Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Time Management in a Virtual School

Cross-posted from Achieve Virtual Education Academy blog (

Possibly the most important skill to success in an online course is time management. This post will prepare you (a virtual school student) with tips to assist you in balancing school, work, family, and/or your social life.  If you are an administrator, teacher, or professional developer, these tips can be shared with your online school staff.

Determine what time of day you are most productive. Is it easier to focus in the morning or are you someone that will work better if allowed to sleep in some? Are evenings the best time for you to focus? Think about your daily habits. As you are working in your classes, notice the times of day that you get the most work done. Be sure to save this particular part of the day for schoolwork each day.

Use a calendar. With the assistance of a pacing guide, planning out the semester with a calendar is a good idea. Write down what assignments you will need to get done for each day to stay on track. Your teacher can assist you with this.

Create daily To-Do lists. Creating a quick to-do list at the beginning of each day listing what you need to get accomplished is a useful strategy. It helps you to identify what your tasks are for the day and helps you stay focused. Mark off each item as it is completed. It is a very satisfying feeling to mark things off a list!

Take scheduled breaks. Studies show that people are able to be more productive if they take short, scheduled breaks throughout the day. I suggest getting a timer (or using a cell phone or microwave as a timer). A good rule of thumb is to take a ten minute break for every hour of work. For this to be effective, it is extremely important that during that hour of work you are completely focused on your schoolwork. Free yourself from distractions. That means saving the texting, Facebook browsing, etc. for your break. Keep the TV turned off and anything else that might distract you from your work.

Ask a teacher for help. If you find that you are struggling with time management, please talk with your teacher(s) and the counselor. We are here to help you be successful. It is always a good idea to contact us as soon as you realize there's a problem to give yourself enough time to get back on track.

Take some time to reflect on these time management tips. In the comments, share your own tips or which of the above steps you find most helpful. 

Friday, March 9, 2012


This was a guest blog post for the Indiana Department of Education 29 Day Web 2.0 Challenge.  Visit their blog for a collection of posts on Web 2.0 tools and how they can be incorporated into the classroom.

What is VoiceThread?

VoiceThread is a web-based presentation and slideshow tool that allows users to post images, documents, videos, and presentations online.  Once uploaded, these presentations can be narrated by a single person or become the background for a recorded conversation between several people.  Users also have the ability to record annotations over the presentation while speaking.  The conversations on each slide can be recorded in several ways.  Users can leave audio comments with a microphone, web camera, or telephone.  Audio files can also be uploaded, and written comments can be left with no sound.

Below is a VoiceThread tutorial provided by the website that demonstrates the basics on creating this type of presentation:


Educators have a couple options when setting up accounts for their students.  If the students have an email address, they can each sign up for a free VoiceThread account individually.  There is also an educator version that a teacher or school can pay for that allows student accounts to be created without an email.

Another free option is to create a teacher account and use "identities" to represent each of the students in a classroom.  Every user has the ability to post under an unlimited number of aliases referred to as identities. While this is a free option for teachers, it is more difficult to monitor posts as each alias can not be moderated as easily.  It is not an additional account, but rather an extension of one user.  View the following VoiceThread to see how to set up multiple identities and the implications of doing so:


How to Use VoiceThread in the Classroom

VoiceThread is a free tool that does not require the download of any application.  This particular aspect makes it a great choice for teachers and students when an assignment requires conversation or presentation of some kind.  Below is an extensive list of activities that can be best supported through the use of VoiceThread.  

