Tag Archives: ed tech

Five Reasons Every Teacher Should Use Evernote


I have been using Evernote for almost a year now, and I love it.  I feel like I constantly find new and exciting things to do with it, too.  I don’t really get the whole recipe thing, but I don’t cook, so that explains that!

There are ten main things that I do with Evernote, and that any one of us could implement immediately to make life a little easier.  That’s always good, right?

Evernote is a free app that is compatible with every device you have.  Here’s a little video from the Evernote folks that explains some of the basics.

So, for my Top 5 Reasons Every Teacher Should Use Evernote…

1. Penultimate.  Penultimate is a really good handwriting app that syncs directly to Evernote.  Whenever I have notes to take, I just open my iPad, take out my Bamboo Stylus, and take notes.  I really like being able to take notes by hand, and then Evernote lets me organize them however I like.  No more notebooks filled with notes that have nothing to do with the ones before and after them, never to be seen again.  I can even add tags to my notes so that they are searchable later- even if I am not looking in the Evernote Notebook where I put them.  If that helps me, just think of how much that would help kids.

2. Class Notebooks.  You can create a notebook for your classes and then share them with your students.  When you put class notes, printables, resources, homework, whatever- in the notebooks, they are immediately accessible to the kids from their own Evernote account.  It sure beats the process you have to go through on most websites to upload assignments.  And the media choices are endless- you can upload videos, pictures, audio, any kind of document- anything you can think of, really.  Want to record an important lecture?  Just hit the record button in the Evernote app on your phone, give the lecture, stop the recording, and touch the appropriate notebook for the class.

3. Student Portfolios.  Just as you can create notebooks for your classes, the kids can create notebooks of their work.  They can take pictures of drawings, add video, audio- all of the same things you can do.  They can share their work with you, their friends, their family, the world, or no one at all.  The best part is that they can take it with them.  They don’t lose it when they leave middle school or high school- they have it forever.

4. All of the Note Taking Possibilities.  I already mentioned Penultimate, but how cool is it that kids can just snap a picture of the work on the white board at the end of class?  Or record a brainstorming session for a class project?  One great idea is for kids to create a notebook for a research project, and then use Evernote’s web clipper to grab just what they need from a site rather than the whole page.  All of their research is stored in one place, without barfing from their folders and backpacks.  Pretty cool.

5. Digital Textbooks.  Instead of asking kids to lug a big book around, you can create a notebook and add all of the stuff you would normally want them to access from the textbook right in there.  Do it once, and it is there forever.  So, if you use certain content every year, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every year.  Unlike those big textbooks, you only keep the content you need- not all of that extra stuff that just gets in the way in the textbook.  And, when you need something that the textbook doesn’t have, you add that too.  That way, kids don’t have a million different places to look to find that one thing they need tonight.

I use Evernote at home, too- I take pictures of receipts, scan important bills, scan and take pictures of all of my children’s artwork; I use Evernote Peek to practice states and capitals with my son.  I use it as a librarian and I use it as a student.  Like I said, I come up with new ways to use Evernote every day.  Give it a try!

Have a great weekend!



A Brief Overview of Gamification

I am on a huge Gamification kick.  I love it- I think that there is a way to Gamify almost anything.

I had to create an infographic for a class that I am taking, and I wanted to embed it here, but I can’t figure out how to do that. 😦  If you are interested in learning more about Gamification, click the link below!


Have a great weekend!


Research on MMORPGs: Not. Easy.


Um. I suck so far.

My foray into the world of MMORPGs thus far has not been easy.  I can’t count the number of hours I have spent on forums and review sites.  I have a few conditions that I’d like to see met as I choose which to invest hours upon hours of time…


Not Free to Play. Grr.

1. Free to Play.  I’d rather it wasn’t Pay to Win, too.  So far, it seems that the new F2P way EQII is doing things is more of a P2W format- all of the good races have to be paid for.  The ones left are okay, I guess, but I would want to be a Ranger, sooo…

Reviews are mixed.  Okay, sort of bad.

Reviews are mixed. Okay, sort of bad.

