Category Archives: Software and Websites

6 alternatives to slide presentations

This morning, I began a search to see what new, innovative options there are for presentations. After doing a search, I found many blog posts touting alternatives to boring presentations, but all of them listed presentation websites and software whose only real stray from PowerPoint was the name of the website or software itself.

This blog post aims to give folks an alternative to presentations using websites which are not laid out like and serve nearly the exact same purpose as PowerPoint. You won’t see Haiku Deck, Prezi, or Powtoon here – although they are all good, free resources, they are still basically a slide show. Yes, even Prezi is basically a slideshow that has exploded and landed in whatever array you choose.

The six tools I have selected here meet the following criteria:

1. They can deliver customized content
2. They allow for incorporation of websites and video
3. They do not have default settings that encourage us to simply recreate our presentation on its platform
4. They are all free and web-based
5. They allow for easy sharing

Bonus if they also allow for downloading so that a presenter won’t be stuck with nothing in the event of internet connectivity issues.

In no particular order, here are my top six picks:

1. Thinglink – Thinglink is a classroom favorite of mine. Its simple interface and rich functionality makes it suitable for teachers, students, and administrators to deliver information. As a presentation platform, simply upload a picture relevant to your presentation, then create touch points which you can use to pull up additional websites and media. Your audience will not be subject to text-heavy slides and you will not have to click through slide after slide to jump ahead or back in your presentation. This is important because we all need to be flexible in our delivery, according to our audience, and as speaking guru, Kevin Honeycutt taught me, you should always have more content in your presentation than you will realistically be able to cover so that you keep your audience wanting more. Adding text to a Thinglink being used for a presentation also gives your audience information to review after your session is over.

2. Symbaloo – This website is basically a visually interesting bookmarking site. Teachers can use it in the gamification of their instruction, for self-guided learning, or simply providing useful links to their students. As a presentation tool, Symbaloo’s simple design in pages called webmixes allows for a presenter to pre-load every link they will be visiting during a presentation and eliminate the need for slides with hyperlinks. As with Thinglink, Symbaloo’s webmixes are shareable, so audience members can return later to review the information. I learned from web guru, Steve Dembo, that innovation exists when something is being used for something other than its intended purpose. Using Symbaloo to link to a selection of documents, images, videos, etc. that you have stored in the cloud can be one of those innovative uses.

3. LiveBinders – This tool is unique in this list because it has been created with presentation features in mind, although it meets my criteria because it isn’t a slideshow. LiveBinders allows you to create a virtual binder of information. You can link to websites, embed video, or create your own pages within the binder. Of the five in this list, I have used LiveBinders most often for my presentations. As with the others, I can share a link to the LiveBinder I created for that topic and my participants can use it during my presentation for any audience response items I’m incorporating. After the event, they can return to it for reference. I enjoy adding pages to the LiveBinder as we go through the session and will often continue to add additional information after-the-fact, so that the binder becomes a dynamic resource my audience can use for as long as they wish. An example of one of my presentation LiveBinders is this one I created for a BYOT session. You can see that I used Symbaloo as the starting point for this presentation, then linked to the LiveBinder from there.

4. Infographics – This choice isn’t a specific website, although there are plenty of options out there, including Piktochart, Infogr.am, or Smore. The concept of using an infographic as a presentation platform is desirable because of the potential for it to be smooth, succinct, and useful as a standalone resource. Creating an infographic with the high points of your presentation can be visually interesting and useful as a poster in a classroom. Although I normally don’t use an infographic by itself for a presentation, I do use one as a piece of my presentation (you can see an example of that in the Zoho section, next).

5. Zoho notebook – Zoho notebook is another favorite classroom tool of mine. Students can log in using their Google account, which means one less login for them to remember, and the notebook can store literally anything they may want to store. Books can be created with numerous pages, embedded websites, videos, audio, and text. Zoho can even record video and audio for you. Once a book is finished, it can be published to the world, or individual pages of it can be shared. As a presentation tool, Zoho can be one location for a presenter to compile all of the information they will be using during a presentation, along with any files, websites, or other information they may want to share with audience members. The published version works much like a book and its clean look is just my style. One big, big drawback is that it only works 100% of the time in Internet Explorer. In Firefox, you can often get it to work by clicking on a page. In Chrome, it often just doesn’t load websites and images. This is a huge drawback which hopefully will be resolved. Here is a presentation example I created for a presentation I will be doing next week (be sure to open it in IE!).