  • Because VoiceThread allows multiple users to comment on a single slide, this tool becomes a great medium for classroom debates or discussions.  
  • VoiceThread can also be used in conjunction with De Bono's 6 Thinking Hats.  If you are unfamiliar with this discussion strategy, you may be interested in reading the following blog post that I wrote about a year ago on this topic, when I was just beginning to explore the possibilities of VoiceThread in my own classroom.  VoiceThread and De Bono's 6 Thinking Hats
  • Digital Storytelling is a great activity that can be done using this web tool, particularly with young students.  VoiceThread presentations can provide young children with story retell and summarization practice, as well.
  • A student can create a digital portfolio of their best work and use the voice-over feature to easily explain their learning or thinking regarding various documents or images. 
  • VoiceThread can also be a tool for reflection and peer revision for writing assignments.
  • A teacher interested in flipping the classroom could post presentations and leave voice comments, creating a lecture that students can view from home.  
  • Students can use this tool to create presentations describing math concepts or the individual steps in a process.  For these particular activities, both the audio and annotation tools would be very helpful. Multiple students could share various ways to solve a problem on a single slide.
  • Students can reflect on a text or story using various reading strategies as a lens for their comments.
  • When asking students to create a presentation or project in a collaborative group, VoiceThread is an effective tool to use, because multiple students can edit the presentation from remote locations.  This can be done simultaneously or at different times.  
  • For more tips and ideas on how to use VoiceThread in the classroom or to contribute your own thoughts, visit the wiki VoiceThread 4 Education.
The Challenge

What are your initial thoughts about using VoiceThread in your classroom?

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Dr. Seuss Family Night - Technology Resources

Here is the list of computer and phone apps that I am sharing with families at our school's Dr. Seuss Family Night.  These are great resources to use with your children at home to increase reading and math performance.  

Dr. Seuss Themed Websites
Seussville:  The official Dr. Seuss website.  This website has several sections, including information about popular books and a games and activities section.  This website is particularly relevant for primary students.

Online and At Home Projects:  This website includes many different kinds of activities, some online and some that can be done with family, that all involve Dr. Seuss.  This website is organized in such a way that it is easy to search for activities by grade level and content area.

Games and Printables:  At this webpage, activities are organized by book.  Does your child have a favorite Dr. Seuss book?  Using this resource, you can easily filter activities that are geared specifically toward a book.

PBS Cat in the Hat:  Educational games (for mobile devices and computers) with The Cat in the Hat theme.  These games include reading and math practice.

Math Phone Applications
PopMath Basic Math ($.99) - Pop matching pairs of balloons (match the problem with the correct answer).  Fun and interactive way to practice math facts.  For Android, iPhone, and Kindle Fire.

Math Evolve ($1.99) - Arcade style math practice game for iPhone and iPad.

Addroit ($.99) - Improve math facts fluency and speed.  Fun game for iPhone and iPad.

Slice It!  ($.99/Free) - Practice Geometry while building logic and problem solving skills.  Available for iPhone and Android.

Literacy Phone Applications
Dr. Seuss's ABC's ($2.99) - Practice your alphabet with Dr. Seuss!  This app is for Android devices.

WordzUp! (Free) - This game is very similar to Boggle.  Kids can practice spelling and creating words on this Android app.

iStoryBooks (Free) - Browse a large library of books with beautiful illustrations.  Kids can read the books independently or choose to have the narrator read the books to them.  Great Android app for every reader!

Story Maker (Free) - Interactive writing and digital story telling application for iPhone.

Misc. Resources
Kid Mode (Free) - Organize all of your child's apps in one place.  With a child lock feature, this app allows your child to use your phone while not being able to access your personal information or apps.

Wayne Market (Free) - Visit this website for Wayne Township approved free apps for Android devices.  TONS of great resources here!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Part 4 Developing a PLN: Twitter Tips and Resources

This blog series was developed after leading a presentation on this topic for the Wayne Township Perfecting the Common and Beyond Conference. 

