Category Archives: Technology

Sacred Stories: Transcendental Personal Narratives Using Cowbird

Eleventh graders can be more insightful than you might think. When I asked my second semester classes to list what makes a fulfilling life as a kickoff activity to our Transcendentalism unit, this is what they said:

I love ending the year in  Communications III with Transcendentalism for several reasons. For one, the bitter Wisconsin tundra starts to warm and bloom and the concept of nature being revelatory becomes a little easier of an idea to buy into. For another, it’s an ideal time in my students’ lives for them to try developing a little personal philosophy. They’re on the cusp of senior year, and about to start feeling the pressure to make huge decisions: Which career to head toward? Which relationships to prioritize? Which college to attend? Which beliefs to live by? Which kind of adult to be? For these students, huge questions suddenly need answers, as they always have. What a great time to kick it way back to the mid-1800’s.

Emerson, Thoreau, and the rest of their Transcendental Club sought to define their beliefs as different from the mainstream philosophies surrounding them. Their devotion to ideals of self-reliance, confidence, free thought, and non-conformity resonate with young people readily, even through the thick vocabulary of “Nature” and Walden. My students seek to define themselves as well, and for that reason my colleagues and I balance this unit with a mixture of historic Transcendental information/texts and more modern examples of personal philosophy, such as the YouTube video “How To Be Alone” and Charles Harper Webb’s poem “How To Live.”  Toward the end of the unit, we explore specifically the link between nature and the abstract ideals of these varied sources. Where does nature come in to our understanding of ourselves as people, according to Emerson? Thoreau? What about according to us?

As a culminating project for the unit this year, I was very interested in doing something that would allow students to identify how Transcendentalist ideas have functioned in their own lives through a narrative composition. As luck would have it, right around the time I was thinking about this assignment, I was introduced to the digital story-collecting site Cowbird. It turned out to be the perfect tool: students could use a mixture of image and audio to create a multimedia narrative.

We started by browsing the stories already on the site that were tagged under the topic “Nature.” Using our own reactions, we discussed the features of an engaging narrative, which gave me the chance to insert some additional instruction about narrative composition as well. We then took our stories through a writing workshop. I modeled the process for them, walking them through the website and audio recording app, sharing my own idea-generating web as I brainstormed, showing my drafts-in-progress as they changed each day, and finally posting my final product. I’m a big believer in demonstrating the writing process, as replete with frustration and reward as it can be.

What I loved about watching my students move through this process was how invested and honest they were as they worked. The new technology skills I asked of them were challenging enough to be interesting but not so difficult as to inhibit success. They worked hard on their written drafts and recordings, persevering through many takes in order to get it right. The final compositions were entertaining, moving, and some of the most real writing I saw from my students all year long. Experiencing the stories through an audio format really honored the life experiences and voices, quite literally, of each student author. I found myself smiling, chuckling,and holding my breath as I listened. These students processed the ideas of Transcendentalism to the point of owning them, and that was really cool to witness. Sometimes students don’t understand how powerful their own voices and stories can be. I hope that, after this project, that’s changing for some of them.

Want to try this project, or a version of it, in your own classroom? See my assignment sheet, rubric, and example story below: 

Sacred Spaces: A Transcendentalist Storytelling Experience

Simple Rubric – Cowbird Project

Secrets of Chrome: Cool Google Tips, Apps, and Extensions for Back to School Prep!

As we prepare for back to school, I’m facilitating a small workshop at my district that gives some helpful pointers about using Chrome and Google Docs in schools. It also highlights many great Chrome apps and extensions to use (for free!) in the classroom. This will be our second year as a district with a 1:1 online device ratio–each of our students is provided with a Chromebook. This presentation is shared in the hope that whether you’re a Google novice, or just an app fiend, you find some helpful tips! Some of the information is specific to my district, but you’ll also find many universal tidbits. 🙂

Also, gigantic thanks to Google Certified Teacher and Trainer Stacy Behmer–most of the app and extension recommendations from this presentation are taken directly from her fantastic presentation “60 Chrome Apps and Extensions in 60 Minutes”, presented at the 2014 Google Mini Summit in Wisconsin Dells.

