Tag Archives: technology

My Screen-Free Bedroom (And the 4 Best Ways It Has Changed My Life)

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About a year ago I was reading an article in the Atlantic that quoted Arianna Huffington recommending that the bedroom to be a device-free zone. It was one of those moments in life when you’re brought up short. A time when you watch your excuses for why you live your life the way you do turn to colanders, no longer holding any water. Because if Arianna Huffington, creator of Huffington Post and Forbe’s Most Influential Woman in media can unplug before going to bed, what’s my excuse?

It was a little like the moment when I was talking to my dad and off-handedly mentioned that it has been hard to find time in the mornings or evenings to pray like I would like to, especially now that I have a kid. I said it fishing for some commiseration and empathy. Instead, my dad said, “What do you mean? Susanna Wesley had ten children and a ne’er do well husband, and everyday she would sit in the corner, throw her apron over her head, and pray. And she’s the mother of John and Charles Wesley, the mother of Methodists.”

In other words, “What’s your excuse?”

Anecdote noted. (And, while I may act kind of crusty about it, I have been finding more time for prayer since that conversation.)

In any case, life is full of solicited and unsolicited advice and interjections, and yet I’ve found that it behooves me not to be overly fast in dismissing these little (or big) nudges.

So it’s been percolating, this idea of giving up screens in the bedroom. We don’t own a TV, preferring instead to ingest our media via laptop computer and Netflix, and therefore we have reason to be quite smug in the comparison contest about media intake. But it turns out that you can consume just as much media on your computer as you can on your TV.

Anyway, I off-handedly wrote in a previous blog that maybe one of my New Year’s Resolutions would be to have a screen-free bedroom. It had been on my mind for a year, so I decided it might be time to put the guilt into action. But I decided in a, “I’m gonna write about this on my blog” kind of way, not a, “I’m gonna make a lifestyle change” kind of way.

And then a commenter went ahead and told me that it was essential, nay imperative that I make this one simple change. This change= the answer to all my problems.

OK, that might be an exaggeration.

But she did speak about it with an enthusiasm only the truly converted, born again evangelists can muster, and I was intrigued.

I broached the subject with my husband and he was immediately on board. I didn’t even have to tell him about the blog comment, or her guarantee that this would mean more snuggle time in the bedroom. (If you know what I mean and I am pretty sure you do.)

The first couple weeks were a little tricky since our cell phones were also our alarm clocks. It had me yearning for my High School CD alarm clock that I had begged my parents to get for my birthday. (They did, and I set it to blast Contemporary Christian Music every morning. Those were the days.)

We worked around it, leaving cell phones in the next room over, set to top volume. While snooze isn’t nearly as effective when you have to walk fifty feet to press the button, it does help start the morning earlier.

So here’s that moment in the blog when I tell you how it has dramatically changed my life, my marriage, my family, and me. (AKA, here is where the list starts, you can stop scrolling past the frivolous opening paragraphs.)

The 4 Ways My Life Is Better Because I Have A Screen-Free Bedroom

1. Better sleep

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Since starting this, I have found that I go to bed earlier than I otherwise would have, and probably more importantly, I don’t pick up my phone and check Facebook when my son wakes me up in the middle of the night. Yeah. I was doing that. Also, I don’t scroll through Facebook, promising myself I will only read one more article, and then go to bed. I just go to bed. Imagine that.

2. More reading

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With no Candy Crush Saga level to beat and no Lorelai Gilmore quote to listen to, I pick up the nearest book to read in the moments before bed. And not surprisingly, reading has this incredible calming effect on me, making it easier to fall asleep. (See above: better sleep)

3. Easier waking

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This one has come as a surprise, not only because it coincides with our eighteen month old’s most recent sleep strike, but also because I didn’t think it was possible for waking up to be considered anything in the family of easy. But miracles do exist.

