Monday, September 11, 2017

How Much Can One eBook Project Accomplish?

eBook cover page
The Story of Ishanga
Innovative teachers are always on the lookout for a great new idea, or a better way to do something we’ve always done. It can be easy to get excited about every new thing that comes our way. Before we know it, our students have long, unmanageable lists of usernames and passwords for a myriad of tools and sites. An alternative that allows us to innovate and simplify at the same time, is to dive deeply into something many of our districts already have--our Google Drives. Google Slides has powerful capabilities that many of us haven’t explored in depth. There are endless possibilities beyond the same old title, image, and bullet points that exhaust teachers and students alike.

I had the pleasure of working with Jamie Lora, a fifth grade teacher at Carrillo Elementary in the San Marcos Unified School District, to help her class create beautiful eBooks using Google Slides. Students had read about an elephant in Africa who was rescued after her mother was killed by poachers. The class then took on the task of writing narratives telling the story from the perspective of the baby elephant, named Ishanga by her rescuers. So far, this activity resembled what goes on in classrooms everywhere. Jamie Lora, however, is dedicated to innovation, and she asked me to come introduce her students to eBooks with Google Slides. By the end of the afternoon, classroom magic had occurred.  The students threw themselves into creating beautiful eBooks with incredible attention to detail. Even better, the volume of their writing increased by two and three-fold. Rather than just copying the narrative they had written into the eBook format, they added more rich content and beautiful images (which they properly searched and cited). Click here to scroll through a sample of one student’s work.  

I spent nearly three hours in her classroom, and many students were still planning to continue working on their eBooks from home, as they needed more time.  Even when the eBooks were complete, the students’ increased interest level in the topic persisted. They did more research on the plight of elephants and poaching, and they eventually launched a classroom service project to do what they could as a class to help save the lives of endangered elephants. Through their research and coin drive, Jamie’s class made contact with the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and adopted their own baby elephant, Luggard. Storyworks, where Ishanga’s story was published, has even contacted Jamie to interview her class!

So. . . what can one eBook project accomplish? Big things! These fifth grade students created beautiful narratives from the perspective of Ishanga the baby elephant, produced fantastic eBooks with attention to style and detail, practiced searching for and using appropriate images and citing their sources, persisted and persisted and persisted, and grew to care about a cause. The technology was infused, not an add-on but an integral part of the process.  Finally, it doesn’t hurt that Jamie gets to read a class set of interesting and well-crafted narratives instead of a bunch of bullet points. eBooks can be used across the curriculum and in any grade level, and Google Slides is a free and available platform.

Laura Sugano

Laura Sugano is an Ed Tech TOSA (Teacher on Special Assignment) in the San Marcos Unified School District. Prior to becoming a resident of TOSAtown, Laura taught in 3rd and 5th grades. She is passionate about student use of technology, and committed to integrating technology into the ways we teach and learn. You can reach Laura on Twitter @LauraSugano or via email at

Monday, August 28, 2017

School Presence on Social Media

So, what’s your school’s social media presence like? Has your school just started to dip its toe into the social media landscape by starting a Facebook page? Or have you gone all in with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and Zanzaboom?

You’re right, I made that last one up.

Building your school’s social media presence in today’s social media landscape might seem a little intimidating, maybe even a little risky. But I’d argue it’s worth the effort. Effective social media use isn’t something reserved for celebrities and multinational companies. I invite you to consider a few points on why your school should think about building a more robust social media presence.

Get the Word Out, Cheaply
Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are excellent ways to get information about your school out to a large portion of your school’s community. Social media doesn’t reach every single person out there, but there are probably quite a few students, parents, and teachers at your school who use social media apps each day. And, so far, social media services like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are free to use. Free in that we are giving those companies our attention (and advertisers love our attention) in exchange for the ability to easily connect to content that matters to us. Still--it’s mostly free.

Control the Narrative
I remember requesting and getting permission from my vice principal back in 2011 to start a Facebook page for my high school. Now, the fact is that there was already a Facebook page about my school. But it was a parody page. If you Googled my school back in 2011, looking for our Facebook page, you would probably find the parody page instead.

What’s the problem with having inaccurate or incomplete information about your school online? It’s about having honest, fair representation for your school in the online world.

I’ve been working at El Cajon Valley High School since 2007. I love our students, and I love how hard the educators at my school work to help our students. I’m proud to work in such a supportive, creative, intelligent learning community. But back in 2011, our web presence didn’t reflect the amazing things that I knew were happening at my school. Building our social media presence has helped my school’s character get more accurately portrayed online. We have heart. We care for our community. We celebrate our diversity. It’s tough to get to know what we are about by driving past the front of our school or reviewing our test scores. Our social media use helps us share who we really are.

High school students holding flags from around the world.
Each year ECVHS celebrates Multicultural Week.
A week in which we express our Unity Through Diversity!

Tables filled with donations to refugees: clothing, diapers, etc.
Mr. Trammell sent ECVHS a call to action when he heard about the living conditions of
some refugees in our community. The ECVHS community responded with amazing generosity.

