Thursday, June 13, 2013

Challenges of Creating My Own Website

While I have this blog to update my technology tips and new discoveries, it does not serve the purpose of being a hub for my classroom. I have even set up a blog for my classroom so that I may easily post weekly updates with important dates, reminders, and other information to keep my parents and students informed. However, a blog alone does not fully meet my needs for what I wish to have available to my students and parents on a regular basis.

Therefore, I have begun constructing a classroom website that allows me to do a little bit more than my blog does....or does it? Here are just a few of my challenges in learning HTML and CSS construction of a website!

- Did you know that special fonts you download on your computer and use in your website cannot be used on computers that do not have that special font installed?

I didn't! What a surprise when I finally unveiled my website to my family who I thought was able to see everything, only to discover they were praising bland font on a dark background. It was so kind of them to encourage and praise my efforts, but boy did I feel silly once I realized the quality of website they were seeing! Gotta love my family for their never-ending support of all that I do! 

While I found some interesting tutorials to utilize Webfonts, the particular free fonts I had found for download were not available freely as Webfonts. So, I ended up having to go back and recreate my website from scratch and creating JPG images of each header and menu item I wanted that would utilize the particular font I had fallen in love with for my site. It proved not to be extremely painful, but was still time consuming! Good news, is I finally got the font and design for my website that I desired!

Perseverance and patience turned out to be the most important things I needed to tackle this challenge!

- You would not believe how hard it is to get your blog feed embedded in the website you create!

I have spent several hours now working with a variety of tools to embed blog feeds and have yet to be successful! Unlike Google Calendar and other online tools, blog feeds are not as easy to import into your website because of how frequently they are updated. Not to mention, in a sense they are already a tool within a website. 

If anyone has any ideas on how to get past this hurdle, let me know! I'll keep you posted if I find a solution that works! 

Those have been my biggest challenges so far and I am sure there are more to come! Stay tuned!

You can visit my site here. Please know that it is a work in progress and what you see there one day might not be there the next. As usual, any suggestions, feedback, and thoughts are always welcome!

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Don't Have a Smartboard? Here's an idea!

As you may have read in the "About Me" space, I am a Navy spouse. As a Navy spouse, I tend to move frequently to follow my husband's career. While this provides for exciting new opportunities, adventures, and friends, it also means changing schools frequently - often in other states. When you change classrooms all the cool technology and resources you might have been fortunate enough to have do not get to move with you. This can be extremely disheartening, particularly when you have put a lot of time and effort into creating numerous Smart Lessons (or Promethean Flip Charts, etc.) only to find yourself without a Smartboard. So, alas, those lessons get put into a folder to be pulled out again at some point in the future when you are lucky enough to find yourself in a classroom with a Smartboard once again....

While this is the personal scenario I find myself in, many of you may simply have learned the technology at a professional development event or in college classes, regardless of your circumstances, if you are without a Smartboard (or other interactive whiteboard) this entry is for you!

I was fortunate enough during my student teaching experience to learn this nifty trick from my cooperating teacher. Unfortunately, the reason she developed this trick was because her Smartboard was not mounted and at the time, it took too much time in her room set-up to get it out, hooked up, and aligned for it to be beneficial for her to use the actual board. I am almost sure that she has since become an avid user of her Smartboard, or at least I hope so! (Don't get me wrong, she was an amazing teacher to learn from and I will always treasure my experiences in that classroom! It was simply before the big Smartboard push and the training and availability of lessons were not as widely available as they are now!) Nonetheless, she showed me how to overcome the challenges of not having the physical Smartboard to keep things interactive in her room!

Alright, enough of all that, let's get down to's how it is done!

What You Need:
- Wireless Trackball Mouse
- Wireless Keyboard
- Projector connected to a computer
- Smart Notebook Software
- Dry Erase Board

Chances are your school or district already has the Smart Notebook software loaded onto your computer if there are Smartboards anywhere in the district or at your schools. If not, talk to your tech specialist to see if it can be installed on your desktop.

As for the wireless mouse and keyboard, the mouse is worth being a little picky about. A trackball style mouse ensures that students can be seated at a carpet, standing in a group, or be located anywhere in the room to operate the tool. A traditional wireless mouse requires a flat surface which limits its effectiveness since many of the today's mice use light to navigate and are frequently overly sensitive to certain surfaces. So, save yourself the hassle and invest in the trackball, presentation style mouse! My personal recommendation would be this one found on Amazon.

The wireless keyboard is more flexible in style, brand, function, etc. Don't splurge on the most expensive, high-tech keyboard out there. Remember, you work with kids! Classrooms can be crazy at times, things spill and kids can be clumsy (heck, even you can be clumsy!). The keyboard is mostly used for typing in search engines, composing lists/documents, etc. that you wish to save for later. For things you don't want to save, you simply use dry erase markers!

To get all this to work....

Connect your projector, computer, wireless mouse, and keyboard so that they are working seamlessly with one another. I will refrain from going into more detail regarding this set-up process because it tends to be specific to the type of computer, projector, mouse, and keyboard that you have, as well as how your school network is set up. Be aware that if you are needing to install any drivers or new software to operate your new tools you will need the tech specialist at your school to assist you as installations are normally only possible with administrator log-in information.

Now, instead of pulling down a projector screen simply project onto the dry erase board in your classroom. You can open any Smart Notebook lesson you have in your files, or you can find one at Smart Exchange to try out.