Twitter Tips
Now that you know all of the technical aspects of Twitter, it's time to jump right in.  With so much information out there being posted by such a large number of people, even with an understanding of hashtags and locating people to follow, getting started can still seem like quite the daunting task.  For the final installment of this blog series, I'd like to focus on tips to make the best use of your PLN.  
  • Observe at first.
    • Start out by committing to just searching and observing other people on Twitter.  Don't worry too much about contributing at first.  Explore and find some good educators to learn from.  Once you start to learn new things from others on Twitter, you will naturally begin to find what strengths and ideas you can share with your PLN.
  • Don't worry about reading every tweet.
    • Perhaps the biggest complaint or reservation I hear about Twitter comes from teachers who are worried about following too many people on Twitter and not being able to keep up with all of the tweets on the activity feed.  To be honest, I only see maybe 10% (on a good day) of the tweets that come through my feed, and that's completely okay.  I read a really great analogy of this online recently.  Think of Twitter like a river.  A river is flowing every moment of the day, whether you are standing next to it or not.  Twitter is the same way.  There will be tweets and information being posted at every hour.  When you visit a river, you have many options.  You can walk by and just look for a minute or two and then walk on.  Sometimes you can sit on the edge of the river bank and put your feet in.  Even still, there's nothing stopping you from jumping right in and swimming around for three hours.  When you walk away, the river will still be flowing and that's perfectly okay.  You don't need to be at the river all day long to experience it.  Twitter is exactly the same.  Take a quick glance on your lunch break or get lost for hours during your free time.  Either way, you don't need to see every tweet to experience it and gain something from the network.   
  • Start conversations.
    • As impersonal as the Internet can feel at times, the people you are interacting with on Twitter are indeed real people, just like you.  It's okay (and encouraged as a matter of fact) to strike up conversations with your PLN.  When you see something that is especially interesting or useful, let the person who posted it know.  Ask questions.  I know this may sound strange now, but you will grow very close to your PLN.  I realize you will probably never meet most of them in real life, but let's put it in perspective a bit.  Think about the people in your building or district who you go to for advice - the people you respect as innovators and great educators.  They're pretty awesome, huh?  Well, you will find that there are some educators on Twitter that will give you lots of great ideas and will potentially change the way you teach.  If you're anything like me, you will begin to really respect and care for those people, as well.  Don't be afraid to make connections and start conversations with these people.   

  • Add a profile picture.
    • This is less important I suppose, but nobody wants to talk to an egg (the default Twitter profile picture).  Remember, this is a community of real people.  Add a picture of yourself (or a picture to represent yourself) so that others can put a face to a @name.  
  • Stick with it.
    • This could take a bit of time.  Commit to getting on Twitter once a day or every other day just for a few minutes.  Do this for a month or so before giving up on it.  I feel very strongly that if you stick with it, your view on what professional development is and should look like will change.

What Should I Tweet?
Once you have explored Twitter and have started the process of developing a strong PLN, it's time to start contributing to this community of educators.  Just like anything else, the more you put into it, the more you will get out of it.  I'm sure you have wonderful ideas and insights that many of us could benefit from hearing.  Here's a quick list of guidelines for what you can tweet about to get you started.  Remember, add those hashtags to reach a larger audience!
  • Share your classroom successes.  Did you have a lesson today that was a home run?  Did you try something new that worked out really well?  Share it with your PLN.  Either post a picture, a brief explanation, or a link to a blog post outlining your work.
  • Post education related articles.  When you come across a webpage or an article that moves you, post about it on Twitter.  If you are posting long links, I suggest copy/pasting the link into a service like or  This will shorten the links to just a few characters allowing you plenty of typing space for your tweet.
  • Share your thoughts and motivational quotes.  In a field that is constantly criticized, sometimes it's just nice to read something uplifting and inspiring to remind you of why your job is so important and wonderful. :)
  • Ask questions.  I have found that sometimes when I have a question about something I go to my Twitter PLN before I ever go to Google.  Need ideas for an upcoming unit?  Looking for a specific resource?  Ask about it on Twitter.  For these particular posts, it is especially important to add a hashtag so that several people will see the tweet.  Twitter teachers are the best.  I think you'll be pleasantly surprised by how friendly and helpful everyone is.  
  • Don't forget to reply to others.  I know I've said this twice now.  I just think it's really that important.  ;)  

Questions, Comments, Concerns?  
I'd love to be a part of your PLN.  If you ever have any questions, feel free to comment on my blog or send me a quick message on Twitter (@lyonmi).  Let me know how I can help you.  

