As Easy as Reading an Email – RSS in Outlook 2007

In these times of budget cuts, when teachers are being told there is no $ available for PD, they are beginning to depend on their PLN’s more important than ever. It is amazing how many teachers are reading blogs these days and even more amazing at how many are just now learning about the opportunities out there to learn from a global PLN.

Made in Wordle

At one of the last meetings with our training cohort, we talked about “what are” and “how to build PLN’s” (professional/personal learning networks). I shared how following blogs from other educators/experts in the field using Google Reader to subscribe to those blogs, can put them in charge of building their own capacities as eMINTS teachers. Google Reader is a great RSS aggregator but for those that forget to go to Google Reader another tool may work better…that would be your trusty Microsoft Outlook 2007……

If you haven’t notice (or didn’t know what it was) a folder called “RSS Feeds” with the little orange RSS image on top, can be found under your “Inbox” folder in Outlook 2007. It probably has a plus sign next to it and if you select it you will see an explanation on the right of what RSS is and how it can be of use to you. If you click the plus to the left of the folder you might notice it already has some subscriptions set up for you to some Microsoft Blogs. To see how to set up your own subscriptions check out this video from The Ideal Consultant and in 3 minutes he will get your RSS folder up and running and keeping you up-to-date with the newest content on the web. Now checking your blogs will be as simple as checking your email.

Be warned – the drawback to using Outlook is that when you don’t have access to your email you will also not have access to your blog subscriptions so decide what the best tool for you is and get started.

Some blogs we suggest you follow:
The Cool Cat Teacher Blog – http://coolcatteacher.blogspot.com/
The Clever Sheep – http://thecleversheep.blogspot.com/
Teachers Love SMART Boards – http://www.teacherslovesmartboards.com/
Weblogg-ed – http://weblogg-ed.com/
Suppl_eMINTS – http://supplemint.edublogs.org/

*for those using Google Reader and are loving it, they offer a Google Reader Help Page just for you with tips on getting started to formatting your reader and everything in between.

We would love to know what blogs you follow so leave a comment :) and let us know.

Brooke Higgins is an instructional specialist with the eMINTS National Center. You can visit her site here or read her blog, Higgins’ Helpful Hints.

Thinkertoys: Creative-Thinking Techniques

Thinkertoys: a Handbook of Creative-Thinking Techniques by Michael MichalkoWell
At first the title makes me think of those crazy sticks and dowels from the 60’s that many of us played with as kids.  You remember Tinkertoys, right?

This book is stuffed with creative ideas to resolve problems and look at things from different perspectives or in creative new ideas.  Although, Michalko wrote it for mostly business audiences it parallels what we do in education very closely.  He says it is not be to read from cover to cover but I am on my second time through and have not turned into a toad yet.
The first time I grabbed up the book, I was fascinated with all of the line drawings in the book.  Being a visual learner I had to go through the whole book and analyze each image. Oh yes there is the famous old woman and young woman drawing,  but the author includes many more, actually too many to even count.  Even if you did not read one word out of the book, you would get ideas from the images included.
Each chapter has a little section called a “Blue Print” and it walks you through the steps of the idea addressed in the chapter.  That is helpful to me but..  sometimes I just want to experience the idea.
The other day at our Area Meeting we all took a blank piece of paper and closed our eyes and then drew some random lines.  From there we exchanged the papers and then looked at the sketches and tried to use our imaginations and add some lines to create something else.  It was amazing what each of us envisioned.  It was amazing how many different ideas each of us brought to the table.
The Three B’s is one technique that I am repeatedly using.  If you are working on a problem or innovative idea, sometimes you need time for the idea to incubate.  So you need to occupy your brain with other things, so the suggestion is to take a bus ride, take a bath, or go to bed (take a nap).  Then when you least expect it the subconscious develops a solution or plan.   Our logical side of the brain thinks that if I just spend more time in deep thought, I can figure it out. But the truth is, that your brain needs a break for it to digest and “incubate”.
“Think Bubbles” are a modified version of a concept map and are connected with different types of lines, in and out of the bubbles related to other bubbles.  Since I have used Smart Ideas, I would never do this on plain paper, it  would be much more visual and adaptable using Smart Ideas.  This is great for brainstorming but also for organizing thoughts and weighing pro’s and con’s.
Would I recommend this book?
Oh yes without a doubt.  Just the “Warming Up” chapter has enough ideas to help you with any group meeting or training session.  I keep revisiting this book because I remember bits and pieces of the wisdom that the author shared.
Stephanie Bengtson is an area specialist for the eMINTS National Center.