6. Timeline JS – As I sat down to write this post, I intended to stop at five, but then I remembered this gem. Designed to be a timeline creator, I immediately saw its potential as a presentation tool the first time I discovered it. One of the really cool features of Timeline JS is that it uses Google spreadsheets to create the timeline. There is an easy-to-use template to download from the website. Just place all the info you would like to have on your timeline in the spreadsheet (incorporating video and other media is as easy as putting a link in the media column). Timeline JS will use the link to your spreadsheet to create a visual representation of the information within the spreadsheet. Presenters can think of the timeline as the agenda for the day, with rich media quickly available.

All of these tools are free and easy to use. All of them can be shared to an audience. Some of them do have the ability to download for offline use. All of them should help you to think outside the slide and create stimulating presentations your audiences will appreciate.

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Texting in class?

I’ve recently been training teachers on ways to change their “research and report” lessons into more meaningful assessment of mastery. One of the tools I’ve been sharing utilizes a communication venue our students are quite familiar with – texting.

Fake iPhone Text is a simple web-based tool that creates visual representations of text message conversations. It is easy to use and visually engaging for students. Just type in a conversation

Mom: When will you be home from school?
Kid: idk

Then click Create and you’ll quickly see an image that shows the text conversation as if it appeared on a smart phone.

Ideas of how to use it in a classroom include:

1. As a bell-ringer, have students determine who the text conversation is between. Note that the visual does not include the speakers you typed, so students will have to find clues that will tell them who the conversation is between. In my example above, a student might say “I think this is between a parent and a student because the parent used full sentence and proper grammar while the kid used a texting abbreviation”.

2. For a writing prompt – give students the incoming text and tell them to use the fake text creator to show the resulting conversation between two given individuals.

3. In groups, assign students a pair of individuals or a situation to create a text conversation about. After they are finished, share the resulting visuals with other groups to see if they can determine who or what the conversation is about.

4. As a character study, have students create a conversation between characters in a book or historical characters, or better yet, characters from different books or time periods, such as Edward from Twilight texting Romeo for dating advice or President Obama texting President Lincoln for advice on how to handle the budget.

5. This could work for anything that has a relationship, so think outside the box and have students create a text conversation between fluorine and lithium – would it be an explosive relationship or a peaceful one? In Geometry, there are many relationships – have text conversations between Geometry terms for a better understanding of their relationship.

What about your ideas? Give the website a try and comment here with any ideas you come up with – and share if you use it in your classroom!

My two cents: Stixy and Wallwisher

I’m always on the lookout for collaborative web tools and ways to use technology to replace traditional activities in the classroom. I’ve attended several conferences and workshops where the speakers have used Wallwisher as a way to collect information and start discussions with groups of people. While I saw some uses for it, there was always something that seemed to be lacking for me.

Because of Twitter, I found Stixy. This is also a collaborative tool of sorts, and I have found that it has quite a few features that I like which Wallwisher does not have. However, I’m still not sure this is a tool I am going to run out and use.

I thought I would set up a comparison of the two, then ask my readers to help me decide:

  1. What uses (if any) do each site provide in the classroom? In professional development?
  2. Is one of them better than the other? Do they each have their own unique purpose?

I’ll talk about Wallwisher first, since it was the first one I learned about and it is the one I’ve seen used most often. I’ve set up a public page for you to visit and try it out: www.wallwisher.com/wall/cruelshoes. Feel free to add your own notes, move mine around, etc. Here are the things I like:

  • it is very easy to use. Just double click on the page and you can start adding text or links to media
  • it is very easy to set up a page to share publicly and you can have some control over what the URL will be
  • there is room for a lot of notes on a Wallwisher page. It will expand as more notes are added.
  • it is very easy to share the URL or post it to several social networking sites
  • it is possible to subscribe to an RSS feed of a Wallwisher page to keep track of updates to it

The things I don’t like about Wallwisher:

  • a rather limited choice of backgrounds which I mostly find annoying
  • When adding media, Wallwisher will only add links to it – it won’t add a thumbnail of an image or an embedded video
  • there is a limit of 160 characters on notes. While it is good for us to be concise, sometimes it just takes more than 160 characters
  • there is no freedom to change the font type, size, colors, bold or italics, etc. A Wallwisher page with a lot of notes starts looking a little dull.

