Thursday, September 15, 2011

Global Read Aloud Project Starts Sept 19, 2011

There is a project called the Global Read Aloud Project. They select a book and during a four-week period they are reading the same chapters, writing in wikis and blogs, connecting through Skype, and posting and sharing student work.  You can read more about their project at . You can also follow them on twitter at #GRA11. Grades 1-3 are reading Flat Stanley and Grades 4-7 are reading Tuck Everlasting. Their current project runs from this Monday, Sept 19-Oct 14, 2011.

I’m a 5th grade teacher in VA and I’m working to create a global classroom. Our school district has strict guidelines for technology, but I was given permission to use ePals and I can use Elluminate. I cannot generally make contact through Skype, wikis or blogs. I heard about the Global Read Aloud Project and wanted to find a way to get involved with this program. I spoke with ePals administrators and they were great to create a program that mirrors the program within the GRA blog and wiki. They are going to be monitoring the GRA wiki and blog and update activities and classroom suggestions within ePals.

If you are not familiar with ePals, it is a free service. ePals is the leading provider of safe collaborative technology for schools to connect and learn in a protected, project-based learning network. With classrooms in 200 countries and territories, ePals makes it easy to connect learners locally, nationally or internationally.

As a teacher, it is easy to open an account, setup a school profile, and add students to an account. They do require permission slips for students under 13 years old. Students are able to use student forums and create posts and comments on other students discussion threads in a variety of topics such as Arts and Entertainment, Sports, Current Events, Social Issues, Music, Technology and more. You can post in many languages and it has a translate button that will translate it into other languages. Epals also has partnerships with National Geographic and the Smithsonian, which I am still exploring.

For teachers, there are teacher forums where you can share ideas and post that you are looking for classes to connect with on any topic. There are prearranged projects you can link too. You can post your classes works like videos, pictures, or websites in the student media galleries and search through them by tags.

Once you open your ePals account, you can link to the GRA11 in project forums at:

There you can download the GRA11 calendar for Tuck Everlasting.
I’m hoping to have discussions on things like student predictions, new vocabulary, etc., share student work in the student media gallery, and connect with classrooms within ePals.

Anyway, if you have limited use of open technology with wikis and blogs but still want to participate in the Global Read Aloud, check and see if ePals could work for you.


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

New Setting, NOT a New Character

My daughter is unpacked and getting settled in at VA Tech. All the adjustments are making things difficult for her. I’ve been thinking and praying of advice I can give her to help with the transition.

As I thought through the situation I realized that she was trying to figure out who she was in this new place and all these changes were causing her to feel anxious. I started thinking about how as a 5th grade teacher I teach my students to analyze books. We look at the characters, setting, plot, etc. I saw that Bekah was trying to create a new character in her new setting, when in actuality, she already is confident about who she is. She is a daughter of God and a daughter of Todd and Michele Watkins, among other parts of her identity. She knows what her values are and what she believes.

She is actually the same character or the same person she was, and the only thing that has changed is her setting. Instead of being at home with family and friends close by for support, she is now a little further away in a new place, but she does not need to worry about trying to figure out who she is. She knows that already. She needs to focus on how this character or person, Bekah, acts and is in this new setting. She will see, hear, learn and experience many new things but she knows who she is and is confident of her values and can carry that confidence into her new setting.

The same applies to people moving or going to a new school, new grade, or any new situation. Be confident in who you are. Try the new experiences as you, and add parts that feel right, like you want them to be a part of who you are.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Life is Too Full-Make Choices by Being P.I.C.K.Y.


Passionate. Involved. Caring and Connected. Knowledgeable. Yin/Yang-Balanced.

Life is too full, there is too much to do and not enough time to do everything the way you want it to be done. It is a fact that you must make choices about what you will spend your time on in your life.

My slogan is to BE P.I.C.K.Y.

Choose which things stay in your life, which things get dropped, and how you allocate your time based on these values: 

PassionateInvolvedCaring and ConnectedKnowledgeableYin/Yang-Balanced

  • Do you feel passionate about this?
  • If you do, get involved and make a difference.
  • Be caring and then connect with people, ideals, causes and places. Use Twitter, Facebook, Social Media, Friends and find others who are also passionate about the same things.
  • Gather as much information as you can to have a strong knowledge base.
  • I tend to be extreme in what I get involved with, so I need the important reminder to be humble, down-to-earth, and let the Yin/Yang philosophy of balance work. Sometimes this is active and sometimes it is passive. Be sensitive to the flows of life.
Choose your life by being P.I.C.K.Y.

