Monday, December 14, 2015

H&R Block Budget Challenge: Get your class involved!

I first posted back in July about the H&R Block Budget Challenge and included links to financial literacy sites to use in the classroom. There is still time to enroll your high school or high-school age homeschool class in this great contest which helps students learn and, more importantly, practice personal financial literacy, as well as offering teachers and students a chance to win grants and scholarships!  

The H&R Block Budget Challenge immerses high-school students in the life of a recent college graduate who has been working for six months. Each participant receives a virtual salary and must make smart budgeting decisions regarding expenses, such as rent, utilities, car payments and more. Students are challenged to balance current and future financial needs and demonstrate resourcefulness, understanding and practical application of financial concepts

There are six rounds of the H&R Block Budget Challenge, and there are still three rounds left to participate in, so sign your class up today! The closing dates for registration for the remaining three simulations are January 7, January 21, or February 4, 2016.

The H&R Block Budget Challenge encourages students to learn personal finance in a fun, engaging way while competing against other classrooms and students for $3 million in classroom grants and student scholarships. These awards include 60 chances for classroom grants up to $5000, 132 chances of student scholarships of $20,000, and a grand prize student scholarship of $100,000!

Since I believe financial literacy is one of the important literacies our students should attain before they graduate high school, I have blogged about ideas to enhance this across the curriculum, and I consider financial literacy one of the thirteen essential literacies. 

The H&R Block Web site also includes Budget Challenge lesson plans and student activities educators can use in the classroom. The H&R Block Budget Challenge and these lesson plans target Common Core standards for English language arts and mathematics, as well as personal finance benchmarks established by the Council for Economic Education (CEE) and the Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy


Once students have completed the H&R Budget Challenge, you can continue the financial literacy instruction by the use of infographics. After participating in the H&R Block Budget Challenge, the students will have the knowledge base to determine the usefulness, validity, and information included in these types of infographics. In addition, you can have students re-create the infographics by including new data, a different focus, or research data they have collected. (Additional information on how to use infographics in the classroom may be found on my Web page here.)

Here are some infographics and Google search links to get students started.

Sign your class up today for the H&R Block Budget Challenge

This is a sponsored post on behalf of We Are Teachers and H&R Block
I received compensation for this post, however all opinions stated are my own.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The National Education Technology Plan 2016

The new National Education Technology Plan was launched today. Having worked on the 2000 version of the plan, I was anxious to read the document entitled "Future Ready Learning: Reimagining the Role of Technology in Education".


The #NETP16 provides a current look at successful technology practices in schools across the country and includes five major categories -- learning, teaching, leadership, assessment, and infrastructure. There were no real surprises for me in the document, and I know of many schools who have already met many of the goals and recommendations outlined in the document.


However, for those schools and districts who are still working on embedding technology more meaningfully into teaching, learning, and leadership, the NETP includes short vignettes that can help continue the conversation around technology in their schools. And, with a robust bibliography of resources and people consulted for these overviews, the NETP will allow those who are in the planning stage to contact the subjects of the vignettes and ask questions (or read their blog) to find out more about the steps they took to move ahead in this area.


The NETP document is arranged in a fashion that make it easy for all members of the education community to understand what the current best practices are in the use of technology to support teaching and learning. Higher education faculty can use the NETP to plan their instruction for pre-service teachers. Pre-service teachers can use ideas from one of the vignettes and conduct an action research project. School and district leaders can use the NETP to help board members, parents, and community members to better understand what works in today's classroom. Teachers can take each chapter of the NETP and turn it into a PLC to discuss what is best for their school, grade level, and classroom.


There were a few items that jumped out at me, probably because they were ideas and thoughts that I am passionate about. The first was a new phrase to me-- "the digital use divide". The student use of technology for creation rather than consumption is something that is near and dear to my heart, and that is what this phrase is all about.



The second was found in the chapter on assessment. The overview of next generation digital assessments becoming more project-based and meaningful for the student is exciting! With more powerful back-end hardware and software and robust infrastructure in schools, I believe the time is finally here that this will become a reality.