Share Ideas
A couple of years ago I was preparing part of a presentation on using Google Hangouts in the classroom. As luck would have it, I happened to be scrolling through my Twitter feed when I came across this post by Franz Ruiz, who was teaching science at ECVHS at the time. He was having his students Skype with a classroom on the other side of the planet, and I had no idea. We worked at the same school, but we were in different departments. We didn’t get to talk shop much. Many of you know it can be challenging to find time to collaborate with fellow educators. But after seeing Franz’ post, I made sure to ask him about his project and how he got connected to educators in other countries. What other cool educational experiments are our fellow educators conducting just a few doors down the hall from us? Sharing those ideas on social media can help to cultivate innovation and collaboration.

Screenshot of a Twitter post showing students seated in desks with their laptops open, facing a video screen.
Mr. Ruiz was having his students Skype with students from another country,
and I probably wouldn't have found out about his cool educational
experiment if he wasn't sharing his ideas on Twitter.

Acknowledge the Hard Work of Colleagues
Some of my favorite posts are those that I get to make when I peek into a classroom and see students engaged in a fantastic learning activity. I don’t plan most of these classroom visits--I just happen to be walking by. And, unfortunately, I haven’t been able to visit all the classrooms on campus during classroom time (librarians lose their librarian powers if they spend too much time outside of the library--away from their books). It’s rewarding to be in a position where I get to notice more of what goes on in my school. I don’t get to see everything cool on campus, but I love sharing the cool things I do see with a wider audience.

 Screenshot of a Tweet that shows high school students working together on a poster project.
I walked into Mrs. Ward's class to help her with a Google Slides question,
and I couldn't help but notice her students deeply engaged in a collaborative poster project. 

Imagine the power of someone who does get to visit each class getting to share the positive things they see on social media. Perhaps an administrator. They visit each class, right? As a teacher, would you be okay with your administrator making a brief post online about what she saw in your classroom? I know my district has rules and procedures around official evaluations from administrators, but there has to be a way to make such posts. It would go a long way to acknowledge the great work of a school’s staff for administrators to share the positive things they see happening.

So, what’s your school’s social media presence like? Can it be better?

Anthony Devine

Anthony is the Teacher Librarian at El Cajon Valley High School (@ECVHS). You can find him on Twitter at @anthonyrdevine and @ecvhslibrary.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Electrify Explanations with Piktochart

Do you want to save time, money, and classroom wall space while addressing important common core standards? Of course you do! You can make this a reality with Piktochart, free web-based infographic creation tool.

Sample Piktochart Using Piktochart to Explain

An infographic describing the synthesis phase of the research process.
The Research Process as Synthesis,
created using Piktochart.
Most teachers are practiced and insightful explainers. Part of our job is to make things make sense when they don’t. We need to show relationships, bridge connections, and fill in the gaps, all in record amounts of time. By creating your own infographics with Piktochart, you can make difficult content more accessible and visually stimulating. Infographics can be shared on a class website, in Google Classroom, or on a blog for students to access at any time. Piktochart's “presentation mode” even allows you to view an infographic piece by piece, making Piktochart a souped up presentation tool to replace Google Slides or Microsoft Powerpoint. Want to see what we mean? Check out the Piktochart class syllabi featured on Piktochart's Education blog or this representation of the synthesis phase of the research process featured to the right.

Student Infographics and Common Core

Common Core literacy standards call for students to integrate visual and textual information in digital formats to express their understanding of relationships between complex ideas. Standards also suggest that digital media should be produced and published on the internet. So much more than just posters, infographics require the creator to find, interpret, and evaluate information. Infographics can come alive with images, icons, links, charts, maps, and videos that immerse the viewer in the content.
"Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words." CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.7
Common Core Language Arts
Anchor Standard for Reading,
Integration of Knowledge and Ideas. 

Getting Started with Piktochart

If you are already convinced this web tool is worthwhile, head over to and get started. With one-step signup, you can use Google credentials to quickly create a free account. Students at least thirteen years of age can sign up in the same fashion, without any additional permissions. Scroll down and select one of the free templates, and click create. Don’t worry if the template is largely unrelated to your content. All templates are fully customizable!
Save the progress you are making on your infographic as you go, and come back at any time to continue working. Once you are finished, you have the option to download your work as a JPEG or PNG, publish it and share with a link, share it to social media like Twitter or Google+, or even secure the embed code to insert it into a website. For step-by-step video tutorials, visit the Piktochart YouTube channel.

Resources and Examples

Still need ideas? Check out some of the sample Piktocharts I’ve rounded up below, or visit the Featured Piktochart Gallery to see infographics created by users around the world.

Imagine your students are collecting data related to your content. The data could be observations and calculations from an experiment, dates from a historical event, or even evidence from a text. Students painstakingly collect information, draw insightful conclusions, and identify relationships. The problem is, these relationships and conclusions are stuck inside their heads. We want them to share, we want other students in the class to understand what they are sharing, and we want to be able to read it. Here's where Piktochart comes in. The easy (and did we mention FREE) interface makes creating and sharing professional quality explanatory masterpieces a breeze.

Lisha Brunache

Lisha Brunache currently serves as Ed Tech Specialist, on special assignment from her high school humanities teaching position at Mission Hills High School in San Marcos, CA. She is a Google for Education Certified Trainer and a Leading Edge Digital Educator. Lisha Brunache, an Educational Technology Specialist (TOSA) at San Marcos Unified School District, is a former high school English and Social Science teacher with a passion for technology and creativity. Lisha is a Google for Education Certified Trainer, a Leading Edge Digital Educator, and holds an M.A. from San Diego State University in Learning Design and Technology. Find her on Twitter @LishaBrunache.