Friday, December 14, 2012

Happy Holidays and Christmas Customs in Europe

In honor of my Holiday break beginning today at exactly 12:00 noon today, I thought I'd mention a cool resource I learned about from @Larryferlazzo.

The German Embassy in London published an advent calendar that presents 27 Days of European Christmas Customs. The calendar is available in English and Deutsch. Just click any day that has passed to view a Christmas custom from various European countries, or click to open all windows if you want to spoil the fun and view them all :)

Look at December 4th for one of my new favorite Christmas events, Christmas Markets! I've gone to my fair share of them here in Switzerland this season.

Check out the advent calendar here.

Fröhliche Weihnachten & Happy Holidays!!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

iPad Apps - A few for Language & Literacy

In my job, one of my responsibilities is an iPad Pilot with a cart of 21 iPads. My mission is to get the iPads into as many classes/grade levels (middle school 6-8)/subjects as possible. In preparation, I researched and loaded apps onto the iPads in all of the subject areas that covered some core ideas or concepts. More recently I focused specifically on Literacy apps for our learning support teachers. The following are a few of the apps we are using in this area.

Create your own story by animating your selected characters while speaking. This app walks you through the story arch and each necessary step in creating your story.

Grammar Up (FreeGrammar): Free Edition
Select the parts of speech you would like to work on, begin the test, and then select the proper word to complete a sentence. At the end of the test you can choose to email your scores. We have since updated to full paid version of the app, see here.

Make as many words as you can from the letters that you are given. There are clues that will help your out, and you can reveal all words when time is up or you are done.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Keep your Mac awake with Caffeine

Caffeine... I can't do without out on any given morning, so why should my computer? I used Caffeine on my Mac computer before, but this year is the first time that I've worked off of a Mac full-time for my job. I recently remembered the app, and it has been a huge help. The concept is simple, click to give your computer some coffee to keep the screen awake, click again to remove the coffee for it to sleep or dim as normal.

=  Screen will go to sleep or dim as normal.

=  Screen will stay awake. 

If you right-click on the coffee cup, you will see more options, like activating Caffeine for a specific amount of time on your computer. 

Back to the Blogging

So I've taken quite a long break from my blog since the last time I've posted. In that time, I've moved to a different country, started a new job, learned quite a few new things, and seen some new places. See my last post for more details on why we made the move. Things are going good, and I think we're figuring it all out. We still learn new things daily (who doesn't love that?!) and have made some great friends along the way! So now that things have settled a bit I'm going to get back to the blogging. Look for some new posts very soon!

Friday, May 25, 2012

We're Moving to Switzerland!

Zug, Switzerland
Zug, Switzerland - Flickr

As this year comes to a close I am excited, saddened, and at a very large transition in my life. My husband and I will be moving to Switzerland in July. We are doing this because we have both obtained positions to teach at the International School of Zug & Luzern (ISZL) at the middle school on their Zug campus. I will be their Technology Facilitator and my husband will be teaching 6th grade Math. To say that we are excited is an understatement, but I am also overwhelmed with the mixture of emotions as this school year comes to a close.

I have been an educator in Eagle Mountain-Saginaw ISD for all of my 8 years I have been an educator. This district has been a home to me not only as a teacher, but also as a student. I came back to teach here because I loved it as a student. It is a district that I believe in and value. So...why am I leaving??

(I have been asked by co-workers how this change came about, so for those of you that would like to know this is our story...)
*This is not super short, and goes against my typical brevity in a post, but the story is not a short one to tell, so be prepared :)

About a year ago, my husband and I began entertaining the idea of teaching abroad. It was one of those thoughts that we would have and think, "yeah no...that's not gonna happen". We would say "We have ______ and _______ and all of our family and could we leave?" but then, a couple of weeks later, one of us would say "What if we did?"