School districts should consider combining the study of The National Education Technology Plan 2016 and the New Media Consortium's K-12 Horizon Report, which provides a five-year out look into innovations in technology that can impact teaching and learning. By combining best practices with exciting new ideas, I believe the use of technology in the classroom to support teaching and learning in a meaningful and innovative way will become the norm and and help our students get ready for whatever awaits them in the future!


Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Presentation tips and tricks

This article originally appeared in the Discovery Education blog "Kathy Schrock's Katch of the Month" in December 2015 and is re-posted here with permission.

Discovery Education Streaming includes tons of resources that can be used by teachers and students for projects and presentations. In addition to editable videos, there are images, clipart, and songs, sound effects and other audio clips. To make a presentation get noticed and stand out, there are some basic methodologies you should think about.
Background colors you pick to use in your presentation can negate your message or make it difficult for your viewers to learn from your information. Lynell Burmark, in her book entitled “Visual Literacy: Learn to See, See to Learn“, provides the research behind the use of color and its impact on the viewer. Here is a quick chart of this research.
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Remember to think carefully about the background colors you pick for your presentations, highlight colors you pick for for your videos, or colors you include in an infographic!

One of my favorite videos, from the Teaching Channel site, includes information about basic video camera use in the classroom to improve practice. You can watch the five-minute video to learn more, but following is an overview of the great tips that are shared and apply to use of a video camera in any situation!
  1. Use a tripod or hold the camera close to your body.
  2. Don’t shoot towards a window. Either move the camera or move the subject.
  3. Don’t forget to press the record button!
  4. If you are not using an external microphone, get the camera as close as you can to the subject for the best audio.
  5. Always hold your camera in landscape mode for video or photos you are going to use in a video.
  6. Don’t pan too fast and be judicious with the use of zoom.
  7. Remember to back-up your raw footage to a computer or external drive.

There are many different recommendations for the number of words per line, lines per slide, and the size of the font on a slide or a slide inserted into a video. These are just basic suggestions, but always remember to think about the distance between the back of the room, the screen size, and the size of the projected image.
Dave Paradi, of, interpolated the size of the the text on US road signs, and came up with the following two charts with suggestions for the comfortable viewing distance based on the sizes of the screen and font. And, of course, if you know the size of the screen and the distance already, you can use the chart to determine your font size, too.
Created by Dave Paradi of
Screen Shot 2015-11-25 at 1.34.07 PM
As far as the number of words per line and lines per slide, the current trend is to use short phrases with an image to help the audience remember the content. However, the standard rule of thumb is either five lines per slide with no more than five words each (5×5 rule) or six lines with no more than six words per line (6×6 rule).
The default templates that come with slide presentation programs don’t always adhere to best practices in slide design. For instance, many of the slide templates center the title and left-align the body text. I think it looks better to have only one alignment. Either left-align the title or center the body text, but don’t mix two text alignments on the same slide.
Instead of using bullet points, think about creating a bit more space between each point on your slide. This makes it obvious where one idea starts and stops. Numbering each point, however, may be necessary if you are including instructions or steps in a procedure.

Make sure the images in your presentation look professional. Clipart is nice when presenting to younger students, but there are plenty of Creative Commons-licensed images that allow editing which can be used in a presentation to illustrate your point or expand upon the content. I suggest taking a look at the Photos For Class site. This site searches for images that include the ability to edit without giving that same license to any variation you create and the images can only be used non-commercially. Remember, students and you can use the Flickr search, Google Images search, or Bing search to limit your searches to Creative Commons licenses and just get images you want to use as-is, which are left out of the Photos For Class searchers.. However, the Photos for Class images include a great feature– the citation for the image is downloaded with the image itself! This makes if very easy for students to cite the images they use in a project. The image below illustrates what a download looks like.