Not having the phone next to me in the morning means that I can wake up, wander around my room, cuddle with my son, start making breakfast, pack a nutritious lunch, take a shower, blow dry my hair, brush my teeth, etc, etc, etc, and NOT HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT WORK! I had no idea how quickly the hounds of the day nip at my feet.

And while it may disappoint a few people to not get an email response from me at one in the morning, somehow I think we will all survive.

4. More cuddling

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I’m not going to go into a lot of details here, but when I say this I’m not just talking about sex. I’m talking about how this has forced my husband and me to be intentional about having time together, not just deciding that binge watching “How I Met Your Mother” counts as a date night. Suddenly we have started to talk about if we want to watch a show, or if we want to talk about our days. And often if the choice is to watch a show while sitting on the couch, or talk to each other while lying snuggly under covers… it isn’t hard to choose snuggles.

There you have it. World peace has not yet been achieved, but I have a lot more inner peace. I gotta agree with my blog commenting friend, I don’t regret it. This is one resolution I think we’ll keep.

(And maybe not looking at my phone or laptop at night is a little like Susanna Wesley throwing an apron over her head. Sometimes you just have to unplug.)

261755_10150290602379874_2436766_nRachel

 

 

Tweet, Tweet, Tweet…

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This week’s teaching tip focuses on Twitter and its use as a teacher resource.  It’s a great source for professional development and it supports collaboration among teachers within a school, a district, a country, and yes, the world.  It is also a wonderful social medium to practice writing.  Really. 

Twitter tweets rock.  Honestly, I never thought I’d say this – 140 characters?  Are you kidding me? What can anyone say that’s worth reading in 140… but wait.  It takes a lot of writing prowess to write a meaningful and coherent thought in 140 characters.  True sentences, often, are whittled down to the pith (think Ernest Hemingway).

In A Moveable Feast, Hemingway revealed his struggle with writer’s block: “I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, ‘Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.’ So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there. It was easy then because there was always one true sentence that I knew or had seen or had heard someone say.”

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Twitter can be a good place to practice writing — and also search for — that “one true sentence.” It is chock full of sentences (okay, “tweets”) that can lead the reader to knowledge, personal/professional support, and often, the truth (always be on the look out for trolls, political ax grinders and The Onion, among other Twitter accounts, that can lead you astray).  And yes, Twitter is full of digital noise (think about the notes or texts you confiscate during instruction).

In fact, teachers can use the power of Twitter to build a one-of-a-kind, fully-customized, digital network that permits them to quickly share resources, voice concerns about educational policy, and lend or seek support from other teachers. Differentiated teaching & learning? Yes.  Twitter can be utilized as differentiated professional development (who has not yearned for this in the teaching profession?)

If you haven’t created a twitter account, and aren’t sure how it would work, here are some examples of teachers on twitter.  Then, go to twitter.com and create your free account. Remember, it’s public so put up a nice photo of yourself and take some time to set up your profile.   And then, tweet!

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Twitter is NOISY! Determine which accounts you should follow.

Twitter can feel like being in the middle of Grand Central Station during rush hour and being hard of hearing.  People, ideas, music, videos, are flying around all over the place.  OVERWHELMING.

BUT, the user (that’s you) has total control of the accounts he or she follows (and unfollow).  You decide what you want to read and hear.  So,  begin by following educators you know or have worked with.  Twitter helps you:

  • connect and converse with those other teachers who attended professional development with you last week
  • lend support to one of your colleagues who is struggling with classroom engagement.