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Part 3 Developing a PLN: Finding Valuable Information on Twitter

This blog series was developed after leading a presentation on this topic for the Wayne Township Perfecting the Common and Beyond Conference.  

Searching with Hashtags
When getting started on Twitter, the first step for educators should be to use the search feature.  Like I mentioned in an earlier post, hashtags are used as a way to label tweets.  They always begin with a # which creates a link to a search for that term (much like tagging someone on Facebook creates a link to their profile page).  Although a user can create any hashtag that they would like, there are many very popular tags that are used internationally and by thousands of educators on Twitter.  When you search for these particular education-related hashtags, you are able to immediately find hundreds and in most cases thousands of tweets that have all been deliberately labeled as pertaining to education.  This is one of the most important tools for teacher tweeters.  Hashtags help you quickly and efficiently search through millions of tweets and find only relevant information.

Popular Education Hashtags
While this list is not completely comprehensive, these are some of the more popular education hashtags that are currently being used.  Please comment with additional hashtags that you enjoy following!  By doing a search of these tags, an educator can find a wealth of information on topics very specific and relative to their work or interests.  Take a moment and explore some of the following hashtags:

#edchat #education - for all educators 
#cpchat #edadmin - connected principals/administrators 
#edtech - technology in education
#educoach - instructional coaches/leaders
#mlearning - mobile learning
#mathchat - math education
#scichat #sschat - science and social studies 
#engchat #langchat #eltchat #ellchat - english and ELL education
#sped #spedchat - special education
#kinderchat ... #6thchat #elemchat #midlevchat - grade level specific
#edreform - education reform
#gtchat - gifted and talented
#ntchat - new teachers
#OTalk - occupational therapy
#artsed #musedchat - art and music

Here is a link to a post by @edudemic on some of the more popular education hashtags:  20 Twitter Hashtags Every Teacher Should Know About.

Sharing Information
Hashtags are an important tool not only for searching, but also when composing your tweets.  When you first get started and possibly for some time after, you will most likely not have many followers.  We all have to start somewhere.  Let's say you are in Week 1 of signing up for Twitter and you only have five followers.  If you compose a tweet with no hashtags, the only people likely to see what you have posted are those five people.  However, if you add a hashtag to label your tweet as being about a particular subject, now you have an audience of thousands of people who will find you in their hashtag searches.  Use hashtags to reach a larger audience!  

Following People
Another way to gain valuable information from Twitter is to follow like-minded people.  When you choose to "follow" someone on Twitter, you no longer have to randomly come across their tweets via hashtag searches.  The tweets from the people you follow will automatically show up on your Twitter home screen (just like a Facebook newsfeed).  Considering the vast number of users on Twitter, finding quality people to follow can seem like a daunting task.  There are various ways to do this that are easy and efficient.

  • Find people through your hashtag searches.  You will begin to notice a few names showing up in your searches repeatedly or maybe you will find someone that made an exceptionally useful or insightful post.  Like I discussed in a previous post, usernames are written with the @ before them, creating a link to that person's page (this is referred to as a timeline on Twitter).  If you click on a person's username, you can see their timeline and if what they post interests you, click on the big follow button on their page.  It's as easy as that!
  • Once you follow someone, Twitter will then suggest other people that you might be interested in following.  You can also look through some of your favorite users' "following" list and see who they get their inspiration from.  
  • Edublogs give out awards every year for things like "Best Tweeters," "Best Hashtags," and "Best Blog."  Here is a link to their top 100 education tweeters for this year:  Edublog Awards Best Tweeters.  Check out this list for some great people to add to your PLN.  
  • Shameless plug:  Follow me on Twitter!  @lyonmi  :)
I challenge you to find a few hashtags that interest you and spend some time searching these topics.  You might be surprised at the amount of valuable information you find!  Then follow a few of your favorite tweeters and add them to your PLN.  Please contact me if you have any questions.  I'd love to help out in any way that I can.  

