The Year I became a Hooker: My Crochet Journey

How it started.

Last year, as part of my Year of Restore, I decided to try something new. I taught myself how to crochet. This was not the first time I tried to crochet. About 10 years ago when the kiddos were small, I bought some yarn, a hook and gave it a go. You can see my first masterpiece in the pic. No, I have no idea what the hell it was supposed to be. I do know that it was kind of a disaster. Looking back I can tell you what I did wrong…. everything. That yarn is definitely NOT a beginner yarn. I would bet money that I was using the wrong hook size and I had no pattern. This was an aimless attempt at learning a new skill. As you can guess, after this monstrosity, I hung my head in shame, set down my hook, and gave up learning how to crochet.

I was not going to be a fiber artist. For years to come, I would still find myself wandering through the yarn aisle wishing I could do something with all of that beautiful yarn. This went on for years. Me looking at yarn and wanting to create something beautiful and then remembering the pink and blue eyelash yarn abomination. I would then leave the yarn aisle and head to the bead aisle feeling defeated. I would even see cool projects like temperature blankets and think, “That would be so cool to do if only I knew how to crochet.” Knowing, that I would probably never learn. Such quitter talk, I know.

The Pom-Pom Project

Holiday Pom-Pom Décor

In the winter of 2020, in the middle of a pandemic, something changed. I finally gave in to my yarn yearnings, bought some plain old yarn, and started to make pom-poms. I don’t know why. It was something to do I guess. I made them for all the windows. For the manel. For picture frames. I made a black and red one for our tree at work. I even sent some to friends and colleagues. There were pom-poms everywhere!! It was delightful! It also reignited my desire to give crochet another try.

I had befriended yarn again so it was time to pick up a hook and make something. But as the disaster danced in the back of my brain, reminding me of my failure, I knew that this time I had take a different approach.

Try Again

Learning from my past mistake of jumping in blindly with no direction or plan, or clue, I decided that if I wanted to learn this for real, I needed to start with the basics. So I found a pattern labeled easy and gave it a try. It was not too bad. The pattern was easy to follow. I successfully made a hat but I still made many mistakes. I used yarn that was a little hard to work with and did not use the right sized hook. But, despite that, I did create a hat. A too big, lopsided hat. Still basking in the afterglow of a semi-success, I turned to YouTube and found a video tutorial for a “simple” octopus. The tutorial was good. After a bit of struggle and some rewatching over and over, I made an an octopus! Like the hat, it was a little wonky and filled with mistakes but, it was were what it was supposed to be. It was at that moment I decided, I could crochet! I was now a hooker! OK, not really but I had made it further than I ever had before. I had some confidence and more yarn!

Taking the Big Step

After my two successful projects I wanted more. Since it was the holiday break in the middle of a pandemic, we could not really go anywhere, I started playing around with a few more simple projects. I made three more octopi and a few gauge swatches. The day after Christmas I decided that if I really wanted to do this, I needed to go big. My mind drifted back to those temperature blankets I had admired so many years ago. I decided that having a year long project to focus on would be a great way for me to practice my skills and get better. I was right. (If you want to learn more about the blanket project, you can read about it here.) Long story short – I kept with it over the course of 2021 and completed the blanket! The coolest thing was to see how my skill changed during the year. The beginning of the blanket was a hot mess. The edges were terrible and there were so many dropped stitches. But, I got better and better the more I did it every day. Seeing my skills improve gave me the confidence to try other things and keep learning!

How its Going

Over that past year, I have gone from the creator of wonky things to the creator of slightly less wonky yet beautiful in their own way things. Since that first hat twelve months ago I have made five blankets, one pillow, three pairs of fingerless gloves, a cardigan, (yes, a cardigan!! Who would have thought?) two wraps, six scarves, three hats, a dog snood, twenty mug cozies, a dice bag, a fox, a sting ray, a water molecule, some stars, some skulls, some Christmas trees and a hyperbolic pseudosphere. Whew. It has been a busy year. I do not even want to know how many hours of video tutorials I have watched or patterns I have tried to decipher. It has all been worth it. This time was different. I approached it like like an educator. I identified my objective, found the resources that would support my goal and I made things. Over and over again.