2. Popular. When I was looking into Second Life (I know it is a MUVE, not an MMORPG, but I am looking to do research here, so I had to exhaust my options), it became so obvious that the community was popular in 2006, but since then?  Wow- what a graveyard.  I don’t want to spend time on something that will be a flash in the pan and irrelevant weeks after I finish.  Unless you are looking to get some, ahem, base needs met, Second Life seems to be not for you.  


Reviews claim it is boring.

3.  Fun.  I am more of a platformer sort of girl, so I’d like something that has a more open action style.  The best one I found for that was Tera Online, but according to the reviews, the quests are bland and boring.  Not cool.  Next!

Awesome reviews, but something tells me it ain't easy...

Awesome reviews, but something tells me it ain’t easy…

4. Kind of Easy.  Like I said, I am more of a platformer girl, so the difficulty of most MMOs is a turn-off for me.  Even the newer 3D platformers can be a little hard for me.  I am playing The Secret World right now, and I think I picked the wrong kind of weapon at the outset, so now the zombies are just tearing me to bits.  Why did I pick a sword when I could have picked a gun?  I’m stupid.

So where does that leave me?  Star Wars Galaxies gets iffy reviews, World of Warcraft isn’t free to play, Everquest 2 isn’t that popular anymore, Guild Wars 2 looks really hard… ugh!  I’m stuck.  Help!  I have always been a gamer, but not an RPG gamer.  There are things about them that I really like, though.

To give you an idea of where I am coming from, here is the beginning of a “novel” I started that is semi-autobiographical.  I’m the girl manager, and the guy manager is a friend of mine from back then.  I wrote this about ten years ago, so notice that GameCube and Everquest 1 are involved…



Chapter One

A man, fortyish, with long black hair and suspenders with skulls printed on them stood about a foot taller than the average man next to him.

“Do you go to the movies?” The scary man looked down at the other.


“How much does that cost ya?”

“I don’t know, about eight bucks.”

“Well.  Here’s the thing.  With this particular selection,” he held up a small box with a woman, scantily clad in a leather loincloth and a jeweled leather bustier adorning the cover, “You get all of the drama of a movie with interactivity.  It doesn’t last just two hours, either- it is there twenty-four hours a day, seven days per week.  And, it only costs ten dollars per month.  But, you get the first month free, so there is really no risk.” The scary tall man leered down at the smaller man.  “Whaddaya say?”

Alisa walked through the front door just in time- another lost soul was about to be born. “Louis!  Stop trying to turn my customers into brain dead idiots.”  She walked over to the unsuspecting victim.  “What did you come here to buy, sir?”

By now, the customer was so shell shocked, he could barely speak.  “The new Perfect Dark,” he barely managed the words under Louis’ penetrating stare.

“Right this way.”  She lead the man to the Nintendo section of the store and spoke to him, reassuringly, about the great reviews that his selection had garnered.  He seemed as though he had recovered.

When Alisa finished with the customer, she turned to Louis.  “This is not the Everquest store.  This is the other store, where customers are safe and souls aren’t stolen.  What are you doing here, anyway?  It’s your day off.”  She couldn’t help but smile a little.  Louis prided himself on being “evil,” but he typically cowered when she admonished him as he did now.  He didn’t even argue with her soul-stealing accusations.

“My store is out of Perfect Dark.  I came to transfer a few copies.”

“Oh no you don’t.  Those have been flying off the shelves.”

“Darren told me to.”  He almost sang the words, which seemed even funnier coming from someone who looked like Louis.  Darren was their district manager.  Alisa smoldered.  “Fine,” she said.  She looked over her shoulder, to the cash register where the traumatized man was completing his purchase.  “Erica!  Transfer five copies of Perfect Dark to store 67.”

Erica, Alisa’s assistant manager, smiled from behind the counter in that blank way of hers.  She swung her blond hair over her shoulder and drawled in her Texas accent, which seemed incredibly out of place in the suburbs of Chicago.  “Five copies of PD for N64.  Coming right up!”

“Very funny.” Louis didn’t have much patience for Erica.  She had the best of intentions- at least she seemed to, but she wanted either Alisa’s or Louis’s job so bad that they didn’t know what to think of her.  She could certainly sell, though.  Gamer guys weren’t used to seeing a little blonde behind the counter at stores like this.  Alisa considered herself a genius for having more girls on staff than guys.  She always argued when one of her fellow store managers complained that it was the reason that her store was number one in the region, but she secretly knew they were right.