You see, I'm a pretty sheltered girl. I was born and raised in Texas (and quite proud of it :) My husband is from Oklahoma but considers himself more a Texan (lived here the longest, I consider him a Texan only sometimes ;) We started traveling more a few years ago, and found that we love exploring a new place. This combined with our increasing desire for something different in our daily lives made us begin to entertain the idea of teaching abroad more often. In the summer of 2011 we gave ourselves a deadline, by the end of July we would decide if we REALLY wanted to teach abroad.

If you know me much at all you know I am not one to make any decision lightly. I will analyze and research, make my pros and cons list, and then decide if I can really put myself into it. If at the end of all this it still seems like a good idea, I'm in all the way. My husband works a little different, but dedication is one of the traits about him that I admire the most. If he decides to do something, there's no backing out. So together we're about solid as you get. When we make decision to go after something, we go for it full strength.

You've probably figured out that at the end of our deadline, we decided we were in. I believe the conversation ended something like..."Just think...if we could go somewhere like Switzerland what sights could we see, and how many places would we be able to travel?? Plus how cool would it be to work with students that are from all over the world? How much would we be able to learn from them and our environment?"

We decided to go through an organization called Search Associates. I would recommend them in a heartbeat to anyone wanting to pursue teaching abroad. There are a couple of other very reputable organizations that will help you with this, but Search Associates is who we decided to use. I should also mention that you don't have to use any organization and there are A LOT of sites out there that provide you with a ton of information about international schools and openings, but since this was our first go at it, we felt like we needed a little more help.

We had all of documentation and paperwork in with Search by the beginning of the 2011-12 school year, and we immediately begin receiving emails with updates on job postings. At this point we were still VERY much in the "if we're teaching abroad next year", "we probably won't get anything this first try at it" and "this will be a great experience for us regardless" phase of things. We set out thinking that we wanted somewhere in Europe, but then our minds began to open a lot and warm to the idea of teaching somewhere in South America, or the UAE.

We began researching many different parts of the world and finding out information about the culture and international schools in the area. We did some Skype interviews, but still were really trying to take everything step by step to see what would happen. We then went to the Search Associates job fair in Boston at the beginning of February.

I have said to several friends that attending the job fair was one of the greatest experiences that I have had. There were so many people there, some who had taught abroad before, but more who had not. There was almost an immediate camaraderie among many of us "candidates". We had some great conversations with them and shared our concerns, excitement, and stresses. There were representatives from schools all over the world. We caught on pretty quickly that the representatives from the schools had done their homework as well, because many of them knew who we were and what our educational backgrounds are, and they decided if they wanted to pursue us based on this knowledge (they could get this information from the Search Associates site and it was all information that we had provided to them).

We interviewed with several different schools while at the job fair that were from all around the world. One of the most interesting things to us was that all of these interviews were conducted with both me and my husband together. We hadn't ever experienced anything like this before, but figured out pretty quick that it was quite cool because we could play of each other, get feedback from each other after, and share our thoughts. With that being said I should also let you know that there was a very good mix at the fair of married couples who both teach ( some without children like my husband and me, and some with children), married couples in which one of them teaches (the other spouse was called a "trailing spouse" (we found that term kind of funny, and some of these couples had children and some did not), and singles (also some with children and some without). We had done quite a bit of research on the majority of the schools we interviewed with, but also went on some interviews with schools in places we knew next to nothing about. We found this all incredibly interesting and quite exciting. Like all interviews, some we felt like we really clicked with the people, and others we did not.

One of the interviews that really appealed to us was with ISZL. We had Skyped with other representatives of this school prior to the Boston job fair and knew that we really liked all of the info that we could find about it. So naturally, when the job offers came from them, we fought the urge to accept on the spot, but rather slept on it for a night because that seemed like the grown up thing to do :) During the course of that evening though we received offers from 2 others schools, and we narrowed down our choice to ISZL and one other school very easily, and to be honest ISZL was always our first choice, but we did our homework to be sure we were solid in our decision. We accepted the job offers from ISZL the following morning, and have been on a roller coaster whirlwind ever since :)

Since I'm pretty sure I should stop typing now as this article is already ridiculously long. I am going to leave you with a link to our new blog (though I will continue to contribute to this blog as well) in order to document our journey to Switzerland and our experiences along the way. The address is and my husband and I will both be contributing to it so check it out if you want to be updated with our journey!

