First of all, let me define PLN. That is your personal learning network...the resources and people you rely on to further your knowledge base. Last summer I decided to dust off my iGoogle page and start loading it up with blogs and other sites to follow. The problem I encountered was trying to determine where to start. I stumbled upon a blog, Blogging About the Web 2.0 and noticed that it had been nominated for a couple of Edublog awards last year. That led me to the award list and that is where I found some incredible sites that I check daily. Starting there led me to other sites that I have collected on my iGoogle page. Here are some of my favorites. First and foremost...my current all time favorite is Free Technology For Teachers. This blog is great for learning about cutting edge technology and its implications in the classroom. Another great site is CoolToolsForSchools. While the color scheme is a little tough on the eyes, it is packed with more Web 2.0 tools than one could ever use. Another great site, is WebTools4U2Use. I have spent hours on this site. Byrdseed Gifted offers the latest resourses for gifted education and this is handy when trying to provide differentiated instruction in the regular classroom. Marilyn Western's Technology Tips for Classroom Teachers is another site loaded with "stuff ya gotta try." Larry Ferlazzo's Website of the Day is another great site for presenting the latest and greatest. There are a couple of content specific sites I enjoy following such as ReadWriteThink, Langwitches Blog, and Two Writing Teachers. A couple of sites I also follow that present various technology news are Mashable, Open Culture, and Learnitin5.   Now, another site I really want to tout is our district training site, MISD Technology Training, that has been recently updated. We are attempting to present information useful to the teachers within our district in integrating technology within the classroom. This should be enough to at least get you started if you haven't begun to develop your resource base.
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Much has been written about developing blogs and wikis for the classroom and I am amazed at what teachers in our district have been doing with these collaborative tools. They taken communication to a whole new level and have provided a connection between the classroom and the community...to infinity and beyond! Now that we're a couple of months into the new year, and we're getting comfortable with the format, the process, and the routine...it's time to put some Bam in the Plan! These sites represent you and your classroom. It's time to market what you're selling so let's get them tricked out just like your classroom. Last summer I was using PB Works wikis, but have since moved on to Wikispaces. I personally like Wikispaces because you can lock individual pages. The major drawback was the lack of creativity in the themes you could select for the workspace. After communicating with Debbie Guskin of Wikispaces, she sent me to two resources that provided great information for spicing up the themes provided. While it's not perfect, it does provide some punch in being able to customize the various themes. The first resource is on Wikispaces' blog. The second resource, Getting Tricky With Wikis, provides some interesting resources to check out.

Now if you're blogging and you want to add some spice to that, there are several great sites to find templates you can apply to your site. You just need to make sure the template will be a good fit for your information. Earlier this year I selected a template that I just could not get to fit the information I wanted to display. I have provided some resources for my personal favorite blog, Blogger:

If you are looking to add some widgets to add pizazz and additional functionality, here are some resources beyond what comes with Blogger:
MintBlogger  Great blog about blogging tips and resources.
Wibiya I love this web toolbar!

Now that you have the bag of tricks...get that site tricked out just in time for Halloween!
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I stumbled upon a great wiki, Learning Can Be Fun, loaded with PowerPoint games that were already developed as well as a list of game templates for you to make your own. These games are great for reviewing material, reinforcement of concepts, or even as a pretest for concept introduction. Because this site is a wiki, all material is there for sharing. You are even encouraged to join the wiki and upload anything you create as well as being allowed to download all material located there. Your students will love the material found here, so do them a favor and take a peek!
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Research has determined the best way to develop problem solving skills is through the development of casual reasoning. But how do you develop that? Researchers report that simulation-type video games provide the learning opportunities necessary for the development of casual reasoning. It affords students the opportunity to assess, make inferences, predictions, collaborate, and problem solve in a safe environment. James Gee likens video games to nothing more than a series of assessments on how well their decision making skills have progressed. While the video is 11 minutes long, he raises some interesting points about the validity of using these simulation type video games for learning. I came across this website, Games For Change, that listed a variety of real-world video games that allow students opportunities to solve the world's problems. What better preparation for the future is there?
Big Thinkers: James Paul Gee on Grading with Games | Edutopia
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I recently read a post about the 5 traits of the 21st century teacher on the blog, Developing Education. I have been reading a lot about the 21st century learner, but not much about teachers and what it takes to succeed with these digital learners. I decided this was some great information to share so here goes... 
The 21st century teacher is one that:
  • Is driven to learn...what a powerful example that is to students as well. Textbook-driven teaching is really a thing of the past. While the textbook can be an excellent resource for teaching and learning, worksheets, and other teaching strategies associated with this mode of teaching is outdated and ineffective if profound learning is your goal. As the article stated, there are too many new strategies and tools available to ignore the implications they can have on students of today.
  • Is a media creation expert...materials utilized in the classroom must be energetic, engaging, and effective. There is too much material to cover these days to not tap into the resources available. Our district recently gave teachers overrides for teaching purposes to Internet content blocked by school filters. Yesterday one of our middle school ELA teachers, Kirsten Marcum, mentioned 10 commercials she downloaded from YouTube  using Keepvid to show to her classes as they studied persuasive techniques. They analyzed each of the commercials for techniques used and the emotions they were targeting. This is effective 21st century teaching.
  • Understands digital navigation...they may not be digital natives, but they have the concept of how use digital resources to appeal to these digital learners. Maybe they are not a part of their digital world, but they have a grasp of what that world has to offer in an effort to steer the digital learner towards those tools available for success with learning.
  • Makes the shift to become an empathetic mentor...this educator understands the issues plaguing students in our culture today and is willing to implement learning opportunities targeting individual needs and interests. This educator also understands the need to provide collaborative opportunities for students to develop 21st century skills such as problem solving and working with others effectively. And finally...
  • Is a technology harmonizer...it is time to realize a shift needs to occur in negative thinking towards everyday tools and the classroom. A cell phone is a powerful tool that could be effectively used for learning. We also need to look at making it work within the classroom and the students just might have the best ideas of how to do that...ask them.
    I thought this was a thought-provoking article. There was a lively response to it as well in the comments section. Check it out.
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    I received an email from Glogster EDU that their free version with 100 students accounts is available only until November 7th so if you even think you might want an account, I'd sign up today! After November 7th, the Basic Free teacher accounts will be reduced to 50 student accounts. The 100 free accounts you receive now will not be effected once the reduction takes place. When Glogster EDU was first released, teachers received 200 accounts. Even though 100 accounts are now issued, my 200 accounts were never affected. Glogster is such a great tool for student projects and offers a variety of curriculum applications; students enjoy the creativity this site affords and it allows them an opportunity to produce fabulous end products. So...get registered today before time runs out. Below is a glog I found that displays some of the features available.