There are a few major players in the video creation field. Apple’s iMovie for Mac and Adobe’s Premiere Elements for Mac and Windows are two common stand-alone programs used in schools. And, WeVideo is an often-used Web 2.0 video creation tool. Each one includes the ability to import images onto the video timeline and then apply effects to these images. One common one, called the “Ken Burns Effect” in iMovie, the “Pan and Zoom” in Adobe Premiere Elements, and “Animation” in WeVideo, allows animating of these imported images. This can help focus the viewers attention on a certain area of the image. Students should learn how to adjust the Ken Burns Effect, the Pan and Zoom Effect, and the Animation Effect to meet the needs of their intended audience. In addition, judicious use of the pan and zoom effect is recommended. Too many images zooming in and out can make a viewer dizzy!

Sunday, November 01, 2015

The common thread

This article originally appeared in the Discovery Education blog "Kathy Schrock's Katch of the Month" in November 2015 and is re-posted here with permission.

When we engage students in problem and project based learning, impact their emotions, cause them to question and think about controversial topics, and present content in the form of visuals and stories, the research shows that students more often retain content and turn it into personal knowledge. By weaving the information literacy skillset as the common thread across the content areas, students will have the foundation they need to succeed.
The common thread to make our students life-long learners is information literacy. For those of us who are “seasoned” teacher-librarians, we were trained in these skills before the Web.
In library school, we conducted “reference interviews” which is now called “articulating the information need”. We learned which reference books and other print sources to use to find information which is now called “accessing information using appropriate online search tools, such as online sites and online databases”. We tried to locate more than one overview of a topic, to compare and see if the information seemed credible — this is now considered “evaluating the quality, usefulness, and relevance of found information”. We created a bibliography which is now “ethically utilizing and citing resources”. And we presented the information we found, which is referred to nowadays as “using newly found knowledge to communicate effectively”.
There are many models of information literacy skill sets, and you may use a specific one in your school.

However, the underlying framework is always the same…


Teaching students how to develop an essential question to articulate their information need can help them narrow down and define their information need. Grant Wiggins has some great resources on what makes a good essential question.
Discovery Education Streaming has a great video clip that is appropriate for middle and high school students on using questions to define a research topic in a series entitled “Modern Research Skills for Secondary Students: Research 101”.


When students start the process of finding sources, this is a good time to teach them about the Creative Commons project which allows creators to give explicit permission to how their items may be used. These are four conditions a content creator can apply to their work with a Creative Commons license: an attribution requirement, use of the work commercially or non-commercially, allowing the work to be edited or not, and whether the user needs to license their new version in the same way. Take the time to teach the students about each of these.
The big three image search engines have recently made it very easy to find CC-licensed images. The options are located all in the same place in each of them!
In Google, after you do a search, click on SEARCH TOOLS, you get another menu, and pick “LABELED FOR REUSE”
In Flickr, after you conduct a search, you see the CREATIVE COMMONS menu right on the menu bar.
And, in Bing, after you limit your search to images, you see the LICENSE option right on the menu bar.


I have been passionate about critical evaluation of online information for over twenty years, so have tons of resources by others and myself on a Web page to support the teaching of this skill. Students need to practice with identifying authority and bias in online information, and, once they have formally practiced with a prescribed process, they will internalize the things they need to look for and be all set!
There is also a simple handout available that students can keep close by!
Discovery Education Streaming, in the video series “Modern Research Skills for Secondary Students: Research 101”, includes a short video which covers the topic of evaluating the information you find.


One way for students to stay organized and chunk the information they are gathering is with curation tools. These are tools that allow students to easily gather items of interest, arrange them, annotate them, and access them from anywhere and on any device. There are different categories of curation and many tools to meet the needs of each.
Social bookmarking tools allow students and teachers to save the links to their findings online and others can both view these links and “take” them to their own social bookmark account. Two popular sites for this are Diigo and Delicious.
Clipping tools are multi-purpose tools that allows students to capture text, URL’s, images and more and organize them in the way they see fit. Two popular clipping tools are OneNote and Evernote, which have clients that run on both computers and mobile devices and sync across these devices.
Aggregating is collecting items that have an RSS feed, like blog posts and podcasts, automatically into a single tool once a new blog entry or podcast are posted online. Students should both know how to aggregate information FROM others and offer their items for gathering BY others. The two most common tools for this are Feedly which is for text and it called a “newsreader” and iTunes for aggregating podcasts.
Gathering for curation is a manual task, which involves the students capturing graphical representations of their links, to help them remember what the link contained and putting these in an organized structure. Two popular tools for this are Pinterest and Symbaloo, both of which have computer and mobile apps.