Tech Academy 2012 @ EM-S ISD

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

My New Favorite iPhone Camera App

My husband and I recently took a road trip, and along the way I played around with several camera apps on my iPhone. The end of the school is year approaching and with summer coming quickly the photo opps are all around, so I wanted to share my experience with a camera app that I think might be helpful to you!

I should mention that I have primarily been a native iPhone camera app user since entering the era of my iPhone (that's definitely an era right?!?), but I found myself getting frustrated, primarily with the focus, lighting and speed of my shots. I started exploring some different camera apps (I like Instagram, but I wanted something with more features) to see if I could find one that I liked better. I compared a few different apps in the end of my hunt, mainly Camera Awesome, and Camera+. My favorite is....Camera+. I should forewarn that it is $.99 app (normally I try to keep all things free on this blog), and I think it's well worth it, but for a free suggestion (and for the Android peeps out there) read on.

Focus AND Exposure Adjustment
You can do more than tap for a focal point of your photo (like in the standard iPhone app) by using a second finger to set the exposure of your image before snapping the pic.

Speed of Capture
Camera+ allows you to capture a photo and then quickly turn around and capture another. If you continue pressing on the camera button pictures will keep being snapped by the app. This helps ensure you don't miss a moment.

This is by far my enhancement feature of the app. After capturing your photo, select it in the Lightbox to edit. Then select Clarity and watch your photo come to life. These feature has done some serious good for my photos. Check out the images below. This picture was taken traveling at about 65 mph on a highway in Tennessee. The first image is the original, the second was adjusted only by adding the Clarity effect.

If you want to fancy up your photo even more you can dig into some of the many filters that are offered in this app. You can apply an Instagram-ish filter if you prefer, or choose from the many filters in the categories of color, retro, and special. For the example below I added the HDR filter. You also have the ability to customize the intensity of all filters with a slider which I really like.

Take another look at this before and after...

From Camera+ you can easily share your pic by posting to Facebook, Twitter, or Flickr. You can also save your photos into the Camera Roll of your phone from your Lightbox (you can also change the setting so that photos go straight to your Camera Roll or to both your Camera Roll and Lightbox).

To top it off, you can go back and change the settings of your photo at anytime from the Lightbox. You can also bring in your photos from the Photo app on your phone in order to add features and effects.

So yeah...I'm loving this app. It does cost $.99 in the AppStore, and I'm not a spokesperson for them in any's just a great app that I've really enjoyed! If you have $.99 cents to spare I definitely recommend checking out Camera+!

Free Alternative and Android
Now, if $.99 is something you do not wish to spend on a camera app, Camera Awesome is a great alternative. It lets you set the focus and exposure of a photo like Camera+, and it has a nice "Awesomize" feature for your photos that does a great job of enhancing your image, plus it has an easy share feature.

I didn't forget about the Droid users out there, and though I didn't have the opportunity to check these out first-hand, I did find a couple of apps that sound quite good. You might want to take a look at  Little Photo (FREE) or Camera Zoom ($2.99); both look to have some great features.

Happy warm weather photo taking!!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

FREE Entirely Online Education Technology Conference from Google

Thanks to Steven Anderson (@web20classroom), I learned of this FREE (yay free!!) education technology conference that is put on by Google and entirely online. It is called Education On Air, and there is a variety of different education technology topics represented in the sessions. You can see the full schedule here (note all times are Eastern).

When: May 2nd
Where: Online through Google+ Hangouts On Air
Time: 12-10pm (Eastern)

All of the sessions are presented by educators. You can get even more details here and check out the very informative FAQ page if you want to know even more!

Friday, April 13, 2012

A Few BrainPop Features I Forgot About

I was in a session earlier today about BrainPop at my local education service center, and decided that there are "A Few BrainPop Features I Forgot About". Since I forgot about them, I thought some of you might have too. Our district is fortunate enough to have a BrainPop subscription, but if your district is not, have no fear, there's some wonderful free features too!