How its Going

It Ain’t Nothin’ Unless You Learn Something

I have learned so much and am really proud of how far I have come. It has been fun to challenge myself with different projects and techniques. With any new hobby or skills there are things you learn as you put in the time to move from beginner to…er… less of a beginner. Some of these lessons are specific to crocheting such as the difference between a signal crochet and a double or why it is important to write down which hook you used if you are going to pause a project. (Don’t ask me how I know. Just know that I know.) But, some of the lessons we learn along the way can be applied more broadly. So what did I learn as I hooked my way through 2021. Well, I’m glad you asked. Here are some of the things I have learned on this journey.

First and foremost, don’t let past failures, challenges, or mistakes stop you from trying again. I say that all the time. I’m surprised I let a failed attempt define me as a crafter. If you really want to do it, try again. Only this time find the resources and tools that will help you be successful. I could not have done this without all of the great YouTubers out there doing demo videos. Thank you, fellow crochet people!

Nest, don’t be afraid to start. Some time projects seem so big and overwhelming that you don’t even know how to start. Crochet a yearly temperature blanket. Wow – that is a lot of work. But not when you break it down into single days for about 15 minutes a day. That makes it much easier to attack! Make a cardigan. What? I never thought I would be able to make a cardigan. As I was working on rectangular blankets I could not even imagine making something wearable. But, I found a great pattern that broke it down into easy to follow steps and one week later, I had a wearable. (The pattern was the Kami Cardi by TL Yarn Crafts.Check out her stuff. It is amazing!) Breaking it down into pieces helped my get over the overwhelming idea of the finished project. Take it one step at a time.

Image from NASA.gov Hubble Space Telescope – https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/hubble/multimedia/index.html

Going back to failures – just because you made it, doesn’t mean you need to like it or keep it. Frogging is a crocheter’s best friend. Made a mistake? Frog it. Made something weird and ugly? Frog it. In the world of crochet, “frogging” means to rip out stitches. (Yes, I use crochet slang now.) Remember my first wonky hat? Well, it was kind of unwearable so, I frogged it. It is now art of a beautiful blanket in my office. It was hard to frog that first piece. All I could think about was how all the time I put into making it was wasted. But really, isn’t it wasted if the hat just sat there unloved? Frogging is not admitting failure but correcting a wrong or giving something new life. Speaking of past failures – that pink and blues eyelash monster might be just what I need to create a crochet version of the above Hubble Telescope image. I look forward to frogging that thing and using it to make something new and (hopefully) beautiful. Bit, if it doesn’t turn out, no worries, just frog it. This is becoming my second favorite F word.

It was a Crochet Christmas this year!

And finally, it is ok to pause a project and start something new. Blame my weird brain but I get bored with big projects. As soon as something becomes repetitive my brain finds something shinny to focus on instead. I found that taking a break from a big project to complete a small quick project gives me the break I need to continue. It’s ok to have multiple projects going at a time. Give yourself permission to project hop. (Just remember to write down your hook size before you move on. Again, trust me on that one.)

The End?

Well, that post is way longer than I expected. But, I guess I was trying to reflect on 365+ days of my crochet journey. There was a lot to cover. Big thank you to all my IRL and social media friends who have suffered through the MANY pictures of the various projects and all of my talk about yarn. I appreciate all of the support this past year as I tried something new. This is not the end of my journey but the start. I have so many projects I want to try (and so much yarn)!!

Resources

If you are thinking about taking your own crochet journey, I support you. Do it! It’s a fun hobby. Oh – and my fitness app counts my hand movements as exercise. So, bonus!! As one newbie to another, here are some of my favorite resources for learning.

