Month: September 2012

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Tech Tuesday #5

Google Custom Search Engines

I ❤ Google!  I love Google forms, Google docs, Google doodles, Google Scholar…the list goes on and on.  And, I have a furvent longing to one day attend Google Teacher Academy, if I could ever get around to making that dang application video…Today, I love Google Custom Search Engine (  Let me tell you why:

Yesterday, I caught wind of a little research project being conducted in our English II pre-AP classes over a little book called Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe.  The teacher graciously allowed me to take a look at the assigment handout, which led students through a webquest, exploring various topics relating to Nigerian history, culture, and the author himself.  On the assignment page, specific websites were listed for students to access depending on their topic.  I saw a library-infiltration opportunity and pounced!

(Time-out for a little soap-box on teaching students information and research skills.)

Used with permission from the creator, Sean Gallo,

 You may or may not be familiar with the addage, “How do you eat an elephant?…One bite at a time!”  This is the image that comes to mind when I am asked, “How do you teach high school students to be critical consumers of information, digital citizens, and researchers?”  One “byte” at a time, friends.

More often than not, research seems to be a “stop-and-do” unit of exhausting, lengthy days in the library or computer lab.  Students and teachers spend days and weeks pounding away at research topics, meeting minimal requirements for number of sources, note cards, direct quotes, working toward completing a checklist of research tasks rather than engaging in transformative, authentic inquiry.  Rather than pushing research back and back until afetr “the test” or reserving it until May when we’re eager to mark the days off of our calendars until summer, my proposition is this:  let’s teach narrow and in depth–one bite at a time. 

Google Custom Searches allow us to streamline one part of the inquiry process (exploring and searching) so that students can dig deeper into another part of the inquiry process.  Here’s what you can do as a teacher or librarian to help “cut the meat” for our young researchers:

2.  Select “Create New Search Engine”

3.  Give your search engine a title, description, and copy and paste websites that you have pre-selected as appropriate, credible sources for students to explore the topic in depth.

You can choose various formats and looks for your search engine, turn off the advertisements since you are using it for educational purposes, keep track of analytics (statistics that show usage), and even embed the CSE into a blog or web page.  If you don’t want to embed, you can copy and paste the direct link to share with students. 

Sometimes we need to be a Momma-bird and do a little “pre-chewing” for our students to ease digestion (tired of the zoological metaphors???  Got it.)  We can support students’ inquiry by providing them pre-selected sources so that they can then dedicate their attention to narrowing the focus of their inquiry, effective note-taking, documenting sources, synthesizing information, or presenting their understandings about the topic. 

Would we want to give them a CSE everytime they do research?  No, they need to learn to take the first bite, but perhaps we give them support in another area instead.  Once they have all the smaller pieces mastered, then they can fully engage in the transformative power of inquiry-driven research…and fully enjoy the elephant in its entirety (couldn’t help it that one).

Talk to your librarian about collaborating to create Google Custom Search Engines for your next research adventure!  Take a look at the library page I created to support students as they conducted research relating to Things Fall Apart.  Special thanks to Christina Salcido and Erin Mathews for allowing me to crash their research party 🙂

Sneak peak for next week’s Tech Tuesday blog:  Social bookmarking for student collaboration…Pinterest, Diigo, and Delicious

Check out some CSEs that I’ve created for various inquiry units:

VoiceThread: Online Collaborative Presentation Tool

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Tech Tuesday #4:  VoiceThread

We’ve all been there.  Sitting in a meeting, our eyes start to cross, ears start tuning out as another PowerPoint presentation clicks, clicks, clicks through various slides.  Not that PowerPoint isn’t a terrific tool to present information, but with all of the options for today’s students to synthesize and publish information in unique ways, perhaps we should begin to consider it as an option rather than the default.

Today we’re exploring a free, web-based tool that allows students to create video presentations by mixing images, videos, documents, presentations, and comments (voice and text).  VoiceThread ( allows the user to create a project and share it with collaborators.  They can then create a project together but remotely, solving the problem of when and how they will find the time and resources to create a presentation in a single file. 