Alisa and Louis walked to the back storeroom.  The room was large, with two doors along one wall and shelves around two sides of the room.  The shelves were littered with old marketing posters, accessories that didn’t fit on the walls, extra paperwork, extra shelves and brackets for the store, and other “stuff” – Alisa didn’t even know what was there.  Behind one door was the staff bathroom, which Alisa insisted be kept sparklingly clean at all times.  The other door was locked- it was another bathroom, but instead it was used to store systems- Xboxes, GameCubes, and PS2s.  There was another door, on the wall farthest from the store, which lead outside.  The final wall of the large storeroom was Alisa’s office.  Her desk was an old, beat-up, barely useable one but Alisa kept it immaculate.  The store’s finances, human resources, and marketing were all handled from this post.  Louis didn’t have this kind of space.  He looked around longingly as he always did.  His store was located inside the nearby mall whereas Alisa’s store was in a strip mall, so square footage was harder to come by for his store.

Alisa sat down on her “desk chair,” a metal folding chair.  Louis leaned against her desk and looked down at her.  It was a long distance when you took Louis’s 6’7” height against Alisa sitting down.  Even when she stood, she had to turn her face completely skyward to look at him.  She tried to hide the pain in her eyes as she spoke, for Louis’s sake.

“Have you heard anything?” Alisa asked.

“Not a thing.  I will let you know.”  Louis smiled, sadly.

“This is killing me, you know.”

“I know.”

(That’s as far as I got.  I know.  The suspense is killing me, too.)


What do I have to say about ebooks in my school library?


A colleague of mine wants to sit down with me to talk about ebooks in my library because her school is planning to roll out something similar.  It got me thinking.  What do I have to say about it?

At the beginning of this year, I added 12 Barnes and Noble Nooks to my school library.  As of this writing, two of them are broken.  I have emailed Barnes and Noble twice, and haven’t received a reply.  I purchased all of the Harry Potter books for two of them, and they still aren’t on the devices. Something on Barnes and Noble’s side was wrong, and they said that they are working on it.  That was months ago.

I also asked if I can switch from being Barnes and Noble managed to just locally managed, so that I can switch out devices easier if they break, and I haven’t received a reply to that, either.

Last year, I bought 12 Kindle Fires.  They were beautiful, but I had to return them.  The logistics wouldn’t work.  The Kindle Fires don’t work with Proxy Servers, and that is necessary with my school district’s web filters.  It is also next to impossible to purchase things on Amazon with a PO, and my district hasn’t moved to the credit card system yet, so we cannot purchase things from Amazon.

As an Educational Technology person, I like dedicated e-readers for reading.  I think that there are cognitive load issues associated with having all of these different choices when you have a device in your hands.  How can kids concentrate on what they are reading when the email ping goes off or a text message comes in or an alert pops up that a friend just messaged them or… you get it, right?    E-readers definitely have a place for those who want an uncluttered reading space.

The only economical library-friendly ebook retailer (that I have seen) is FollettShelf.  The problem with them is that they are not compatible with dedicated e-readers.  Their books are browser-based.  I can’t use Kindle Fires and I can’t afford iPads, and I think that dedicated e-readers are better for reading.

Do you see a problem emerging?

Now, the Nooks that aren’t broken get checked out all of the time.  I have them grouped into genres: Realistic Fiction for Guys, Realistic Fiction for Girls, Fantasy, Sci Fi/Dystopian, Mystery/Horror, and Paranormal Romance.  There are 20ish titles on each device.  That is an awful waste of great books.  There is no way that kids can read more than one or two books in the time I give them to keep the device.  So, all of those great books are checked out and no one else has access to them.

There is pretty much one game in town for library management of ebooks and audiobooks- Overdrive.  Their pricing structure is way out of my league as a school librarian with 1000 patrons.

Where does that leave me?  I thought about a DRM-stripping program… DRM is ethically wrong and goes against fair use law anyhow…  I thought- what if I stripped the DRM from the books, and then downloaded them to the kids’ devices and then at the end of the checkout period, I could take them off of the devices… wow.  I think that for all of that manual maneuvering of data, I would need at least three more parapros in my LMC.  And it is in legal gray-area, which my district wouldn’t be happy with (to put it simply).

