Books fall open, you fall in

Posted by Leslie Miller on April 28, 2016

The author's daughter shares a story on her iPad.Like many educators who are also mothers, I dreamed of reading to my children every night before bed.  I saw myself reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, gently tucking them in, and watching them drift off to join Aslan in Narnia.  I managed to fulfill that dream when they were small and loved picture books.  Yet somewhere around the time my eldest wanted a more challenging reading experience than The Very Quiet Cricket, I realized nightly reading was a road block.  What with homework and nightly routines, I just couldn’t do it!

Smartphone apps

So, I turned to my smartphone.  I found two apps I really liked.  One was the for-pay site Audible.com which, like so many Amazon products, offers a wide range of books to choose from for adults and children.  The other site I chose was Overdrive.com which allowed us to connect through our local library card to a wealth of free audiobooks, e-books and movies.

I downloaded Beverly Cleary’s collection of Henry and Ribsy to my phone. One particularly hot afternoon in the car, when my brood was fighting and my internal temperature was starting to rise, I turned it on.  Magic happened!  They listened. In fact, when we got home, we sat in the driveway listening because they did not want the story to stop. They were like camels crossing the desert to an oasis.  They drank deeply.  I knew we were on the right track.

As research has taught us, listening to adult readers builds in a child the value of becoming a successful reader.  It allows children to learn how to read at a natural pace and grows the enjoyment of listening to spoken words of a story.  If we think of oral comprehension as the foundation of the development of reading and vocabulary, then it is easy to see how listening and reading comprehension are interlinked.

Matthew Effects

In the primary grades a student’s maximum level of reading comprehension is predicated on the child’s level of listening comprehension.  Students exposed to stories with increased vocabulary will inevitably have a greater depth of knowledge and more developed academic vocabulary.  Keith Stanovich has described the so-called “Matthew effects” in reading—the wider the variety of reading, the more cumulative the child’s vocabulary and early acquisition of reading skills become, while the child not exposed to the cognitive exercise of tiered vocabulary can have gaps in her schema and will likely become a poor reader.

The beauty of online stories is that no longer am I the gatekeeper of reading more complex text.  At any time, my daughters can pick up a tablet, pop on their headphones and listen to stories unfold. The tablet becomes more than a screen to watch a movie or play a game; it becomes a way to connect with the library. With the current additions to Overdrive.com, children can enjoy hearing the story read aloud while following the text on screen.  While reviewing one particular Star Wars story, I noted how the inclusion of John William’s theme music, the rich voice of the narrator and high interest text invited the reader to become enthusiastic for the story.   Our smart devices become living books that unlock the reader’s imagination.

“Books Fall Open

Books fall open,
you fall in,
delighted where,
you’ve never been.
Hear voices
not once heard before,
Reach world through world,
through door on door.
Find unexpected
keys to things,
locked up beyond
imaginings….
True books will venture,
Dare you out,
Whisper secrets,
Maybe shout,
across the gloom,
to you in need
Who hanker for
a book to read.”

David T.W. McCord

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Use Infographics to Tell Your Story

Posted by Susan Brooks-Young on March 26, 2016

Infographic about why infographics workMembers of the media are more than happy to share tales about what’s wrong with education. This reality makes it even more important for education leaders to share their positive school stories far and wide on a regular basis. In a recent post on this blog, Arkansas TICAL cadre member Susan Gilley wrote about how to use a Google Doc in lieu of a traditional Web page to keep parents and community members up-to-date on events and other school news. Infographics are another web-based tool school leaders can use to quickly and clearly share stories with members of their school community.

You’ve probably seen infographics in newspapers, magazines, or even online. Designed for readers who want to get as much information as quickly as possible, these documents pack a walloping amount of material into a few graphics and minimal text. The idea behind infographics isn’t new—in fact, this kind of visual representation has been around for hundreds of years. But it’s only been recently that free and low-cost tools that are easy enough for almost anyone to use have become widely available.

Not just for numbers anymore

Originally, infographics were used to display quantitative—or measurable—data. This made infographics a great tool for making high level reports more accessible, but recently this has changed. As the public has embraced this format for sharing information, it’s become commonplace for infographics to represent qualitative data, things that can be observed but not measured. This shift in format makes infographics even more valuable for educators.

Recently I’ve taught two online classes for school leaders. Each course includes an activity in which participants identify information they need to share on campus or in their community and then use an online tool to create an infographic that displays the material graphically. Invariably this activity is identified as one of the most useful in the course. Class members develop infographics designed to explain policies, describe instructional programs, share assessment data, and more. Here are a few examples of infographics from the Internet that were created to explain something relevant to education:

Jump in and create

The most effective way for administrators to learn how to design infographics is to jump right in and create a few. There are several websites that offer free accounts and allow users to begin with templates that can be modified for new purposes. Then, with some practice, you can strike out to create infographics completely on your own. Here are four websites that are popular among educators.

