Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Slider Images, and How to Use Them in Class


I recently discovered a really fun new (to me) tech tool, and typically when such a discovery happens, I like to brainstorm on HOW I can use this tool in the classroom. Well, this one is no different. I first saw slider images in action on Tony Vincent's blog when he talked about how he uses Adobe Illustrator to create his own clip art.  The original photo and his graphic version were layered on top of each other, and there was a vertical "slider" bar that could be dragged right or left to reveal either of the two images. It's a really good way to show a comparison between two images

Well, I do a very similar graphics project in my 8th grade classes, only using Google Draw (see here). I was showing these "slider" images to my husband (you all know he's a teacher too, right?) and he decided to investigate and figure out how to make them for ourselves! He came across the website Juxtapose, which allows you to create these image overlay "sliders," which I think are extra fun:


Left photo via / Right photo created via Google Draw

Having recently seen Guardians of the Galaxy 2, I had to make myself a little Baby Groot illustration using Google Draw. But besides the photo-vs-drawing comparison, what else could I do using this slider concept? And I started brainstorming:

 Left photo video still / Right background photo by Arno Smit

In Computer Literacy class, I could demonstrate how green screen technology works during our WeVideo project unit by overlaying an original video still over the same still with color keying added to it, in order to create a fun reveal.

But that benefits myself and my own class. I starting thinking about how OTHER classes and subject areas could also incorporate this into their lessons:

  • You could use this technology in a Visual Arts class to reveal basic shapes in a still life, or reveal the path of movement that a viewer's eye travels within an artwork. You could overlay two color wheels: one "blank" version, and one labeled, for students to quiz themselves on color theory.
  • You could use this technology in a Social Studies class to look at maps: either a blank vs labeled map for locations of geographic features, or two maps of the same area to show changes over time in borders and countries. You could also do a comparison of Presidential portraits showing the contrast between the beginning and ending of a term. Pretty interesting!
  • In ELA classes, you can use sliders to show grammatical corrections of a sentence by using screen grabs or even just photos taken of a white board before vs after corrections. For early readers, you could use sliders as flash cards: a picture of an object could slide over to reveal the word name. 
  • A flash card concept using sliders would also be fun for World Languages. Use the same technique as the early reader concept, only utilize basic vocabulary terms for students to learn!
  • Science classes can use this concept for all kinds of curricular concepts, like cause/effect, before and after, inside/outside, and "virtually" peel away the outer layer of pretty much any object! Think about how fun this could be for biology and anatomy, or earth science!

The Juxtapose site is pretty easy to use:


You copy and paste the URLs of the images you want to use for your slider, adjust any settings as desired, and click "publish!" I like using Google Photos for making slider images, as I can right-click on an image, select "copy image address," and then paste into the URL field in Juxtapose. You can even instantly preview your slider before you click "Publish!"

Once you publish your post, you can either share the link to your slider image, which shows it in a really nice full-screen mode (like this), or you can use the provided embed codes to put it on your webpage.

You can see some examples of slider images embedded into a web page in a Chicago Tribune article here.

What other fun classroom ideas can you think of where teachers could utilize slider images?

- Mrs L. 

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Green Screen Tricks w/WeVideo


My 8th graders are currently working on their major video unit (I've talked about it before here and here), and we spend several class periods just shooting and editing... which gets me thinking about fun new things to do with WeVideo, and ideas that I haven't seen students try out yet. 

I started messing around with green areas in videos and still photos (like putting green paper over my computer screen, inserting a green panel into a picture frame, or even just holding green construction paper in my hands) and layering and re-combining them in different ways. 

We always think of green screen as removing the background and putting yourself into a different environment... but have you thought of green screen patches as "portals" into another video or object? Or using green objects to reveal what lies underneath? Or stacking green screen upon green screen, allowing you to have an entire conversation with yourself?

...and those are just the first things that came to mind. Check out my sample video here:


I used WeVideo to make this movie - the green screen feature (aka color keying) is probably my most favorite feature of the whole service! Not sure how it's done? It's so easy - I demonstrate the entire process here in under three minutes.

I'd love to hear some of your ideas for using green screen in new ways! Please share below!

-Mrs L.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

My Top 5 Classroom Hacks!


