Monday, July 14, 2014

Top 10 Gadgets for a Tech-Loving Teacher

I leave tomorrow to go on an overnight faculty retreat with my colleagues, and as I started to pack my bag for the trip, I realized that I love gadgets. What started as a pretty basic love of smartphones, Kindles, and iPads has blossomed into a love of accessories as well. While I won't be packing all of these items for an overnight trip, I thought I'd share my 10 favorite gadgets for the tech-loving teacher.

1. ScanSnap Scanner

This has played a major role in helping me go paperless in my classroom and my personal life. The ScanSnap is a lightweight, portable scanner that can handle 12-15 double-sided pages at a time. It syncs with Dropbox and Evernote (two apps I love) so I can hold onto information without having to keep the piles of paper that come with it. For example, there are a bunch of forms that I'm required to use at school for various things. Rather than keep a file of them all cluttering up my desk, I just scan them with the ScanSnap and print them whenever I need them. I'm far faster at locating items on my computer via the search feature than I am at finding a random piece of paper, so this has been a life-changer for me.

2. Charging Hub

Having a lot of devices can be a problem when it comes to keeping them charged. I hated the clutter of all the chargers and the ugly power strip sitting by my nightstand. I recently solved that problem by purchasing the Anker 40W 5-port USB Charger.

One plug charges up to 5 devices via their USB cables. When there are limited plugs available, this is a great tool to have. It streamlines the clutter and the tangle of cords. I like it so much that I'm planning to get a second one for my classroom.

3. Cocoon Grid It

When you travel with a lot of gadgets -- even just between home and school -- you inevitably have a lot of cords and things that can get lost in your bag. For a while, I tried to assign items to various pockets to try to keep them organized, but that never worked very well. I'd forget what went where and spend way too much time digging around for something. That changed once I got the Cocoon.

It's about the size of a piece of paper, and it has several woven elastic bands that can hold items in place in many configurations. It's a great resource for keeping your smaller gadgets and their cords neat and tidy in your bag.

4. Portable Charger

One of the biggest challenges for me is keeping everything charged throughout the day -- especially when I go from school to grad classes at night. In some of my college classrooms, there are very few outlets, and it's hard to get a seat near one. That's why I love the Jackery Giant portable charger

Small and portable, I can charge this through my laptop, and then it can charge my other devices when I'm on the go. It came in especially handy while I was at ISTE recently, and I love it for travel. You can charge two devices at once, and it holds enough power to extend your device's battery by 500-600%.

5. Eye-Fi Mobi

I love using my good camera -- not the one on my iPhone, but my actual Sony digital camera. One of the things I hate, however, is taking out the memory card to move pictures from my camera to my computer. Invariably, I leave the card in my computer and don't have it when I go to take pictures, or I leave pictures on my camera forever and miss opportunities to share them in blog posts or with family in a timely manner. Then, I met the Eye-Fi card.

This card works like a typical memory card, but because it has WiFi capability, it can automatically send the pictures to my computer as I take them. It's a huge time-saver for me, and it has encouraged me to use my camera far more than I had been using it.

6. Jawbone UP

I'm on my feet a lot throughout the day, and I'm not the best with making time for exercise or sleep. I've had a Jawbone for over a year now, and I love it. It helps me keep track of my steps and my sleep quantity and quality so I can set goals for myself in both departments. It's comfortable and flexible so it doesn't bother me when I'm typing or sleeping, and it's waterproof so I can even wear it in the shower.
Like many teachers, I struggle with work-life balance, and this helps me gauge when things are really getting out of whack. 

7. Fine Point Stylus

I love using my iPad for note-taking, annotating documents, and making tutorials for my students. However, I hate drawing with my fingers because I feel like I'm less coordinated using my index finger relative to a pen, and most styluses are a little too nubby for me. I finally found one that I love in the Adonit Jot Pro

It has a fine-point with a small plastic disk at the tip, and while it's heavier than most pens I'd use, it is by far the closest thing to a pen-like feel that I've found for the iPad. I've had it since December, and I'm very protective of it. It's a must-have if you want to have more precision in your iPad creations, but be careful -- the small disk has popped off a couple of times in my bag, so you have to be careful about storage so you don't lose that piece. 

8. Canon SELPHY

I take a lot of pictures of activities in my classroom, and I like to be able to integrate those into bulletin boards to showcase student work. In the past, it was kind of a pain to print the pictures because I'd invariably have to get a bunch together, upload them to some website, and then have them printed by a 3rd party in a big cluster. I then received the Canon SELPHY as a gift from a family member, and it has eliminated all of the hassle from the process.

I can print from a memory card or send pictures straight from my iPhone or iPad to the printer, and it will print postcard sized borderless photos. I love that I can print wirelessly and as needed rather than having to put together an order that I eventually have to pick up from the store. It's much more efficient, and therefore more likely to get done.

