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Wednesday, July 26, 2017

New School Year, New Website, and Moorseville 2017

Welcome to a new school year!  Here at Shelby County, our students go back on August 2, so we are literally only a week away.  For our new and veteran staff, and for ALL educators headed back in August, I wish you a happy school year full of growth and empowered students.

Our district recently launched a new website (thanks to Blackboard...and we are the first in Kentucky to use their website service!).  While I'm helping with maintenance, content creation and training,  full credit must be given to Ryan Allan, our Public Relations Coordinator.  Not only did he narrow the field of web hosting services to arrive at Blackboard, but he's the true site webmaster.  We hope that our new site more effectively shares the stories of our schools. Be sure to check out our new Technology pages, including a revamped "Watson's World" and a page of recommended edtech.

Last week, I went with our IT Department to Moorseville, North Carolina for their annual Summer Connection.  Moorseville is a district with a national reputation for the organized and effective way it has integrated technology into their academic culture, as well as the improved student learning in the years since its 1:1 device initiative began.   This is actually my second Summer Connection; my first visit in 2015 was definitely memorable.  I was equally impressed this year.  Moorseville continues to grow and evolve, so it was fascinating to find out how they've changed in only a few years.

Besides strategies and logistics, I got inspired with a few new edtech tools to share:
  • For several months I have been using Calendly as a way for staff to make meetings with me.  By syncing with my Outlook calendar, people can see time slots when I don't have appointments yet.  It helps you avoid back and forth email, the need to share calendars, or the problem of my calendar tool being different than theirs.  When they choose a time slot, it automatically goes on my calendar and sends a confirmation email with an option to add the appointment to theirs.   However, the free version recently became significantly curtailed.  (For example, you now can only create one type of time length meeting, such as 30 minutes.) At Mooresville, I learned about the free YouCanBook.Me which does a similar function.  However, YCBM's free options are better than Calendly; to take two examples, you can add together multiple meeting durations in a row for a longer overall appointment and you can customize the look of your landing page.  If you are interested in the premium version, YCBM also offers an educator discount.  Outlook syncing is currently in beta but I've been using it this week and it's working great.  Definitely a recommend! See my YCBM page for an example.
  • Vocaroo is an easy and free way to record sound for up to two minutes.  As with most audio/video tools, you'll have to allow the site to use your laptop's microphone the first time you use it.  To record, it's as easy as clicking a red button. Once done, you get a URL for others to access and play it; you can get an embed code; you can download the file. A big help: you don't have to make an account to use it.  A big problem: close your browser without getting the URL, embed code or download and it's gone forever.  As it is, recordings won't last forever (likely only a few months) so plan accordingly. Teachers could use it for on the fly directions, anchor charts, instant feedback; students could explain their reasoning for an argument or a math problem.  Our Moorseville presenter mentioned that a teacher shared the site with parents and asked them to record a good luck message and email back the URLs; the teacher shared these individually with students right before state testing.
  • This last one is an analog tool to help with classroom management.  Get red, yellow and green colored clothespins to hand out to students. Have them use a clothespin on the corner of their laptop.  Green means no problems.  Yellow means they are struggling but no immediate help is needed.  Red means they need a question answered now.
In closing, I have to share how proud I was of our IT Department.  Not only did they represent our district well in Moorseville, but I was pleased how many of our schools and staff back home recognize their hard work.  You don't have to look any further than the post below.  Look at those retweets and Likes!