Jul 29, 2019

New Year, New People, New Systems

Wow!  Another year is starting just around the corner and I can't believe how fast it goes.  This year will seem extremely fast as I  have a senior and a freshman in high school, which means college visits and applications and of course the FASFA.

We also had a change in leadership for an Instructional Technology Coach. I am sure you all heard Sean Mullins left the district, which was a loss to Unit 5 in general; but we are very excited to introduce to your our new Instructional Technology Coach, Ed Hafermann.  Ed has been in education for over 15 years, has been a Junior High Teacher for all of that time teaching Language Arts and Social Studies.  Ed is also the Head Basketball coach at Normal West High School.  Please take some time and send Ed a note to congratulate him.   If you want to read more about him, you can do that here.

This school year brings on many new items...

First, Infinite Campus will be our new Student Information System SIS).  Having a system in place which really works with the SBG philosophy is essential for our district and educators.   This means no more Skyward at the secondary level and no more TeacherEase at the elementary level.  Teachers, students and parents will all use the same system.   There are apps for IC you will want to download to your phone if you have students or are a parent in Unit 5.  Unfortunately there is not yet a teacher app for Infinite Campus.

Apple App Store  When searching for the district make sure to enter McLean and Illinois and it will pop up.

Google Play Store When searching for the district make sure to enter McLean and Illinois and it will pop up.

Next is Tyler Employee Access - This is where you will want to check your paycheck in September.  Remember September 15th is the first paycheck of the year with the 2nd year contract raises in it.  Remember it is also the first paycheck of the year which will also have your TRS and Union Dues will be taken out in Oct., so if it is less then your summer checks, that is the reason.  It is your responsibility to double check your check and to make sure any changes for the new year are correct.  The payroll department rolled out the first payroll from Tyler on July 15 and it looks like it was successful.  If you want to know what you will be making this year, check out the UFEA website for information on the contract and your years of service.   Make sure you also check your time off!  I looked at mine and found it was grossly off.  I took snapshots of the Skyward information and my information and sent it to the HR Department. They fixed it within the hour!!  That is fast service!  This could effect those who plan to retire in the near future and need all of their banked sick days.

If you are a staff member who WILL NOT need a SUB when you are out for a day, then you will need to enter your time off into Tyler.  It is really as easy as 1, 2, 3.

Last, if you are a teacher who will need a SUB when you are out for the day, you will use Frontline formally Aesop.  Once you enter your credentials into Frontline, you will be able to create an absence.  From my understanding, once this information is entered into Frontline, it will automatically go into Tyler and you will NOT have to enter it twice, like you did with Skyward; that is an added bonus.

If you would like to do videos for your classroom or subs, use Loom. It's what I used to create these easy screencast videos.

Amber ~

Nov 28, 2018

OCR - Optical Character Recognition in Google Docs

Google Drive and OCR.  I just learned about this little feature from Leslie Fisher.  She is amazing and always has a new trick she has learned about and shares out.

OCR or Optical Character Recognition is a technology which enables you to convert different types of documents, such as scanned paper docs, PDFs, and images into editable data.

So, I tried this, I opened my Google Drive app, took a picture which is automatically uploaded. Now watch the video for the rest of the instructions!  Worked like a charm!

Snap and Read Updated Color Overlays and Reading Line Guides

Wow!  They keep improving this wonderful tool.  If you have not read the previous post about Snap and Read and Co-Writer please do so.. Snap and Read just added a new tool to its list of arsenal.  The updated tool is the Color Overlay and Reading Line Guides.

Take a look at this video on the new updates.

Color Overlay and Reading Line Guides from DonJohnstonInc on Vimeo.

Nov 5, 2018

Read it to me! Help me write and Annotate it!

When you have students who struggle with reading and writing, it is important to have tools which support them.  We are very lucky in Unit 5 with our Assistive Technology and to have Ms. Nora Bardi.  She is amazing and works with teachers and students all over our district to ensure all our students have access to these amazing tools.

Read it to me! Snap and Read is an assistive technology software.  The one-button interface reads text aloud from any internet browser, Word, PDF files and other documents and programs.  Snap and Read can be loaded via our Unit 5 webstore and is available to ALL students and staff in our district.  We have also tested the program inside of Discovery Education and Amplify.  Both have reading capabilities, but with Snap and Read, students can slow down the pace of the reading.  Students can also go into their options and customize to personalize their experience.  Download now to create the ultimate reading experience.  You can also watch the following video to see how easy it is to use!

Did you also know that Snap and Read has a PDF editor within it?  This allows students to receive a PDF from the teacher and then annotate right on it.  Students will then be able to save it right back to their own Google Drive.  Here is a  video which shows you how to use it.