Radio and the High School Experience: A Guest Post from Joe Belknap

I have had the privilege of working with many brilliant educators as coworkers, collaborators, and friends throughout my career, and this year is no exception to that trend. I love it when another teacher has a beautiful, ingenious teaching idea that inspires my work in my own classroom. Sometimes the creativity and innovation of other teachers is so utterly cool that I want to shout it from the rooftops, and that’s what I’m going to do digitally here. Without further ado, listen and learn from the words of my colleague, sometimes movie star, and today’s guest writer, Joe Belknap.

This American Life

Okay. So here’s the deal. I have two confessions. Ready?

Confession #1: I am a writing teacher who is still very much trying to understand what it means to be an effective writing teacher.

Confession #2: I kind of want to be Ira Glass, host of This American Life.

Whew! You know what? Confession is cathartic. I. Feel. Good. Let’s examine these revelations more closely, beginning with what we know about effective writing instruction.

We know that writing instruction is most effective when it’s taught as a process, when powerful mentor texts are examined in such a way that help students understand and emulate the moves a writer makes. Writers make choices, and we want to empower students to understand the purpose and power behind those choices so that they, too, can make effective choices in their own writing in order to discover or create meaning and to be heard.

“Text,” traditionally, is defined as words on the page, but this definition is too simplistic, too confined. I prefer Ms. Amy Harter’s definition, which is, in short, somethingthat can be read, pondered or interpreted.

Finally, if you’re a fan of Ira Glass, then you’re already familiar with the storytelling power of his radio show, This American Life. If you’re not familiar (And you really should be. Seriously. Stop reading this, go to their website, and binge listen to as many episodes as possible.), it’s a program that connects disparate stories–true stories of everyday people, usually, but short fiction and spoken word find their way into episodes also–to a single theme, all of which illuminate some truth about the human experience. As host, Ira Glass is so very attentive and insightful and sincere.

So here’s where my confessions intersected last year when putting together curriculum for my Creative Writing class: why not use This American Life as a mentor text? 

Using This American Life as a mentor text in my Creative Writing classes has been popular with my students. They deserve to laugh, love, learn, and be moved by the collected stories that have been compiled into episodes over the years. While listening to the episodes, my students have kept one central question in mind: What moves are the This American Life journalists, interviewers, authors, and sound engineers making in order to construct effective, memorable episodes?

As a final project, then, my students act as writers, field journalists, and engineers to create and combine their own stories in the style of This American Life. In the process they can’t help but learn about themselves and the world around them. They use digital voice recorders to collect interviews, natural sounds, and narration. They use Audacity, a free audio editing software program, to upload audio and edit their episodes. They work collaboratively to discover connections and meaning in their episodes and, I hope, in their lives.

Before embarking on this project, I created my own one act episode as a model for my students. It’s entitled “High School Relationships,” and it’s a story of awkward encounters in high school dating. You can listen to it here.

My students are currently finishing their episodes, and the work they’ve done is just so impressive. One girl elected to dedicate her entire episode to “What Happens in the Hallways,” which has proven to be both hilarious and interesting. One young man, a senior, is chronicling the amount of change that occurs over the four years spent in high school. “Who were you then, and who are you know?” he asks his peers and, inadvertently, himself.

Which leads me to one final confession: this is the best part of teaching. When student engagement, choice, and creativity collide, students construct amazing pieces of work. I become a facilitator, answering questions, offering guidance, but I also get to step back and witness them create.

Write on!

Joe Belknap 

P.s. Love this idea as much as I do? Questions or Comments for Joe can be left in the comments here, or you can find him at


Lessons with Booktrack Classroom

I recently teamed up with Booktrack Classroom, a very cool online studio space where students can blend music, sound effects, and ambient sound with a text that they read, upload, or create. Whether in app form or via a more traditional online account, Booktrack is an intriguing way for students to personalize their reading or writing experience. There’s a huge library of sound to choose from and apply, and each piece can be catered to an individual’s reading speed.