Friday, August 12, 2011

How I Saved $214 Buying College Textbooks Online

Well, I've been thinking of starting a blog for awhile and now my advice to share has moved me to take immediate action. My daughter Bekah is going to be a freshman at Virginia Tech (Go Hokies!). She is majoring in Physics. We went to the school bookstore website to look up the textbooks she needed.  We found that her textbooks there were going to cost $402.  We did not want to spend that much so we took the advice of several Virginia Tech students, and looked up the books online.

We started the process by doing a google search on textbook websites.  We then entered the ISBN number on the top three websites. We went through the sites and checked the condition of the book, the reliability of the site, and the shipping and return policies.  We were able to find her books at a fraction of the cost. (After the methods of buying I explain about college textbook webcodes, what they are and how to purchase books with this in mind. Scroll down if you want to go directly to the Webcode section.)

Methods for buying textbooks:

  • Buying textbooks online is the option we used most often and here is where we saved the most money. As I mentioned, we copied the ISBN # at the school bookstore site, did a google search for textbooks, then pasted the ISBN number at the top three sites and made our choices from there. Before we purchased we double checked and triple checked the ISBN number to ensure it was exactly the same as the bookstore listed. Most of the companies did allow returns. All of the books we received seem to be exactly the same as the bookstore lists.
  • Renting Textbooks is an option now. When you rent a book it is for a certain number of days like 90 days or 120 days. When that time is up, you no longer have access to your textbook so you need to make sure it is available through the finals of your course.  Also check to see if you will need that textbook for more than one semester. My daughter needed her Calculus book for two semesters. The book was $120 through the bookstore. We could rent it for $60 for 120 days, but it was a two semester course so renting would cost $120, which we could buy it for that cost. We ended up buying it online for $27 plus shipping. 
  • E-Books downloading is also available now. We found that this is similar to renting where you are not buying the book permanently, but download the book to use for a set number of days. If you will need the book long-term, this is probably not a good option. I understand that this is usually about 50% of the new cost which we always found better prices online buying a book so we did not use this method. This option is nice because students can read the books on their ipads, kindles, bookreaders, tablets or laptops and do not need to carry around heavy textbooks.
  • Used Books from the school bookstore method of course has been around awhile now and that option still exists. For my daughter, the books that were offered used through the bookstore were significantly more expensive than what we found online. The advantages of this method is that returns are easy if the student decides to drop the class, it may be highlighted, (can be a pro or a con) you can get the book right away without allowing time for shipping, if the book will be used in the future you can return the book at the end of the course and the bookstore will buy it back for a significantly less price, and there is no worry that this might not be the correct version of the book (searching by ISBN #'s eliminates this problem anyway, but there is still some anxiety that it really is the right book when you buy it anywhere else)
A few options that are common so I won't go over them in detail are:
  • Buy from the college bookstore new
  • Buy from local used book stores. Many universities have local used book stores that specialize in this trade.

College Textbook Webcodes
At the orientation, students mentioned that we would need to have "valid webcodes," and we weren't sure what that meant. We couldn't find much information online so I called the bookstore and after asking a lot of questions came to an understanding of college textbook webcodes.

Webcodes are a passcode included in textbooks that take you to a website related to the course. Students need to have these webcodes to turn in homework assignments. These webcodes can only be used by one student so if you buy a used textbook, the webcodes will not be valid. 

Bekah's Physics textbook included webcodes in a supplemental packet, at the bookstore the new book, including the supplemental pack, cost $217. The bookstore also sold a separate supplemental pack for $58. If we had bought the book used, then we would also need to purchase the supplemental pack for $58 so she would have the valid webcodes she needed for turning in homework. The man at the bookstore told us that supplemental packs are not always available so you need to check this. You can ask the bookstore people to check and see if any of the books you need include webcodes and if they are available to purchase separately.

In our case we actually found a new copy of the book for $69! (vs $217 at the bookstore) We were thrilled. We were anxious to see if it would really include the supplemental packet. When it came we were happy to see it did have the supplemental packet with webcodes. We hadn't noticed that it was a softcover or paperback, but that was fine with us. If it hadn't had the webcodes we could still purchase the supplemental packet from the bookstore for $58 and the cost would have been $127, still much cheaper than the bookstore.

We ended up buying her lab manual and one other small book through the bookstore and purchased the rest online and we saved $214. It took us about two hours of work on the phone with the school bookstore trying to understand the process and then searching and purchasing the books.  We received the books within 6 days of ordering.

My Dad heard a news report that said that 8% of students were buying textbooks online. I hope this information helps. Good luck!