It makes sense to follow the established “experts” – these tweets will often have timely information relevant to your teaching practice, and can help you hone your craft.

twitter books

Here are a few of the twitter accounts which provide valuable teaching resources/guidance that Rachel and I both follow:

  1.  @edutopia:  Inspiration and Information for what works in education.  This account and its companion website (www.edutopia.org) have tons of research-based teaching ideas with an eye on the looming common core standards.  Love this.
  2. @DiscoveryEd: This is a global account that focuses on all aspects of classroom teaching and technology.  Companion website: www.discoveryeducation.com.
  3. @pbsteachers: PBS loves teachers!  Free digital resources and loads of great content for your classroom in all subject areas.
  4. @USATeducation: Resources from USA Today to connect student learning to the world around them.
  5. @NCTM: Tweets about Math teaching  from the the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. (Also take a look at their companion website Illuminations for additional teaching resources).
  6. @Tolerance_org and @Facing History:  A plug for my most favorite teaching resources as a social science, history and literature teacher. Teaching Tolerance provides teachers with phenomenal free teaching materials and Facing History provides meaningful curriculum (and supportive, ongoing, reflective professional development from amazing people) geared toward promoting tolerance and combatting racism across the globe.
  7. @NCTE:  The National Council of Teachers of English tweet information on teaching (resources), common core and educational policy for pre-k to HS educators.  (Also check out www.NCTE.org and www.readwritethink.org for great teaching materials and ideas).
  8. @rethinkschools: Rethinking Schools focuses on teaching for social justice, anti-racist education & equity in public education policy & practice.  Tweets provide information, links to resources and thoughtful education policy discussion.
  9. @NSTA: The account of the National Science Teacher Association with a focus on all things STEM!
  10. @NEA:  The twitter account of the National Education Association which covers happenings and discussions on teaching and educational policy.  Here’s a place to help you stay in touch with what’s happening in terms of common core and teacher evaluation, along with other issues in education, even if you don’t have time to read the paper or watch the news!

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Tweet: but don’t forget the #hashtag#

Compose tweets – talk about your teaching, your thoughts about educational policy, what is happening in your classroom, and concerns about assessment, lesson planning, common core or classroom management.  Post links, post multimedia.  Post what has meaning to you – what you wish to have a conversation about.  Tweet once or twice a day.  And respond to the tweets of others. And use:

twitter-hashtags

What’s a hashtag?  It is a word or phrase that is preceded by a # or hashtag.  In the noisy tweeting world of twitter, the hashtag categorizes tweets.   Use hashtags when you tweet and want your message to be part of a larger conversation beyond your followers.

There are standard hashtags (that the tweeter professionals all know and monitor) that will pull your tweet into a larger conversation beyond your immediate followers.  Make sure you use a relevant hashtag and you will reach others who are talking (whoops, tweeting) about the same topic.  Use more than one hashtag if your tweet applies to more than one topic, but choose wisely. If you want that hashtag’s community to value your input, take care to keep that twitter stream relevant and meaningful.  

Here is a long list of the Educational Hashtags which will allow you to place your words (tweet) within the purview of others monitoring those hashtags.  Use this list to monitor other conversations that might be meaningful to you (just type it in the search box on your twitter page).

A worldwide Twitter conversation known as #edchat takes place every Tuesday at 12 p.m. Eastern time and 7 p.m. Eastern time.  It’s worth monitoring and any educator can join in to discuss and learn about current teaching trends, how to integrate technology, transform their teaching, and connect with inspiring educators worldwide. Click here: #edchat  to learn more.  Discussions here also focus on education policy and education reform.

Try it!

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Practice and read and learn.  It’s cool.

And, in conclusion, take a look at these wonderful teacher: Painful Hashtags.  Some might look woefully familiar!

There’s An App For That (FREE GIVEAWAY!)

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You have an iPad. One. What good could that possibly be for your classroom? I bought my iPad, so excited for the doors it would open in my classroom, only to find it primarily being used to play Plants Vs. Zombies. (By me, obviously. I wasn’t going to let my students play that garbage.) Who has time to scour all of the education apps to separate the wheat from the chaff?

There’s good news! Today’s teaching tip will highlight a few excellent apps for different subjects and different grades. They can be used with one iPad, or with a center of many iPads. Some can also be used on the computer. I tried to talk about only those apps I have actually used successfully, and I also tried to stay away from test-preppy drill type apps and games, and stick to apps that I felt had quality graphics, content, and useability.