  • Infogr.am (https://infogr.am): The free version of this web-based infographic tool is the most basic of the sites mentioned here—limited to 10 infographics and 10 uploaded images—but that may be a plus for users new to designing infographics. If you decide you’d like to access more features, you can contact Infogr.am regarding education pricing or try out one of the other sites listed here.
  • Easel.ly (http://www.easel.ly/): Offering free and pro accounts ($3/month, special education pricing available), Easel.ly users drag-and-drop elements to create infographics. Free accounts offer 60 images and 10 fonts, but users may upload their own images. Tools for adding shapes, arrows, and charts are available to all users. Start a new infographic from scratch or work with one of the free templates provided. The Easel.ly blog offers tips and tricks for creating infographics.
  • Piktochart (http://piktochart.com/): Piktochart is similar to Easel.ly in that it is web-based and provides a drag-and-drop interface. Some features like Charts seem to be more intuitive in Picktochart, but overall, the two sites are comparable in terms of ease-of-use. There are free and subscription accounts with special rates available for educators.
  • Canva (canva.com/): Use the drag-and-drop features of Canva to create your own infographics or other graphic displays such as posters and photo collages. Developed as a teaching tool, the site also provides tutorials. Canva works on the web and there is an iPad app. Free and paid options are available.
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A Simple Approach to Marketing Your School

Posted by Susan Gilley on February 26, 2016

Marketing graphicThis year marks my 32nd year in education.  When I starting teaching, schools were a part of your community and it was assumed that you would attend your local community school. Today, however, students have unlimited choices for where they will attend and receive their education. They can even choose to stay home and receive their courses digitally. Schools now must compete for students. Parents are searching for the best places and options for their child’s education. These decisions impact everyone’s future.

Therefore, marketing your school is a priority. Schools can no longer depend on being selected because they are the neighborhood choice. Many schools are even hiring marketing and public relations personnel to sell their campuses. I believe promoting your school begins with each classroom and more specifically, every individual. Every single person is now a salesperson for your district.

One easy way that teachers can promote your district is through an up-to-date web page. People want to be able to get on their computer at their convenience and know what’s going on at your district. Keeping web pages current can be a challenge. Especially since most teachers are teachers, not web page designers. Therefore, one easy way I encourage teachers to keep an up-to-date webpage is using a simple Google doc published as a web page.

To accomplish this, a teacher simply follows these steps:

Google Drive File menu

  1. Open Google drive.
  2. Click on NEW.
  3. Click on Google Doc.
  4. Name the document.
  5. Type information on the page.
  6. Click on File.
  7. Click on Publish to the Web.
  8. Click on Publish.
  9. Click OK (you are sure you want to publish).
  10. A screen appears with the link to send to your district’s webmaster.
  11. Click on the envelope icon (Gmail) and your e-mail will open where you can type in your webmaster’s e-mail address and the link will already be in the body of the e-mail for your district webmaster to create a link off of the district web page to your web page.

Once this link is connected, you don’t have to work with the webmaster again. Your page becomes live at that moment. All new changes you make in your Google document will automatically appear in the published page!

You now have an easy way to keep parents current on all events! Follow this link to a sample, very simple doc published as a web page.

Now, a couple of notes:

  • It’s really plain. However, I believe most people just want to know current information and aren’t as concerned about the looks.
  • It does take 5 minutes sometimes to update, so be patient if you type into a document and it hasn’t appeared on your published document yet.

The first time I presented this to teachers, they were blown away that it was really that easy. Most importantly, since presenting this over two years ago to a group of teachers, they are still doing weekly updates on their web pages.

Many people just can’t accept the plain simplicity of the regular document, so I offer this alternative which is simply a formatted, centered table within a Google doc. The instructions to publish are the same as above, but you start with making a copy of this document.

Sample simple web page with color boxes

Whatever document your teachers choose to go with, they now have an easy way to create web pages and keep your patrons up-to-date on what’s going on in your district. Now everyone in your district can be responsible for keeping people informed. Communication is a key component of successful districts. Web pages are one of many ways that our district markets itself.

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Cyber Vigilantism and Public Shaming—A Brief Overview for School Leaders

Posted by Susan Brooks-Young on December 10, 2015

Cyber vigilantism: “…Online actions that are oriented toward monitoring the actions of others. It refers to individuals or groups that take grassroots action, rather than work through regional or national justice systems.” Techopedia (http://bit.ly/1SR5zKN)

A few days after the recent bombings in Paris, I heard a radio report about a 27-year-old man who had severe shrapnel injuries caused by one of the explosions that occurred outside the Stade de France. In the confusion when he was rushed to a nearby hospital, no one noticed his passport fall to the sidewalk. It was discovered a little while later, and within 24 hours members of the media posted online messages erroneously identifying him by name as a suspected terrorist. Why? It’s highly likely that the answer is because he is an Egyptian national. In reality, he’d traveled to Paris the week before with his mother and brother, seeking cancer treatment for his brother. He was simply waiting in line to purchase a ticket for the soccer game that had just started.