Help me write it! Co-Writer is an assistive technology software for writing.  This floating window predicts words, aides in phonetic spelling, grammar, and topic related vocabulary.  It can be used within Google Docs, Discovery Ed, Amplify and many more to help students construct meaningful sentences.  Co-Writer can be loaded via our Unit 5 webstore and is available to ALL students and staff in our district. Students have the availability to personalize their options to develop their best writing.

Do you know of a student who struggles with reading?  Students who struggle with decoding and processing words tend to hate reading... But what if you could give them the tools to make reading easier and more enjoyable?   Being a teacher of a children who have reading difficulty is hard because if the child could listen to the passage or book you know they would love it.  Learning Ally relieves the stress of a struggling readers and allows them to enjoy reading again.  Unit 5 is very lucky we have access to this program and our students are using it.  If you have never gotten students on Learning Ally here is a short video on how students get started.  Students must have a learning disability, low Map scores, or be in a reading intervention in order to qualify.

Sep 27, 2018

Takin Social Studies - Ideas, Lessons and strategies for the 21st Century Classroom,

If you have never heard of Takin Social Studies, now is the time to take notice.  This blog houses podcasts ranging from Music in the classroom, sticky current events, to primary sources.  After listening to it for a couple of days, I am hooked.

The four hosts each have their own witty personalities and provide tons of resources they use with their students. Listen to Episode 17 Got Rhythm.  Also take a look at the notes from the episode as well, they link some student work which is really good and hopefully will generate some ideas for your own classes!

Sep 26, 2018

Rubric Grading in Google Classroom: New for Fall 2018

I have many assignments that I deliver via Google Classroom that need to be graded by using a rubric.  I will have even more of these as we continue to move towards Standards-Based Grading.  I've heard people talk about Orange Slice or Goobric/Doctopus, but it sounds like a lot of technical up front work that I am not comfortable with.  I need something simple, quick, and efficient.
Attaching a Google Doc version of your rubric to an assignment and choosing to Make a Copy for each student will enable a form of rubric grading that is flexible, fast, and powerful.

Sep 10, 2018

Flipgrid Frenzy!

Flipgrid LogoThis summer, Flipgrid was bought out by Microsoft and has since given the pro version to teachers for FREE!  YES!  FREE!!!  Which means, you can make as many Grids as you want!!  
Last year the free version only allowed for one grid with multiple topics.  This year you can create as many grids as you would like with as many topics as you want under those grids. 

If you have never used Flipgrid, it is a video discussion platform where student's can video booktalks, reflections, practice speaking in a foreign language,and much more. Student's can access via their computer or the app on their phones.  Take a look at this video to get started.

Aug 31, 2018

It's the little things....

Here are several videos which will help when starting a new school year.  Many of these things we all know, but have "forgotten" about or don't remember how to do because we only do them once a year.  Take a look at the "little things" which can make life a little easier!

Downloads Nightmare!

Google Contacts 

YouTube Restrictive Mode

Apr 30, 2018

WHAT? Goo.gl Shortener is going away!

With Google no longer supporting the goo.gl extension, we needed to come up with some alternatives. “Starting March 30, 2018, we will be turning down support for goo.gl URL shortener. From April 13, 2018 only existing users will be able to create short links on the goo.gl console.”  - Via Google.  

Well, there are several out there, but the one that I have been using a lot is Yellkey.  It is an alternative to the goo.gl URL shortener. Simply, copy and paste the URL into the text box which indicates URL’s, select how long you want the link to be available…..  up to 24 hours. This is great to get items out to people quickly, but not something you want to use if you are going to keep the presentation/link available for an extended time. I really like this one because it gives real words, not just letters and numbers mixed together.
Since we are a Google For Education School, and we use Google Classroom as one of our Learning Management Systems, the Share to Classroom extension is great to share out a link to students quickly within your Google classroom.  Send the link, or create an announcement, question, or assignment and post it directly to classroom from the extension. Try it out, I bet you love it. Bit.ly is another great URL shortener.  Simply copy and paste the URL into shortener and copy the shortened like to send out or put on a presentation for access. TinyURL.com is another one that you can customize.  If the word(s), numbers, etc… are available then it makes it really easy to create a shortened URL.  If not, or you don’t care, it will generate a URL for you.

Apr 12, 2018


Merge Cubes in middle school classrooms is hot right now and we have several teachers who are using them and having the kids explore with them.  There are many apps out there which you can review from the previous post I wrote on Augmented Reality

If you are new to Merge Cubes you need to take a look at this post by Cool Cat Teacher by Vicki Davis.    Karen Bosh explains why Merge Cubes are so hot right now.  You can subscribe to Vicki via iTunes as well for her 10 minute teacher segments.

@MergeVR is offering educators a special discount on their MERGE Goggles! For a limited time, they're available for $16.99 each (plus applicable taxes and shipping). Fill out the below at this link to get your discount code docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAI…  I bought 3 pairs and they ended up being 20.00 per pair after shipping and taxes.