Check out a couple of the lessons I wrote here, each aligned to the Common Core State Standards, and ready to use with Booktrack Classroom:

Persuasive Branding (Grades 9-10)

Sound and Symbol (Grades 11-12)

You can see my middle school lesson and lesson submissions by other teachers in the lesson library. Learn more about Booktrack Classroom by checking out the video below!

Wix: My New Darling of Classroom Web Design


This is a mini-post that mainly serves as a “Hey! Look what I found!” I’m pretty excited about it, and if you’re a teacher that uses the internet as a canvas for student work as I do, you’ll be excited, too!


Now and again, I come across the need for my students to create a website. In the past, I’ve used Google Sites for this purpose, since students can use it collaboratively and, if you’re using Google Apps/Chromebooks, the connection is intrinsic and easy. However, (and please forgive me, Google, for you are amazing in most other ways) let’s be real–Google Sites can look pretty horrifically awful. The editing process is clunky, widgets are hit or miss as far as how they will display or operate, getting pictures to show up attractively takes forever, and the overall look of most Google sites made from scratch is very 1999. But using Google Sites will get student content up on the web, and it’s free… which counts for a lot.

This is where the new guy swoops in to save the day. I recently became aware of Wix is a web service that allows anyone to quickly create an account (which can link up through a school Google account as well) that allows for the quick creation of totally customizable, awesome-looking websites… for free! If you’re familiar with the agonizing frustration of editing Google Sites, you’ll understand what I mean when I say that Wix sites are a whole new world of web design that looks slick and edits in a highly visual, drag-and-drop kind of way. The editor also works equally well on a Mac, PC, or Chromebook, and even includes a customizable mobile version of the website.

I’ve been using Wix with my Photography I and Photography II classes as a place for an online portfolio where they can post their images and reflect on them, but any type of project or portfolio could become a Wix site. (Click here to see the example photography site that I’m currently working on. If I did it, you can, too!) All students have to do once they publish is share the link with you, and you can view and evaluate their work. Even better, they can easily share it with anyone on the web as well.

Go forth, and be amazed at what your kids can do with Wix! Let me know in the comments how your attempts go, or if you’ve already dabbled in this resource and have additional pointers to share. 🙂


Best Web-Based Teaching Discoveries of 2013


Something I’ve found during my time as an English teacher is this: English teachers know a lot of other English teachers. I know I do. And I have noticed that, among our ranks, there are surely some trends in the types of people that this career attracts. Two of those trends are embodied in this delightful image (see above) from a not-so-long-ago time when it was still a novelty to have internet access and edible treats in the same location. Fact 1: Most English teachers spend a lot of time in coffee shops. (Come on, where else are you going to grade/plan/work on your novel?)  Fact 2: Most English teachers love the internet. And I am no exception to either of those rules.

In my reflections on what I’ve accomplished during 2013, I’ve found the blend of teaching and technology to be a recurring theme. In my first year at a school where the student to laptop ratio is one-to-one, I’ve been pushing harder than ever before to incorporate online components into my teaching. The bulk of this work happens on Google Drive–nobody has revolutionized the collaborative capabilities of the classroom more than Google–and much of it also happens on my webpages run through Haiku, our school’s adopted LMS. Both of those things are pretty standard in most classrooms these days. But I wanted to share some more specialized web tools here on the blog, for those who, like me, thirst for more teachable internet! 🙂 Not all of my discoveries premiered this year, but they are all highly engaging teaching tools that are 100% new to me.

Without further ado, here’s my 2013 Best of the Teachable Web:

For live, in-class learning – Poll Everywhere and Padlet

Poll Everywhere has been around for a while, but after seeing the chuckle-worthy video below at an app share meeting, I was reminded of its capabilities.

As the website reminds us, Poll Everywhere allows you to create a live online poll that students can respond to. It takes 30 seconds. You don’t have to sign up. It is free. Amazing, right? I’ve used this gadgetry for opening questions that spark interest in the content to come, or for formative assessment as kids submit a rating for their own ability on a certain skill. Their answers pop up right on the screen as they are submitted. Pretty slick.

