Express Yourself

Be who you are and say how you feel because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind.
--Dr. Seuss

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Digitally Speaking

Journeying Digitally Speaking
By Maureen Ucles

“It is not about the bling, it is about the blended,” I caught myself enthusiastically mentioning to a group of colleagues. Wow!  I cannot really believe that those words were actually coming out of my mouth.  Yes, me who feared Facebook and Twitter; me who found email challenging; me who considered PowerPoint one of hardest things to do.  That was me, the real me, about 3 years ago.  I have morphed into some strange sort of techy person that I could never have recognized. Not in a million years.

Technology and its application into the digital world scared the bejeebies out of me.  Being afraid of technology was as common as my Houston allergies.  To venture out into the unknown world of the digital caused panic to scream through my veins and take hold of my heart. Technology and anything technological would not fit into my frame of mind.  That was until, until Alan November and his group of staff developers waltzed into my district.  At the same time, as fate would have it, my world would be turned topsy turvy with the district technology modules called 11 Tools for the Twenty-First Century Learner.  For me, it was more like 11 Tools for the wooly mammoth. A major cataclysm would be experienced simultaneously. Yes, Virginia there is a Santa Clause.

The Allen November group, a technological out-of-the-box-and-into-the-think-tank, came to my district in the summer 2011, to provide a new perspective on the use of technology in the classroom and global society. There was a major shift in my thinking the size of the Continental Divide. It was as if Al Gore had invented the internet once again.  I attended two weeks of mind blowing  techy talk, demonstrations and chatter. In concert with the passionate presenters and my small group of colleagues, we labored, toiled and had a great time!  I learned that it was actually permissible, if not downright rude, not to ask questions.  Playing with websites and taking the time to do so was imperative and expected. No one had done that before.  Previously, I felt that it was a given that we were to know how to do everything on the computer by osmosis.  Since I didn’t know osmosis on a first name basis, this was awkward place to reside. At the November training, learning became a social act.  We helped each other construct meaning through discovery. Wow!  What a concept! Taking time to problem solve was a normal occurrence.  No more did I have to whisper find help or find an expert to translate this foreign technological mumbo jumbo.  No more did I have to pretend to be a Secret Service Agent working in the digital underground.  Bringing  questions and learning to light was a major theme. I loved it! In fact, strange at it may seem, I began to love technology!  The presenter, Sara Wilkie, was so energetic and patient. She actually took the time to come to my table and assist me.  I did not feel intimidated by her in the least.  Needless to say, many seeds were planted that would be cultivated at later dates. The fruit of this labor would serve me well into my digital future.  I became  Marty McFly in Back to the Future.  What a trip I would encounter.
I experienced a double whammy, a very fortunate wallop in my brain.   I truly had embarked upon my digital journey. Little by little, the Great Wall of Fear crumbled. The unexpected removal of my shackles afforded me the opportunity to be free to create, express and become a certifiable, undeniable digital junkie. There’s no cure for what I have. I am terminal.
Part of the 11 Tools journey was to create a blog so as to document and reflect upon the experience. Initially, the 11 Tools felt more like a 12 Step Program, minus one. “Hello.  My name is Maureen and I am a digital learner!” I would say.  “Welcome, Maureen, welcome,” my digital buddies would reply with sweet, sweet smiles.  “One day at a time,” they would continue, “ megabyte by megabyte.”