  • TL Yarn Crafts – patters and tips. Her videos are what really helped my with technique. She also has great Tunisian Crochet tutorials.
  • Ravelry – Join this free community for so many patterns and to connect with others who are just as passionate for the craft.
  • Bag-O-Day Crochet – Watch her videos for tutorials and yarn reviews.
  • Alt Knots – Do you need you dark soul but still want to crochet? Try Alt Knots. She puts the spooky in spooktacular crochet videos.
  • Jonah’s Hands – This kid is amazing! He has great tutorials and is a joy to watch.

Have fun hooking!

Taking the Bite Out of Failure

Epic Fail

I have failed. I have totally failed at my goal to start 2019 off right by blogging twice a week. Here we are three months in and I’m writing my first blog post of the year. Fail.

So, I thought it fitting that I recover from my failure with a blog post about failure. Part of the reason for my radio silence is because some new projects have been brewing. The first quarter of the year has been filled with new initiatives, new ideas, and new experiences. (Don’t worry, I’ll fill you in on some of them in future blog posts.) My favorite new project is a podcast about failure. Failure Bites.

Failure Bites

The Failure Bites Podcast, our latest NIU STEAM podcast, features successful people telling their stories of a difficult experience that helped them grown and learn. This podcast was the brainchild of my colleague, Kim Likier. Our team had been talking about the role of failure in learning from some time. We incorporate Failure-Based Learning into much of what we do. Kim suggested that we create a podcast that highlights personal stories of failure and success. A few collaborative meetings later and voila! Failure Bites was born.

We all have a failure story to tell. I told mine a year or so ago in a blog post for Coaching for Geeks. (You can read my failure story here.)  I found the process very therapeutic. It was actually interesting to look at that experience through a lens of growth instead of failure. Our goal with this project is to celebrate the role that failure plays in success. We want to change the mindset that failing at something means you are a failure. It is the exact opposite. Failure and reflection are how we learn and grow. You can’t grow if you don’t take risks. When you take risks, you could fail. In this podcast, we are exploring the connection between failure and growth through personal stories.

We are four episodes in and so far I am loving this project. It has been truly inspiring to hear people from all over and from so many different backgrounds and fields talk about personal triumphs and the failures or challenges that got them there.

Listen to the most recent episode featuring filmmaker Tom Gustafson from Speak Productions.  Tom tells his story of the challenges he faced making his first feature film. It was great to talk to Tom. He is my younger brother and I am truly inspired by all he and his partner have accomplished. I know that it has not been an easy road.

Fail Forward

This whole project was a risk. We could have (and still could) fail. But that’s OK. Even if we get one person to think about failure differently, we have succeeded.

We have some great upcoming episodes in the queue. We’ll hear from a hugely successful author and an award-winning teacher. There are other new episodes in the works featuring some very exciting guests. We will also weave in some psychology experts to help us understand the effects of failure on our brain.

You can find Failure Bites on all of your favorite podcast platforms including iTunes, Stitcher, and SoundCloud.

Please subscribe and leave a comment. We would love to hear if one of the stories resonated with you or inspired you to keep going or take a risk. We would also love to hear your story.

So, take the bite out of failure. Take a risk and make a mistake. You might learn something new.

 

360 Images Made Easy with Google Cardboard Camera

I have lamented before about how I do not have a 360o camera. In fact, I complained about it extensively in my Google VR Tour Creator post. It makes it difficult to hop on the 360o image bandwagon and create VR experiences. However, I did find that the Google Cardboard Camera app that helps to satisfy my 360o cravings.

App Overview

The Google Cardboard Camera is a very simple app that allows you to create 360o images with or without sound. These images are saved to your device, or in Google Photos so you can use them in other applications such as Google VR Tour Creator. This app is available for both Android and Apple products.

For a free app using your phone’s camera and not a real 360o camera, these are not bad. When you take a picture, a center line guides you as you rotate to capture your surroundings. If you go too fast, the app will tell you too slow down. When complete, you have a super panoramic image.