To demonstrate the various tools and uses for Voice Thread, Here’s a VoiceThread on VoiceThread! 

What possibilities do you see for VoiceThread with your students?  Leave us your comments 🙂

Module 3: Black and White

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Book Summary: Run-away cows, out-of-touch parents, a train ride, and origami newspaper hats.  What do they all have in common?  Black and white, of course.  A story in four parts, these individual plot lines and illustrations seem to be completely disconnected, but pay close attention to the details.  They have more in common than you might first appear. 

APA Reference of Book:

Macaulay, D. (1990).  Black and white. Boston, MA:  Houghton Mifflin Co.

The illustrations tell the story. Much like Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret the text seems to accompany the pictures rather than the illustrations merely decorating the text.  The key to finding the connection between all four plotlines lies in the title itself.  With strategically placed clues, a black mask, a curious squirrel, a newspaper hidden in a bag, David Macauley illustrates four comedic stories about imagination and exploration.  Each storyline utilizes a unique style to set it apart and contribute to its tone.  When combined, the result is a fast-paced, tightly-woven narrative. 

Professional Review:

“This picture book toys with the reader just as it experiments with the concept of time, simultaneity of events, and the question of one story impinging on another. The author-artist has created an addictive puzzler which can, like a Nintendo game, draw a susceptible audience into an endless exploration of the book’s many possibilities. The story — or stories, depending upon one’s perspective — comprises four sequences, each consistently placed in a particular quadrant of successive double-page spreads. Each is executed in a distinctive style — ranging from the impressionist quality of “Seeing Things” through the more precisely limned “Problem Parents” and “A Waiting Game” to the dissolving figure-ground images of “Udder Chaos.” In the first, a boy observes the changing landscape from the window of a train; in “Problem Parents” two children are amazed by the antics of their usually staid mother and father after commuting from a long day at work; “A Waiting Game” records the endless boredom of standing on a train platform while listening to accounts of unexplained delays; “Udder Chaos” proves that Holstein cows, once released from pasture, are difficult to locate, which may be useful information if you’re an escaped con yes, the masked escapee from Why the Chicken Crossed the Road (Houghton) makes an appearance. One solution proposes that all the episodes are connected through the train motif; on the other hand, the author-artist states on the title page that “this book appears to contain a number of stories that do not necessarily occur at the same time.” Perhaps there is no one explanation but rather a series of playful allusions and clever delusions which are meant to be enjoyed by the freewheeling and freespirited as an escape from the ordinary.”

Burns, M. M. (1990). Black and white [Review of the book Black and white]. Horn Book Magazine66(5), 593-594.

Library Uses:
This text lends itself very well to lessons on predictions and inferences.  Students can view the first page, and stop to make predictions based on the inferences they draw for each of the four story titles, “Seeing Things,” “A Waiting Game,” “Problem Parents,” and “Udder Chaos.”  Following a brief discussion of using clues to “read between the lines” of the text, they can stop to periodically check their initial predictions and modify them based on new clues they find in the text.

Module 3: The Hello, Goodbye Window

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Book Summary:
A visit to Nanny and Poppy’s begins with a window.  One little girl creates memories with her grandparents on either side of the hello, goodbye window at the front of the house.  From special oatmeal in the morning, peering out at the garden, to waving to special guests like the Queen of England and the Pizza guy, the little girl knows that this special window is “right where you need it.”  Trips to her grandparents house are framed through the window complete with memories and dreams of having her own “hello, goodbye window” someday.

APA Reference of Book:
Juster, N and Raschka, C. (2005).  The hello, goodbye window.  New York, NY: Hyperion Books for Children.

Although the setting was very different from my own memories, I was immediately transported to my childhood and my grandparent’s front porch swing as memories of my own “Nanny” and “Poppy” swirled around me like the finger-painted style of this book’s illustrations.  The story with its nostalgic accounts of a young child’s visit to her grandparents’ house are brought to life through the pastel, watercolor, and crayon illustrations, reminsicent of a child’s finger painting.  The primary color scheme sets the bright and cheerful mood of the book along with the broad sweeps of watercolor to create a blue sky and swirls of crayons on various greens blend together to make each spread of pages as engaging as the text.