I have a real dilemma on my hands.  Bigger than ebooks, I think.

I want to stay current.  I want my library to stay relevant.  I want kids to have access to all of these awesome books and to be able to read them their way.  Hell, I don’t ever read paper books anymore.  I am strictly an ebook reader.  How can I, as a middle school librarian, expect that these kids aren’t going to want to read this way when I see the benefit of it?  It speaks to the entire field of educational technology, I think.  How do we get all of these awesome advances into the hands of kids?  I can give you a thousand examples of things that would benefit my kids more than you know, but I can’t utilize them because I have no way of delivering them.

I emailed the public library to see if they would like to do a membership drive at my library so that kids can get library cards and check ebooks out from them.  I haven’t heard back.  Does no one read my emails?  Even then, about 20% of my students live in an unincorporated area where they do not belong to the library.  So they wouldn’t be eligible to get cards.

The only upside that I can offer my colleague is that the Nooks do get checked out- they are never not checked out.  But that means that 10 of my patrons are benefiting from the thousands of dollars I have spent at a time.  Ten!

I am at a loss.




Link Directory!

After much maneuvering, I figured out how to make a space here on my blog where I can bookmark sites that I think are worthy of a second look.  I have never been a fan of Delicious- maybe it is just too confusing for me.  I like the simplicity of BagTheWeb, but it isn’t compatible with WordPress.  I wanted something I would be able to add to whenever I vet a new site and deem it something I think is worthy of sharing, and BagTheWeb does that for me- so that it will automatically be available on this site whenever I add something.  Pretty cool.

If you click on “Link Directory” above, you will be taken to that space.  Hit “Home” and you come back here.  I had to go outside of WordPress to make this happen, but I think it came out great.

So far, I have added categories for Gaming, Ed Tech, and a few different Web 2.0-type applications.  I am staying away from the more hokey ones- only the really good, really polished sites are in the bags.

I hope you find them to be a great resource!


The Top Five: iPhone Apps for Middle School ELA Teachers

Pretty specific title, I know. With so many iOS apps out there geared toward education, it is hard to know which ones will be most useful. We end up downloading everything we see only to open it once and then never again. Most apps seem to be geared toward elementary or high school teachers, too. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard, “Oh, just modify it up,” in my elementary district. No! We shouldn’t do that! If anything, we should modify down from high school. But I digress.

Here are my Top 5 (with a bonus) apps:


1. EZ Common Core Language Arts (1.99). There are a few Common Core apps out there now, and they are all pretty good for becoming more familiar with the standards. The free official one is really user-friendly, actually. The reason I find this one worthy of shelling out two bucks is the notes feature. Each standard offers a box where you can add your own notes. I’d use that to jot down lesson ideas as I think of them if it were me. Then, you can email those notes to yourself, if you want.


2. Book Retriever (1.99). I can’t tell you how many crazy interesting ideas I have heard to keep track of a classroom library. I was even guilty of a few of them myself, back in the day. Color-coded index cards, clipboards, stickers, and on and on. None seem to work. Teachers still seem to have a hard time getting students to keep track of the books. The benefits of this little guy are two-fold. First, you can scan every book into the app. About half of the time, the app’s database (which is growing, I’m told) will give you a synopsis, picture, F & P level, Lexile level, and other information. The ones not in the database need to be entered manually, but it is worth it. After all of your books are cataloged, enter your students’ names in the students section of the app. That’s it! Now, when a student wants to check out a book from your classroom library, you have the Lexile and F & P info handy, and you can just check it out to them right on your phone. No more losing your books!

remind 101

3. Remind 101 (FREE). Okay, this is cool. At Parent Night at the beginning of the year, give students and parents your Remind 101 login info, and have them create an account (it takes literally 20 seconds). Then, whenever you have a permission slip due, a big assignment due, whatever- you can send them a text alert to remind them. No one has your personal cell number, and you can send them a text whenever you need to, but they can’t text you back. What I wouldn’t give if my own kids’ teachers used this. It is so hard to keep track of everything they bring home. You would eliminate those uncomfortable parent-teacher conference moments, too. You know the ones. Where the parent says, “Why didn’t I know about this zillion point assignment sooner?!?” And you walk away, annoyed, thinking, “Well, you could have checked the classroom website, or your kid’s assignment notebook, or the online grade book, or…” To which I reply…




4. Evernote (FREE). The entire Evernote suite is a goldmine for the classroom, and I will dedicate a whole post to that sometime soon. Right now, I will focus on the power of the portfolio. I haven’t seen a better way to create student writing portfolios that can handle engaging, visual multimedia that is middle school brain-friendly. Students can drag and drop their writing, audio, photos- really anything they want. Create separate notebooks for separate units, even. They can make their notebooks private, public, or share them just with you. They don’t lose their portfolio if they change schools, districts, or move on to high school. It is so much more authentic than anything else I have seen out there.