Padlet is another app that allows for collaborative content submission in real time. With Padlet, you create “walls,” which are accessible, sharable, and embed-able via a simple link. Every student can post… essentially ANYTHING on the wall. This might be written commentary, pictures, videos, full documents, etc. which are part of a response. These pop up on the wall as students share them. The wall can also be saved to return to later. Privacy permissions are also available, to protect student identity and work. It’s also a very visually appealing app.

For exploring the humanities – Google Cultural Institute

When I learned about this one, it completely blew my mind. Google Cultural Institute is, like Google Earth before it, a window to worlds that most of us may otherwise never have a chance to see. It’s essentially an internet portal to the most renowned collections of art and historical artifacts in the world, but packed with supplementary information and the freedom to zoom in down to the very paintstrokes of a Van Gogh. This is truly astounding–see the video below for a clearer idea of what GCI entails. I can imagine so many applications for integrated humanities learning here–as the teaching of English intersects with both art and history in major ways.

For online annotation – diigo

Many thanks go out to my colleague Mrs. U for introducing me to the many wonders of diigo, an online bookmarking and annotation tool. Have you ever had the wish that you could invent something that would let you highlight, post-it, and annotate the heck out of your online reading like you’ve always done on paper? And it would somehow be permanent and you’d be able to come back and find it again, just as you left it? GUESS WHAT–IT EXISTS ALREADY. And it’s diigo. Follow the link to learn how to get yourself and your students involved with this beautiful wizardry.

For YouTube learning – PBS Off Book

PBS Off Book is a YouTube channel and branch of the Public Broadcast System that has been really interesting to watch since it bounced onto the web-series scene in March of 2012. The series predominantly features topics surrounding cutting-edge art associated with pop culture, design, and technology. When it comes to teaching students about branding, creativity, and new forms of composition/publication, Off Book is the best source out there–this collection of videos is refreshing, colorful, up-to-the-moment, and intriguing. In particular, I’ve found the titles “Art in the Era of the Internet” and “How to Be Creative” useful in prompting class discussion. There’s a lot to be investigated here, if you’re interested in bringing new, visual, or multimedia forms of text into your teaching.

For flipping and presenting – MoveNote

How to put this simply? Well, MoveNote allows you (or your students) to make presentations, which turn into videos. The content is a combination of (1) Slides or a document, (2) Video/audio narration as the slides/document go by, and (3) The ability to also draw on the screen to highlight or point out certain elements. This is an amazing way to flip your classroom material–when students can see and hear you explaining the resource they’ve been given, it adds a human touch that results in more responsive learning. It’s also a tool with much potential for student presentations. This is another one I’m looking forward to experimenting with in new ways as we look to the new year.

What new tools have you discovered this year? As always, let me know in the comments or on Facebook! Now, about that coffee… 😉

Exploring Literature by creating Twitter-ature


This post makes a case for composing tweets (yes, you know–Twitter updates) as a method for comprehending, reacting to, and analyzing literature. To some, it may seem like a sacrilege to ask students to convert their understanding of classical lit into informal, often ranting blurbs of 140 characters or less. But trust me: when done right, Tweets will allow students to put literature into context and bring it to a whole new kind of life. I came across this idea a few years ago, and it has worked a fantastic magic in my classroom ever since. I used it to great success with Romeo and Juliet, and this year converted it to use with The Crucible, again, with awesome results. Please feel free to use, enjoy, and employ this strategy!

 Why Tweets?

In the second chapter of literacy expert Kelly Gallagher’s Write Like This, he actually recommends the composing of tweets as a “light” way to get students started with writing. Writing a micro-piece in the length and format of a Twitter update is a non-threatening, familiar, short form that helps kids get their feet wet and ready to approach more complex writing. In my own experience, I’ve found that this lighter writing fare removes the inhibitions or anxieties that come along with more involved writing tasks and lets even struggling students cut more quickly and sharply to the heart of the literature they are reading. Also, the often emotionally charged nature of the genre (let’s face it, people use Twitter to say whatever is on their minds as it is happening) creates an empathy with characters that requires a deep level of comprehension.

 How do I get my kids to write some Twitter-ature?

1. Select an important section of a literary work that students are reading where several major events occur which effect multiple characters. This will be the time span over which students will “tweet.”