I love finding fun, easy, and inexpensive ways to transform a classroom or organize supplies. You can find a bunch of ideas on Pinterest (see my board here), but I'm going to tell you about a few of my very most favorite classroom hacks that I've actually used in my own classroom!

Go figure - these tables already had the ability to be raised to countertop height!

1. STANDING DESK
I'm all about flexible seating arrangements and letting students choose and customize their learning environment to maximize comfort, motivation, and overall learning. You can read more about my tips for flexible seating here.

I wanted to get a standing desk for my classroom, but dollars for purchasing new furniture aren't exactly flying through the door. So I thought about it, and envisioned a possible solution for raising my existing tables, like this, using those bed risers commonly found in college dorms. But then... I looked closer at my tables, and it seemed like I may have already had the solution right in front of me. The existing tables could be adjusted and raised to a standing height without any modification at all! So before you go spending money (even a small amount, like those bed risers) on equipment or furniture, be sure that you've already ruled out the possibilities of your existing items!


2. DIY WIPE OFF TABLES
One of my most popular blog posts is this DIY on how I painted my own wipe-off tabletops. I love them so much! We use them for group work, brainstorming, and even filming title/caption sequences using WeVideo for our video projects!

I am happy to report that these tables have really held up over time! Sure, there are a very few tiny nicks here and there, but nothing that one quick refresher coat couldn't fix for next year. And even if I didn't feel like fixing them, they're still good enough to use as-is!


3. MOUSE AND MIC STORAGE
I'm kind of obsessed with efficient storage and having a place for everything. Tangled cords drive me crazy. Therefore, these wall-hanging shoe pouches are PERFECT for USB mice, microphones, and digital cameras. And because they're clear, I can quickly and easily see that everything is accounted for. For more on my organizational/storage tips, check out this blog post here.


4. CONTACT PAPER "CURTAINS"
So... this hack really doesn't do a whole lot except make your room look pretty, but I believe that a nice-looking classroom is more inviting and comfortable for students, therefore improving the work ethic and motivation of the class overall. Schools often don't allow fabric curtains because of fire codes, or maybe you don't want that hassle of them getting all dusty and gross, or (in the case of my classroom door) getting caught in your doorway.

I bought some fun contact paper via Amazon that had a horizontal zig-zag print, and cut it to look like a valance. Then all I had to do was peel and stick to the windows! It looks great on my classroom door as well as my "fishbowl" window along the wall that looks out into the hallway.


5. EASY DIY WHITEBOARD PANELS
A super easy way to create large whiteboard panels in your classroom is to laminate sheets of posterboard! You can mount them to your wall, or use them like giant placemats on desks or tables. In the picture above, I've laminated a posterboard sheet and drawn an X- and Y-axis (using permanent marker, so it won't erase) for the purpose of illustrating location coordinates for sprites in Scratch. The scratch cat cutout is stuck to the poster with sticky tack so that I can move him around as needed, but I can also draw and take notes on the posterboard that can be wiped off later!

These posterboard panels are also fun to use for group projects, in place of those disposable giant sticky note sheets, where a group can write on it on a tabletop to work, but then hang on the wall for display and sharing out their work later on.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Those are my top 5 current fave classroom hacks... But wait, I've got one more BONUS hack!


BONUS! 
6. WIPE-OFF WINDOWS
Have you considered using your whiteboard markers on your windows? I used to work with a 6th grade math teacher who let students work out their equations on the windows using wipe-off markers. It was cute because his room faced the front of the building, and I'd pull into the parking lot and see the work done by students in class on the previous day. This extremely low-tech "hack" is smart purely because it's likely going to be something NEW to the students, the same way that my tabletops are exciting to them because they "get to write on the furniture." They're still learning the same content, the same standards... but because they're using an exciting new method, they will be motivated and more likely to remember the whole experience!

Have you tried any of these classroom hacks in your own classroom? Do you have any other favorite classroom hacks to share?

- Mrs L.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Creative Gmail Signatures for Students


Remember that time in January that I had to do a Demo Slam at the Winter Google Summit? One of the slams that really stuck with me was one called Your Email Signature Sucks by Jeremy McBrayer. He showed us a super simple trick for setting up an email signature in Google Docs, and then using copy/paste to your GMail settings to give you a spiffy-looking signature that features both an image and some text (usually, your name and contact info) right next to each other.