If you have ever seen a BrainPop video you know that they are short and sweet, as well as very informative (if you haven't, click here to view one). I think they are a great way to intro a concept or reinforce. They can be class activities or individual student activities. Also, BrainPop is adding to the collection of activities that support their videos and the concepts that they deliver. Read on to learn (or be reminded) of a few.

FREE STUFF! That's right, I said free =)
You can get free stuff from all of the BrainPop sites (BrainPop, BrainPop Jr., BrainPop Español, BrainPop ESL), but it's best to go from the main BrainPop site so that you can see ALL of the free stuff from ALL of the sites! Just go to the main BrainPop page ( and click the button for free stuff. 

Search By Standards
I think this comes in particularly handy when you have a student or students that are struggling with a particular skill but it's also good for many more reasons. Just click the Standards button, select your state/subject/grade, and then click the link for the proper video or resource. It's not just videos listed here, but also games, which leads me to...

These games are ALL FREE and intended to be reinforcement for skills that are demonstrated in the videos. This being said, they work well after a video has been watched, and also for reinforcing a concept that has been covered in class in a different way. The games can be accessed by clicking the GameUp button on the main page, or after a video has been watched.

That's just a few, but there's lots of other great things on their site too. I definitely suggest that you go check it out or revisit if you haven't been there in a while. Enjoy and Happy Friday!!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A Collection of Mind Mapping Resources

Mind Map
There are many sites available for creating mind maps online. I recently had a teacher approach me about online resources for creating mind maps and through my digging I've found a few favorites.

I've known of a few of these for a while and others are new discoveries. It seems the list for these brain storming resources is growing rapidly. Some are purely web based while others have smart phone apps and sync up across devices. It's really a choice of personal preference and they all work a little differently so...without further ado, here's a few =)
    MindMeister (iOS, Android, Chrome, Web) - This is a great mind map for collaboration and it is available in the iTunes App Store and the Android Market. You can have 3 active mind maps when you sign up for a free account. *Helpful Tip - Once you click sign up look at the bottom of the site for the FREE account link as it is not featured on their page).
    Mindmaps (Chrome, Web) - I really like the simplicity of Mindmaps and the fact that you do not have to register for an account to use it. To connect ideas you just drag the red dot from one idea to another.
    Lucidchart (Chrome, Web) - Lucidchart works by first dragging the shape you want onto your document. To connect the ideas you drag from any corner of a shape. Lucidchart allows you to collaborate easily with others through a provided link, plus they provide a free upgrade on your account for educators (make sure to click the button on the homepage for this)! (Chrome, Web) - My favorite thing about is the speed at which you can add ideas to your mind map. To add a "sibling" bubble just hit the tab key while you have a bubble selected. You can also add a "child" bubble by pressing ctrl + enter on your keyboard.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Want Instagram style pics on your PC? Try pixlr-o-matic!

So I have been a fan of Pixlr ( for quite some time now. Their online photo editor is quick and has a lot of great tools (see prior posts about it here and here). I've noticed other resources on their site before and have used a couple, but had never really spent any time with pixlr-o-matic until recently.

With the popularity of Instagram (and my new found love on my iPhone Snapseed), I think many of us are familiar with the style of pictures that can be produced with pixlr-o-matic on your computer. To get started just go to or you can go to pixlr's main site and choose pixlr-o-matic.

You can either grab an image from your webcam or one already saved to your computer. I started with a quick pic from my webcam. Choose the effects you want to add, and a frame if you choose, then save your final product to your computer or to immio (photo sharing site). You can also use the randomizer button at the bottom to get randomly generated effects, overlays, and borders. It's right to left of the "gauge" (it looks very much like a shuffle button for music). I found I liked to use the random button and then just tweak the things that I want to. By using different effects a photo can be made to look old or futuristic, which could be a nice touch for pictures or photos that are used in a student project!