2. Inform students that they should pick a character to “tweet” as… they will create an apt username for this character and be the voice of him or her as the section progresses.

3. Teach students the conventions of Twitter, in case they are unfamiliar. (140 characters or less, @ to tweet “at” another user, # to include a tag/category with the tweet)

4. Since the students are embodying characters, not themselves, these faux tweets have to exist outside the world of actual Twitter itself. Decide if you’d like to have your students write tweets on paper or enter them live on the closed-room Twitter-like platform Today’s Meet. Today’s Meet is live and interactive, which you can display on the screen during in-class reading. Writing on paper, while less sparkly, usually yields slightly more thoughtful results. Both have benefits. Either way, I ask for ten tweets total. As students read, they tweet as their characters would. I also ask them to include the page number that inspired each tweet for a richer intellectual exercise and simply for accountability.

5. Share, laugh, ponder, and discuss.

Need a more specific example? Click here to see the activity that I designed for my juniors to complete during and after their reading of Act III of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible.

 What kinds of things do students write? Does this really work?

The best way I can show you the quality of student writing is by showing you some examples, which I’ll post below. Students are very playful with this kind of activity, but I am also shocked at the details that they notice… In the act that was tweeted below, John Proctor tries to defend his family’s honor in the face of the bloodthirsty courts of Salem and his former lover, Abigail, who is hell-bent on getting his wife accused of witchcraft. The usernames and (#)hashtags are ingenious; referencing even small-but-telling lines like,  “You sweated like a stallion whenever I come near,”  “He plow on Sunday, sir,” and “There might also be a dragon with five legs in my house, but no one has ever seen it!”

Because of this activity, my students know exactly who these characters are and what drives them. Unexpectedly rich, and witty beyond all expectations, character tweets is a perfect classroom activity. Enjoy the examples below from my classroom.

Students tweeting as John Proctor

The Proc: @TheTown This court is senseless and runs on opinion and judgement. There is #NoJustice in these trials! #CourtFail

SweatinStallion: I KNOW I’M NOT A LAWYER JUST READ THE DEPOSITION. #JudgesBeTrippin #annoyed #WifeIsInnocent

Abigail is no child! #demon #laughterduringprayer

Hey guys, who wants to see my pet dragon?! #sarcasm #WifeIsInnocent #PoppetsAreForChildren

JohnDeereProc42: @WhollyMary You’re with God now?!? You traitor!!! I’ll send the Devil upon you all right. #evil #liar #JailParty #NoPlowSunday

FarmerMan26: I confess. I am a #lecher. I am living with a problem. #FinallyFree #ashamed  @ElizabethProctor please tell the truth. #ItsOk

@BigParris thinks he’s all high and mighty. If he wasn’t the minister, nobody would listen to that nerd. #RealMenDon’tGoToHarvard

TheBigProctor: I say God is dead! I hear Lucifer’s boots! #JudgeMe #FreeElizabeth #YouKnowNothing

Student tweeting as Giles Corey

WeirdOldMan80: @MrJudgeD the girls are ACTING again. Someone should put a stop to it before more innocent people are accused. #ThisEndsNow

Student tweeting as Danforth

DanforthJudginU: I didn’t think @OldManGiles had so much rage in him. #ThatEscalatedQuickly #WeWillSeeJustice

Student tweeting as Reverend Hale

W8tedKnowledge: @DanforthTheGreat These girls are clearly lying and you will regret these hangings. What do poppets have to do with the devil anyway? #CareToExplain #WhyCan’tYouSeeTheTruth

Digital Storytelling around the Media Campfire

We’re almost through with week one of the Writing Project summer institute, and I am once again amazed at the knowledge base and cumulative creative power of all our participants and leaders. On Wednesday, we had a Digital Storytelling Workshop day led by educator and Minnesota Writing Project site leader Candance Doerr-Stevens. (Follow her on Twitter @digflicks). She has also made the slides from her presentation public: see them here! There are wonderful bits of research, pedagogical processes, and example digital stories to be found.

