Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Website Wednesday

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Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Words for 2013

photo credit: Marwa Morgan via photopin cc
Last year I wrote an article, New Year's Resolution?, discussing the concept of choosing a single word to guide your tasks, goals and decisions throughout the year.  Upon reflection, I find that my word shifted to a phrase for the year - "It is what is it."  Life was in an upheaval with a new position at work and home remodeling that I just had to take the year in stride.  I found many situations and circumstances were out of my control, so I just started saying, "It is what it is."

Over the Christmas break, I began thinking about the upcoming year.  I wanted to do another word for the year, but just didn't know what it would be.  I began brainstorming my list of potential words -
  • by yourself
  • balance
  • dream
  • create
  • inspire
  • imagine
  • sacrifice
  • let enough be enough - I don't remember where or why this one came to mind

I liked the word create, but I didn't feel like it was enough, so I procrastinated.  The new year started and I was still wordless.  I decided to do what any good wordless wonder would, I searched the internet for inspiration.  I found several sites that focus on a single word for the year like brave, surrender, cherish, ask, capture and open.  In my search, I also stumbled upon a blog post, My 3 Words for 2013, by Chris Brogan, CEO of Human Business Works.  Chris chooses 3 words each year to help him focus on his goals and efforts.  He explains that these three words should, "...sum up what you want to work actionably on changing/improving in the coming year."  Naturally, you want to keep your words positive and they should represent the big picture for the year.  Chris uses either a word or the name of a person that represents his bigger picture for the year.

Photo credit:
After a little more reflection on my search results and the article by Chris, I found the words create and push coming to the top of my list.  I like create because I have technology and craft items I want to create throughout the upcoming year.  I also like create because you have to think and imagine to produce the product you are creating.  However, I also have some projects I started creating last year that I really would like to complete or at least get polished.  So, the word push came to mind.  At first I didn't like that word push because it reminded me of woman giving birth and the doctor telling her to push.  Not a great image for my mind.  But the more I thought about these 2 words, create and push, I decided they really do belong together.  As you begin the process of creating, you experience joy and excitement in the possibilities of this new creation.  However, as you continue in the creation process, you get worn out and tired.  You are just ready for it to be finished.  For some, myself included, it is easier to just stop and not finish the work on your creation.  That is where the push comes in to play.  You do have to push yourself to make it to the finish and sometimes that can be a stressful and painful process.  So, despite my visual image associated with the word push, I have decided to Create and Push through this year.
photo credit:  Melodi2 via Morgue Files

What about you?  If you had to select a word (or 2 or 3) to "...sum up what you want to work actionably on changing/improving in the coming year", what would you choose?

Monday, January 7, 2013

Under Construction

Image courtesy of
One of my goals for this school year is to help encourage, support and train the teachers on updating their district web page.  I'm often asked if anyone really looks at our teacher web pages.  If they don't, then what is the point.  I think the real question we should ask is, "If I were a student or parent, would I come back to look at this class web page."  Personally, when I'm browsing websites I look for those sites that not only have pertinent information, but are updated regularly.  I don't often rely on information that is over a year old.  However, when working with class web pages, some information will remain the same from year to year, but it is always a good idea to check over that "static" information yearly in case there are changes.

USD 495 does provide teachers with standard web pages to help them get started on creating their online class environment.  The standard pages provided include:
  • Welcome Page - provides a place for contact information, a photo and quick links
  • Homework Page - a place to upload pdf files of class assignments
  • Blog Page - a place where you can create regular posts about what is going on in the classroom
  • Calendar - this is the district calendar and can't be added to
  • Handouts - another page for uploading pdf files (class assignments, forms, permission slips, etc.)
  • Links - a page for links to websites that your students need for class or sites to help enhance their learning in your content area(s)
  • Podcasts - a page to upload podcasts created by yourself or your students
Now, just because these are the standard pages provided, doesn't mean you have to use these pages.  You can remove or deactivate any page(s) you are not using for your online class environment.  In fact, I highly recommend removing those pages with no information.  Nothing is more frustrating as a webpage viewer than to click on a page link and find no information.  Another thing to keep in mind about our standard pages is you don't have to keep the Welcome Page in the format that is provided.  Perhaps you want a separate 'About Me' or 'Contact Me' page.  If so, take that off the welcome page and create a new Flex Editor page for information about yourself.  The Flex Editor page allows you to create whatever format you desire.  But before you start adding new pages and content, start by deciding what you want on your website.

Recommended Elements
Remember, this site is an extension of your class environment.  It should be a place where parents and students can find out who you are and what type of teacher you will be before they enter your classroom.  An 'About Me' page is a great place to provide this type of information.  You don't have to give personal information, but you might include some of the following:
  • How long have you been teaching?
  • What grades and/or subjects have you taught?
  • What is your style of teaching?  As a student, am I going to take lots of notes in your class?  Do students use technology to create in your classroom?
  • What are your pet peeves?
  • What excites you about teaching and working with students?
An intro or welcome page is a great place to give an overall view of what can be found in your online class environment.  You can provide brief explanations about what will be found on various pages.  You might give a description of the class and what it is about.  You could include a photo gallery or video providing a virtual classroom tour.  You could even have your basic class expectations, schedule, etc. on the welcome or intro page.  If you do not include the basic classroom information (expectations, schedule, etc.) on the welcome or intro page, then I would definitely include it on another page.  This type of information allows students and parents a first glance of what will be expected so everyone is on the same page.

