Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Shameless Plug

Hey readers (whoever you may be),

 I just wanted to point out that not only have I been writing this blog, but this semester I've also been working on another blog for a different course.

My other blog, Mr. Molloy's Book Club, is all about children's literature. Each post I take a different children's book, provide you a summary and then some activities to do before and after reading it with your class. Sometimes I find other cool things to go with it like book trailers or worksheets from the publishers and I share those with you too.

If you are interested, check it out. I update it far more regularly if that is any incentive.

Monday, November 12, 2012


What is a Blog?

You are on a blog right now. A blog is a web log, a place on the internet where an author can write their thoughts, share their ideas, comment and critique on things in their lives and the ideas of others. The format and subject of a person's blog is completely up to them. Most often they are made up of a series of similarly formatted entries, called posts, released regularly.

How Do You Set Up a Blog?

There are many free programs that  people can use to set up their blog. Many educators chose to use edublogs but the site I used to create this blog is Blogger  , which is part of Google's wide collection of apps.

I found using Blogger to be quick and easy. Just create a Google account (or a Gmail account you already have) and then starting a blog is really as easy as thinking of a name and an address and clicking a button.

After your blog is created it's really up to you what you make of it. By clicking new post, users will find a familiar word processor type screen. They can type normally, alter text, size, color, font, etc. Blogger even makes it easy to post pictures, embed video, and link in other sites.

You can follow other people's blogs as well to make it easier to see new content, along with commenting on their posts to let them know how much you liked their idea, disagreed with them or have your questions answered.

I have found Blogger to be easy to use and helpful for creating anything I want. There is only one problem I have had in making my blog....finding the time to actually post.

How Can I Use it in My Classroom?

Both teacher-made and student-made blogs could be useful in the classroom.

Teachers can search for blogs made by other educators or professional organizations to get useful information to improve their teaching, exciting lesson ideas, and models for your own blogs and websites. Teachers can make their own blogs as ways of sharing information with other teachers.

A classroom blog would be a quick way of sharing recent events with parents or the public as a kind of class website. Here pictures of student projects, videos of special guest speakers, and class news can be posted and seen by those interested in what's happening in your room. Teachers could also post feedback questions for parents to respond to in the comments, such as asking for volunteers for a classroom activity or for ideas for outside resources for field trips. Teachers can also post questions for students to respond too, such as "What was your favorite character from the book and why?"

Student blogs have the ability to be a very versatile notebook. In posts they can write responses to books they had read, and their fellow students can comment on them to share similar connections and expand their won thinking about the books. Posts could also serve as places for them present video projects they made. They can also use blogs to post their own thoughts and questions tat weren't assigned. All of these uses wouldn't be worth much without the teacher being able to monitor their work, but with the ability to follow all of the students, teachers could easily check on progress, turned in assignments, etc. without having to add a stack of papers to their desks, and would be able to comment and suggest things without having to break out the red pen.

Anything Negative About Blogs I Should Be Aware of?

Well like all things online, there is a chance of that students may be contacted by bloggers from outside of the class or school community and there is the constant danger that they may run across inappropriate content. To keep your class safe make sure that you make your expectations of proper internet use clear and that you go over computer safety strategies to keep them safe, such as don't talk to people you don't know, don't click on links you don't recognize and don't share personal information about themselves. With a lot of prevention talks and proper monitoring on the teacher's part, students should be fine using and benefiting from blogs in the classroom.

So in Conclusion...

I like blogs and think that they can be a useful way to find information  along with showing others what you have learned and think about. By commenting on others, students can show their peers that the posts they had written had meant something to them, and weren't just typed and never seen. I like blogs, and I hope to use them in the future with my future classes (and hopefully I will be more regular in my posting...).

Sunday, November 11, 2012


What is a Podcast?

Podcasts are downloadable audio files (sometimes with video) usually as part of a series on a given topic. They have sometimes been described as radio shows on the internet. Sometimes they are by organizations such as NPR and the BBC, sometimes by individual experts, and even everyday people. Podcast topics cover a wide range; from unabridged and dramatized readings of books, history lessons, tips on video games, reviews of movies, interviews and others. 

Where Can I Get Podcasts and the Software to Make My Own?