Even if students are using Creative Commons-licensed images, they need to learn how to cite their sources. I have developed an MLA-teaching scaffold that can move students through the process at each of the grade levels from 1-6.
Discovery Education Streaming includes twenty resources to help teach about the citing of resources. These include


After students have completed their project, there are many ways they can reflect about the process. Fro instant, the entire class can share to a Padlet page.
Or, for a more personal place to reflect, students can use the Penzu online journal or mobile app.

By weaving the information literacy skills throughout the curriculum and purposefully providing students with practice, these skills will become an integral part of the “cloth” that makes up the student literacy skill-set.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Speck Technology Cases

Those of you that know me well know I love backpacks and technology cases! And, for some reason, I especially love technology items that are pink. I have always thought the juxtaposition of hard-core technology hardware and the color pink was interesting!

When I read Speck had released two road-warrior backpacks, the MightyPack and MightyPack Plus, and they were available in a backpack that was "Zinfandel Pink/Pomegranate Pink, Polor Grey, and Glitter Pink", I wrote and requested a review copy. I received a note from the Speck rep, asking me what device models I use, and I received a (mostly) pink present in the mail yesterday!

MightyPack pink backpack, 15" pink SeeThru MBP protector, 12" clear MB protector, and pink iPad 2 cover

I have used Speck hardshell cases on many of my computers over the years and I have always loved them. They kept my laptops in pristine condition, even with all my traveling. And my first iPad Air slim case was a Speck case. I am a minimalist when it comes to protecting my technology devices. I like slim and lightweight protection.


The MightyPack backpacks come in two models-- MightyPack ($79.95) and MightPack Plus ($99.95). The MightyPack (pictured above) is 17.9" H x 6.3" D x 11.8" W and weighs 1.8 pounds. The MightyPack Plus is a little taller and deeper at 20" H x 6.7" D x 11.8" W and weighs 2.2 pounds. The difference between the two models is that the MightyPack Plus includes a TSA check-point friendly option that allows the laptop compartment to open flat for easy screening without having to remove the laptop from the case.

The other features of the two MightyPacks are similar.

The MightyPack backpack includes a hard-sided compartment at the top which is lined with fur and includes a mesh pocket, too. This is an invaluable feature for holding those items that need to be protected, such as headphones, sunglasses, cameras, and phones, as well as providing easy access to these devices when the backpack is in the airplane overhead or under the seat in front of you.

The front pocket is zippered on three sides, which provides easy access and includes one slip pocket, three mesh pockets (two-half width, one full-width), and a passthrough opening to the back compartment to allow for charging of devices. There is a nice padded grab handle at the top and the bottom and bottom corners are very padded to provide protection for the devices.

The back compartment includes dedicated padded pockets for both a laptop (up to 15") and a tablet. There are two slots for a pen and a larger stylus, and two half-width slip pockets.

The back of the MightyPack backpack is padded and has padded straps, too. One of the straps has a pocket which will fit a smaller smartphone or a snack bar. There is a small zippered pocket on one side of the MightyPack that fit my iPhone 6s+ in a slim case with some finagling. 

The one thing missing from the back of the MightyPack backpack, in my opinion as a road warrior, is a wide fabric strap to go over the handle on a piece of rolling luggage. I often need to have access to items in my backpack before taking off and after landing, and it would be nice to be able to "attach" it to the luggage so I can easily get to the items I need.