Using my phone’s camera, the center of the image looks pretty good, not a lot of distortion or vertical banding. However, it doesn’t capture a really wide angle top to bottom. So, it is not true 360o, more like 270o. You can see my full image below.

360 view of Chicago on Columbus
360 view of Chicago on Columbus

When viewed through a Google Cardboard or other VR viewer, it looks pretty cool.

My VR View
My VR View

In the Classroom

Your students will really enjoy this app. It is a great tool for them to get started with creating their own virtual field trips. Using their devices they can quickly and easily take pictures and then use them in other applications.

If you are looking for a high quality 360o camera alternative, this is obviously not it. If you are looking for a free tool to get you started in creating 360o images and VR, then this is most certainly something to try.

Create 3D Scans on your Phone with Qlone

Qlone is an app that allows you to create 3D scans of real objects with your phone or mobile device. Once you’ve scanned an object you can modify your 3D model using in-app tools and then save or export it to other applications. It is fast and simple to use. Check out their overview video to help you get started.

 

Pros and Cons

I was excited to find this app and get started making some 3D scans. Overall it is a cool tool. However, like everything in life, there are pros and there are cons.

Pros

In-app editing tools
In-app editing tools. Yes, Poor Rainbow Dash did not scan well.

  • Free app for iOS and Android.
  • Scanning mat is free and you can print it in various sizes to accommodate your items.
  • Scanning dome guides you through a complete scan. Thanks to the dome, you know that you have scanned every inch of your item.
  • In-app editing tools allow you to modify and refine your 3D model.
  • Save and edit your model in your phone.
  • Models can be exported as multiple file formats including OBJ, STL, PLY, and X3D.
  • Models can be shared or used in other applications.

Cons

Export your models.
Export your models.

  • On older tech, the scans are a little rough. See poor Rainbow Dash above and my pointy-headed penguin.
  • It takes a little bit of practice to calibrate and use the scanning dome. Again, my difficulty could have something to do with the age of my tech. However, once you get the hang of it, it is pretty easy.
  • In-app credit is required to export certain file formats. Exports can cost between $.99 and $9.99, according to the Google Play Store. This isn’t a huge con. An app has to have a sustainable business model so you can’t fault them for charging for some features. There is a lot of value in the free features so paying to export some file formats is not a bad thing.

Classroom Ideas

For me, the pros outweigh the cons, especially when you start thinking about all the ways you can use it in the classroom.

  • Creating 3D Models – Get students thinking in 3D virtual space. They can practice scanning and modifying their models.
  • Explainer Video – Create a 3D scan and export as an mp4. Use a video editing tool to add voice-over or to edit it into other footage.
  • Online Art Gallery – Have students scan their 3D IRL artwork. Save the file as a GIF and create a web page that includes their art GIF and an artist statement.
  • Upload to other applications – Create 3D models that can be used in other AR apps such as MERGE Cube Object Viewer.
  • Prototyping – Build object prototypes out of clay or other materials. Then scan it and export the model for 3D printing.

This is a short list. I’m sure there are lots of different ways you could use a 3D scanning tool in your classroom.

Read this article about middle school class that partnered with a local museum to create a virtual exhibit using Qlone and MERGE Cube tools.

Have you used Qlone in your classroom? What have your students done with their scans?

Learn Genetics through Dragon Breeding

I remember my high school biology class. Being fascinated by dominant and recessive traits such as eye color, and tongue rolling. I remember learning about how an Austrian monk named Gregor Mendel experimented on pea plants to learn about inherited traits and genetics. It was one of the cooler biology topics. You know what would have made it cooler? DRAGONS!

Well, thanks to SpongeLab, your students can now explore Mendelian Genetics by breeding their own dragons with Dragon Breeder.

