Category Archives: Tech Talk

Which tool?

Am I alone in experiencing wonderment at the plethora of platforms available for sharing, organizing, tagging, bookmarking, etc.,  online content?

When I click on an AddThis or ShareThis button, I don’t recognize even a quarter of the options. And I think to myself: who uses these? Are they popular? Are they more efficient than X? Should I try them out? Then I remind myself: you have no extra time to check out hundreds of potentially useful online tools! (Who does?)

As I prepare my eighth-grade classes for their first full-scale, in-depth, research-based opinion paper, I am seeking an online tool that will assist my students with various aspects of online research (bookmark sources, take online notes, and organizing information).

diigo iconMy current plan is to use Diigo with my students. The pros: as a user myself, I am familiar with the functionality; the protected accounts are a must in my district; it’s free; and students can bookmark good sources, annotate with sticky notes as a precursor to real note-taking, and tag to organize their resources. All good.

But then I remember I am dealing with eighth-grade students who can watch a carefully crafted PowerPoint about the public domain and then raise their hands to ask, “So, what’s the public domain?” Maybe tagging will be too much for them. What if annotation becomes a laborious, unnecessary step in the inquiry process? Whatever tool I use needs to be intuitive.

evernote iconFurther complicating matters, my technology director asked me recently whether we had considered Evernote, since the sophomores are using it on their iPads, and wouldn’t continuity be nice? Why, yes it would. But if I have to use protected accounts, that is not a free feature of Evernote for Schools. Even if that requirement could be waived, and we use the free version of Evernote, I’m still not sure if it will be easy enough for students to use effectively for online research.

I’ve evaluated some other sources, and now topping my list is EasyBib School Edition. I love the visual aspect of the notebook, the use of tags and color to organize notes by source or topic, and the dynamic outline. The cons: money. I know the technology director is willing to spend for a product used across the district, but not for one grade. Like my technology director, I prefer that if we are spending time learning how to use a tool now, they will use it throughout high school.

I don’t know what the answer will be. For now, I am forging ahead with Diigo, and girding myself against the expected onslaught of repetitive questions.


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Poetry Friday: There Will Come Soft Rains

My classes are creating poetry trailers, similar in concept to a book trailer. Since I’ve never tried a video assignment before, I figured a poem was a good start. The students are required to choose a poem, select a theme from the poem, choose three lines from the poem that support the theme, and choose music and images that relate to the theme. In order to show the students what I wanted them to do, I created one myself. So, here is my example poetry trailer for the poem “There Will Come Soft Rains” by Sara Teasdale.

I chose “There Will Come Soft Rains” because I was looking for an atmospheric poem. I always read this poem slowly to savor the mood. I first encountered “Soft Rains” when reading Ray Bradbury’s short story of the same name.

Did the trailer have the desired effect? If so, check out the entire poem below. If not, try a different multimedia experience from The Writer’s Almanac.

There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;

And frogs in the pools singing at night,
And wild plum-trees in tremulous white;

Robins will wear their feathery fire
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;

And not one will know of the war, not one
Will care at last when it is done.

Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree
If mankind perished utterly;

And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn,
Would scarcely know that we were gone.

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Some Novel Ideas. Next week, I will be attempting to create a book spine poem, inspired by Cindy at Bookends.

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Harnessing the potential of the social web

Emerging into the social web

I became an active participant in the social web only in January. I began by creating a Twitter account and starting this blog (sidenote: I have been on Facebook since 2007). Despite my bravado to coworkers and family, the social tools intimidated me. Not because I didn’t know how they functioned, but more because I thought, “What do I have to say that is so important?”

Planning to attend the ALA conference changed everything. I knew that Twitter could be used to stay up-to-date through the use of #hashtags, so I took the plunge and created the account. Twitter helped me make and maintain connections at the conference. I enjoy checking the feed. I am still rather conservative about my posts, both in content and in frequency, but I now depend on Twitter for a lot of professional information.

Status report

Though I effectively utilize Twitter in its basic form, I still lag behind the crowd when it comes to author events/news. I never know when a new book is coming out, or when an author will be in town, and where they will be. I was completely unaware of the vast opportunities just in my area. I have started to develop a system for tracking events locally. It has been somewhat successful. For example, I missed Rebecca Stead, but serendipitously caught up with Ally Carter in Wellesley. I actually missed Ally speaking, yet she still signed a copy of Heist Society!

In two days I will be attending a YA extravaganza in Brookline. It is presented by Small Beer Press and features Holly Black, Cassandra Clare, and Kelly Link. The proceeds benefit Franciscan Hospital for Children. I will share my experiences here after the fact. But my point is, if not for Twitter, I would not have stumbled across this chance to see fantastic authors.

Moving forward

Thanks to Ms. Yingling Reads, I have discovered a new tool to help me stay connected: Author Alerts. This site creates an RSS feed for you about upcoming releases by authors or publishers. Although this does not solve my author events problem, it does help me keep track of what books I can transfer from wishlist to purchase list!

(All graphics created by and freely distributed by

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Testing, testing, 1-2-3: My first attempt with Animoto

I created my first Animoto video today. I am considering using their web application for a poetry project with my eighth-grade students, so I wanted to test the application before I decided on an assessment. Click on the link before to see the video.

Sharing this exposes one of my weaknesses: my displays are pretty uninspired. Oh well.

First I had to ensure that the website, and the actual application, was not blocked by our firewall. (Check.) Next, I uploaded some pictures and followed the simple directions provided to choose available music. Ease of use? Excellent. (Check.) Even so, I  can already hear a dozen simultaneous exclamations: “Mrs. M, I don’t know how to do this!”

In order for the video application to remain free, users are limited to 30-second videos. You can upgrade for full-length video creation. However, in an education setting, free is fabulous. My only question at the moment is whether the 30-second limit is too restrictive for the students, or just right for eighth-graders on their first attempt.

Has anyone used Animoto with students? What were your experiences? Does anyone have a recommendation for other free, video creation tools?

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