The Speck DuraFolio cases are available for both the iPad Air and the iPad Air 2 ($59.95), as well as the iPad Mini ($49.95). This slim case (0.3" in depth) includes sleep/wake magnets in the cover as well as two ways to fold it for both typing and viewing. The front cover also fold around to the back for easy one-handed reading on the iPad. It comes in various colors, but the one I received is Fuchsia Pink and White!

The bezel around the iPad is a little bit raised to protect the screen of the iPad if it is dropped on its face. In addition, the DuraFolio has met or exceeds the Military Drop Test Standard, which is a standard to determine the durability of equipment after repeated free-fall drops.

Front of Speck DuraFolio iPad Air 2 case

Back of Speck DuraFolio iPad Air 2 case

Speck DuraFolio folded for viewing at many angles

Speck DuraFolio folded for typing 


Speck is well-known for its SeeThru laptop protector cases. They make them for the Apple laptops. The one I received, the SeeThru MacBook Pro with Retina Display 15" ($49.95), comes in eleven color choices and clear. (The one for my 12" MacBook currently only comes in clear and onyx black.)

These cases are thin, sturdy, and snap-on easily to the top and the bottom of the laptop. They allow full access to all the ports on the laptops, and the bottom part of the case has rubber feet to keep your laptop safe from sliding while using it.

I have had Speck SeeThru cases for all my Mac laptops over the years. I have found that they fit nicely over a thin vinyl skin or decoration, too, if you have one of those applied to to your laptop. 

Since I am one that often sells my laptops, the Speck SeeThru cases keep the top and bottom of my laptop looking brand new!


I spent some time looking around Speck's website to see what else they offered in pink.

Pink tech cases, backpacks, and protectors are to my liking, but Speck offers great items in many colors and styles for all the newest devices, so visit their site!

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Bing in the Classroom

Microsoft  has a great new initiative for K-12 education called "Bing in the Classroom" which can help support digital literacy in schools. The program was created to do three things-- to provide a safe environment for students to learn their digital literacy skills, to offer digital literacy lesson plans for teachers, and to provide an easy way for schools to get more hardware.


Technology directors can sign up their school district for an enhanced search option for Bing that provides an ad-free search environment for the staff and students. This option eliminates the ads that usually appear when searching. It enhances privacy protection for students and teachers and includes the ability to filter adult content via SafeSearch.


The Bing in the Classroom program offers daily mini-lessons focused on search and digital literacy skills. These lessons include mapping to the Common Core Standards and have been created by the educators who are members of the Microsoft Educator Network. This network includes a collection of over 1500 lesson plans.

The lesson plans can be narrowed down by grade level, subject, the 21st century skill set, and instructional approach. Here is a sample of a search page for one of the digital literacy lesson plans.

Bing in the Classroom digital literacy lessons

Each lesson includes the learning objectives as stated in the Common Core standards, as well as an overview which contains the skills, instructional approach, Microsoft tools needed, and any required hardware. There are details to help the teacher use the lesson plan, and many lessons include an attached product, such as the Microsoft PowerPoint attached to this searching lesson. 

Sample digital literacy lesson

The PowerPoint presentation presented with the lesson above contains a teacher guide, slides to use with students with speaker notes, and a background slide about the lesson creator.

Support material for a lesson plan

In addition to these digital literacy lesson plans, Bing already has many features that make it a good choice as a district-wide search engine. Here are my favorites!

Search by "calculator" in the Bing search box to get a working calculator

Search by "unit conversion" in the Bing search box and convert almost anything

When searching Bing for images, students can limit the search to Creative Commons-licensed items

Another useful search limiter in Bing Images is to search for images that have no background


The third component of the Bing in the Classroom initiative allows those (13 years or older) who sign up for Bing Rewards, an program that allows users to earn credits while using Bing to search, to donate their credits to a school of their choice. The schools can earn free Microsoft Surface tablets through this reward program!  

Take a look at Bing in the Classroom for your schools!

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post to raise awareness for Bing in the Classroom.