Thousands of podcasts are available for free through the iTunes store on iTunes. ITunes is automatically downloaded to your computer when you install a new iPod to your computer or you can just download iTunes to your computer via Apple’s website found here. Other podcasts can be found on other websites through simple Google searches.

If you are interested in creating your own podcasts, there are many audio editing software available online that are free, such as audacity. Apple also produces a program named Garage Band which allows users to edit audio files. This program is preinstalled on all Mac computers, but can also be downloaded for the iPhone or iPad for five dollars.

Why Should I Use Podcasts in my Classroom?

LIstening to podcasts, can be beneficial in a few ways. By listening to podcasts of books they are reading, students who may be struggling readers will have good examples of fluent reading and correct pronunciation of the words, along with improving their listening skills by listening for key pieces of information. Also podcasts are available that cover many topics found in the school curriculum and students can listen to these podcasts to be exposed to or review this information.

Having students make their own podcasts also has benefits. By scripting their podcasts, students practice and grow in their writing skills along with their speaking skills by hearing their performances and redoing takes. 

Aside from just the students, there are many podcasts for teachers which provide tips and information on hundreds of professional development topics.

Are There Any Problems With Using Podcasts in Class?

While listening and creating podcasts are great activities for building engagement and accessibility in the classroom, they involve classrooms or individual students possessing different technologies available to them including computers, microphones, mp3 players, headphones, and the correct software. Some of these tools may not be available at home or in individual classrooms, so you should try to work with the school computer labs to see if they have these and might lend them out. 

Also with so many podcasts out there and with anybody able make and post their own, teachers may have to take time to search for the best and reviewing podcasts before using them in their classroom. 

I Want to Use Podcasts in My Classroom, Any Ideas How I Can?

There are many websites that have put together lists of the best podcasts to use with students to cover differ subjects, including this one and this. With so many out there, I suggest using Google or the search function in the iTunes store to look for podcasts on the topic you'd like to cover. There are even more lists when it comes to professional development podcasts, including this and that, covering many topics from teach a certain language to building technology skills. 

Teachers can use podcasts to create their own audiobooks for the books, articles and other texts used in the classroom. These could be used to help students who may be visually impaired or have other special needs that struggle gaining access to texts in written form.

Students can record their book talks and turn them into podcasts which can be stored on the classroom website. This would create a great library of book talks for students to learn about new books they might want to read about. 

There is an entertaining podcast for adults I listen to called The Dead Author’s Podcast, where Paul F. Tompkins as H.G. Wells interviews other comedians pretending to be famous dead authors with hilarious results. Although that particular podcast is not appropriate for younger audiences and often strays from the facts, this can be used as a model for fun student biography projects. Partners or groups can research famous leaders, authors, or other individuals and can perform and record a fake interview with one of the partners pretending to be the person they researched.

Concluding Thoughts

Podcasts are very versatile tools, that can be helpful in covering topics and giving students access to information they may not be able to or interested in before. Not only are they helpful when students are listeners, but they can also serve as tools for students to demonstrate and have fun with the information they learn by presenting it in creative ways. Why not give them a shot in your room?

Skype and Videoconferencing in the Classroom

What is Skype?

Skype is a free downloadable program (available from that allows users to communicate with each other. One, two or even ten different users can connect and talk in a variety of ways. Users can chat and share files with each other through instant messaging. If they both have microphones they can talk like they would over the phone. Skype is most often used (and really shines) in how it lets users video-conference if they also have a webcams and a microphones.

This allows people far apart, even thousands of miles apart, to not only be able to talk to each other, but to see each other as they do it. 

What's the Catch?

Even the coolest tools have their drawbacks. While the software is free, using Skype to its full potential does require devices that can cost money. Not all computers come with microphones or webcams, so you may need to dip into your funds to purchase them. Also in my experience using Skype to video-conference can be temperamental at times. Slow internet connections, satellite problems, webcam issues and other things can all effect the quality of a video-conference. 

What Use is Skype in a Classroom?