Professional Review: 

The Hello, Goodbye Window.

illus. by Chris Raschka. unpaged. Hyperion/
Michael di Capua Bks. Apr. 2005. Tr $15.95.
ISBN 0-7868-0914-0. LC 2004113496.

PreS-Gr 1– The window in Nanna and Poppy’s kitchen is no ordinary window-it is the place where love and magic happens. It’s where the girl and her doting grandparents watch stars, play games, and, most importantly, say hello and goodbye. The first-person text is both simple and sophisticated, conjuring a perfectly child-centered world. Sentences such as “When I get tired I come in and take my nap and nothing happens until I get up” typify the girl’s happy, imaginative world. While the language is bouncy and fun, it is the visual interpretation of this sweet story that sings. Using a bright rainbow palette of saturated color, Raschka’s impressionistic, mixed-media illustrations portray a loving, mixed-race family. The artwork is at once lively and energetic, without crowding the story or the words on the page; the simple lines and squiggles of color suggest a child’s own drawings, but this is the art of a masterful hand. Perfect for lap-sharing, this book will find favor with children and adults alike.

Reynolds, A. J., Jones, T. E., Toth, L., Charnizon, M., Grabarek, D., & Raben, D. (2005). The hello, goodbye window [Review of the book The hello, goodbye window]. School Library Journal51(3), 174.

Library Use:
After reading the story and viewing the artwork, students can participate in a “window walk” around campus to collect stories, details, and people they see through various windows.  Then, they can use magazines, clip art, etc. to create a collage for the windows they saw.  The collage window can become part of a display for this book in the library along with captions from students describing what is in the window.

Digital storytelling, book trailers, and more on Animoto

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Tech Tuesday #3:  Animoto

Several years ago as a young (cough, cough), enthusiastic English teacher, I threw myself on the digital storytelling bandwagon.  With all the patienice we could muster, my students and I muddled our way through learning Microsoft PhotoStory and Movie Maker.  Although rather intuitive and simple, PhotoStory lacked the dynamic movie feel whereas MovieMaker’s constant bugs and importing and rendering headaches often left us short of a final project.

(Enter Animoto.)  In the summer of 2007, my husband, Phil, and I went to Europe.  When we returned, Phil surprised me one day with a really cool video of our pictures set to music with animation and design incorporated.  (See our European Vacation below:)

It didn’t dawn on me then that I could use this fun little tool as a vehicle for digital stories and multi-media presentations.  As a FREE web-based tool, Animoto allows you to import photos and video, add text, and music, to create a visually dynamic video.  Today, we see examples of Animoto videos all over the web.  Students, teachers, and librarians are utilizing this free and intuitive tool to create book trailers, present information, and produce engaging multi-media projects over a number of different topics.  Those of us trying out VESTED can create quick “Views” using animoto as we introduce new concepts and units.  Students could then use it to “Extend” their learning by creating a video of their own.

Additional pros include::

  • WYSIWYG (What you see is what you get)–all features, options, and tools are present on one screen–no hunting involved
  • Quick rendering speed–Since it is web-based, you don’t have to worry about student projects rendering on a computer from last period that you need right away.  Animoto will send the creator a message when the video is available.
  • Publishing options:  you can share through social media sites (Twitter, Facebook, etc.), email the link, copy and paste the link, or download the video as an mp4
  • Built-in music library–Animoto provides copyright-free music that you can search for by genre.
  • Free version for educators–with an educator account you can share up to 50 licenses with your students.  Free versions are still available but the educator account includes the “Pro” designs and features.
A few cons:
  • Thirty-second limit:  in the free version (not the educator license), you are only allowed 30 seconds for your video.  The educator license, however, does not have a time limit.
  • Limited animation:  The WYSIWYG aspect to Animoto is also a pitfall for those tech savvy creative types who want to make their own customized animation.  The designs come pre-set with animation and motion.
  • Upgrade for better video quality:  The educator license allows you to download the video as an mp4.  For better quality and HD, you have to upgrade to the Pro version. I find, however, that the video quality is just fine for my use.

