Tuesday, May 31, 2011

My Ultimate Productivity Tool: StayFocusd

I love sites like Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, etc. because they keep me connected and I  learn  from them on a regular basis. But sometimes these wonderful websites keep me from getting anything done. The battle looks like this: I sit down to get some work done but I stop to see pictures of my friend's new baby or "quickly" comment on a friend's post or retweet an awesome tweet (I have to share the wealth, right?) and before I know it, hours have passed and I haven't gotten much, if anything, done.  Then I discovered StayFocusd for Google Chrome. StayFocusd is an extension that blocks the websites I designate. If you try to access a site once it's been blocked, I see this message:
Here is what StayFocusd can allow you to do:
  • Block parts of websites or entire websites
  • Allow parts of websites so you can still use the ones you need to get work done
  • Set the daily limit for how long you are allowed to use banned websites
  • Choose which days StayFocusd blocks websites
  • Block you from the entire Internet for a set period of time or when you exceed your daily limit
  • Receive reminders at different intervals (ex. 5, 10, 15 mins, etc.) before your allotted time runs out

Cons of StayFocusd:
  • It is difficult to change the settings once you've set them- once you've been blocked from a website, you cannot go back and change your time limit
  • The changes you make don't go into effect for 24 hours
  • If you go to a website and then go to another window or tab, your time continues passing
So far using StayFocusd has helped me to get a lot more work done by not even giving me the option of accessing those sites that drain so much of my time. I would recommend it for Chrome users but I would warn first-time users to be liberal with your settings in the beginning until you get a feel for it.

Not a Google Chrome user? Download the LeechBlock extension for Firefox.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Soak it All In: My EdCamp Philly Experience

Yesterday I attended EdCamp Philly, my very first unconference. As the excitement about the event built on Twitter, I found myself feeling a mixture of nervousness and excitement. I had never attended an unconference before and I had no idea what to expect but I felt it held promise as a day full of learning. I must admit that when I first arrived at the Wharton School of Business I was a little starstruck. I was in the same room as people who I followed on Twitter, people whose blogs changed my thinking on education, reform and technology. With stars in my eyes, I eagerly welcomed the opportunity to learn from such innovative teachers, thinkers and leaders.
The hardest thing to get used to at an unconference is the “two-feet rule.” Because an unconference is meant to be organic professional development with minimal structure, you’re allowed to walk out of a session if it’s not working for you or if you want to catch part of another one. I was so used to the typical conference model, I found myself uncomfortable using this rule until I realized that unconferences are about taking learning into your own hands and making sure that you get something out of every session you go to.
In the Web 2.0 in the Elementary Classroom session, I found out about using Edmodo with elementary students who love how much it looks like Facebook. I’ve used Edmodo in graduate classes but it was nice to see examples of teachers using them with younger students. Tagul creates word clouds with live links to the word search in a search engine. Kids’ Zone has great tools for having students create graphs online. Tons of resource websites were shared by people in the sesion. My favorite was this one.

Education Transformation via Social Media was led by Shelly Terrell via Skype. Social media is often feared but it is a powerful tool for spreading messages virually. Teachers need to share with each other, parents and administrators what they’re doing in their classrooms and how their students are learning passionately and creatively. “Just reaching one other person sends a message to people about what education can be like” -Shelly. 

Getting Districts to Adopt the EdCamp Model for PD with Kevin Jarrett was all about changing professional development. Using TodaysMeet, we had a discussion within a discussion with people sharing stories about implementing the EdCamp model at their schools. As shared in the session, edcamp can be a little intimidating for people but it can be adapted to best fit one’s school community.
My favorite session was Writing the eBook on 21st Century Literacy with Kristin Hokanson and Mary Beth Hertz. This session was all about the evolving definition of literacy and how that impacts our teaching. There is often a disconnect between what students learn at school and what they are able to do with the tools they have at home. It is so important for educators to have conversations with kids about attribution and fair use because there is so much confusion of what can be used fairly and most people think everything on the Internet is free to be used. Creative commons photos can be found on sites such as Creative Commons, flickrCC, Comp Fight or Behold. Instead of simply sitting around and talking, our group became creators producing an ebook.

At EdCamp Philly, I got to be a part of my very first SMACKDOWN! At a smackdown, people come up and quickly share different websites and web 2.0 tool that they really like. I learned about so many new websites that my head is spinning! All of the resources from the Smackdown and more can be found here.

EdCamp Philly exceeded my wildest expectations. It was exactly what I always believed professional development and personal learning communities should be: groups of educators sharing what they know, using each other as resources and having discussions driven by passion. I loved meeting such valued members of my learning community in person, seeing old faces and meeting new people that I can learn from. Edcamp is a quickly spreading movement that is revolutionizing the way schools do professional development and putting it in the right hands: the hands of educators. It was so amazing to see so many people who decided to spend their Saturday learning when they didn’t receive an credit or professional development hours. To me, that just shows how many teachers are truly dedicated to improving their teaching and improving the school experience for students. Would I recommend edcamp to a current or aspiring teacher? In a heartbeat! :-)

(The EdCampPhilly logo is a cc Image from kjarrett)

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

"Look It Up"

When I became an avid reader in middle school, I used to ask my father what a word meant. Every time he answered my question with the same response, "Look it up." Undeterred by his response, I would always go look the word up in the dictionary. After a while, I stopped asking and automatically looked up the words I didn't understand in whatever I read. I credit that simple statement for helping me develop a thirst for finding answers. To this day, when I wonder about a topic, an idea or a definition I hear a still voice in my head that says, "Look it up."

As a future teacher, I hear a lot about encouraging students to love learning. The simple question, "Where can we look to find the answer?" can foster the inquisitiveness that teachers want to see in their students. With the never-ending amount of information being thrown at students, it would be refreshing to learn how to navigate through it to find what's of most value to them. Asking such a simple question makes the students start to brainstorm all the places they can find information, revealing to them that there are options. Teachers can model for their students how to find information and why some resources are better than others.The hope is that this practice will extend beyond the classroom and encourage our students to find answers and become masters of their own knowledge.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Scvngr Hunt

My final project for my Emerging Technology and Global Collaboration class was to use the mobile app Scvngr to create treks about locations around West Chester University. Our group presented our Scvngr to a class of graduate students and took them through a series of challenges.

What is Scvngr? Scvngr is an electronic scavenger hunt. You choose from different location-based treks, which are a series of challenges that you perform. By completing these challenges, you can earn points and rewards. The app can be downloaded and played on any iPhone or Android phone. Scvngr is easy to build and fun to play!

How can Scvngr be used in the classroom?
  • Create fun challenges for parents around the school to make them more familiar with the building.
  • Have a trek for students to complete on the first day of school as an ice breaker.
  • Make field trips more fun by having students complete challenges in a new town.
  • Have students research historical cities and towns and create their own challenges.

This video shows all the fun we had!