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    I recently came across a page on The Edublogger blog dedicated to listing classrooms looking for skyping opportunities. This is a pretty extensive list featuring classrooms from around the world. There is also a link for you to add your classroom to the list. Now the site said the last time the list was updated was March of 2010. If you add your class and it doesn't appear shortly, I'd shoot them an email and inquire as to when the list is going to be updated. Since we have gotten our new Lumens Ladibugs, several of our teachers are using those cameras for skyping. All you have to do is run the ladibug in Source 1 (just operating the Ladibug) and change the camera setting in the Skype Preferences window under the Skype menu, and you are good to go! So check out the list, find some friends from far away, and open your classroom to the world...welcome to the 21st century!
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    Need a graphic organizer to use for structuring writing projects, or maybe to help with problem solving, inferencing, decision making, studying, planning research or brainstorming? Then I have the website for you, and it's one you've probably heard of...it's Houghton Mifflin's Education Place. There are plenty of graphic organizers free for download that offer just about any type of organization of information. Why develop your own, when it's just a click away? Another great source for graphic organizers is Freeology. There are over 100 different organizers! This is a great site because it offers more than just graphic organizers. Need journal topics, or maybe awards and certificates, check this site out. One more great site with a plethora of graphic organizers is teAchnology. Once again, this site has far more than just graphic organizers, but with mind mapping offering so many benefits to students, this learning strategy should be utilized often. Download today!
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    I know I am new to researching online resources for the elementary grades, but a 1st grade teacher, Jennifer Vlach, (not related to Projects by Jen), shared this website with me today. This is nothing less than fabulous. It is a website dedicated to creative projects to do with students Pre-K through 5th grade. The online collaboration that exists here is the component that hooked me. She has created different VoiceThreads for teachers to collaborate and there are detailed instructions for all of the various projects listed. This is an award-winning site that is definitely worth a look. It's been around since 1999, so if you are already familiar with it, leave a comment on projects you've tried and how they went.
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    One of our 3rd teachers, Amy Clark, found this math website last year that charged for some of the components, but some were free. She reported that she really loved the site and this year they are offering it free to teachers, at least for now, so take advantage. This site, CarrotSticks online math games, features challenging online math games for grades 1 through 5. Students play online with students from around the world! Get your class signed up today!
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    I have catching up on some of the blogs I routinely follow and found some interesting resources I wanted to share. These may prove to be valuable learning resources that, for the time being, are free. My experience has been that many resources start out free and begin to charge later, so take advantage of the freebies while you can!
    The first resource I want to share is JayCut, an online video editor. This is a great site that allows students to take video clips and create their own movies. It utilizes a timeline format that allows for layering clips and adding various effects to the clips. It is free and easy to use so check it out!

    Another option for student-created videos is the use of animated videos. A great option for this is a free site called meemoov. This is a great site for creating those animated videos that can recreate a story, display researched information, or present ideas and concepts. Again, this tool is very easy to use and students will love getting their hands on this.

    The other recent innovation to the web, thanks to Google Wave, is collaborating in real time. There are several options for this. In an earlier post, I mentioned Today's Meet, a real time micro blog that serves as a great tool for back channeling. A couple of other options available for collaborating in real time that provide for MS Word based collaboration are Primary Pad and TitanPad. They are great tools for group work and allow for everyone's input in a collaborative format.

    The last resource I wanted to share today is a tool that is a little different. It is called Ediscio and it provides several different options to create flash cards and help with that dreaded memory work in an engaging way. It allows for creating very dynamic flash cards and there is an option for creating a learning schedule as well. So this gives everyone some resources to check out. See if any will work for you.
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    Last summer I took a Print Media Design class and it got me to thinking about all of the projects I would jump into with my students expecting them to create visually appealing products. While a small few just intrinsically knew these principles, the majority did not. As the use of technology increases in the classroom with teachers designing project-based learning opportunities, it may be time to introduce students to these four principles that can produce a high impact on their final products. There is a lot of information out there about teaching the four design principles of Contrast, Repetition, Alignment, and Proximity if you don't feel competent to teach this. Another suggestion would be to invite a professional graphic design artist into the classroom, either physically or through Skype. I have included a presentation and WebQuest I put together this summer. Feel free to use it, download it, and share it. You can also find this on my website. Click here. I think it is time we initiate a Good Design initiative.
     
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