Christine Pinto’s Conditionally Formatted Login Cards… With a Twist

Login cards. My favorite thing! A couple years ago, that would have sounded sarcastic. But these days, I mean it sincerely! Really!

Every year I get better at making login cards. I learn what works in the lab, and what’s not worth the effort. At the start of the school year, I was very proud of the login cards I had made. And yet we’re just halfway through September, and I can already think of several things I will do differently for next year.

One of those things is making color coded conditionally formatted login cards — at least for our incoming first graders. It’s a brilliant idea, I think. Not only could I use them in the lab, I can share them out via Google to the first grade teachers, who could use them when they use Chromebooks in class.

But I only stumbled onto this idea this past Monday or Tuesday, and this was a week sorely lacking in spare time for me. So rather than recreate the login cards I made weeks ago, I just adapted the ones I already had.

20160916_163624First, I color-coded the rows on the keyboard with little highlighter-style stickies (I have Mac desktops in the lab, not Chromebooks). I had five different-colored stickies leftover from when I used to teach a reading class; we used them to highlight ‘sticky words’ in passages. I had green but did not use it, because once it was on the keys it looked very similar to yellow. Also, I trimmed them to be consistent in size only after a couple of days. When I left them long, they were easy to accidentally knock askew, loosening the adhesive. Hopefully now that they’re shorter, that won’t be the case.

Then, I took login cards that I had already made and went at them with wet erase markers. I didn’t want to use dry erase markers because I didn’t want the color to come off too easily. I also didn’t have dry erase markers that match the stickies’ colors. Here are sample photos of some login cards. Don’t worry, these aren’t real cards — they are ones I made typos on; neither of them is a student’s real username.

20160915_120018 “K” was in the yellow row, so I colored it yellow. “I” was in the orange row, so I colored it orange. “N” was in the blue row, so I colored it blue, then I patted it with my thumb a little to make sure you could still see the letter. “A” and “L”? Both in the yellow row. The numbers at the end are all in the pink row, but I didn’t have a pink marker — so I used red and then thumb-patted it a little, just like with the blue. Our usernames are entirely numerical, so I didn’t color-code those as they would all be the same color.

Because this was a little time-consuming, I only did first graders’ cards intentionally. I did do a couple of second and third graders’ cards, if they were struggling still. I also used the color code system to help them spell words. “‘M’ is in the blue row… ‘u’ is in the orange row… ‘s’ is in the yellow row… ‘i’ is in the orange row… ‘c’ is in the blue row.” When I did this for older students, I told them I was “practicing” for the first graders. But they adopted it, and I heard them guide each other to keys by telling their classmates which color row to look in.

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All in all it’s a very effective system. It’s particularly good at helping with similar-looking letters and numbers. For example, the number “1” and the letters “I” and “L” are all in different colored rows; confusion between them is collectively our single biggest obstacle to logging in successfully in the lab. At best it helps your kids adjust to a QWERTY keyboard, especially in a setting where they’re used to seeing letters in alphabetical order. At worst, I guess you can still figure out which students might be colorblind?

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I even added stickies to the finger-placement keyboard posters hanging around the room.

Update, September 27: Here is a short video showing this system in action. It may not be perfect, but it’s better than nothing, when we’re still getting used to the QWERTY keyboard!

Birthday Calendar for Over 300 Students

I’m in the middle of a project right now. I’m creating a birthday calendar in my classroom… that includes every student in my school. There are over three hundred students in my school, so this is a bit, uh, time-consuming.

I decided I wanted to do this on the first day of school. Not before the first day of school, which would have been convenient. I would have been able to spend hours on it before kids ever showed up. But I didn’t have the idea until I actually saw bodies in the seats.

So that’s one thing.

Another thing is that time always seems to be at a premium. We only have so much time in school to accomplish so much. Only nine months to meet all the standards. Only nine weeks in a quarter. Only five days in a week. Only seven and a half hours each day. Only fifty or ninety minutes for this lesson. And only fifty or so minutes to plan and prepare and grade and record and meet with your team in each day.

To summarize:

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHH.

Ahem.