One final word, scroll to the end to see the app that changed my life! And see the details for our FEBRUARY GIVEAWAY!!!!

Reading

For our primary readers, the ones who are struggling to recognize letters and sounds, there are some excellent resources. Here are two that have been kid-tested and mother (me) approved.

Endless Alphabet ($6.99USD; intended age 3 and up)

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Yes, this app costs money. But it is also incredibly fun. There are fun and interesting words for each letter. Kids pick a word. Once they have picked the word the letters scatter around the screen. Kids drag and drop the letters onto the corresponding letter in the word. As they drag the letter wiggles and jiggles and says its sound. Once the word has been formed correctly, an animated movie defining the word comes across the screen. The cartoons are fun, and the app helps teach letter recognition, letter sounds, and vocabulary.

ABC Mouse (FREE for teachers; intended age 3 and up)

abcmouseOnce you have spent some time in the home page of this app, you will wonder, “What doesn’t this app do?” Aimed at Pre-K through K, this app focuses on letter recognition, letter sound, word families, sight words, and early online readers.

As a teacher, you can see a dashboard of your students and their progress. It’s also possible to assign work that your students can do at home with their own log-ins. This can be done on a tablet, or on the computer. It has most everything you need for early reading skill practice–and it’s free for teachers!

And now a reading app for the older kids:

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You Choose: Pirates! by Honeybee Labs ($1.99; intended age 9 and up)

Remember the Choose Your Own Adventure books? There wasn’t a boy in my class in third grade who didn’t have one of those books in his desk. This is the online version. In this app, after creating an avatar, children get to read a short introduction to a story. Then, they are faced with several choices of what to do next. Depending on the choice they may end their journey in victory or in death.

The app allows for a collection of trophies as you play. It also has games interspersed throughout to make the play even more engaging. I imagine this app is a fun reading adventure, especially for reluctant readers. I enjoy scrolling back and forth to all options (something the app allows) until I get a favorable ending.

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Poetry App by Poetry Foundation (FREE!; intended ages 12 and up)

While not the most visually stunning app, this app does have a wide variety of poems to pull from. Created by Poetry magazine, the poems are categorized by subject. There are two search functions, so that you can spin to match two categories of poems, such as “Optimism & Aging” or, for your more cynical self, “Boredom & Love”.

Writing

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Book Creator ($4.99; ages 5 and up)

Book creator allows you to write and illustrate your own books on the iPad. This is perfect for early readers and writers, but can also be used for more advance writers (having a separate keyboard might be a good investment if the students will be doing extensive typing.)

The great part of the book creator is that once the book has been created it will go into the iBook app, and then can be shared with other students, possibly during independent reading time. It’s also a great way to “publish” student work. The books can be sent to family and friends for viewing. Books can use photos from iPhoto, or from the internet.

It does take some time to do the book creation, so this one is not a simple drill and kill app, but I think it is worth the end results.

Mathematics

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Bugs and Numbers ($2.99; ages 3 and up)

This app features incredible graphics to teach children mathematics concepts starting with basic counting and going all the way through early fractions. It is ideal from Pre-K through Kindergarten.

The app has three levels with a total of eighteen games that students can play. I especially appreciate the activity featured above, in which an egg carton is used as a ten frame to teach counting, doubles, and pairs used to make ten.

This is a large app, so it will take up a decent amount of space, and you will likely need to be connected to WiFi to download it.

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Mathmateer ($0.99USD; ages 7 and up)

In Mathmateer, the object is to build a rocket that will propel you into space. Once in space, you can earn points by answering math questions. Along the way, you can solve math problems to earn money to improve the quality of your rocket ship.

This app allows kids to practice a lot of math facts, while also using their engineering skills to create a rocket that won’t fall on the ground immediately after launch (as mine did the first two tries). While it is a little “drilly”, I thought it was a fun way to practice the skills while also creating and building.