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Part 2 Developing a PLN: Twitter Terminology

This blog series was developed after leading a presentation on this topic for the Wayne Township Perfecting the Common and Beyond Conference.  

Twitter Terminology
Twitter is a form of micro-blogging in which the user posts a public 140 character message and can connect with other "tweeters," reading these very concise posts.  The brevity of the posts is what makes this such a great resource for teachers.  If you have five minutes, you have plenty of time to get on Twitter and learn something new from like-minded educators and experts in your field.  No hour long professional development needed (although I sometimes find myself losing time on Twitter... There is so much valuable information out there!).   

To fully understand this tool and how it can be used to improve your Personal Learning Network, there are some important Twitter terms you should be familiar with.

Reply Button
RT button

  • Tweet:  140 character (maximum) message that is public to other users on Twitter
  • RT (Retweet):  A retweet (often abbreviated as RT on Twitter) is similar to forwarding an email.  One can literally take a tweet from someone else and post it on their own timeline (Twitter feed) with a link back to the person who originally posted the tweet using the RT button.  It's a quick and easy way to share the good thoughts and ideas of others with your own PLN. 
  • @username:  When you mention someone on Twitter, you place the @ before their username.  Similar to tagging people on Facebook, this @ sign creates a link to that user's profile.  If I were to share my Twitter username with someone, I would tell them it is @lyonmi.  
  • Reply:  When you press the reply button, you send a public response back to the user who posted the tweet.  This also must be within the 140 character limit.  
  • Direct Message:  A direct message is just like a reply except it is a private message.  
  • #hashtag:  Hashtags are ways to label a tweet.  Placing the # before the label or identifier creates a link to a search of that hashtag.   Users can search common hashtags to find tweets that have been intentionally and specifically labeled as concerning a particular topic.  This will be covered in more depth later on.  

Tweets for professional development purposes will usually follow a typical pattern.  They will often include three important pieces:
  • Brief text with a description of the content of the tweet
  • Link to outside content such as a website, resource, article, or blog post
  • Hashtags to allow a larger audience to easily search for the tweet
Example of a tweet including brief text, link to outside content, username, and hashtags

Example of a RT (Retweet) including username, brief text, link to outside content, and hashtags


Sunday, February 5, 2012

Part 1 Developing a PLN: What is a PLN?

This blog series was developed after leading a presentation on this topic for the Wayne Township Perfecting the Common and Beyond Conference.  

What is a PLN?
PLN stands for Personal Learning Network.  Simply put, it is the people you connect with to collaborate, share resources, and discuss ideas.  We each have a PLN of some kind, even if you have never logged onto a computer in your life.  The people in your building and on your grade team that you respect and collaborate with are a part of your face-to-face personal learning network.  This blog series will discuss how adding an online component to your PLN will allow you to not only share and collaborate with a larger group of people from all over the world, but it will also allow you to truly take charge of your professional development.  With a PLN that you have created online, you can learn about whatever topics or ideas are most relevant to you at any given time.

A PLN can take many forms.  Any place online where you can share with others can be a part of a personal learning network.

Blogs are online journals (like this one that you are reading) and they are used by educators to reflect on practices or share ideas.

Micro-blogs are similar to blogs, but as the prefix micro might allude, they are in much smaller bits.  These are short sentences, links, or images created by users and posted publicly.

Online communities can also serve as part of a PLN.  These are online places where people connect to each other specifically.  Facebook is an example of this type of community.  There are many online communities out there that are wildly used by educators as well.

There are also many places to share media online.  You can upload resources and tag them with specific labels, allowing others to search for them easily.  This can take the form of presentations, videos, social bookmarking, etc.

For the purposes of this series, I will be focusing on Twitter and blogging primarily as a good starting point for developing a strong PLN.  Let me know if you are interested in learning about any other tool, and I can post about those as well.