Imagine your class has a pen pal class with another school in the district. Your students write to them and hear about these students lives and experiences in their classroom, and writ about theirs back. Now what if your students could put a face to their pen pal or have a conversation with them face to face. What if your whole class could take a tour of their pen pal class's room? Using a laptop with Skype, your class and students can do all of these things even if the other class is in a different school, they could do this even if they are in a different stat or even a different country. 

Skype can connect classes on an instructional level as well. Multiple classrooms linked by Skype could watch a teacher present a single lesson. This could be especially useful for specialists, who normally would travel from class to class, but now can teach them all at once or in more manageable groups. This would open up their schedule to work on the many projects they more than likely have.  

You can use Skype to bring special guests into your classroom. Everyone knows special guests bring new information and excitement to lessons and units. Scheduling time and getting these people to your class is always difficult, especially if they live or work somewhere far away. With Skype, they can visit your classroom without having to leave their work at all. This lowers the amount of time and effort speakers would need to commit to, and as a result increase the amount of people willing and able to add to your lessons. And unlike a movie, where students would hear from experts only passively, Skype would allow them to ask questions and interact with these knowledgeable people.

I had also heard of teachers during my student teaching days that used Skype and their boundless creativity to bring historical and fictional special guests into classrooms as well. These two teachers would bring their two classes to one teacher's room where he would would the whole group. The other teacher would return to his classroom alone, put on a costume and then Skype with the students as a historical person they had been studying in their current Social Studies unit or even as a character in a book they had been reading. This allowed students to "interview" these individuals with the questions they had been thinking about when reading about these people, along with making a very memorable and enjoyable experience.

In Conclusion

Skype presents many opportunities for teachers to bring outside educators, speakers, and other people into the classroom, using a free and easy to use program. With only a few buttons to push, teachers and students can talk with people from around the world to learn new things and get new insights on lessons. New teams of educators can be made to improve and share instruction when time and distance used to be obstacles. For the low price of nothing, the opportunities Skype gives teachers are well worth a download. I highly recommend it.

Bookmarking Better

Bookmarking the Old Way

I have been an internet user for as long as I can remember, and this only increased when I purchased my first laptop the summer before beginning college. During the years since, I've become a fan of many websites, which I return to day after day to find new content or use the tools they give me. Since I can't remember everything, I learned how to bookmark sites very early on, and would use them to return to my favorite internet places. It didn't take too long to build a long list of bookmarks, ranging from sites I go to multiple times a day (like my email or news websites), sites I check on daily for new content (such as some internet comics), and sites I bookmark because I thought it might come in handy some day for a lesson or something around my home.

The list was completely unmanageable this way. I'd spend forever scrolling up and down it, looking for that one site I wanted to go to, losing things I had bookmarked only to find them a month after I was done with the lesson, or never find it at all. Things became moderately better, once I switched to Google Chrome and was able to use the folders that browser allowed users to create and organize their bookmarks. Still, quite a bit of time would be spent by me, clicking each site individually to figure out if my favorite sites had updated themselves since the last time I had seen them. Little did I know there was a better way.

Bookmarking the Smart Way---RSS Feeds and Google Reader

Thanks to an assignment from my grad course, I learned about RSS feeds (really simple syndication feeds) and it has revolutionized how I use the internet. Using the Google Reader app, I can subscribe to all of my favorite sites using the RSS feed urls provided on their sites. This app then keeps track of what new content is posted by the websites I subscribed to and show me the newest content on one page.

Google Reader also allows you to make folders of your feeds, letting you group the feeds together any way you like. A few of the folders I use are professional development (where I keep the blogs and websties of professional organizations or educators who talk about how to improve my teaching), news (where I follow current events in NY, the rest of the country and the world), and funny stuff (where I keep all the webcomics, YouTube channels, and other things that I spend too much time looking at).

Because of this app and RSS feeds, checking the internet is a completely different experience. Now I can look for updates on my favorite sites by simply looking at my folders of subscriptions and clicking only on the things that interest me, as opposed to having to click each and every favorite on my list. Now new information is organized, quickly found and read and I can get back to working on other projects.

However, information is only good if you can share it with others, and my bookmarks and subscriptions to really great websites are only on my computer. How can I easily share them with others?