Image from ToniVC on Flickr
Another page to include for students and parents is a homework or assignment page.  This would give access to the work being completed in class.  What a time saver if you have a student absent from class.  They could simply go to the assignment page and find the work they need to complete.  On a homework or assignment page, you could include:
  • Class slideshows from lectures
  • Audio of your class lectures
  • Handouts or Notes - anything you might handout to the students that they could lose
  • Videos related to a class assignment or lecture
  • Project Details- project expectations, planning sheets, rubric, etc.
  • Daily write up on what was covered in class each day

One last page that I would include is a student project page.  This is a great place to showcase the projects completed by students.  Parents can view completed projects and share them with family and friends.  Most web 2.0 technology projects provide an embed code for adding to web pages.  If the project was a written paper, you might upload it to a site like SlideShare or Google Drive.  These sites allow you to embed a document onto a web page (and both are free).  If students completed a drawing or art project, take pictures of the finished products and showcase them in a table or photo gallery.  Showing off student work in the classroom and school hallways is still good, but if you really want to showcase their products, why not show them to the world.  Studies show that the quality of student projects improve when they are doing it for a real purpose and for a larger audience.  You could take this a step further and take pictures or video as the students are working on their projects.  Maybe record a student explaining the project - the purpose, how it is being created, what they've learned through the creation process, etc.

Other Elements to Consider
One element to consider for your online class environment are resources students and parents can use outside of school to help support and reinforce their learning.  You could keep this as simple as providing a link page with links to websites that will help the students learn and practice the needed concepts for your class.  You might have a combination page of web links and pdf files which provide extra practice of concepts through games or activities.

Add a blog page.  You could use a blog page for that daily write up on what occurred in class each day.  One teacher I know has her students write an exit card each week highlighting something new they learned in class.  Then she selects three students to showcase for the week.  Another teacher I work with uses her blog to post thought-provoking questions that the students respond to each week.  This has increased the participation level of the students in her class because some students express themselves better in writing than speaking.  This approach is also less threatening for some students than speaking in front of the class.  Maybe you want to use your blog to review books or articles you have read that might be of interest to your students and the content being covered in class.  The USD 495 web site does have a blog page, but some have preferred using Blogger, which is free with your school email account.

Image from brody4 on Flickr
How about adding a reading or book list.  Create a required reading list for the school year.  If you post over the summer, students can get a head start on their reading.  Create a themed reading list to go along with an upcoming holiday or event.  What about a recommended reading list to help prepare students for college or to give reluctant readers something to peak their interest.  Create a list of articles or text that will increase the students knowledge of a subject you covered in class.  Believe it or not some students like to learn knew things through reading.  Reading lists can be changed and updated regularly or yearly depending on the type of list you are using.  They are also a great resource for parents to help engage their kids in learning outside of the school day.

Final Note
Your online class environment should reflect you and your class.  Make it inviting, friendly and useful.  Here are some helpful tips to remember when creating your web pages:
  • Make things easy to find
  • 3 click rule - don't make anything more than 3 clicks away from your main page
  • Use caution with color  - some colors don't complement each other and make reading difficult
  • Images and animation - Watch your image size and your amount of animation.  Too big and too much can slow down how quickly your pages will load and most people only give a page about 5 seconds to load.
  • Read your text out loud - read over your text out loud to check for errors
Below are some class web sites I found that had some good elements and features for consideration when creating your own class web pages.  I've noted the features I liked for each site.

  • Has all the resources students and parents need to know what is going on in the classroom. Shows how you can use embedded features to spruce up a page
  • English teacher website - I like how they give the handouts, assignments & resources for the various texts that are covered in the class. Keep all the info together for students and parents.
  • English class site done in blog format. Gives assignments and tips for students. Also uses Goodreads for independent reading - instructions/expectations included.
  • Uses blog format to keep students and parents updated on what is going on in the classroom. I like her 10 Amazing Facts on her about me page.
  • Great way to have students get involved in the class web site.
  • High School English website - basic, but covers the essentials.
  • I like that she showcases student work in several ways. I also like her recipe for 3rd grade page.
  • 5th Grade class web site. I like that she has past class slideshows for viewing as this gives upcoming students a glimpse of the classroom and activities. I also like her about Mrs. Shaw page.
  • Easy to navigate and find what you are searching. Please be careful of too many animated images as they can make the page slower when uploading.
  • I like the about the teacher page - mission statement & what she is currently reading - classroom pics, and links for parents.
  • 3rd grade classroom example
  • Elementary teachers will like the overall "cuteness" of this site. While some of this can't happen on our district website, I like the clean look and the classroom resources.
  • I like her Roving Reporter page as it gets the students involved in creating content for the classroom website. I also liked her Donate to the Class page. This would be a great way for parents and community members to know what needs they could help address.
  • Nice classroom tour, but some of the other pages have too much text. It needs to be broken up a little more with photos & videos.
Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.