 Even though I felt slightly more confident in creating a blog and posting my work, I still had those lingering questions and doubts pop up like SPAM.  What if I mess this up? What if I push the wrong button and it disappears into the black hole? What was my password and username for the billionth time?  I thought I already joined this Wiki or was it Ning?  What is Digo or was it Diego? Huh?  Bombarded with an onslaught of technological terminology, my mind began to spin out of control.  Ning, Wiki, Digo, Delicious, Google, Digital Literacy, Family Farm, Learning Symphony, Moodle, Jing, What?  Soon my poor brain was on technological overload,  manifested by sweaty palms and migraine headaches. There happened to be some good news in all this chaos.  My friends and colleagues joined me in this hurricane.  An island I was no more.  Collectively we would all go down together, down this scary but enticing road. 
While I waded through the warm waters of the 11 Tools drama, I gained a working understanding of many websites, which became like family to me.   Xtranormal was one of the first websites that I explored thanks to Karen Justl, Educational Technology Facilitator from my district. She thought I might like to give it a go. So then I spent hours upon hours creating silly story lines with funky looking  characters.  They would come to life with the click of a mouse.  I really enjoyed choosing my different characters with which would to carry on dialogue about the day’s events. I chose the stage, voice, music to go along with the movements and gestures. It took some time to do this. Through trial and error, I figured it out and posted them to Youtube and Facebook.   My Xtranormal experience was nothing short of extraordinary. came knocking on my door and has never left my side. It was easy breezy, a piece of chocolate mousse cake, if you will.  It astounded me how easy these websites were to utilize for presentational and educational purposes. That is when I started my love affair with digital pictures and uploading them into little movies for Stupeflix. I began taking pictures of everything around me so I could make little videos.  My cats and dogs became very photogenic!  I then created a Twitter account so I could send out my creations. I still was a little shy about tweeting messages but tweeting little video productions seemed safe. As it turned out, sharing the work of my mind was a simple and quick.  Then one website or app. led to another.  What I had learned from this process had instantaneous and positive results.   Exploring other websites was not horrifying but rather de ja vu-ish.  I remembered being there and doing that before.  Instant application! It seemed quite simple now.   I could actually do this!  I went from Blogger to Xtranormal to Youtube to Stupeflix to Twitter.  I created my very own Youtube channel to display my creations and to convert them into other formats.  Me?  Really?   Then a great super techy colleague introduced me to Realplayer!  I loved Realplayer. I could convert all kinds of files to WMV and MP4s.  I actually knew what an MP4 was without confusing it with the LeBron James.  To me this was all so mindblogging, completely and utterly mindblogging!

That happened to be just the beginning and so it goes on and on.  I now have my own blog that I created after the 11 Tools were conquered.  It is called JustWriteBaby! I have close to 300 posts and 17,000 page views from around the globe. I have created some Google Sites for struggling readers in collaboration with some of my wonderful digital friends. When I had to submit a portfolio to complete a trainer of trainers module, I created a new blog  to accomplish this task. Continental Divide, really?  My horizons have been opened wide.  Now I see more potential and more projects to create and share with teachers and students. I would like to have more students be involved in my work and see the creations that will abound.  Who knows will come next?  I am looking into creating podcasts.  That is kind of unbelievable to me.  Me?  The one who shied away from anything having to do with technology. Me? The one digital klutz petrified of messing up anything digital.  Me?  Once frozen in the tundra of discontent. Now I have thawed.  I have been freed from my Ice Age tendencies to the warmth of the Digital Global Age.  I wonder what more awaits me.  Worlds have been opened before my very eyes.  I find it funny though.  My teenage daughter made an interesting comment the other day.  She said, “Mom, you know how use all those technology tools but you cannot figure out how to move an app on your Galaxy S4!” Backhanded compliments I will take any day. I will figure it out soon.  Not to worry, I am not such a dummy after all.
If someone like me, in her forties, can experience the joys of technology, then anyone can.  I once thought that technology was for most people with a technological type of minds only.  After experiencing this fantastic ride, I do not quite want to get off.  I am in this for the long haul.  So if you might be feeling apprehensive about technology and feel time has already passed you by then you might be right. However, you might be missing the boat on this one, especially if you do not lift a finger to turn on that laptop, ipad, or Kindle.  Time waits for no man, someone once said.  What is holding you back?  What worlds do you refuse to enter?  Our students are waiting on you, but only for so long.  If you become more a risk taker with technology, along with me, then your fears will subside and who knows how many teachable opportunities will present themselves? Take the plunge.  It is worth it, if not for you but for that students that you yearn to reach. They are waiting. C’mon! Take the plunge.  The water is great!

Wacky and Wonderful Websites

·         I found so many ways I could use these tools.  I found that I could use Xtranormal to create little videos to use in my presentations.  I could also use it to show students how you can take an idea and run with it.  It is a great tool to show the students the real life application to be the reader, writer and audience.  The students could create a situation with two characters and make them talk by adding dialogue in the dialogue boxes.  The students  would also learn how to revise their videos several times to get it just how they want would like.  There is a place to take preview the creation to see if they are speaking exactly as you wish and to make sure the sounds and the gestures move in time with the video.  Revision is your constant friend.  When the students see the final produce they can be proud that they make this up from their creative imagination.  You can get lost in this.

·         As it turns out, Stupeflix is very similar.  These video producing websites have so much in common.  That  is why it was easier to use.  With Stupeflix you can load videos from your computer, Facebook or Picasa, a photo sharing website.  Videos are easy to load as well.  Now you can even record from the webcam on your computer or another webcam like IPevo. There is an editing tool, for videos, that allow you to clip videos as well. You choose the template that you want to use.  Each template has a video you can watch beforehand, to help you decide if that is the right for you.  After you load the photos and videos, then you can decide on the timing per slide.  There are templates that allow you write things between photos and videos.  You can add just the right music from their music lounge or upload your own music.  Stupeflix has made it so easy to create the right video for you.  Your students will find it fun and easy to create projects as well.  