Here’s how to get started: 

1.   Go to animoto.comCreate an educator account (hint–use your school email so that it can recognize you as a teacher)
“Apply” for an educator license by providing your organization’s information. 
2.  Create new video
3.  Choose a design
3.  Select your photos, videos, and music.
4.  Publish and share!
P.S.– If you want to be really crazy, try inserting your Animoto into a Prezi!
My Sample Animotos:

Additional tutorials, videos, and blogs about using Animoto in education:
Animoto for Education TeacherTube Tutorial
Blog about using Creative Commons and copyright-free images.
How do you use digital story tools in your classroom? 

Five Survival and Suspense Titles: Inspired by "The Most Dangerous Game"

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What happens when man becomes his own worst enemy?  What lenghts will man go to in order to survive?  Inspired by Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game,”  these five books will push the envelope.  Full of suspsense, tragedy, drama, and adventure,  these books will keep you on the edge of your seat to see what happens next.

1. The Eleventh Plague by Jeff Hirsch

2.  The Marbury Lens by Andrew Smith

3.  Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Aron Ralston

4.  A Long Way Gone:  Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah

5.  After the Snow by S.D. Crockett

You might also enjoy “I read the Hunger Games, now what?  Twenty books to check out next

Module 2: Mr. Popper’s Penguins

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Book Summary:  Mr. Popper, a “house-decorator,” painter, and father, dreams of exploring the Atlantic during his holiday.  After writing to the famous Admiral Drake, Mr. Popper receives a surprise package direct from the South Pole, an antarctic penguin.  Penguins, however, can be very lonely without other penguins, so the edition of a second penguin begins the ultimate adventure that results in ten full-grown penguins who become international stars of the stage.  Through a series of humorous and far-fetched incidences (Mr. Popper must have a refrigeration system installed in his basement along with ice  blocks to construct homes for his penguins),  The Poppers’ love and dedication to their family of penguins delights the reader from the first “gawk” to the last. 

APA Reference: Atwater, R. and Atwater F. (1938).  Mr. Popper’s Penguins.  New York, NY:  Little, Brown and Company. 

Impressions:  With the recent film adaptation starring Jim Carrey, I was very curious about this little book.  Although the plot line is far-fetched, its simplicity and quirkiness is very entertaining.  As the penguins get into one snafu after another and Mr. Popper struggles to support his penguin and human family, I became attached to the web-footed creatures.  The nicely packaged ending that provides a “best of both worlds” conclusion did disappoint me slightly.  Hoping for some hint of a moral or lesson, I looked forward to the ending for a nugget of truth to take from the book.  Instead, I was left with humorous sketches of sparring penguins and gloved pianists.  For small children, however, the penguins’ hijinks and short chapters provide a pleasurable reading experience. 

Professional Review: More than 60 years have not dated this wonderfully absurd tale–it still makes kids (and parents) laugh out loud. Poor Mr. Popper isn’t exactly unhappy; he just wishes he had seen something of the world before meeting Mrs. Popper and settling down. Most of all, he wishes he had seen the Poles, and spends his spare time between house-painting jobs reading all about polar explorations. Admiral Drake, in response to Mr. Popper’s fan letter, sends him a penguin; life at 432 Proudfoot Avenue is never the same again. From one penguin living in the icebox, the Popper family grows to include 12 penguins, all of whom must be fed. Thus is born “Popper’s Performing Penguins, First Time on Any Stage, Direct from the South Pole.” Their adventures while on tour are hilarious, with numerous slapstick moments as the penguins disrupt other acts and invade hotels. Classic chapter-a-night fun. (Ages 5 to 10) –Richard Farr (

Farr, R. Mr. Popper’s penguins [Review of the book Mr. Popper’s penguins].  Amazon.  Retrieved from

Library Uses: This short chapter book would be a fun addition to a text set centered around penguins for a book talk.  Paired with nonfiction titles about penguins, it would provide a comical glimpse into the personality of the animals.  A display could include essential questions about penguins such as, “Do penguins live with their families?”