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iCrosss ($0.99; ages 10 and up)

iCross is a geometry app. It has a comprehensive list of geometric solids. Once you’ve clicked on a solid, you can manipulate it, seeing it from multiple angles and views. To further manipulate, you can designate cross sections, or cut the solid into parts, and then rotate it to look at it from multiple perspectives.

I really wish this app had existed when I was in geometry. Even my most artistic teachers weren’t able to create this level of manipulation on a chalk board, and seeing the solids from different angles allows for a visual take on simple and complex geometric concepts.

Problem Solving

There’s a whole category of app games called “Puzzles” in which the object is to use the items in a room or a level to figure out how to get to the next level. There is minimal instruction, depending on the app, and it involves patience, trial and error, and sometimes a little bit of luck. Here are two of my favorites. (These are good for ALL AGES, and teach excellent problem solving and critical thinking skills!)

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Machinarium ($4.99USD; ages 7 and up)

This is my favorite iPad game of all time. The animations are breathtaking. The game starts outside a town of machine trash, and works until you get your robot back to his space ship. While there are some clues on each level about how to progress to the next, the hints are minimal, and it requires perseverance to make it to the end. But it is SO FUN!

I highly recommend this app if you want something to occupy your kids for hours. And I think it would be especially rewarding for some of our visual/tactile learners who might not always be successful in paper and pencil activities. It involves a completely different way of thinking.

roomThe Room ($0.99; ages 10 and up)

Enter “The Room” and start the most fascinating investigation into where and why you are there. A series of puzzles, you manipulate the chest in the middle of the room to unlock more clues. Visually stunning, this is a great problem solving app, and certainly teaches perseverance.  There is some reading involved, so this one is geared for a slightly older crowd.

Coding

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Hopscotch (FREE!; ages 5 and up)

Maybe you remember the days of “Turtle” on Apple2E computers. Maybe I’m dating myself. In any case, this free app teaches kids basic coding skills through the use of fun images and games. By manipulating an object, kids learn the basics of code.

As kids get more comfortable, they can start to create a project, so that the object can do a series of actions. Eventually they can start to create whole scripts to manipulate their object.

I cannot wait for my son to be old enough to use this app.

THE APP THAT CHANGED MY LIFE

levelitLevel It ($3.99; all ages)

With this app, you can scan books and find their lexile and reading level. Pretty cool. But that’s not it! You can also use this app to catalog your entire classroom (or personal) library. Wow!

But that’s not it, either. Once you’ve cataloged your books, you can use this app as a CHECK OUT SYSTEM! I know my friends will think I am dorky when I start scanning the bar codes when they borrow a book. But who’s laughing when three years from now I still have documentation that they have my copy of Pride and Prejudice. And I want it back.

Not to mention that this solves the ongoing dilemma of how to get students to quickly check out books to take home without losing your entire library.

The app also allows you to create a wish list. If you’re like me, this means you can scan every book at your local independent bookstore to remind yourself of the one million book you have yet to purchase, all of which you can then add to your birthday list.

It’s OK if you aren’t as excited as I am, but hopefully you’ll at least look at what the app can do.

FEBRUARY FREE GIVEAWAY!

We are invested in making sure that you can try out at least a few of these apps. While there are LITE versions of many of them that allow you to try a limited version for free, the full app is always better. We’re giving away a $10 (USD, sorry) iTunes gift card so you can see for yourself how great some of these apps can be for your classroom or home. To receive the gift card, do one of the following:

1.) Comment below with your favorite way to use your iPad at home or in your classroom.
2.) Leave us a note on our contact us page, telling us what additional topics you’d like to see covered on our blog.
3.) Tag “Teacher Reader Mom” on your facebook page. Or comment on the post for this entry, and tag your friends in your comment for extra entries!

That’s it! Contest ends next Tuesday. Make sure to include your email so that we can contact you if you win. iTunes gift card will be emailed. Good luck!

261755_10150290602379874_2436766_n-Rachel