5. Twitter (FREE). Excuse my candidness, but if you aren’t using Twitter to improve your teaching yet, you are really, really behind the curve. My Professional Learning Network includes the absolute top names in Ed Tech, Teaching, and Librarianship. I also follow major news outlets, book publishers, and other great sources of short text for teaching and learning. Teachers come to me all the time and say things like, “wow- you seem to know so much.” Twitter is my dirty little secret, really. I think I can attribute at least 75% of the cutting edge stuff I know to Twitter.

So, that’s five. But I need to add one more (you saw this coming)…


6. Pinterest (FREE). Aside from recipes, crafty stuff, and home renovation projects that no one can afford, there is more to Pinterest than you think. I find great classroom printables, engaging visuals to project, and lesson ideas. It is especially good when you are just feeling like everything is getting stale. There is nothing more inspiring that throwing away the script for a couple of days to do something creative and fresh. Pinterest can help with that.

Honestly, I could do a Top 100. Hmm. Maybe later…

Happy Reading!


The Green Brothers are Awesome

As if they weren’t awesome enough, John and Hank Green have launched a new (?) series on their YouTube channel.  I am in Geek Heaven.

Crash Course

For those of you who do not know, John Green is probably the most talented YA author writing today.  I am almost evangelical about his novel Looking for Alaska with my 8th graders.  I have reached more reluctant readers with that novel than any other.  Time Magazine named his newest novel, The Fault in Our Stars, the #1 novel of the year – not just the #1 YA novel – the #1 novel.  Period.  Now I am getting all hipster- like “Hey- I liked John Green before John Green was cool.”  Which is ridiculous, because the thing I am going to talk about today already has over 400,000 YouTube subscribers, and I just found out about it.

John teamed up with his brother, Hank, to create the Vlog Brothers, the Nerdfighters, and they are fighting WorldSuck with the Project For Awesome.  When they talk, I’m all, “I totally remember you from AP English in high school.”  Except I don’t.  I grew up in the Northwest Suburbs of Chicago, and they didn’t.  But they are geeks in the same way that I am a geek and the same way that my friends were geeks.  I will never forget the nights spent drinking coffee after orchestra rehearsal in Elgin… trying to stump each other at The Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, dropping literary references and obscure music references because we were just that cool… Ah, the good old days.

Anywho… the reason I am ranting about John and Hank Green… I just found out about “Crash Course,” their educational channel on YouTube.  Hank talks about science and John talks about history and literature.  I can see them coming in handy with high schoolers or gifted middle schoolers.  Sorry, guys- you use really big words for the typical middle schooler.  John’s breakdown of The Great Gatsby is like watching live-action Cliffs Notes.  Except.

The two things that make this so much better than Cliffs Notes, aside from the fact that the Brothers Green are at the helm, are…

1. It isn’t boring.  It actually sucks you in.  I know all of the stuff he said about Gatsby already, and I was still really engaged.

2. It isn’t a plot summary.  Oh, how I hate plot summaries.  If you have ever read book reviews on Goodreads or Amazon, you will know what I mean.  The plot summary is up above.  Next to the picture of the book.  Do. not. summarize. again.  Please.  Just tell me what you thought of the book.  For the love of god.

My favorite book about books is How to Read Literature Like A Professor by  Thomas C. Foster.  In it, he breaks down symbolism and makes it so much more accessible to the average reader.  When I was in high school, I always thought my English teachers were pulling some of the stuff they said out of thin air.  Foster’s book made it all make so much more sense to me.  Why couldn’t my teachers just explain it to me the way Foster did???  The Green boys do just that- explain the nuances in a much more accessible way.