Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Perspectives Project

Note: I sent this letter to my friends and family and posted a link on Twitter and Facebook this week. I'll be back next week to detail the hows and whys and technical details of this project, but right now I really just want to ask you to listen to and comment on my kids' awesome work!

Dear colleagues, friends, and family --

My 7th-grade English students have been working hard these last several weeks writing and recording personal Perspectives inspired by KQED’s Perspectives series. Now, their essays are published and out there in the world and I would LOVE for them to see the excitement and benefit of writing for a REAL audience.

I wonder if you would be willing to listen to (and/or read - they have included text of their writing) a few student-published Perspectives? Many of my students completely blew me away with the depth and sincerity of their writing, tackling difficult and personal issues in “micro-memoir” format. I think the most logical next step would be for students to have comments from “the world” on their work - compliments, encouragement, kind words, etc. Most Perspectives are under 2 minutes in length.

You can visit our class Perspectives channel by visiting our channel on at (scroll down and click “More Activities” to see more than just the most recent episodes). In order to make comments on their work, you do need to create a free account, but Spreaker makes it easy to link to your Facebook account and then you’re good to go. You can listen to Perspectives right from the “Recent Episodes” page, but in order to comment, you will have to click through to that particular “episode.”

There are close to 100 Perspective total in our playlist. It would be my dream come true if each of my students had at least one comment from someone outside of our immediate classroom. So much of middle school is spent feeling like you are alone and unknown and I know it would be so powerful for my students to be “heard” by the world and see other people connecting to the personal topics they have chosen to write about.

Please feel free to forward this to your colleagues and friends as well, and thanks in advance for supporting my students!

Megan Ellis
Jordan Middle School - English 7

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Big Mouse! Increasing Your Cursor Size for Screencasting and Demos

 Sometimes when I'm recording a screencast or demonstrating something for my students on the SmartBoard, I want my mouse cursor to be bigger, so it's easier to follow what I'm doing. It's an easy fix!

On a Mac, go to your System Preferences and select "Accessibility" under the System panel (on older operating systems, this might be listed as "Universal Access").

Then, just drag the cursor size slider until your cursor is the size you want.

You can also click the button at the bottom of the panel to show Accessability status in the menu bar at the top of your screen. This way, you can switch between a large and regular-sized mouse easily without having to open your System Preferences each time.

It's been at least 10 years since I've used a PC, but this should work if you're wanting the same effect on a PC:
1. Click on the Start button, select Settings, then Control Panel.
2. Double-click the Mouse icon, then click the Pointers tab.
3. Within this Tab, you should see a drop-down box labelled "Scheme". Look for an item labelled "Windows Standard (large) (system scheme)", or if you want really large cursors, select "Windows Standard (extra large) (system scheme)" 

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Google Custom Search Engines

No matter how many cool things I show teachers, this one always gets the biggest reaction.

Google Custom Search Engines are a great way to curate content for your kids to make the research process easier and ensure that the websites your students are using are appropriate (both in terms of actual content as well as just appropriate to the research task), while also still giving you the opportunity to teach search skills, since custom searches still require students to enter search terms like a normal Google search.

At the request of a few teachers at the KCI yesterday, I made a quick screencsst to go over the process of making a Google Custom Search. Search on!

Unable to display content. Adobe Flash is required.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

This American Life: Harper High School

Hi friends,

If you haven't, please take some time this weekend to listen to This American Life's two-episode coverage of Chicago's Harper High School and the unbelievable gun violence they have experienced in the last year or so. As a teacher, it inspired me to love my students even more, and as a human being, it broke my heart.

Memorial at Harper High School for Shakaki Asphy, a student killed by gunfire last Summer. Photo by Bill Healy.

Harper High School, Part 1 & Harper High School, Part 2