Futures Channel

Here’s a tip from eMINTS Instructional Specialist Ruth Henslee concerning a great resource for educational videos:

The Futures Channel is a fantastic resource for teachers and students! They have current videos that are interesting and are aligned to different grade level curriculum.

You can visit the Futures Channel here.

Videoconferencing: Let the adventure begin!

When thinking about enhancing the learning experiences of students, traveling outside the classroom has been an interesting possibility.  With the financial situation of our schools in mind, field trips that were so important in the past might not be a reality due to the limited funding available.  One alternative might be to take advantage of technology in the form of videoconferencing.

Videoconferencing is a simultaneous, two-way, interactive communication with video and audio.  It requires anything from basic equipment of a webcam, microphone, and speakers to more advanced systems such as a Polycom.  Imagine the excitement of the students as they visit with the author of their current book study.  Think of the questions students would generate as they prepare for an interview with someone from England to gain the countries perspective on the American Revolution, or discuss cultural traditions with students from China.

Videoconferencing is a way to make these possibilities come true.  It can introduce students to professionals and other classrooms in a way they hadn’t imagined before.  It opens up unlimited opportunities to go beyond the classroom walls to connect with experts and develop global awareness.   When students formulate questions or interact globally, their minds and imagination are stretched in new and exciting ways.  Their interest and motivation often increases and a renewed curiosity of learning can be sparked.

With the variety of free online tools available for communication, videoconferencing may be easier than ever before.  One of the many sites that offer free videoconferencing capabilities that take advantage of the webcam, microphone, and speakers is Skype.

So, how do you go about finding these experts and classrooms?  There are many resources available to find and assist in the setup of a video conference.  If you are interested in partnering with another classroom you might first try posting to the eMINTS discussion list to find other eMINTS classrooms.  There are also many sites that provide directories and projects such as the ones listed below:

Even though many video conferences are free, be sure to read all the details carefully to make sure what procedures and possible expenses may be involved with the conference.

If a more sophisticated system is something you are interested in, one system that is worth looking at is a Polycom system.  Although many of the directories and conferences associated with a polycom system often has a fee, the Polycom site does offer a list of 391 free video conferences.

For more thoughts and ideas on the use of videoconferencing in the classroom, take a look at Videoconferencing with Elementary School Students and Making Video-Conferencing More Than Just Cool.

Videoconferencing can be an incredible experience for both teachers and students as they travel beyond the classroom walls without leaving the building.    Maybe it’s time to give video conferencing a try and let the adventure begin

Terri Brines is an instructional specialist for the eMINTS National Center.

eMINTS 2.0

Image Source: http://www.studioroosegaarde.net/project/LiquidSpace6.0

In case you haven’t noticed, the eMINTS National Center is expanding our efforts to get the word out about the great work our staff and the teachers we serve do every day. This blog is just one way in which that effort comes to life. We’ll continue to post great ideas and innovations in teaching and technology on Networked Teaching & Learning.

In addition to the blog, be sure to join our Facebook group for the latest information regarding eMINTS as well as news of our teachers’ continued success. This group can also be a great way to connect with other eMINTS teachers and trainers.

Finally, I have set up a Twitter account to help get the eMINTS message out there to the Twitterverse. Follow me at @Zac_eMINTS and stay current on all things eMINTS related.

You too can participate in these efforts. Besides joining the Facebook group and following my Twitter feed, you can submit a post for this blog. We would love to have the input of our teachers and friends in the educational technology world. Simply follow this link to our Google Form and fill in the appropriate information. You can type your post directly into the form or copy and paste from another location.