9. IPEVO Point 2 View USB Camera

I use a document camera a lot in my classroom, but the ones my school has available take up tons of real estate on my desk. I also like to be able to have access to a document camera when I'm giving presentations for professional development sessions that I lead or presentations I give in my grad school classes, but I'm not likely to haul around a huge document camera from place to place. That's why I LOVE my IPEVO Point 2 View USB Camera

It is incredibly lightweight and compact, and it produces great images. I use it all the time, and at $69 on Amazon, I think it's a steal. I also like the fact that it can come off of it's stand, so if you're doing an activity in science where you want to look at something from an unusual angle, you have the flexibility to do so. If you don't have a document camera in your classroom, or you want something smaller, I highly recommend this.

10. Wireless Presenter with Laser Pointer

I find myself presenting a lot these days, both in and out of my classroom, and when I am, I absolutely hate to be tethered to my computer. I'd much rather be circulating among my students and interacting than staying in one place. I did some research on wireless remotes and ended up choosing the Kensington Wireless Presenter with Laser Pointer

It's small and comfortable to use, and with only four buttons, it's hard to mess up. My students love the laser pointer part of it, and I love how reliable it is. I've used it on many different computers -- Macs and PCs -- and I haven't encountered any hiccups yet. I've had my current one for three years, and the only thing I plan to replace are its batteries. 


So there you have my current top 10 list. With the exception of the ScanSnap and the Jawbone, all of the items are less than $100, and I've included links to each item on Amazon. (Those are affiliate links so Amazon will pay me a small commission if you choose to buy anything, but I'm only linking to items that I LOVE and USE constantly.) What are some gadgets that you love? I'd love to hear more in the comments as I start my back to school wish lists, so be sure to share. :-) And which gadgets do you currently use or would like to have in your own classroom? I'm always curious about the accessories as well.

Have a great week!

Friday, July 4, 2014

How to Outsource Your Running Records

Running records are the bane of my existence.

Ok. Maybe that statement is a little too strong. I really value the information that comes from conducting a running record, but my school requires that I conduct them every 6-12 weeks (depending on the student's reading level), and when I have to test 28 students, that takes a LONG time. Listening, recording, analyzing. Ugh. I can pretty much forget about teaching reading that week, unless I give some feedback after the students read (and then it takes 2 weeks to get through them all).

And then I went to ISTE and heard about Literably.

Literably is a service that audio records students reading Fountas and Pinnell leveled texts (A through Z) and sends you a complete running record within 24 hours. You set up your classroom, assign the level each student reads, and the student just hits "record" when he or she is ready to start. All that's needed is a microphone. Once the student has read for a minute, it automatically sends the recording off for analysis.

The analysis that comes back has all of the miscues, substitutions, and omissions labeled and analyzed for meaning, syntax, and visual errors. It also includes the rate in words per minute and the accuracy percentage. You'll also receive the audio file so you can share it with parents and listen to it yourself.

A free account includes 15 running records each month. If the audio quality is too poor for scoring, it won't count towards your 15. A premium account includes unlimited running records for one class and costs $19/month.

I will definitely be trying out this service. It will give me all of the assessment data I need while freeing me up to work with small groups and confer with students about the books they're reading. Talk about win-win.

Are there any apps or online services you use for reading assessments in your classroom? I'd love to hear about them in the comments!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

July Currently

How did it get to be July already?!?!

I'm still recovering from 3 days of EdTech awesomeness at the ISTE conference and linking up with Farley at Oh' Boy 4th Grade for this month's currently.

Listening - My two-year-old has recently become obsessed with Sofia the First on Disney Jr. It's a cute show, but not my favorite of the toddler choices...not that I've become a connoisseur of toddler TV or anything...

Loving - I started a garden last summer, but it became somewhat overgrown when Georgia had its monsoon season last summer, and it didn't turn out as well as I'd hoped. This year, we're in a new house, and while I don't have the yard space (or HOA permission) for a full garden, I have space on my deck for a container garden. I'm growing bell peppers, jalapeno peppers, herbs, tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, and carrots, and they're really coming along! My daughter and I check on them every afternoon, so it has become a fun summer project.

Thinking - This was my first year to attend ISTE, and I learned SO much. It was overwhelming, exhausting, and inspiring, and I just need a little time to process it all. I'll start blogging tomorrow about some of the coolest stuff I learned.

Wanting - I'm moving into a new classroom this year, so I had to box up all of my stuff at the end of the school year. I'm hoping (*fingers crossed*) that it all got moved to the new room (in a different building on our campus) so I can begin unpacking soon.

Needing - I'm a little panicked that it's July already. I have a lot of projects that are in various stages of completion, and while I know better than to think I'll get them all done, I'd like to check a few more items off my list before I go back to school in a few weeks.

4th Plans - I'm looking forward to a three day weekend with my husband and daughter. We don't have any big plans, but we may take Sydney to see her first fireworks extravaganza.

On a final note, as I prepare to move into my new classroom, I'm starting to think about decorating. The wall colors are very different in my new room, so my old stuff might not work. Here's a quick pic of the new room from my Instagram account:

I'd love to hear your color schemes/decorating ideas if you have any! The move-in and shopping spree will start next week!

Have a great weekend!

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