Next up, Stixy. When I first experimented with Stixy, I could see that it was much more powerful than Wallwisher in many respects. I set up a test Stixyboard: http://www.stixy.com/guest/74748 so that you can try it out, as well. You’ll need the password cruelshoes to get in. Things I like about Stixy:

  • When I set up a Stixyboard, I can either set it up to be private (only able to be viewed by people I specifically share to), public (with a link to share), or public, but requiring a password (which is how I set this one up). Anyone with a link and the password can edit it.
  • When adding photos, the picture itself if embedded in the page.
  • I can add to-do items and documents for viewers to download
  • there are more options for how I want my font to look
  • Stixyboards are large to begin with and can be made larger by adding an item on the far right side (see the scroll bar across the bottom?)
  • you can choose to be notified of updates to the Stixyboard and you can send messages out to everyone to whom the board is shared

Things I don’t like:

  • I can’t see a way to embed a video or webpage in the Stixyboard
  • I can’t add layers to my Stixyboard. I think this could serve as an interactive notebook if I could add additional layers or pages to my Stixyboard
  • I can’t give my Stixyboard a custom name to make it easier for me and my collaborators to remember

Overall, I think Stixy has more features that make it a better collaborative tool for projects. It might be easier to set up a Wallwisher page for quick sticky-note kinds of needs where all that is needed is brainstorming from an audience. In the classroom, I think Stixy would be useful for teams of students to collect and share information for a project or to keep their own work organized.

Visually, Stixy is better than Wallwisher, although there does not appear to be a way to change the background. I don’t see this as a negative, however, as I think students tend to get a little bogged down with choosing cutesy and distracting backgrounds.

Those are my two cents. Try both of them out and comment here to let me know what you think.

5 cool tools I discovered without going to NECC

I normally don’t cross post on my blogs, but I wanted this article to be both places, so what I’ll do is link to the original post here. Please visit my site and see what I learned at the Discovery Educator Network Leadership Council Symposium and NECC pre-conference.

Show Me the Money!

So you’ve gotten through your first year or two of teaching and found that, although you still have a strong desire to implement exciting and innovative activities in your classroom, you may not have the funding for the technology and/or equipment to do it? Well, to quote Colonel Klink “Ve haf vays” to get the money! Read on . . .

Although many of the big-money grants want to give money to more seasoned teachers, there are several ways that you can get some funding. One way, if you are determined to go for those big grants, is to get a veteran teacher to co-write the grant for you (or at least allow his/her name to be on the paperwork). This makes the big-money companies feel more comfortable about doling out their dollars. We know that you are quite capable of administering a grant on your own, but the experience of a veteran teacher makes the donors think their money is more likely to be spent wisely.

There are several smaller grants out there year after year that you should definitely try for. How do you find them? In response to one of my tweets, Jen Wagner gave me a good place to start. Grant Wrangler is sort of a one-stop-shop for you to find grants to apply for. You can search the site for grants and you can also subscribe to their bi-weekly email. Grant Wrangler also has a Ning you can join which will immerse you in a community of educators that can answer your questions.

You can also join state, regional, or national Listservs for email updates on grants. Often, you can join one that is specific to your content area or age range of students. There are too many of them for me to start listing them. Google “grant listservs” and you’ll begin to find the ones you need. Visiting your state education agency will likely put you in contact with relevant Listservs as well.

When applying for a grant like the ones you’ll find on Grant Wrangler and other grant-finding websites and Listservs, be sure to read everything about the grant first. Then take a look at past awards. Getting an idea of the type of projects that grant funds will help you to write your grant in a manner that will appeal to the folks who decide your monetary fate. Being sure to fill in all the blanks, provide all the requested information, and wording your request in a professional, technical, and clear manner will ensure that your application doesn’t get cut before it is even looked at.

Attending grant-writing workshops is a good idea. Ask veteran teachers who you know have received grants for suggestions on the best ones to go to. Your district grant coordinator, if your district has one, can be a good source of information as well.

Two websites that allow you to put your requests out there for the world to see, instead of focusing on a particular grant, are worth mentioning. DonorsChoose is a great source for obtaining funds for equipment that doesn’t cost a lot of money. DonorsChoose is specifically for public schools. It gives philanthropic individuals an opportunity to look through requests from teachers and decide where they want their money to go. Several people may donate small amounts to add up to the total (see this project that has had several donors and is close to being funded), or one person may decide to fund the entire thing. This is why smaller dollar amounts are better on this site. Your chances of being funded is also greater if you work in a Title I school and you write your grant to spotlight the demographics of your school.

If you teach in a private school, or if you are needing funds for something that you think parents of your students would be interested in funding, you can use ChipIn. In just a few minutes, you can set up a website that allows people to donate money to your cause through PayPal. I set one up every year for my children’s mission trips. Visit the site and you can see that it has a blog sort of feel and you can add entries to update people on how much has been collected through the site and in person. One note about ChipIn – there are still a lot of people who are uncomfortable paying through the web. Be sure to give them an option for sending a check.

Spend some time this summer checking out these grant opportunities. When you return to school in the fall, you just might have the equipment you need!

Help for New Teachers!

Discovery Education has launched a new website that has resources for new teachers. What kind of blog for new teachers would this be if I didn’t let you know about it?

Be sure to check it out, it is full of helpful information for new teachers. I’ve put a link to it on the sidebar so you’ll be able to find it easily whenever you need to.