There’s a certain pressure to work quickly, get things done. Often, the tasks a teacher does are time-sensitive. Grades aren’t meaningful feedback unless they make it back to the student quickly. We need to meet to plan our lessons for the whole week. I need these copies for next period. I know this pressure isn’t exclusive to the teaching profession, either. There are many industries where working quickly is the norm. There are industries where working as fast as possible is the basis for that industry.

But me? Given a choice, I like to do things slowly.

can do things quickly. I just don’t like to. I get up early so I can wake up by lingering over a cup of coffee. When I don’t have other plans, I stay late and work at school, because then I don’t have to worry about when the next bell rings. I’ve taken to walking to school instead of driving as often as possible, because even though it takes five times longer, there’s something I just like about moving slow.

I would not do well in a rat race.

So I’m working on this birthday calendar. I wanted to display it for several reasons:

  • Once it was up, I could mostly leave it up, updating bits every so often. But not changing it entirely through seasons. This is valuable to me because I am not into seasonal decorations. Also, putting up decorations on walls in my lab is tricky business that usually involves being on top of the same tables as the computers. I usually wait until after school to do this because I don’t want kids to see me do something that they would get into so much trouble for doing themselves.
  • It would make it pretty easy for students and teachers to double-check birthdays pretty quickly, which is important in the lab because student birthdays are part of their usernames. (It’s a little shocking how many of our students don’t know their birthdays.)
  • It would make it pretty easy for students who help do morning announcements to check for birthdays, even if I’m not there.

I had started a version the first week of school. This is the version I originally had up:

This was the “good enough… for now” version. I wanted to get something up but I knew my idea was not perfect. But, knowing the way my creativity works, my idea would not be perfect unless I tried a version out first. I rarely have a great idea that works perfectly off the bat. I try something, I reflect on it, and I revise it. I frequently need to test drive an idea to see what works and what doesn’t. This is not something I like about the “fast as possible” pace I sometimes fall into. When you’re trying to work as fast as possible all the time, reflection gets skipped and revision suffers for it.

Anyway.

My original birthday calendar had all 12 months, birthdays represented vertically underneath. I didn’t want to do calendar-style posters because I did not want to buy 12 posters, nor did I want to make them. I instead hand-wrote student names (first name and last initial), birthdays, and homeroom teachers on little index card-sized slips I had printed out, then cut.

You’ll notice that there’s not a lot of uniformity in how I arranged them. That was admittedly a rush job. I put the birthdays in chronological order, with the ones early in the month at the top and the ones late in the month at the bottom. I intentionally left spaces and gaps based on days skipped. I also wanted there to be room to add more students in when kids inevitably transfer in during the school year. (Similarly, I wanted them to be easy to remove, if students moved away. We have a fair bit of this in our district.)

But the arrangement wasn’t very informative, graphically, though I did try to arrange them with some sort of… artiness. So quickly after that version went up, I decided to start working on a new version. First, I created a birthday spreadsheet. This was actually pretty easy, since I already had access to student usernames… and since birthdays are part of student usernames, I also had access to student birthdays. And a spreadsheet is something I could work on in short bursts over several days without losing momentum.

Working on a tedious, repetitive spreadsheet is a little like taking a shower. It’s a monotonous task during which your conscious brain can coast on autopilot, freeing your unconscious mind up for some creative flashes. While working on that spreadsheet, my brain stormed, trying to decide the best way to display birthday information in a way that was meaningful to students.

For some reason the phrase “frequency table” popped into my head. I didn’t quite remember what that was, so I looked it up. It was not a good fit for my graph. But it did lead me to dot plots, which then led me to line plots. A line plot! This is something I know comes up in our math curriculum!

So I decided to make a sort of line plot for each month. It wouldn’t be exactly like a classic line plot should look, but it would convey the information in a way that was easily understood. I went to Teachers Pay Teachers and found some label templates I didn’t hate. (Perhaps I hate decorative talent because I do not possess any decorative talent. The green-eyed monster mocks the meat it feeds on.)

I printed, I laminated, and I used the paper cutter. I used only one prep period to do this, but only because I stayed several hours late last Thursday and Friday working on this as well. Even then, I actually only have finished up through June. I intend to get July through December up this week, hopefully Monday and Tuesday.