Candance’s infectious energy made the entire day go by in what seemed like a flash. As we learned about the applications for digital storytelling in the classroom and crafted a video piece of our own, I found myself thinking about how participating in the creation of stories through the form of online content is so much more than just “playing on the computer.” It’s taking part in the new, digital tradition of storytelling. Our inner thoughts, emotions surrounding ideas, creative imaginings–in the old tradition, it was rare that these elements of story would ever leave our own homes. Scrawled words seldom traveled beyond a pile of closeted notebooks. Images filled dusty shoeboxes or albums on the bookshelf. But this new digital storytelling makes the world our family room, and we are able to turn our words inside out to craft messages that reach other people around the world. The post-millennium era is often criticized for alienating us from one another as we all stare at our smartphones, but I’d argue that the internet is actually making us into a global family at a crowded, ongoing reunion… We are all out here online together, and it’s easier than ever to share stories instantaneously over space and time. Just as occurs during family reunions, sometimes harsh words are uttered, and sometimes people share a little too much personal information. But often, there is also the bearing of truth, the sharing of support, and the chance for meaningful conversation. Teachers need to be able to help their students be a good family, and part of that is knowing how to pass a good story around–to use Gloria Steinem’s term–the “new campfire” of media. The internet is the new family room, and young people who can wield the power of sound, image, and words to tell stories worth telling are those who will shape and inherit our culture. We just have to look and listen.

See the digital story I created during the workshop below! I used Windows Live Movie Maker to create my video. Both this program and iMovie come standard on Windows PCs and Macs respectively, and are easy to learn and use. If you haven’t ever dabbled in them, now is the time! The only way to learn is to do… I found, edited, and repurposed images and sound to create a new product, with credit to the original authors at the end of the video. As the purpose of this work is solely for personal expression and as an educational example, it is protected under fair use.


Reflections on TECH Forum Chicago

At the beginning of the month, I got the chance to attend an educational technology conference called TECH Forum, sponsored by Tech & LearningI headed down to Lincolnshire, IL along with my superstar colleague Ms. J and our school’s technology specialist, Mr. L. This was the first teaching conference I’ve attended where technology was the sole, specialized focus, and it was really refreshing to be able to consider both educational theory and practical methodology side by side.


The opening keynote, given by the hilarious and brilliant Dr. Yong Zhao, reinforced the message that our schools are in a creativity crisis. He discussed the “side effects” of a standardized test chasing culture that leave students dry in their desire to learn and create, and called attention to the value of asking where we really want our students to go: “Sure, we have the Race to the Top. But… Race to the Top of what?” The essential messsage of the keynote can be boiled down to simple, but powerful terms–Through the incorporation of technology and teaching methods that allow for students to ideate, create, and disrupt the status quo, we can better prepare our students for the astounding modern world, where the norm is persistent reinvention.

The morning session I attended, “Approaching a Holistic Technology Integration Strategy” presented by Daniel Rezac, Andy Kohl, and Elizabeth Greene, focused on how to inspire true teacher buy-in for technology initiatives. It grappled with the question of how to establish teams to help tech integration become more than just the delivery of gadgets but rather a way of teaching and learning. I could very much relate to the key points and problems raised–with time stretched thin and new technology rolling out at a breakneck pace, how do we establish a space for educators to embrace and integrate new classroom technologies? The solutions offered gave the overall impression that a “coaching”/co-teaching model of school IT can help make that space that is needed to launch new methodologies in a more relevant way, in more classrooms, for a more lasting impact.

In the afternoon, I facilitated a roundtable discussion, “Teachers as Bloggers,” where I shared my experience as a teacher-blogger both in and out of the classroom. [My handout from the discussion can be found here: Teachers as Bloggers ] While I was expecting more of a mini blogger convention to be happening at my table, I was surprised that the majority of my participants came with questions of their own about the purpose and effectiveness of blogging–many were from schools where a blog for every teacher was newly mandatory. It seems that maintaining a web presence is quickly becoming an expectation for every educator… And indeed it must become so, if teaching is to develop alongside other disciplines. We had some great conversations, and ultimately defined four key components of successful blogging: (1) Visual content such as photos/video, (2) Candor and the sharing of true anecdotes, (3) Demonstrated expertise, and (4) Practical, immediately applicable information or resources. In such a young genre, there’s still much to explore. But if we’re teaching kids who are already cultivating their own online presence, it’s crucial for us to go there as well, as teachers and participants in the digital-social landscape.