In the meantime, check out what we’ve posted last week:

Must Read: Fires in the Mind

I just finished reading Fires in the Mind by Kathleen Cushman. WOW!!! This is the best book about education I’ve read in a really long time. Kathleen Cushman really LISTENS to teenagers – and shares what they say about what motivates them and what it takes for them to invest the effort to get really good at something that interests them. Cushman uses the the latest research on cognition to explore with teens the forces that drive them to spend countless hours of deliberate practice to become really good at something.

Years ago I learned that the two most powerful factors in motivation are interest and choice – and I always thought that authentic, real world applications were essential also. In Fires in the Mind, Cushman explains motivation is a combination of two factors: what we value and what we expect we can do. And she elaborates on what deliberate practice includes that makes students work hard even when it is frustrating to accomplish a goal.

This would make a great book study. It’s a short read and will be worth your time! You should also visit their website.

Candace Lindsey is an online curriculum developer for eLearning.

Puzzles as Community Builders

eMINTS Instructional Specialist Carla Chaffin brings us a great idea to use a puzzle as a community builder from BrainDen.com:

This would be great for a team or community builder with any group. You would not have to actually have the items on hand (scale and tennis balls). The puzzle is more for thinking through.

The puzzle Carla is suggesting is “Weighing IV” and works like this:

Weighing IV.
One of twelve tennis balls is a bit lighter or heavier (you do not know which) than the others. How would you identify this odd ball if you could use an old two-pan balance scale only 3 times?

You can only balance one set of balls against another, so no reference weights and no weight measurements.

The solution to this puzzle can be found here, but please visit BrainDen.com for more puzzles that will make your students think!

Videos to Inspiring Inquiry-based Learning

Passing on a GREAT resource to inspire IBL lessons – The Futures Channel is a “must see” site. They offer short movies about real world jobs/topics in the STEM/METS areas all relating to careers students may someday have when they are grown up. It may also introduce kids to careers they didn’t even know existed. The coolest thing is that many of the videos have lesson plans (sometimes multiple plans for different focuses or ages) to go along with them.

Each week, The Futures Channel highlights a handful of movies and makes them available for the public where all of their resources can be viewed at any time with a subscription or purchasing CD’s full of TFC movies.

Many of the lesson plans are for older students (7-12) and they are not inquiry-based, but they are there to do what you want with them and make them fit what you need to teach. Teachers I have worked with in the past have used them as inspiration for Inquiry-based lessons or just used the videos as resources for lessons they were writing. Enjoy…. and if you really like the site, you can sign up to have their weekly newsletter sent directly to your email inbox or add the site to your Google Reader.

Brooke Higgins is an instructional specialist with the eMINTS National Center. You can visit her site here or read her blog, Higgins’ Helpful Hints.

Micro Blogging for Students

Edmodo is a microblogging site designed with education in mind.  Teachers create a free account and can set up an online environment, which allows creation of groups, sharing of links and files, and an area for conversations but not private chats.  Gradebook and drop boxes are also included.  If you want to stay connected to your students at all times, Edomodo has a mobile phone application as well.  Edmodo is like taking Twitter and Facebook and tweaking them to be used in the educational setting.

More on Edmodo from Ms. De Santis’ Blog.

Carmen Marty is an instructional specialist for the eMINTS National Center.

Week Two: Working Out the Kinks

Things are moving along here at Networked Teaching & Learning as we enter our second week of existence. However, if you have been following our posts, there was an entry published today that was meant for the Tuesday link. It seems scheduling ahead requires one to pay close attention to the calendar. Plus, the Monday Message was delayed a bit due to other duties. This should get easier as we go. Bear with us.

In case you missed our first week of posts, here’s a rundown of what we wrote…

  • Tuesday Tool – Doug Caldwell provided some great ideas for getting the most out of Wordle.
  • HD Link (Wednesday) – Brooke Higgins shared the “Hump Day Link”, Thinkfinity.
  • Thursday Teaching Tip – Cara Wylie, using a narrative involving her own child’s experience at school, shared some great tips for interjecting various topics from all core subjects into our lessons.
  • Friday – Friday’s are for miscellaneous topics and Cathie Loesing shared some valuable tips for getting the most out of PowerPoint.

Be on the lookout for another online tool tomorrow and for more great tips from eMINTS and eLearning throughout the week. Also, join our eMINTS Facebook group and stay connected with the eMINTS National Center.