But I’m pretty proud of what I’ve done so far.

I printed out color-coded month name labels. I printed out black and white numbers for dates (there were many more of those, I didn’t think they needed to be in color). I used a yardstick to help me measure and align these directly onto the wall. The yardstick was light enough that I even stuck it to the wall as I worked. Once I got all the dates in the month up, I filled in all the birthdays.

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January

So check out January. There are several dates in January with no birthdays at all. But some dates, such as the 28th, have multiple birthdays. You can’t quite see it in this photo, but the slips all give the same information my handwritten versions did: stu20160909_180815dents’ first names and last initials, birthdays, and homeroom teachers. The only thing I would change about them at this point is, I would have made the font bold so it was easier to read from further away.

The template I used was one with ten labels per page, so the birthday slips were about one inch tall. So I left about five inches of space between rows of dates. This is because, when I consulted my spreadsheet, the date with the most birthdays (out of all 366 possible days) had five student birthdays on it. So congratulations to you, April 22nd! Visualizing data is fun.

So, I think this is much more interesting, and useful. It doesn’t look like a line plot, but students could use this calendar to create their own line plots. This, in addition to being able to quickly find their own birthday (for their username) or current birthdays (for morning announcements). It leaves room for adding new students (as long as they weren’t born on April 22nd!). I can also pretty easily remove students who leave without needing to shift other days on the calendar.

Virtual Endangered Zoo

I’ve been working with one of our second grade teachers (she of the superior graphic organizers) on a project with her reading/social studies class.

We have now reached the culmination of our project, and the Virtual Endangered Zoo is now open for business! Each child researched an endangered species of their choice, and built a website about them. Their teacher, Mrs. Pancake, created a hub website where you can easily access all their sites.

This was a fun project that also turned out to be easier than I thought it would be. Firstly, students did research projects earlier this school year, so they already knew research methods basics. Secondly, Weebly For Education was very easy to use once we played around with it. We discussed other ideas such as publishing an eBook, but I thought more parents would be able to see a website than would be able to download an eBook. Plus, Weebly uses responsive web design by default. This means that their sites adjust accordingly when viewed on a smartphone or tablet. My guess is that means even more of our families will be able to see our sites, since not every family has a computer hooked up to the Internet at home, but many may still have smartphones.

In addition to research methods we used in the past, we added a social media element for kids who were up for it. When a student got stuck with one particular detail, we sought out a zoo or aquarium we thought might know the answer. Then, we tweeted them. Students wrote their question on a dry erase slate and I took a photo of them and tweeted at the zoo or aquarium. This got us around Twitter’s 140 character limit, and I think it also displayed to others that these were real kids asking questions.

How long does it take to tweet a zoo? Minutes, fellow educators. Mere minutes, even if you include a photo or a video. (I’m trying to convince more of my coworkers to sign up for Twitter, can you tell?)

On Weebly, we could even embed the responses to our tweets thanks to the “embed code” widget!

(Another thing I really liked about Weebly for Education was its image search. It has its own search engine for images, and if you include a free-to-use image, Weebly automatically appends the site with a Creative Commons attribution. Digital citizenship win!)

I would like to thank the following zoos (particular whoever runs their social media accounts) for their help:

The students who did not use my Twitter account still may have used social media in the form of Youtube. We used specific search terms and checked that videos we put on our websites were from sources we trusted, like the Oregon Zoo or National Geographic.

Students who finished early also entered the Akron Zoo’s snow leopard naming contest that we discovered from looking at their website. So if anyone at the Akron Zoo peeps this, sorry for the sudden influx of multiple entries from my and Mrs. Pancake’s email accounts!

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Thank you again to the zoos and aquarium that reached back out to us over social media. I got excited simply because I’m a giant nerd, but our students were excited because they felt like someone out there was listening to their questions and taking the time to answer thoughtfully. It’s hard to put into words how respected that makes a kid feel, to be taken seriously by an adult they don’t already know. So thank you for taking the time to teach us about animals, as is surely your mission, but also thank you for making the effort to reach out to a kid hundreds or even thousands of miles away.

