Thing 25: Power up your browser

Digging deeper into Google Chrome and how to make it even better.

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To be honest, I am very familiar with the settings in Google Chrome which is my choice for browsing the Internet. About the only setting that I didn’t remember reviewing was the content settings under privacy. After looking at everything, I left the settings where they were which was on the recommended setting. Recently, Chrome added a user profile tab to the top of the browser page. I did not realize that there was a setting that would allow anyone using my computer to create their own profile so I have disabled this function although really no one else uses my computers so the point is moot.

It’s a whole different story when it comes to apps and extensions for Chrome. Who knew there were so many useful extensions to add. Up to this point, I had 4 bookmarklets: Pinterest, Evernote Web Clipper, AdBlock Plus, and Japanese Word of the Day. I use the Pinterest one frequently and it is definitely the easiest way to add something to Pinterest when I am on my computer. I would highly recommend everyone add something like the AdBlock, especially if you like to click on ad heavy links posted by friends and celebrities on Facebook.

After checking out a few, I added Readability and Buffer to my bookmarklets. I chose Readability because this is a function that I love using on the iPad and I didn’t realize that there was anything available for a PC that would provide this same service. AdBlock is great at stopping ads but it does not make crowded websites look less cluttered. I also like the ability to save articles to go back and read later. I think I found my new favorite extension.

As a cautious user of Social Media, I like that Buffer provides a seamless way to share on multiple platforms. Even as I add new followers on Twitter despite my sparse tweets, I find it hard to believe that people are interested in what I have to say. Buffer provides me a way to share things that I find interesting and I only have to share it once. Now I just need to find something to share and take the plunge over the social media cliff.

For those of you who are not using Chrome as your browser, check out this video on why you should be using it (or at least consider switching to it).

Thing 24: Infographics

I love infographics — both visually and how succinctly they can represent the information they are presenting.  I struggle with them only when it comes to how can students use them to represent their work. My students have used Glogster in the past but not really as an infographic but more as a way to present their work. I would love to use an infographic to have students compare similar objects or countries but again I struggle with how to do this. My second grade students are currently doing research on U.S. symbols. It might be interesting to have the highest level students create an infographic called “U.S. Symbols by Numbers”. For example, students could represent the number of star & stripes on the U.S. flag; the number of faces on Mt. Rushmore; and the number of bathrooms, elevators, and rooms in the White House.

As I mentioned in my last blog post, my school is a Focus school and in May the school will have a site visit to determine the effectiveness of the school. As part of this process, I will be meeting with these representatives presenting information related to the Tenet that I was assigned as part of a team. This year the focus of my team has been determining the impact of the various programs we have in place to meet our students’ social and emotional health needs. Proving that something is working is a lot harder than saying it is working! We developed a short survey to see how well one of the programs was working. Below is an infographic I created showing the results of the survey. The infographic is pretty self-explanatory and shows the results of the survey with a few select quotes thrown in about the program. Although the data speaks for itself, I chose quotes that matched the message that I wanted to present and not a quote that might have been perceived as negative.

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To create my infographic, I used easel.ly. The first thing I did was create a free account and then clear out a new board. I didn’t want to use a template already created because I wanted to start from scratch. I chose a simple background and gave it a title. It took me a few seconds to figure out that you needed to drag the object onto the main board but from there it was really very easy to find and change whatever I needed. The only thing I couldn’t figure out was if it was possible to show numbers within the graph as this would have helped clarify the information a little bit better. Overall, I would use easel.ly again for my own personal use but I am not sure I would use it for my students.

Before I used any online program, I know that it would be vital for my students to have a written representation of what they would like their infographic to look like before I even considered letting them get onto the computer. Why? Because many of them would spend time looking at all the objects, stickers, and other distractions instead of choosing objects that they need. My students have a difficult time understanding that work they do for school has different expectations from something they would create for pleasure.

The bottom line for me is am I having students do this to increase their knowledge or just to increase their use of technology? If the latter, then I am not sure it is worth their time.

Thing 23: Makerspaces

I love the idea of Makerspaces and want to incorporate it into my library but there are 2 obstacles in the way: space and the dreaded master schedule. So not having enough space is really just an excuse for not doing it because there are lots of ways to overcome limited space: carts, bookshelves, a cabinet, etc… but changing the master schedule to allow time for enrichment is something that will take administrative approval and their belief that it is important.

Let me give you some background on my school. I am in a small urban school district with over 60% of my student population receiving free and reduced lunch, and my school was placed on the NY State Focus Schools list a few years ago because we were not making AYP (Annual Yearly Progress) on state exams. After a lot of hard work by teachers last year changing our teaching styles and differentiating everything, our students made progress last year. Yeah!!! If we make progress again this year, then we will be taken off the Focus status.

So why is all this related to the schedule? Because of our test scores, the administration has placed tight restraints on the schedule requiring 120 minutes of literacy and 90 minutes of math every day and let’s not forget science, social studies, lunch, and specials. This means that there really is very little time for enrichment. I can’t do before or after school clubs because our district does not support after school programs at the elementary level.

All that being said, I have a 3D printer on order and will be incorporating it into each of my classes next year. I even have a teacher all lined up to work on a project this year even if we don’t get the printer in on time. An essential part of makerspaces seems to be allowing students the opportunity to create whatever they would like given the objects they have on hand. I really like this idea and will embrace it in my classes and will encourage my teachers to allow students some freedom as well. But as the filament to print is not cheap, students will need to follow some guidelines before they will be able to print which will limit their creativity somewhat but hopefully not too much.

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The more I researched about makerspaces, the more I realized that I had a limited idea of what it meant and that I need to broaden my definition to include computer applications that can be used to create something. As a crafty person, I used to see makerspaces as being a place where students could knit, sew, crochet, scrapbook, use legos, and other interlocking toys. I have been limiting myself by not including computers which I readily have available in the library. I have a 4th grade math enrichment group using Scratch to create a game with multiple steps and this would definitely fall under this category especially since the only guidelines they were given was to create something that had multiple steps and was interactive. Where they took it from there was up to them and they were pretty creative.

After reading some links, I will have to try out Roblox, Minecraftedu, and various online journaling and photography websites. I also want to peruse some garage/yard sales this summer and maybe I’ll find some of the really cool interlocking toys that are too expensive new.

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I’m ready to get started. Now I just need to find someone who can come in and teach the kids how to knit and crochet.

Photo Credits:

Makerbot Replicator Mini (360 degrees turntable view) by Creative Tools (https://www.flickr.com/photos/creative_tools/16171009504/) [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)%5D, via Flickr

Interlocking toys: By Ctd 2005 (http://www.flickr.com/photos/kikisdad/164602945/) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Multilink cubes: “Multilink cubes” by Annielogue – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Multilink_cubes.JPG#/media/File:Multilink_cubes.JPG