·         Animoto is another website devoted to uploading photos and videos to create breathtakingingly beautiful videos.  It is very similar to  Stupeflix.  Like I said, once you learn how navigate around one website, it will help you with the next one.

·         Another website that I have used quite frequently is called  It is free.  All you have to do is sign up.  Before you begin your first presentation, they offer a tutorial of how to use. They provide sample videos, from other users, to give you more ideas of what you could possibly produce.   Knovio is quite simple to use too.  Just load your PowerPoint then you are on your way.  I have loaded many PowerPoints. After your PowerPoint  is loaded, then the site  will prompt you to begin.  Before you begin, you have two options.  One option is just to record your voice as you explain your PowerPoint slide by slide.  Another option is to record audio and video of you through a webcam.  It is the next best thing to being at a staff development.  I have recorded several of my presentation using this tool.  I prefer to use the audio and the webcam together.  I think it would be annoying to have listen to someone speak, without seeing their face and gestures.  I got over my shyness about being recorded quickly.  I also bought a Yeti Microphone for better sound.  I use my Ipevo document camera now to get a better of me presenting. With the built in webcam from my laptop, I sometimes don’t capture my image the way I would like to be viewed.  With my IPevo, I get the view that I think is best.

·         Similar to Knovio is a site called  It has the same features that Knovio does but it will allow you to create video presentations without uploading a PowerPoint.  You have more options that way too.  It is also free to use.  You only need to sign up.  You also can pay for an upgrade to get more privacy and more features if you would like.  I use this to post presentations to my blog  Just Write Baby! and to  Googlesites.  I wanted to create a demonstration video where I could use my IPevo Document Camera.  I was able to write down my note on the text that I am utilizing. Knovio doesn’t share that function.  This site allows me to do that.  Stupeflix will also allow for this as well.

·         Creating The Elementary Digital Reading Project with Michelle Garcia and Alana Morris has expanded my world even more.  The purpose of this project was to give students a digital option for reading intervention. Students were given Dell netbooks to check out and use at home.  Alana Morris helped me set up the Google Site and showed me how to add lessons.  Then Michelle Garcia and I teamed up and created more lessons to help support these struggling 5th grade students.  We used all kinds of tools to create these lessons but also to communicate with individual students through Google Docs.  We communicated with our group of 8 students digitally by email and Google Documents by sharing videos, Google Docs, PowerPoints and Reading Logs.  I used many of the tools above to help me accomplish my goals.  I become super familiar with the Flip Camera, my Galaxy S2 Smartphone.  I used my IPevo
Document Camera and then I bought a Yeti Microphone to record sound professionally.  Real Player was instrumental in converting videos into formats that Google Docs video would recognize.  My district has blocked Youtube videos from The Elementary Digital Reading Project so then I had to convert the video to a WMV or an MP4 and upload them through Google Sites.   
I would like to see how it would be possible to have the students create videos of their thinking and work to be published on a site like this.  They could even produce their own tutorials of their learning and how they make meaning.  It would be neat to see them create sketches, skits, tableaus, poetry and other forms of reading and writing across the curriculum.  I see the potential for them and I am sure they would explore options that I have not even considered.

  • ·         A tool that I found very beneficial to create video tutorials of live demonstrations on my computer screen was Jing and Screencast.  The only problem was that Screencast and Jing are blocked in my district.   I had to do much of the slow loading at home to convert the videos.  So, as necessity would dictate, I learned how to create a Jing and bring it to Screencast.  I created several video tutorials  for my students and the students in the Elementary Digital Reading Project.  They learned how to create a Google Doc and send them to their Digital Coach.  They also learned how to submit a Reading Log digitally and use more of the tools on the website. 

  • ·         Screencast had an offer to use Snagit for free for 30 days. I was curious try it out. I found my diamond in the rough! It is like Jing but better and I can make my tutorials easily and then save them as an MP4 without using Real Player.  It saves time, lots of time.  I am still learning more about how to use other tools that it offers. I think this tool can be placed in the hands of students who can create tutorials for their classmates and possibly share globally.  This is of course, if given permission to do so from their parents.  They could create projects and explain videos or other types of presentations using this.
  • ·         My next big technological gig will be to explore Camtasia.  I want to create more professional staff development videos using this.  I tried it out for a 30 day trial and I liked it.  Soon I will look into purchasing it to make more videos.  I look forward to seeing what more I can do.