Rise of the Dragons

Genetics Lab
Genetics Lab

In Dragon Breeder, you are an apprentice breeder, breeding different types of dragons to earn rewards and hone your skills. There are two types of gameplay, campaign-based and free play.  The campaign is a story based game that moves your through the journal of Esse Ipsum as he analyzes the genetic makeup of different body traits such as body shape, head shape, and wing type. As you move through the story, you receive work orders and take on specific breeding challenges. You earn rewards as you successfully complete challenges. Use those rewards to purchase skills and level up. In free play you practice your breeding skills by breeding and selling dragons with different traits. There is also sky mode where you fly a dragon around the sky looking for chests of rewards.

Learning Tools

Tutorial - The Dragon Breeding Handbook
Tutorial – The Dragon Breeding Handbook

Breeding dragons is not easy. Luckily, there is a tutorial level that walks you through the process. The tutorial level is easy to follow and works to build your understanding of both the game and basic genetics. I would recommend walking through the 8 tutorial levels before starting the game. They are very helpful. I only completed up to level 4 and then started the game. It was fun to click around and see what you can do in the game. However, I think I would have been more productive if I would have finished the entire tutorial.

Worth the Play

It has been a long time since I explored Mendelian Genetics. I think high school me would have enjoyed playing this game. Because, really, who doesn’t like dragons? The gameplay is a little clunky but the game is in beta. Also, I didn’t play through all the tutorial levels before going into campaign mode. So, that is on me.

If you are teaching genetics, give this a try. It might be what you need to hook your reluctant geneticists.

 

CoSpaces Edu: Virtual Reality Builder

I want to build amazing worlds. I’m a little intimidated by virtual world builders and 3D modeling tools. Fortunately for me, and other aspiring world builders, there are new tools out there that are easy to use and can help us create our spaces. CoSpaces Edu is one of those tools.

CoSpaces Edu Overview

I want to start this post by saying that this tool is amazing. There are so many features that I cannot cover all of them. I’m going to try and provide a basic overview that answers the question – What the heck is CoSpaces Edu? Hopefully, that sparks your interest and you can take it from there. There is just so much to cover on this application. I spent about an hour playing around so I know I did not uncover everything it can do. I also only explored the free version, not the pro version. My overview will be limited but hopefully helpful.

What the Heck is CoSpaces Edu?CoSpaces EDU

CoSpaces Edu is a virtual reality world builder for the classroom. According to their website, CoSpaces Edu is a place where teachers and students can create virtual reality experiences and animate them using code. To learn more, read through their brochure.

CoSpaces is browser based but you can also download an app for your mobile device so you can view your creations.

To give it a try, set up a free basic account. This account will allow you to create two virtual spaces. If you want to create more spaces and unlock a whole host of advanced features, upgrade to the Pro plan. The Pro plan starts at $3.50 per seat with a minimum of 30 seats. If I were teaching on a regular basis, I would consider this. It seems like a reasonable price for all of the features you unlock. There is even a new MERGE Cube Pro add-on coming soon. Read more about this add-on over on the CoSpaces blog. That could be the tipping point for me. Learn about the pricing plans on the Plans page.

Key Features

CoSpaces is a pretty powerful, yet easy to use VR creation tool. As I said earlier, there are too many features to list in this one blog post, so I’ll list some of my favorites. Tutorial Welcome

  • Support and tutorials – Getting started with creating VR experiences can be intimidating. When you first sign-in to CoSpaces, you are launched into a great tutorial. I walked through it in about 10 minutes and was ready to make my first space. The Welcome space takes you step-by-step through creating your own space and working in a 3D environment. Don’t skip this. It is very helpful.
  • Easy to use Toolbox – I created my first space in a matter of minutes. I set the environment. Then added a bunny and made the bunny eat. I needed a tree so I added it and changed the scale. I then added a flying butterfly and a pink backpack. Because, well, why not. The drag and drop interface made it easy to add. The grid and 3D guides also make it easy to get your assets right where you need them.

CoSpace Bunny
The toolbox as I created my first bunny.