Google “Fun Fact”/”I’m Feeling Curious”

If you enter the search term “fun fact” into Google, it responds with a random fact mined from generally reliable sources, such as PBS.org and the Encyclopedia Britannica or Phil Plait’s Bad Astronomy blog. If you refresh the search page, you get a new bit of trivia. You can also Google the phrase “I’m feeling curious” and click on the blue ASK ANOTHER QUESTION instead of refresh. We accidentally discovered this this morning when trying to find a fun fact to include in our morning announcements broadcast.

Fun Fact

OETC Flash Reflections

I am home from #OETC16 and I am so. Tired. 

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Humanoid robot I met in the exhibitor hall.

 

I feel like there are a lot of things I learned that need to settle in my head. But one of my favorite moments was during a session on formative assessment, when the presenter had us play along with a Kahoot.

 

Now, Kahoot is not new to me. In fact, it’s a very popular resource used by many educators in my district, not just my school. And I would recommend it to anybody, because it really is fun, fabulous formative assessment.

But this presenter was using it differently than had ever occurred to me. She used it to present statements such as, “New teachers are likeliest to use technology if it is available to them,” and then the crowd responded true or false. (That one was false — new teachers are less willing to step out of their comfort zones. Older teachers will test out new tech more quickly when it’s available to them.) And I thought — wow. It had never occurred to me before then that I could use it to address misconceptions instead of straightforward quizzing. It was perfect, because of how immediate Kahoot gives you feedback. I’m sure that other people have been using Kahoot this way for ages now. But it was a eureka moment for me. And because it’s a new way to use a resource that I already know how to use — and my students already know how to use, and my colleagues already know how to use — I feel like I am much likelier to use it in a new way.

There were a lot of other solidly good ideas and resources that I intend to explore, but rather than cramming everything into one big post when I’m already pretty beat, I think I’ll do them more justice by doing separate posts. So now to sleep, perchance to dream, and hopefully I won’t hear any car alarms go off at three a.m. since I’m no longer in downtown Columbus!

 

Wednesday Website: Snow Day Calculator

Snow Day Calculator is a website that does exactly what it says in the URL bar. You input your ZIP code and some other information, and it calculates your chances of having a snow day in the coming few days. Although not 100% reliable (because superintendents frequently have minds of their own!) it does help when you’re trying to make plans, either as a teacher or a parent.
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As of now, it’s saying my ZIP code has a limited chance for a snow day tomorrow, but of course it has a 99% chance listed for the day when I have an administrator observation scheduled! The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry… the best laid plans of teachers often get snowed out!

Wednesday Website: Online Clock

In a pinch, you can Google something like “five minute timer” and have a timer right in your web browser you can use.

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But maybe you’re not in a pinch. Maybe you’re looking to create some ambiance. If that’s the case, I recommend OnlineClock.Net. Sure, the front page is a very pared-down digital clock, but there are more options. You can customize it with sounds and backgrounds, like an aquarium or fireplace. You can change it to a stopwatch or a timer. There are pre-set timers for major cultural events, like the upcoming New Year or Superbowl. You can even play a radio station. There’s even a games section if you’re just looking to kill some time.

I like to put this website up on the Smartboard with the timer on to remind students when it’s time to log out and leave the lab — my classroom is one of the few in the building without a wall clock, so it’s been very useful, especially for my after-school group.

Wednesday Website: Print Friendly

As the technology resource teacher in my building, I spend more time with the printers than many other people in the building. Thing is, I’m almost never printing. I’m mostly changing toner or trying to undo a jam.1194985666834114944laserprinter.svg.med

A big frustration I have is just how much we print. Yes, we need all sorts of worksheets and tests and handouts and study guides and homework pages and so on. The things that really annoy me are when we print out websites.

Not every website is designed to print. They’re designed to be viewed on a screen, not a piece of paper. It’s not their fault. But how to handle it when you just need a hard copy?

Try using Print Friendly. It whittles down the website to the bare bones – ads, links, images, comments, social media icons gone. I entered in a long, listed article to test it out, and I could even click on a paragraph to delete it from the final page. I bet that would be useful if you just want to use excerpts from online news articles to use when discussing current events. You also don’t have to print – you can save the file as a PDF, or send it in an email. And you don’t have to go back to the website every time you have something to print – there’s an extension available for the Google Chrome browser.

