpful when you’re starting out.
  •     Examples of the ways teachers might use different capabilities are given, which is helpful as you’re thinking, “I wonder how I’d use that?”
  •     The chapters are organized, and the table of contents and index make it easy to find specific information.  Has the expected tips and warnings the Dummies books use. 

  •     Some of the Illustrations are tiny.  For example, the illustration on page 50 shows 2 full-page screen shots within less than 5 inches of page width; the screenshots have tabs which are referred to in the text, but I can’t read them.  When you have to hold the book 2 inches from your face so you can read it – if you can – the information is not getting across.  Publisher:  next edition please make the images big enough.   Hint:  show part of the screen, as you do for other illustrations.
  •     Users don’t reach the part of the book that shows how to add actual course content for 100 pages.  Chapter 5 is about adding content to your course.  Yeah, you need to know that other stuff, but this is the good stuff from a teacher’s point of view.  So if you’re new to Moodle, start here at chapter 5, then go back and read the earlier chapters.
  •     The audience for the book seems to be college and adult ed teachers, so some advice isn’t appropriate for K12.  For example, Dvorak strongly recommends using self-registration (the learners register themselves).  For K-8 at least, I would never recommend that; kids just aren’t that good at following multi-step directions, and some will do it wrong on purpose.  “Gee, Mrs. Lo, I just can’t get it to work, so I guess I can’t…”  

    This brings me to my final point.  I’m glad I bought Moodle for Dummies, but my favorite starting-out-with-Moodle book is still Mary Cooch’s Moodle 1.9 for Teaching 7-14 year olds.  That is written with K8 very much in mind.  But Moodle for Dummies provides a lot of useful information that will help beginners and intermediate Moodle users.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Using discussion format to encourage conversation

    I’ve been thinking about how using different kinds of Moodle discussions encourages or discourages discussion.

    While there are four variants, they display in really just two formats.  The first shows the prompts with separate discussion threads.  The second shows the prompts with replies nested underneath.

    Why is this important?  Because while the second is one conversation and the first is potentially many conversations – which might seem like too much trouble and thus keep students from participating.

The first option I’m talking about here is the default.  The Standard forum format looks like the image to the right.

        When you click on the student’s thread, you then get to see the post and replies.  Each thread is a separate conversation.  For many activities, this is exactly what I want.
  • Perhaps I want each student to post their ideas before they can see any other students’ ideas (Q & A forum).  
  • Perhaps I want students to maintain separate discussions (in the case of Two-Way Journals, where pairs of students are reading the same book and talking about it).  (Standard forum for general use)  
  • Perhaps I want the information organized in separate threads, as I do with vocabulary, where there is a separate thread for each word.   
    But when I really want a conversation on one topic, I don’t always get that with this Standard Forum format.  What often happens is that students click on threads started by their friends, and ignore those started by others.  There can be a very active conversation that other students may not even see.

    So I’m rethinking this.  I want real conversations among all students.  That means I’ll use A Single Simple Discussion format more often – the second option I talked about above.  This format looks like this.  I can display this in summary form, as shown here, or with each post showing:

    This is what you see within the different threads of the Standard Format, but here it’s the single thread, the single discussion. 

    I’ll have to balance this against the desire to see students’ original thinking (because the “me, too” tendency is strong).  This also means I have to divide the class into groups to keep the reading involved in the conversations manageable – but that’s a post for another day.