  • Class Management – CoSpaces is made for educators. From your dashboard, you set up classes and manage assignments. Students join your class using a join code. I really like that CoSpaces is COPA and FERPA certified. Good to know.
  • Resources and Support – If you have read any of my other posts, you know that I am a stickler for high-quality resources and support. For me, a tech tool is not useful if it does not include good support resources. CoSpaces passes the HoPinkTech support test. There are some great onboarding resources including a handbook and tutorials. There is a nice bank of lesson plans for STEM/Coding, Social Science, ELA, and Arts and Media. Not a huge list but some great ideas to get you started. They also have some IRL goodies for your classroom such as posters and student certificates. On the support side, there is a Tech Check to make sure you are using the right tech, FAQs, a list of teacher Ambassadors, and a user forum that looks pretty active.
  • Gallery – All registered users have access to the Gallery. Here you can browse through VR spaces created by other users. It is cool to see what folks have created. A good place to get some inspiration.

Bottom Line

As I stated earlier, there is too much to this tool to fit into a short blog post. I’ve only scratched the surface. The bottom line is that CoSpaces Edu is a great way to get started in VR creation. The free basic account gives you enough features to explore so you can decide if you want to start using it in your class. It makes VR creation accessible and not so scary. Believe me, VR creation is scary for me. I am excited about the new integration with MERGE Cube. That is a feature to watch. I’m looking forward to seeing what teachers and students create.

I’ll close with a short virtual tour of my Bunny Tree space. Let the little butterfly and sweet bunny take you to a relaxing space while you wonder what’s in the backpack and why it was left under the tree. Enjoy!

Make your classroom eLibrary Epic! – Epic! Books for Kids

This post goes out to all you bibliophiles out there who can’t seem to get enough books for your classroom. Epic! is a digital library with, according to the website, “over 25,000 books, videos, quizzes, and more!”

Build Your eLibraryEpic

Anyone can create an account and start reading some of today’s most popular picture books and early reader chapter books.

For parents, the first 30-days is free. After that, it is $7.99 a month – which includes no ads and no in-app purchases.

For educators and librarians, registration is free. This comes with a whole host of great resources.

Epic! for Educators and Librarians

I was so impressed by all the resources available for educators and librarians on Epic! Here’s a quick rundown of my favorites.

  • Class management tools – Educators can invite their students to their elibrary using a class code, copy/paste in a class roster or import a roster from Google Classroom. From your class roster, you can assign books and quizzes and share information with your student’s families. Your class roster also lets you monitor student progress on assignments and quizzes.
  • Curated Library – You can build your own custom collections by exploring the entire library. You can share your collections with the educator community or browse through collections from other community members. I have already started building my Unicorn collection. Not only do they have some of the newest titles, I  even found one of my own childhood favorites – Morgan and Me. The Serendipity Book by Stephen Cosgrove. Yay!
  • Vast Collection of Media – Epic! is not only books. You can also find videos, audiobooks, and read-aloud books.
  • Integrated assessments – You can create quizzes right in the books to check for student comprehension. Go to your dashboard to see how your students did on their quizzes.

    Epic! Resources for educators.
    Epic! Resources for educators.
  • Resources – I am most impressed by the resources available for educators. Everything you need to get started is included right there on the website, including a Quick-Start Guide, full guidebook,  a parent letter, a Back-to-School presentation, lesson plans, classroom decorations, and (my personal favorite) the Readerpillar! Look at how cute it is. Your students will love reading and adding to the Readerpillar.

If you have a classroom and struggle to keep your class library up to date with new books or you want to create collections based on the ever-changing interests of your students, then Epic! is the eLibrary for you. Head over to Epic! to create an account and start building your Readerpillar today!

Epic! might just be what you need to help cure your book addition. Ok, not really, we know that that can’t be cured. Just go read.

Interactive Lessons with Nearpod

I create a lot of presentations and facilitate a lot of learning sessions. I’m always looking for new ways to spice up my sessions and engage my students. Nearpod is a web application that might be the answer to my engagement challenge.

Nearpod Overview

I’ve been hearing about Nearpod for quite some time now but have not had an opportunity to explore it. I feel like a am a little late to the Nearpod party. Better late than never, right?