I used his trick immediately after returning from the Summit, and I've even used it for my non-professional accounts because I love how the formatting makes my emails look so nice!

My current email signature

I began to think about how this trick could be useful in other applications, and then it clicked: my students need to create signatures for their email accounts, too! Perhaps you're aware of the phenomenon that is students who never remember to put their name on anything... well, it happens with emails, too. And even though Gmail might give me a student's name as part of the address info, it's always lacking a few key components, like grade level or homeroom teacher, should I need to follow up on an issue.

I teach all three grade levels - 6, 7, and 8 - so keeping grade levels straight is often difficult (and gets more and more difficult the older I get!), and my students switch every six weeks... by the end of the year, I've taught 700+ students! So, it's a HUGE advantage if I had a photo to help me match names to faces. Which is why this Gmail signature seemed like an awesome opportunity to teach students a neat tech trick that is also super useful and helpful! I like to encourage them to be creative with both their photo and text info.

Here's what we do:
* Open a new Google Doc. Insert a 2x1 table. 
* In the left-hand cell, insert a photo (preferably of yourself, that's kind of the point?).
Yep, that's my middle school photo. It wasn't originally black and white, it's just scanned that way. Color photography WAS already invented when I was younger...! 
* Adjust the size by clicking and dragging on a corner. You don't want to have a ridiculously huge photo at the bottom of all of your emails. 
* Now, shift the vertical border on the right side of your image's cell to fit your image. That will help keep your text aligned next to your image without an awkwardly huge gap of space in-between. 
* In the right-hand cell, enter your text:
  • Your first & last name
  • Your grade level
  • Your homeroom teacher's name
  • A favorite quote, motto, or fun fact about yourself! (I encouraged students to have fun with this part!) 
* Once all of your information is entered, you will select the table and turn the borders to white, so that they "disappear."

Now, you can select and copy your entire table from Google Docs, and paste it into your Gmail email signature settings, and do any minor adjustments to fonts, sizes, etc. - Don't forget to save!


Once students have created their spiffy new email signatures, I have them send me an email to test it out! I promise to reply to each of them with a Mrs Leban Bitmoji, which is usually pretty motivating. I figure that once I do this with each group of students, by the end of the school year, every student in the building will have an email signature with all of the info a teacher might need right there!


I love that this activity helps motivate students to check and actually USE their school email accounts! And it's just a nifty trick to impress students with, too.


How about you? What's currently your favorite tech trick to show students?

- Mrs. L.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Innovation Stations: A Middle School Creative Technology Unit


I know I've referenced my 8th grade culminating curricular unit before, which we lovingly call the Innovation Stations, but I thought I'd take a moment to explain how it all gets laid out and run within our classroom!

From a classroom management standpoint, I have students work in pairs during Innovation Stations. I find that groups of two allow for adequate assistance (students have a friend that they can ask for help), but also allows for students to easily take turns controlling the actual tools. No one just sits and observes, or claims to have "nothing to do."

I have three stations that I need to arrange to have all of the students move through: Makey Makey, littleBits, and Sphero. Grouping and time frames are basically dependent upon which tool I have the smallest number of, which at present, is Sphero. I have four of them (and if I'm lucky, they're all working!). That means that up to eight students can be working at the Sphero station. If I have a class of 24, it works out perfectly to have eight students at each station, with four groups each. Of course, this is an IDEAL situation, and I do often have to make adjustments accordingly.

Each tech tool station has a task list of directions for getting acquainted with the tool, and challenges for the students to complete. Last year, these task lists were printed off on paper and I had to manually "check off" tasks for students after they performed them for me, but this year I've begun making these checklists paperless (as hyperdocs!), and having students photograph and document task completion by inserting the images into the doc as proof.

Depending on how much time we have left in the quarter, I will have students spend 2-3 days at each station, and charge them with getting as far as they can on the task lists during that time. The task list is where you'll find fun challenges, like our Sphero maze.