The War on Clutter

A week or so ago I wrote about invisible work, particularly about valuing the people who do it. Sometimes that person is me.

Clutter happens. In our domestic environs we call it “Caitlin creep.” I let my things start to take over all sorts of flat surfaces, like a kudzu of crapola. But, de-cluttering is a hard task for me to motivate myself to do. Why do if I’m just going to need to do it again later? Like making the bed… why make the bed if I’m just going to end up sleeping in it? I’ll be making it again in twenty-four hours.

Then I realized that having the bed made has a positive effect on my psyche. When I come home after work to a bedroom with an unmade bed, it feels like AAUAUAUAUUUAAUUUAAGH. But when I come home after work to a bedroom with a made bed, it feels like *satisfied sigh*. The bed is the centerpiece of the room where I sleep and also keep my clothing, so when the bed is made, the room feels more put together, even if I’m rocking a floordrobe in front of the closet. When the inner sanctuary of my home feels more put together, it helps my brain feel more put together, even if I’ve still got a to-do list a mile long.

The surfaces in other parts of the apartment feel similarly. The bathroom feels more clean when the counter is clear of hair products. The kitchen feels more clean when the counter is clear of utensils and food containers. And we do generally keep those surfaces pretty clear, because we primp and cook almost every day; we keep them clear so they’re ready to use.

The less frequently used surfaces, however, tend to be clutter magnets. And I really wanted to get surfaces done because we need space for gift-wrapping, plus we have someone coming in tomorrow to look at a malfunctioning appliance.

So, I decided to use two strategies:

  1. Before and after photos. Taking pictures before cleaning and after cleaning help you see the progress you have made, so that even if you don’t get a surface entirely clear, you still feel like you’ve accomplished something. Also, blogging bonus: taking photos and posting them online force me to look at my living space more objectively. For example, looking at the photos, the same book appeared in two different before photos. So I did the thing where I tried to reduce mess in one area, by increasing mess in another. (Don’t worry, it made it home to the bookshelf.) Also, I really need to empty the bottles recycling bin.
  2. Timer. Giving myself a definite start time and a definite end time for a task forces me to do that task in the time allotted. Otherwise, I could tell myself to do something, you know, when I get to it… as long as it gets done… like, by the end of the day maybe? No, that doesn’t work. I am too good at procrastinating. So I took my before photos, turned on an episode of Doctor Who, and then took my after photos during the doo doo doo as the credits rolled.

Did I make every surface one hundred percent clear? No, but I definitely made progress, even with the table in the bottom photos. And now, looking at that photos, I am seeing things that are there temporarily (gift receipts on the arm of the loveseat will be packaged with presents soon) and things that need new permanent homes (what am I going to do with those Halloween cups the week before Christmas?). So while I know I’m not done, I know the steps I am going to take next.

The basic way I worked was a lite version of UfYH, which is a link you should only click if you are okay with obscenity. There’s an app version you can get for iOS called Unfilth Your Habitat, but the Google Play/Android version has the real, mature-rated name. (“Unfilth” is a euphemism for the app title only; the app itself contains 100% of the profanity). If you don’t mind the vocabulary, though, it’s got loads of great advice about housekeeping for people with less-than-positive attitudes towards housekeeping, for whatever reason. I find I also apply a lot of the fundamentals in my classroom, or with school-related work. And when my classroom is mostly organized, I feel more in control of it, and more self-possessed.

Wednesday Website: Copy Paste Character

Weather:

☼ ☁ ❄ ☔

This is a part of the script I have copies of for our school morning announcements. Students just circle the symbol for today’s weather report and keep moving. It takes up minimal space on our script, which leaves more room for more varied items to report, like birthdays and special announcements.

So how do I get those icons in? I copied and pasted them from a website called Copy Paste Character. It’s exactly what is says in the URL. You go there, find a character, and copy it so you can paste it elsewhere.

You can use the symbols to share some ❤ or help your colleagues new to using Apple products how to take ⌘. You can make things a little more musical ♬. It might be helpful when making differentiated sentences for early readers, or helpful signs or labels for classrooms and school events.

Copy Paste Character makes the ✄!