Favorite Things of 2016

For the last two years, I have written a blog post summarizing my favorite things of the past year. We are two weeks in to 2017 so I better get going on my favorites of 2016.

First of all, how this first favorite got left off of my 2015 list is beyond me because it was a favorite in 2015 and is still a favorite in 2016. I have to start with Seesaw. Seesaw is a digital portfolio tool for students. But it is so much more than that! Students are able to document and share their learning with Seesaw. Who can they share with? Their teacher, other students and even their parents. Parents can access their child's portfolio via the Parent Seesaw app for iOS, Android or Kindle Fire. Parents can also access Seesaw on the web. Students can add pictures, videos, notes, drawings and work done in other apps to Seesaw. Seesaw is so easy to use, students can use the app with little to no training. Teachers have a wide array of options for customizing Seesaw to work in their classroom. From the sign in method to comments from students to organizing posts into folders, teachers can customize all of those options and more. I have been in education for over 23 years and I have seen a lot of ed tech tools come and go. But I have never seen anything like Seesaw. This one tool can do so much for your classroom. Whether you have enough devices for every student or you have devices your students share, Seesaw works. If you have iPads or Chromebooks or laptops, Seesaw works. This is one tool every teacher should try! To get started, check out Seesaw's resources. The Seesaw team works hard to make sure teachers have everything they need to get started. You can also check out my Seesaw LiveBinder, full of tips and tricks to help you use Seesaw.

If you know me, you know that I love technology probably more than the average person. So some may find it strange that my next favorite thing of 2015 has really nothing to do with technology. Breakout EDU is an immersive learning game that has students using criticial thinking, teamwork and problem solving to solve a series of challenges. This one activity works on all of those soft skills that students use on a daily basis but are often difficult to assess. Breakout EDU works for every age level Kindergarten to adults and in every curriculum area. After purchasing one kit in the Spring of 2015, I wrote a grant to our Foundation to purchase one kit for every building in our district. I have written multiple blog posts about my Breakout EDU obsession including one on how I got started and one on how I introduce Breakout EDU to teachers. If you are looking for a way to spice up any lesson, Breakout EDU is the way to do it!

Piktochart is a tool I have used for several years but I have turned to it more frequently as of late so it seemed right to include it in my list of 2016 favorites. Piktochart is an infographic creation tool. This free tool has a variety of templates to start with or you can create you own infographic from scratch. I tend to gravitate to tools who like educators and Piktochart is a friend to the education community. The last couple of years they have reduced the price of their premium account especially for educators. I was able to purchase the Pro account for just $20! The normal education pricing for a Pro account is $39.99 for one year. I like to use Piktochart to create infographics for my teachers. My infographics don't include a lot of numerical data but they do include directions for using tools. I like the layout of an infographic for this. I also like that I can save the infographic as an image and insert that image into an email. It is just one more way that I can deliver information to my teachers. Here are a few of the infographics I created this year:
Piktochart is a great tool to use with students as well. However, the Piktochart Privacy Policy does state that parental permission is required for anyone under the age of 13. Please keep that in mind if you intend to use Piktochart with younger students.

My final favorite for 2015 is Creative Commons images. When I was in the classroom six years ago, it was not easy to find images that were copyright free and appropriate to use in student projects. Sure you could go to Google or Bing and find thousands of images but most of them came with a copyright. That is not the same today. Creative Commons licenses allow creators of the work to license it so that it can be used by others without having to contact the owner for permission. There are so many options for Creative Commons licensed material (images, music, video) that to not teach our students about Creative Commons is doing them a huge disservice. I think this topic is so important, I put together a LiveBinder to help teachers help students understand Creative Commons. In the LiveBinder you will find information on explaining Creative Commons to students as well as information to help them understand why you can't use that image off of a Google image search. And I have included lots of sites to find Creative Commons licensed images, video and music. Here are my favorite sites to find Creative Commons images:
While all of these sites have an option for creating an account, all can be used without creating an account making them perfect to use in the classroom.

Bonus Favorite!

My bonus favorite has actually been a favorite of mine for the last year and a half. My bonus favorite is my standing desk. I had back surgery three and a half years ago and any amount of sitting isn't good for my back. In this job, if I happen to be in my office all day, I sit. A lot. All of that sitting takes a toll. Sure, I would get up and move occasionally and I would pick up my phone or iPad and try to continue working but I didn't feel very productive. So when a year of sitting sent me back to the doctor (no pun intended), I knew I had to do something different. I had seen the research related to standing while working and looked at a variety of standing desk products. Since I had just moved into a new office with brand new office furniture, I needed to adapt what I already had. Ergotron has a great product that sits right on top of my existing desk. I use the Move It Chrome extension and set that for 30 minutes. When Move It pops up I switch from a standing to a sitting position or vice versa. The Ergotron desk has hand-brake levers on either side that lower and raise the desk. I can position the desk at the height that is right for me. And best of all, I can continue working. I have been much more productive with this standing desk and my back feels great.