I'm fortunate to have all sorts of tech gadgets to use in my curriculum, and it's currently structured for students to experience technology at my school like this:
  • 6th Grade - Dot and Dash robots
  • 7th Grade - Ozobots
  • 8th Grade - Makey Makey, Sphero, and littleBits

It works out pretty well, because each grade level gets to experience a new tech tool each year. But the Ozobots and Dot/Dash robots are actually new to us THIS year, so my current 8th graders never got the chance to use them. Therefore, I decided to try something new for 3rd quarter and add two more stations to the rotation of tools: the Ozobots and Dot and Dash robots!

I took my longer Ozobot and Dot and Dash unit materials and shrunk them down into (what I hope are) manageable 2-3 day task lists, like the ones I created for the other three 8th grade stations, and now I had FIVE Innovation Stations for students to rotate through! I'm not gonna lie, it's a lot of device management and attention to things like charging/cables/outlets, but it's a fun type of chaos to see all of the students so engaged in the activities.

One of the things that I ended up doing in order to help make these stations run more smoothly was to create short "How-To" type videos for the most common issues that students would encounter when working with the devices. For example, I often found myself spending chunks of the class period troubleshooting our Sphero connections. The solution? Help yourself! See here:


And despite having very specific and clear instructions on how to properly connect a Makey Makey, sometimes it's just more helpful to watch someone else do it: 


The other station that seemed to need a little more one-on-one assistance was the Ozobots, mostly because there's a difference between using them on paper vs using them on a Chromebook and loading them with programs. So I made these:


I found these short videos extremely helpful for running my Innovation Stations unit, as it freed me up to observe and assist in other areas, as needed. I wasn't feeling so much like a broken record, answering the same questions over and over! 

This is one of those instances where teaching a class repeatedly, like in 9-week terms, has its advantages because I can run a unit for students, reflect, and make adjustments like this. It's pretty rewarding to be able to observe how things improve after tweaking a lesson or unit!

Have you used any of these tech tools before? What new tech tools or toys would you suggest adding to our offerings in the future?

- Mrs. L.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Intro to Coding Using Mr Potato Head


It's always nice to hear a student say something along the lines of what I heard today:
"Mrs Leban, why do we do so many fun things in your class?" 

Which made me giggle and reply, "Oh I'm sorry - is that a problem? You need me to scale back?"

But seriously, it's nice to know that the weird things I do sometimes are actually connecting with kids - you don't always get that kind of feedback from middle-schoolers. So I take it and enjoy it when I can.

Today's activity is a super basic intro to the concepts of coding: namely, giving specific and accurate directions. We have students role play and assemble a Mr Potato Head toy. I call it the "Mr Potato Head Challenge!" Here's how it goes:

MR POTATO HEAD CHALLENGE

Students work in table groups of 3-4. You will need one Mr Potato Head "set" per table. In lieu of having enough toys, you could do one whole-class game, or split into larger groups based on what you have available.

Side note: I received ALL of my Mr Potato Head sets for FREE. I asked my PTA to put the word out for Mr Potato Head donations (used or new!) and I got like a dozen in less than a month's time! All I had to do was sort all of the parts out into "sets," which I store in these bins from the dollar store:


Here's how to explain the game to students:

  • One student is the COMPUTER, who puts together Mr Potato Head, and is responsible for following the directions from the CODER. 
  • One student is the CODER, who gives the directions.

If you want to get fancy, make name tags:

The COMPUTER doesn't know what each object is called. It can only recognize colors and shapes, like in Google Draw. The CODER will have to be able to describe the object. (Proper names of shapes, like oval or circle, are ok.)


Pro Tip: Arrange parts in a grid formation, or rows by color, to aid in identifying specific parts based on location/coordinates...

Students will play multiple games, trading roles so that everyone at the table gets a turn. The observers are welcome to help their fellow CODER, if necessary, should he/she get stuck on a direction. What should Mr Potato Head look like when he's done? That's up to the CODER!

In my observations, it's super fun to play the COMPUTER role, because students can purposely play dumb when they receive vague directions: Put this on the top. Turn this to the side. Put this on the face. They really seem to get into interpreting directions in alternate ways, which is actually really helpful when I explain how a computer can only follow the directions that are given, and that computer languages have to be very precise - a mistyped lower or uppercase letter can throw off an entire set of coding commands!