From there, you use dry erase markers to circle objects and write in blanks and you use a regular eraser before moving on to the next slide. Use the trackball mouse to have students select objects and move them to various locations, they can also use the mouse to use the highlighter or manipulate sounds, videos, or shapes. The wireless keyboard is used for any text entry.

I have found it works best to have students walk the mouse to a friend they select to have a turn next or to deliver the mouse between students yourself - with some practice and a few guidelines this becomes a very efficient transition. Be patient.

Also, expect a few of your students to struggle with the trackball mouse at first. Encourage them to keep trying and ensure they don't feel pressure to complete the task in a specific amount of time. The trackball is something new to many students, but they will adjust the more practice they have.

If any of you give this a try, I'd love to know how it works out for you or if you have any questions!

Young Learners and the Smartboard

While more and more classrooms are being equipped with Smartboard technology, it remains a daunting task for teachers to fully utilize the many capabilities of the board with young learners. Students between the ages of three and eight encounter several unique challenges when working with the Smartboard and teachers are frequently overwhelmed with where to start or how to create material to be used with the board. While there is so much that could be covered, I have selected just a few of my favorite tips that have been received as the most eye-opening to fellow teachers.


  • Touches
    • Small children sometimes have trouble navigating the Smartboard using their hands because they haven't figured out how to apply that "just right" amount of pressure. This quickly becomes the frustrating battle of moving objects only a few centimeters at a time. Try having your students make a fist with their thumb adjacent to their pointer finger and placing their whole hand in this position on the Smartboard to select and manipulate objects.
  • Pointers
    • Height is also a frequent problem with Smartboards, particularly when they are unilaterally installed school wide at one set height. Stock up on as many pointers as you can! Amazon has a great selection for a good price. Allow students to use pointers to reach those items at the top of the screen or across the screen from them. This will also cut down on the shadow effect that commonly stumps young learners as they go to click on an object or write only to find their few blocked by their bodies. By using pointers, students are able to better understand how to re-position themselves due to their greater range of motion.
  • Wireless Keyboard
    • Many teachers have expressed frustration at having to sit at the computer during Smartboard lessons to type in information on the computer when a link takes them to a search engine or other interactive website. If this is your case it is worth talking to your tech team about investing in a Wireless Keyboard (preferably one with a track pad) that you, or your students, can use to manipulate websites and other features of Smart Notebook software more easily. Not to mention, this can be a great alternative for those students who still struggle to interact physically with the Smartboard or who are unable to interact due to other limitations.
  • Re-Alignment Screen
    • The need to re-align your Smartboard must occur at least once, if not fifteen times a day in an early childhood classroom. It never seems like the projector cart can stay clear of the stray student wandering past and is constantly just the slightest bit off, making it difficult to interact successfully with the Smartboard. Make the re-alignment process a routine that your students are a part of - all too frequently the 10-15 seconds it takes to re-align Smartboards has caused student focus to crack and crumble. I recommend requiring the students to count with me, run through the sight word list, or clap every time I press a re-alignment point. Additionally, to ensure your Smartboard is at its most accurate, try touching the pen (or your finger) to a point about 6-8 inches away from the re-alignment point and then dragging it over to the exact spot in the middle of the point. This will speed up the process and prevent you from having to go back and re-do points where you may not have hit the target exactly!

Don't Work Alone:

  • Smart Exchange
    • I have been surprised by the number of teachers that are not aware of Smart Exchange. It is an online community (requires a sign-up, but is still free!) comprised of teachers and other educational professionals who can post and retrieve lesson covering a BROAD spectrum of curriculum. Smart Exchange is a great place to start when you are creating a lesson. There is no reason to re-invent the wheel when another teacher might have already compiled a lesson for the curriculum you are interested in teaching. If you don't find exactly what you are looking for, it is still a good idea to find a "shell" that you can adapt by substituting your own information, or to find ideas for how you might like to go about teaching a particular lesson. It is a wonderful free resource that teachers who are both experienced and inexperienced with the Smartboard should check out!
  • Team Files
    • If you are fortunate to work with a team of early childhood educators, take the opportunity to divide and conquer a unit or set of lessons you might want to utilize the Smartboard for. You might consider each taking a lesson and storing it on a group file on your school network. Or, perhaps you might want to get in touch with colleagues at other schools if the project is particularly large. It is best not to try and take it all on yourself, working in teams is a great opportunity to learn from other's experiences and tackle new challenges to make them more manageable.

While these tips will be extremely helpful in fully realizing the potential of a Smartboard in the early childhood classroom, the best thing you can do for your students is to model expected behaviors repeatedly. By showing children what you expect their interactions with the Smartboard to be, including the steps they should take in troubleshooting, taking turns, and navigating home, you will find yourself able to successfully utilize the Smartboard one lesson at a time!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Getting Started

While I have set up several blogs in the past, I have always kept them set to private - invitation only. They were blogs about my experiences in college and as a first year teacher and they failed to "take off running" because of the lack of interaction and participation from selected viewers. I have never been one to keep a journal and therefore having an online space that was simple used to record my thoughts without any feedback or interaction from those reading it quickly became an online space filled with cob-webs and dust from the dwindling updates to its content.

Having spent time discussing and learning more about blogs and their place in the classroom, I am determined to take this opportunity to start something new. I have found myself to be a resource for a variety of teachers and students I have interacted with in regards to technology and would like to take this opportunity to share some of the tips, tricks, and other tidbits of technology information with those peers that would like to investigate them for themselves. I will also be using this space to post several discussions for one of the graduate classes I am taking to pursue my Masters of Education in Instructional Technology.