Nearpod is basically a library of interactive presentations that you can use with students. You, the teacher, can launch a presentation and present as usual. Your students can join your presentation on their device by using your presentation join code. Once they join, they can follow along on their device. As you advance, their version advances too.

In addition to the regular slides, you can include interactive slides for your students. This includes open-ended questions, quizzes, slide they can draw on, interactive simulations, VR tours, and more. As you move through your slides, your students can respond to questions so you can do an on the fly check for understanding. This is what excites me about Nearpod. Below you see an example of one of the interactive slide. I’ve added the Draw It feature so my learners can respond to my question by adding hand-drawn notes.

A Draw It slide from my Nearpod presentation.
A Draw It slide from my Nearpod presentation.

Features

Nearpod has many great features.

Lesson Library
Lesson Library

  • Content Library – You do not have to create all of your content from scratch. There is an extensive library of content. You can explore the bank of free and for purchase lessons, preview content, and save the ones you want to your personal library. Lessons have been created by Nearpod partners such as PhET and iCivics as well as Nearpod educators.
  • Customize and Create – You can customize lessons from the library or create your own. I uploaded one of my presentations and it was super easy to add interactive slides.
  • VR Integration – You can add VR field trips right into your presentation. Students can explore 360 images and then respond to questions.
  • Student Reports – As your students interact with your content, all their responses are displayed on your dashboard. You can view reports to see how your students are understanding the content.
  • PD and Support –  For me, one of the most important features is available support for teachers. Nearpod does not disappoint. There is a great, self-paced tutorial. I walked through it and found it easy to follow and clear. In addition, on their resource page, you can join live webinars, watch on-demand webinars or watch one of the many video tutorials. I love that the videos tutorials are only 60 seconds. You can also join the Nearpod community on Facebook or get tons of ideas on the Nearpod blog.
  • Sign-up – You can use your existing credentials from Google or MS O365 to create an account. Or you can sign-up with your email.
  • Pricing – Nearpod has several tiers of pricing.  You can find them outlined on their pricing page. It is free to sign-up and get started. There are also several free lessons you can use, with many more that you can purchase. Lessons seem to run from $2.99 and up. With a free account, you can create your own lessons and add some of the interactive features. Others, such as the Draw It tool, are only available with a paid account. However, you can sign up for a free trial to give it a test run.
  • Notes – It looks like there is a new feature that allows your students to take notes on their own device as you give your presentation.

As you can see there are many great features to Nearpod. I know that I have missed many.

I’m excited to give it a try as part of my professional development workshops and with the students we work with. Are you using Nearpod? How do your students like?

Get Your Lists Together with Microsoft Planner

I’m part of a great team. Our team has a lot of projects. We are enthusiastic, full of energy, ideas, and different working styles. We work together to develop content, plan events, deliver workshops, build partnerships, inspire learners and do our best not to be overwhelmed by task lists and deadlines and still like each other at the end of the day. Not an easy task – but we do it pretty well. I’ve been looking for a tool to help keep us organized and is SUPER easy to use.

My current task management experimental tool is Microsoft Planner. So far, not bad. We are midway through one major project and I have to say it has helped keep us on track.

Planner Overview

Microsoft Planner is available as part of the Office 365 suite. It is one of those undiscovered apps hidden in the Explore All App section of your dashboard. Basically, Planner is a task list tool. You can create task lists by project, assign tasks to team members, track team communication, and manage deadlines. It is easy to use and easy to see if your project is on track or way behind schedule.

Check out this overview video from Microsoft to learn more.

Pros and Cons

What I like about this tool…

  • Integrates easily with all my Microsoft applications.
  • Easy to set up a new project and new tasks can be added at any time.
  • Assign tasks to one or more team members.
  • Attach related documents to tasks and add comments to tasks. Ideas and conversations do not get lost in email!! Yay!
  • View tasks by due date. There are three ways to view your task lists: in buckets, by progress, and on the calendar. Makes it easy to see project progress.
  • Pushes communication through email. You do not have to open the app to see the current discussion around tasks.
  • Create and manage multiple projects.