After eating WAY too many of some of the most elegant mini-desserts I’ve ever seen, I finished up the day by attending “Managing Schools, Classrooms, and Information with Google Apps” presented by Hank Thiele and Jennie Magiera, to refresh my knowledge of all things Google. The things teachers can use Google to do…for free…just continue to amaze my brain. In the five past years, the possibilities have exploded: sharing and co-editing content, giving/receiving feedback, building websites, gathering data, conducting synchronous meetings through messaging/videochat, relying on self-saving, self-updating everything that’s accessible from everywhere. It’s. Just. INSANE!

Today’s students have so much power to impact their world. All they need is an internet connection. As teachers, we have new responsibility to guide them in how to wield that power for good, for themselves, in order to alter the futurescape in the countless new ways that they will envision.

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Six [totally awesome] Web Presentation Tools for Teachers at a Glance

I’m giving a session during my district’s aptly named “Summer Technology Extravaganza” entitled Six [totally awesome] Web Presentation Tools for Teachers at a Glance. If you’re a teacher like me, you get bombarded with periodic e-mails that tout these lists of “great” web resources for teachers throughout the school year. And we mean well when we get those e-mails, don’t we? We flag them to follow up on later. We might mention the e-mail to a co-worker at a department meeting, saying, “Hey, did you see Greg’s e-mail?” and “Oh, yeah, that stuff looks really cool. I definitely am going to check that out.”

But we almost never end up using those resources, for three main reasons: (1) We don’t have time, because we’re up to our ears in grading, lesson planning, collaborating, meeting with students, going to grad school or professional development seminars, and running extracurriculars. (2) Maybe we do make a little chunk of time to check out the list, but there are thirty-five items, and we get frustrated dealing with so many unfamiliar resources, some of which seem like a waste of time since we have zero idea about how to connect them to our own teaching. (3) Even if we do actually find a resource that seems usable, we realize that we have to put in a ton of time before we’ll be able to use it… which brings us back to reason #1, and we say “maybe next year.”

However, as teachers, we cannot allow ourselves to back away from new technology. We can’t afford to be afraid of it, since our students are pretty much capable of inventing some of these resources on their cell phones during our study hall! As someone once said, you can’t outrun a tidal wave… and that can be what technology feels like: a scary, overwhelming tsunami moving at the speed of light, ready to flatten us and our traditional ideas about teaching. However, I’m challenging us as educators to ride that dang wave, and turn it into something not so threatening, but rather, something TOTALLY AWESOME! Go with the surfer mentality. It’s all good, my friends.

But where do we start? Here’s where my session comes in. I’ve done the work for you–I isolated six web presentation tools that met a set of criteria that I established for total awesomeness. I wanted only tools that were immediately applicable to all areas of curriculum. I wanted things that would be fairly simple and satisfying for teachers to create, modify, and share. I wanted things that would retain their usefulness over time. Here are six.

Below, you will find a link to a table I’ve made that puts information about these sources into an “at a glance” format. You’ll be able to easily reference what the tool is, what it does, and how it could be used in the classroom. You will also get access to links for the actual websites so that you can sign up and start creating! Before you do that, though, I’ve also got links to some examples on the final page for your perusal. (Keep in mind that these are just samples, not Pulitzer or Golden Apple material.) It is my hope that my own hours of time narrowing the field of free web tools will help others in their teaching, and help some new surfers to get up on that wave. Try to learn and implement one new thing this year… even that is a huge accomplishment. Come on in, the water’s fine! At the live session, you even get me to come around, assist you, and personally answer your questions about how these contraptions work… 🙂

Click HERE-> Web Presentation Tools



Shoutout: I owe many thanks for my preparation to Picky Reader. She gave me an amazing, and already annotated, list of web resources to start from. She’s an absolute guru when it comes to such things, so check out