This is just the latest in a growing number of online incidents where members of the media as well as private citizens take the law into their own hands by using social media to post public accusations aimed at individuals or groups. This is a form of cyber vigilantism called public shaming. The problem is that it doesn’t matter if these denunciations are accurate or not—the end result is nearly always the same. Accusers use a worldwide forum to try and convict perceived wrong-doers with no due process. Guilty or not, their targets suffer consequences that are almost always disproportionate to the supposed crime.

Members of the general public are well aware of the harm that can be caused by students who cyber bully one another and there is broad consensus that cyber stalking and cyber harassment are unacceptable behaviors. But little has been done to curtail various types of cyber vigilantism, including public shaming. This is due at least in part to the fact that people who engage in acts of cyber vigilantism like public shaming believe they are doing a good thing and often receive a lot of public support.

Historic picture of two men in stocks
Public shaming c. 1900

Consider the public shaming this past summer directed toward a Minnesota dentist who killed a lion that had been lured from a game preserve in Zimbabwe for purposes of the hunt. Public outrage ran so high—thousands of people called for instant retribution—that within days the dentist, his family, and the employees at his dental office were all paying a high price for what he had done. He and his family became targets of death threats and were forced into hiding. His employees’ livelihood was imperiled when he had to close his dental practice due to threats. His second home in another state was vandalized. Later it was determined that the dentist had in fact not broken any laws. He did not know that the men coordinating the hunt were behaving illegally. But by then, the damage had been done.

How does this relate to educators and students? We encourage students to stand up for what’s right and hopefully model this behavior for them. But we need to insure that they don’t cross the line into cyber vigilantism in the process. Since members of the school community are most likely to have personal experience with public shaming, it’s a natural starting point for a study of cyber vigilantism. Here are three approaches for beginning conversations with students (and adults) about public shaming.

Begin the conversation

  1. Learn what it means to be a responsible member of an online community. By the age of 10, more than 50% of children in the U.S. are using some type of social media and most parents admit they don’t have a clue about ways to help their children learn appropriate online behavior. This is something we can address at school with both students and adults in the course of teaching digital citizenship skills. An important aspect of this concept is use of good judgment in online interactions as well as showing empathy toward others.
  2. Learn how to protect yourself online. This includes long-recognized strategies such as not sharing personal information online, thinking before posting, refraining from engaging with people who are verbally abusive online, and recognizing that social media may not be the best forum for discussions about serious or emotionally charged issues.
  3. Confront public shaming head-on through discussions and role-playing. Stocks, pillories, and other formerly sanctioned types of punishment based on public shaming fell out of favor many years ago when people realized how barbaric and ineffective these practices actually are. However, the Internet makes it all too easy to shame individuals and groups online. Some experts say that online public shaming is rising in popularity not because it is an effective punishment, but because it appeals to online crowds that delight in bullying others. Adults have difficulty refraining from this type of behavior, so it’s no surprise that students become eager participants. You can find multiple examples of public shaming by using the key words public shaming for an Internet search. Share and discuss these with teachers and students.

Educators must regularly modify or update their definition of what it means to be a good digital citizen as new, questionable behaviors show up on line. Public shaming is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to cyber vigilantism, but it’s a good place to begin exploring this recent type of online behavior.

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Tell your data story visually

Posted by Janice Delagrammatikas on September 23, 2015

Thmubnail of Janice's infographicHave you been in a quandary about how to present data about your school or district?  Do you worry that your stakeholders will be overwhelmed with so much data they will not be able to see the big picture?   You may want to think about creating an infographic to tell your story.

Communicating the story to your stakeholders may be easier and certainly more engaging if you can do it graphically.  Building an infographic is a lot like writing a press release. Once you have all the research and data at your fingertips, determine the most compelling headline for the story you want to tell.  Create a hierarchy with your data.  What is the main idea and what are the supporting details?

Next, choose a template and build a frame for your story.  Each of the online infographic tools has a number of templates that you can use and adapt for telling your story.  If your story is a comparison and contrast there are templates that work well for that purpose. Maybe your story is linear and you want to choose a template that follows a timeline.  Whichever format you choose, this is the step that will provide the structure for your infographic.

Next, you get to become a graphic designer.  Your template will come with a basic layout, colors, and design elements.  However you can add, change or remove anything on the template.  There are options for adding pictures, graphs, charts, weblinks, or embedding video.  In fact, there are so many options you may want to take some time to see what other people have created or watch some video tutorials that most of the online sites have created to support their tool.

Your first one will take awhile.

Be prepared to spend some time planning the layout.  On my first attempt, I built the infographic as I went along and I spent a lot of time redoing and moving things around which was a pretty tedious process.   The first infographic I created took many hours and I did not think I would ever do another, but once it was done and I began using it, the positive feedback inspired me to try another.

Facsimile of Janice's infographic about CBK LCAP
Click the image to see Janice’s full infographic.

Initially you should take your infographic out for a test drive and share it with only a few individuals who can give you feedback.  Allow time for revisions and then make it public to your stakeholders.  The beauty is your infographic lives on the web and you can continue to update and make changes.

Give it a try! Two tools that I have used are Piktochart and Visme.  Other options are Easel.ly, Canva, Infogram.

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