Things I’m not crazy about…

  • You cannot add team members who are not part of your organization. At least I have not figured out how to add them yet.
  • No Gantt chart.  I love me a good Gantt chart. For me, it is the easiest way to view a project. There are some nice charting tools in Planner. You can see an overall view of tasks, coded by progress color. You can also view task progress organized by buckets and by team members. This is helpful. The calendar view is also neat and kind of Gantt chart-like – but, it is not a Ganntt chart.
  • The tool is only as good as your team is at using it. Don’t expect miracles here. This tool will not magically keep your team on task and just because you have a planning tool, does not mean that they will use a planning tool. The trick is to find a tool that is not just one more thing to do but instead is actually helpful. Out of all the digital tricks I have tried, Microsoft Planner has been the most successful. I’m hoping that the more we use it, the better we will be at using it.

If you manage projects and are looking for an easy to use tool to keep your team organized, give Microsoft Planner a try. It might just be exactly what your team needs to take them from merely functioning to super-awesome productive!

 

Create Interactive Lessons from any Web Page with InsertLearning

The internet is filled with amazing content. I am always assigning web articles, blog posts, and other web content to my students. I hope they read it deeply and critically think about what they are reading but, I can’t really be sure.

Insert, InsertLearning, formally known as DocentEDU.

Add Interactivity

InsertLearning is a Chrome extension that lets you embed interactive elements, such as discussion questions, multiple choice questions, and other media into any web page. Below is an example of a web page with highlighted text and a discussion question.

Common Core in Action 10 Visual Literacy Strategies Edutopia
Highlight text and add questions to any site using the toolbar.

You can even embed other media such as YouTube videos, Google Slides presentations, or anything with an embed code.

Common Core in Action 10 Visual Literacy Strategies Edutopia (1)
YouTube Video embedded in a website.

There is a long list of apps that can be added to a web page. I’m sure all your favorites are there. Such as FlipGrid, Thinglink, Edpuzzle, and more. The complete list is available once you have created your free account. It even includes easy to follow tutorial videos like the one below.

As you can see, it is super easy to add interactive elements and there are several templates that can help you based on the type of webpage you are using. For example, if I am assigning a current event news article, InsertLearning has sample lessons and discussion questions. Take a look here.

Key Features

There are tons of great features with this tool. Here are just a few.

  • Free access to all features –  InsertLearning is a free Chrome extension. With the free version, you can create an account, create 5 lessons, manage unlimited students, and use ALL the features, not just a limited set. If you want to create more than 5 lessons, there are a few tiers of pricing. An individual teacher can add unlimted lesson creation for only $40 a year. Here is more information on the pricing packages.

    common-core-in-action-10-visual-literacy-strategies-edutopia-2.png
    Easily assign lessons to multiple classes.
  • Assign and Manage Lessons – The dashboard is simple to use. You can create classes and assign lessons to one or multiple classes. Students join classes using a join code. You can even push your lesson out using Google Classroom or via an assignment link. You can also manage student scores through your dashboard.
  • Student Dashboards – Students can use their Google login to create a student account. Once they are signed in, they can use the class code to join the class. They now have a list of all the lessons assigned.
  • Tutorial videos – Ther is a substantial video tutorial library to help you make the most of all the features. You can find them on YouTube under DocentEDU. I already mentioned that this tool connects with many of our other favorites. The video library has videos that will help you incorporate those tools into your lessons.
  • Teacher Ambassadors – InsertLearning was developed by two classroom teachers. They have also created a community of educators called Ambassadors.  It seems like a wonderful support community. You can even become an Ambassador by running your own PD session. InsertLearning supplies all the training materials.

I am excited to start using this in my classes. My courses are mainly online and I’m always looking for discussion board alternatives. I think this has a lot of potential to add engagement to my online readings assignments.

Thank you InsertLearning for a powerful online learning tool!