  • ·         My most favorite and continual website that I have been using for the past 2 years has been Blogspot.  You can create several blogs and they are free.  Currently I have 4 Blogs.  My very first blog was Maureen’s Marvelous Medicine.  From that blog was born Just Write Baby! I had to take time to play around with it and see how it ticks.  Little by little I have added a little bit more of myself to it.  You can play around with different templates and add fun little gadgets that will suit your personalities and whims.  I have discovered a treasure in my blog.  I try to post at least 3 to 4 times a week.  I like to post what I am thinking about at the time.  I have posted some of my trainings, student work, videos that I have produced from to Xtranormal.  Discovering the blog helped me rekindle my love of writing poetry.  It seems that I cannot stop the flow of ideas and words.  Learning to stop and add my thought at a moments notice has allowed me to write some pretty darn good poetry.  The ideas will  jump off the stage, if I let them and a blog is a great place to accomplish this task. Other people who have accepted my invitation to post have also joined in the party.  They post their own writing to share with everyone who takes a few minutes to peruse the posts.  Others post books they recommend.  Still others post ideas for teaching reading and writing with websites that they recommend.  I also have resources of websites that I recommend from Gretchen Bernabei to Sam Houston State Writing Project.  I also have other people’s educational blogs listed.  One of my next goals is to start interviewing people like Gretchen Bernabei and student authors via Skype.  I am looking into podcasting too.  We’ll see where this goes.

Topsy Turvy Tips From a Late Bloomin’ Fortysomething
Here is a list of some practical advice on how to plunge into the daunting but rewarding  world of technology. You can take ‘em or loose them but my hope is that you might chuckle and actually find them useful.

  •        Don’t worry, be happy!  Technology can be frustrating at times.  Know that you are not the only person in the world that might want to throw your device out of the window!  This too shall pass.  Take a break. Drink some Green Tea and then go at it again.  The solution is nigh.  It is almost there.
  •       Once you get over number one, then number two will be better.  Sip the Green Tea!  Technology is a puzzle waiting to be solved.  If you find the pattern to one website, then you will remember it, after a while, and figure out the next
  •     Take time to create some nonsense.  Just go at whatever site you want to explore.  Now create something that is silly.  I usually create something that I will not use later, or not.   I know that being silly and playing around will create a sense of humor and fun.  In that atmosphere I can create anything from two guys shooting the breeze about the NBA Playoffs to Hilliary Clinton chatting with  Sarah Palin about some Lipton Tea!  When you have fun with it, you will see new horizons open up and ideas for your classrooms or presentations will flow.  Trust the process
  •       Do not be afraid to act the fool or make mistakes in video presentations. No matter what you do, if you are anything like me, you can never have the perfect voice or hair style when creating live videos.  I gave up on that a long time ago. Get comfortable with your voice by creating videos over and over and for different purposes.  My philosophy is this: it’s better than cable!  If I am creating this for students or teachers, it is better than nothing.  It could be worse.  I could write and sent a boring email.  Why not jazz it up with Stupeflix?  And as Will Smith says, Get Jiggy with it!  Hey you will never be perfect and people will appreciate it.  The prudes will always be the prudes but the majority will love it because it’s novel!  Go on with your bad self
  •   Ask questions!  Do not be afraid to ask.  Chances are the people you are with need to ask but they are afraid to ask.  If you do this, you will break the ice!      Find someone that you trust to start journey with you.  I had a blast using these tools with my friends.  We make mistakes and had fun laughing them off.  It’s better than crying a river!  Trust me on that one.
  •  Find someone that you trust to start journey with you.  I had a blast using these tools with my friends.  We make mistakes and had fun laughing them off.  It’s better than crying a river!  Trust me on that one.
  •    Share what you are learning.  There are more people out there that don’t know what you do.  You would be surprised about the amount of people that you assume know  “everything” when in reality,  they don’t.  If you share you can make someone’s day.  They will thank you! Sharing your work is contagious and will inspire others to do the same.  They will feel comfortable sharing  their work with you.

  •   Have fun!  Have a blast!  Enjoy yourself and give yourself a darn break! No one knows everything and you are a learner.  You can do this!  Shake your proud tail feathers.  You have accomplished something today by jumping into the technological mess and are having a great time   
  •  Lastly but not leastly, shifts  happen!  If you find yourself slowly morphing into a “techy” then celebrate!  Sip your green tea!  You are on your way!

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