Social Bookmarking

This dilemma is solved by another tool I learned about from my class, social bookmarking. Social bookmarking  involves using a website, such as Diigo, where the users transfer, organize and post new bookmarks of things they have found on the internet.  Other users then can follow you or join your group, and see your organized links, and use them. You can also attach tag or labels to this links to help others find them when searching for helpful links.

On Diigo, whole schools can set up accounts where each teacher can post his or her links in a common account, allowing all the other teachers access to the resources that one person had. Individual classes can also have groups, where the teacher is able to organize all of the links to cool websites and materials that may be used in lessons, so students have access to these tools instead of having to type in all of the urls themselves.

Social bookmarking allows you to access the good sites that others have found after spending time sifting through the many bad sites available, saving you all the work of having to do that yourself. And you can help share your secret stash of resources with others in return, allowing you to help other teachers improve their teaching.

RSS Feeds and Social Bookmarking

Together these two tools help teachers by making information easier to find and even easier to share with others. This not only helps the individual teacher by increasing their professional knowledge or own tool chest of resources, but entire grade levels, schools and district by being able to share these resources so more and better tools are available for every educator. More importantly, all of this helps the students by giving them better teachers with better resources to teach them with.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Social Media

The Debate on Social Media

A lot has been said about social media these days, both from those praising the ever increasing amounts of connectivity it brings and the critics who decry social media as the destroyers of real, face-to-face social interactions. Now I've been a user of social media for a few years now, both on Twitter and Facebook, and can see both  sides' arguments having some validity. I love being able to check in on friends from high school and college to see how their lives are going, but these sites have also allowed me to do so without meeting with them or even picking up a phone to call them. However, social media doesn't really show an signs of leaving, only that it will become a bigger part of how our world works, and so I think we should do our best to make it a force of good.

Many articles have been written about how to use Twitter and Facebook in the classroom, including this one and this one and they have a lot of great ideas for increasing connectivity and engagement in the classroom. Here are some of my favorite ideas:

Ideas for Using Facebook

Creating a Facebook page for your classroom so parents can get up to date information on what is happening in the classroom and can easily communicate with the teacher with any questions or concerns they might have.

Using the events tool to invite parents, students and/or the public to school events or as reminders of when important projects or presentations are due. 

Ideas for Using Twitter

Following current events as they happen by using hashtags and following the accounts of important people connected to the event such as following the recent presidential election or the Hurricane Sandy cleanup.

Using the 140 character limit as an exercise in writing concise summaries of texts students have read.

Using Twitter to post their connections, emotions and other responses to a text in real time as they read a new book and allowing students to interact and respond to each others' responses to share in the reading experience.

Risks of Social Media and

Although there are positive benefits to using social media in the classroom, there are dangers as well, including risks of strangers interacting inappropriately with your students or students getting access to inappropriate content. I know these risks make me question whether I'd allow Facebook in a classroom of second graders, there is a more controlled option which allows for the same benefits. is a website which allows individuals to set up their own social networks and is very popular with educators. With some work, you can set up your own network to best fit your classroom's needs, allowing your students to make accounts, interact with each other, share information, post thoughts, etc. All of this with you in control to better monitor what your students are doing and posting (to help with assessing how the site is improving skills) and without the worry of mysterious users doing things they ought not to. 

When I get a full time position, I plan on using to build a more controlled Facebook-type site for my students. Using this and Twitter, I will hopefully be able to use social media to help my students better interact with the content of lessons I'll teach and with each other.    

Monday, October 1, 2012

A Brief Introduction

Hi there,

My name is Mr. Molloy and since this is my first post I thought I'd take some time to introduce myself and explain why I'm making this blog.

I'm a certified teacher, with certificates for Childhood Educations (Grades 1-6) and Students with Disabilities (Grades 1-6). I'm currently substitute teaching for four districts around my home and now I'm also going to graduate school full time to earn my masters degree in literacy. For one of my classes, I've been asked to set up this blog.

In this blog I will post websites, tools and other technological things I discover or am exposed to during the course of this class along with reflections on how I am growing as a technology user, both for my students' and my own learning.

My hope is that this blog will be interesting to any students, educators, parents, or other readers, and will be helpful to them in discovering great tools for teaching and to share with others.

Thank you for your time, and welcome to my blog.

Mr. Molloy