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Image Help! Great resources for image editing

Have you found yourself in a situation where you needed or wanted to edit an image, or even create one, but didn't know where to start? Maybe you're looking for a great editor to use with your students. Lucky for you there are multiple free resources that are yours for the taking, and lots of tutorials on how to use them.  I think it's a great idea to use free resources when possible in the classroom because students can easily use them at home. I've featured a few of my favorite (FREE!) resources and tutorial videos.

GIMP - GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) is free piece of software that is very capable of doing some major image creation and editing. It is often described as a free alternative to Photoshop. There are a ton of tutorials and help for Gimp online. Visit the GIMP site here to download the program.

Video: Let a photo flow into the camera - GIMP tutorial
More Resources: GIMP Tutorials

Pixlr -Pixlr is definitely one of my favorite web-based image editors. There are several versions depending on the type of editing you want to do. The Pixlr editor is the full photo editor that I have found to be quite good for many image edits. Pixlr express offers some quick edit tools in an easy format and Pixlr-o-matic offers some quick vintage effects for your photos. If you want to create your own image you will want to use the full Pixlr editor. One of my most favorite features of Pixlr is that you can create a free account and save your images in your Pixlr library. This means if you working on an image and have to leave that computer, you can save your image in your Pixlr library and easily pick up where you left off on any other computer.

Video: Pixlr Tutorial: How to Make a Banner (using layers, style options, and free transform)

FotoFlexer - FotoFlexer is great for quick and easy changes to photos. For more info check out the post I wrote about FotoFlexer here =)

Video: FotoFlexer Tutorial

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Doodle 4 Google 2012

Doodle 4 Google is back! If you aren't familiar with this program here's the gist. It's open to US students in grades K-12. The theme for the drawings is "If I could travel in time, I'd visit..." Submissions can be drawn with pencil, crayon, paint, or with the computer (just no 3d images). Doodles must be received by March 23 to be considered and only one submission is allowed per student. If you want to know more, view the video below and/or view the Doodle 4 Google info page.

Doodle 4 Google 2012 is Open For Submissions!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Bullying - Info on the Outbreak

I came across the following infographic yesterday from @k_ferrel on his blog, Ed Tech Ideas. The infograph was created by USC's Master of Arts in Teaching program and I think it does a great job of featuring information that I believe is important for all educators to know. Bullying Awareness Week took place a month ago, but I think it is so important that this topic does not veer far from our minds.

  School Bullying Outbreak MAT@USC
Via MAT@USC: Masters in Teaching

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Educational Apps

I've had several people (some teachers, some parents) question me lately about educational apps. There are many great resources out there for educational apps so I thought I'd share a few of them. All of the following sites provide a directory of apps, often sorted by age and/or subject level. I've included the Twitter name for the blogs when I could find them. Twitter is a great way to keep up-to-date with new posts from these blogs.

Best Apps for Kids (@bestappsforkids) - This is a great site that sorts apps by age/grade and by device. They also post "Free App Friday" each week where you can see apps that are free for a limited time or are offered in partnership with the next site in the list...

Moms with Apps (@momswithapps)- I learned of this site from @dkapuler. It is updated on a pretty regular basis and the purpose of the site is to "promote quality apps for kids and families".

SNApps4Kids (@SNApps4Kids)- This is a wonderful site who's purpose is to "...explore practical, useful, and educationally sound ways to use the iPad and similar devices with children of all ages and ability levels". SNApps4Kids stands for Special Needs Apps for Kids.

Appitic - I learned of Appitic from the Future Education Tech blog. It provides over 1,300 apps for education. What I really like about this site is that the apps here are broken down by topic and when selected give you a review of the app along with screenshots.

Best Kids Apps - I love the tagline on this site, "We play all the iPhone, iPad, and Android apps so you don't have to". The apps are given a grade, age rating, and the price is displayed.

Apps 4 iKids (@Apps4iKids)- This site was created to share apps that a mother has found for her son. Lists are included from various perspectives including her son's (5 yrs old) top 10 picks.