After much hilarity, you can debrief with your class at the end of the activity:

  • What did you learn about giving directions? Was it hard or easy?
  • Discuss with students the concept of coding and how the things that are coded are only as good as the person who did the coding - give examples of microwaves, street lights, etc

This activity is part of a larger unit I complete with students using Google Draw, where students create a "monster" drawing, and then must also type up the directions for a classmate to follow. The unit following this one is on coding, so I find that this unit is a nice way to ease into the concept.

- Mrs L.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Reflections on ICE Conference 2017


I was really lucky this year to attend the ICE (Illinois Computing Educators) Conference not one, but TWO days this year. Special thanks to the folks at WeVideo, who sent me in exchange for doing a presentation at ICE all about WeVideo, which is seriously (in my 100% honest opinion!) the best video creation site for education.

Why do I feel so strongly about WeVideo? Well, the winning element for me is the fact that it's cloud-based and cross-platform! I can use it on my Mac, my PC, my Chromebook, my iOS device, or an Android phone! Because it's all stored in the cloud, I can access it anywhere, any time. Oh yeah, and I can share projects, too. So if I'm working on a project with a partner and he/she is absent, I don't need his/her device OR login, because it's shared with me and I can access it, too! I can't think of any other service that gives me this much freedom!

My other favorite thing about WeVideo is of course, green screen, which I talked about here, and presented at the Google Summit here.

Our keynote speaker on Thursday was Eric Sheninger, who I think is awesome and have been following for several years now via Twitter, so I was pretty excited to hear in person. Friday was Joe Sanfelippo, who was equally awesome! I want to buy both of my administrators his awesome book, Hacking Leadership.


Side note: Eric Sheninger is part of the group that created the "Rigor-Relevance" framework chart, which I cannot look at EVER without picturing the "Conjoined Triangles of Success" from Silicon Valley. Does anyone else have this problem?

You can view my whole presentation here, if you like!

My presentation was first thing Thursday morning, which was excellent because it meant that I was able to get it over with right away (I get super ridiculous nervous), and then relax and enjoy the rest of the conference.


My department chair was there with me on Thursday (Thanks for taking pictures, Deb!), which was awesome because I had a friend to walk around with. We went to a poster session - something that I had never experienced before - which is like a 4 (or more) in one session: there's a table for each concept or presentation. Each group gives a quick summary up front, and then you can travel around to each table for more info... kind of like a professional development science fair? It was a cool concept, but way too crowded and I couldn't even get to the table I wanted to see, which was all about flexible seating arrangements - something I'm very into and have talked about before here.

We walked around the vendor booths (The swag was excellent this year, by the way! I like to collect stickers from vendors...) and saw another session from Eric Sheninger. I ended the day with a presentation on microphones, which I was hoping would be helpful for audio recording for our video projects, but was really technical and covered mostly microphones too expensive for my school budget. Ah well, you win some, you lose some. It was still cool to hear about though!

On Friday after Joe Sanfelippo's keynote, there was a block of time devoted to teachers perusing the vendor booths, so I hung out at the WeVideo booth with John Kline and Jaime Hernandez, who were super rad and gave me my favorite new WeVideo hoodie:


But more importantly, I got to talk with a whole bunch of educators about WeVideo and answer questions from a teacher perspective. It was really great to get to share and help others in their tech education journeys!

The vendor hall closed just before lunch, so after hanging in the booth and answering questions, I went to a session on textiles and circuitry, which is a project that I've been dying to try out! I'd love to start a "Tech Girls" club specifically focused on STEAM concepts, but just for girls at my school. Not only would we do a light up circuit bracelet project, I'd love to try the "ArtBot" machines I observed at the station next to the one I was watching:

Must. Get. Conductive. Thread... and make these super-sweet bracelets!
I feel like it would be pretty easy to adapt our current stash of LittleBits to create these ArtBots with marker legs!

I love getting to participate in professional development like the ICE Conference because it's so relevant and immediately useful to my daily responsibilities. I always leave with a ton of awesome new ideas to implement and share!

What's your favorite professional development activity?

-Mrs. L.

p.s. Did you notice? I finally bought my own real web address! I decided on LebanTeachTech.com, and for now I'm just forwarding it to my Blogger address. I've been playing around with the idea of switching to another blogging platform, but that's all still TBD... 
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