Google Apps for Education – Media Literacy

In the library, I have been exploring Google Apps for education, and the Google classroom. Although I have used Gmail, Google drive and the Google calendar personally for years, this year my school board expanded our use and access to Google Apps, using teacher and student accounts. Not all applications are available yet, but so far I have used Google Docs, Google Drive, Google slides, Google forms, Google calendar, and Gmail.

The Google classroom proved to be a solution for typical problems in media studies. It’s fun to use free programs like Windows movie maker with students, but the files get very large. Before Google classroom, work from multiple classes arrived in no order at the same teacher email address.

Google classroom allows for paperless delivery of large film clips, and full-colour documents, sorted into classes. It keeps track of outstanding assignments and streamlines sharing marks and feedback with students.

So far I have used Google docs and Google slides to help students collaborate in real time on the same school assignment, or the yearbook. We also had film festivals in the library for each media studies class. It was simple to show student movies straight from the Google classroom and display them with a digital projector.

Some useful features:

  • Google Docs saves work continuously and automatically
  • Google Docs reads files made in various formats such as PowerPoint, Word etc.
  • you can embed videos into Google slides for presentations
  • Google documents can be downloaded for access off-line
  • multiple students can add images, edit texts, and make changes to the same document simultaneously, as long as it is ‘shared’ with them
  • sharing is as simple as clicking a button and typing an email address
  • Google classroom makes it easy to design assignments once, then post them to multiple classes.
  • including links, and other media right in  an assignment is simple and intuitive

 

Here are some links to get you started, depending on your area of interest:

32 Ways to use Google Apps in The Classroom.

Google Classroom 101

 

Using Google Presentations with students:

The most awesome 450 slide presentation ever

What’s Wild and Happy Animation Example

5 Ideas for Using Google Slides with Students

How to ‘hack’ a google presentation to make it into an animation (advanced technique)

 

Online image sources. Be sure to remind your students about permissions and copyright:

 

 

Dragon Dictation: for Creative Writing

Should you use Dragon Dictation for your Creative Writing?

Many people say that the main benefit of Dragon Dictation for creative writing is speed. While it’s true that dictation fans rave about the increased productivity using dictation software, I have a much more serious reason to prefer dictating my stories and novels.

Typing at a laptop is worse than Dragon Dictation for repetitive strain injuries.
Laptops hurt me but Dragon Dictation helps my wrists heal.

Typing can cause wrist pain and repetitive strain injuries

This blog has slowed down for a while, partly because I have been putting my efforts into writing a serial novel on Wattpad, but also because I have been resting my overworked wrists. Since April 2014, I have drafted two novels from scratch, written short stories and a grant application, critiqued chapters for my writing partners, and blogged. Since Halloween, I have also edited and posted weekly chapters of Feeding FrenzyOf these, drafting a novel in the month of November (for NaNoWriMo) was probably hardest on my wrists. This alone might be enough to convince me to use Dragon Dictate for my creative writing, but that isn’t all the typing I do.

At school, I do a lot of keyboarding as a teacher librarian, in addition to demonstrating various applications to students using a digital projector. Some of this work involves typing standing up. If you have ever done any significant writing in a short period of time, such as participating in writing marathons, you may feel my pain. Years ago, when I got my first librarian job, it was up to me and a a few volunteers to automate an entire school library. This was data entry pure and simple, and by the end my wrists burned and ached. With the rest, the problem resolved itself, but these days I want to write more with less pain.

Dragon Dictation to reduce wrist pain

Have you heard of Dragon 13? This software allows you to dictate your writing instead of typing it. I purchased an earlier version years ago and realized the time necessary to train it to recognize speech in a Canadian accent, wasn’t worth the bother. This new version of Dragon works straight out of the box. Users can choose between British, American, Canadian, and specific regional accents. I am dictating this blog post without touching the keyboard to do more than make corrections.

The program is not cheap, and there are limitations. For example, I was not allowed to install the software on a laptop as well as my desktop computer, and my Surface Pro didn’t have enough memory to run it. On the upside, the premium edition transcribes recordings, so I could take a digital recorder with me on a walk, and let Dragon transcribe notes for me later. Maybe I’ll use it on the stationary bike.

Dragon 13 should suit those who don’t type, or who need to reduce their typing. Although I still find myself using the keyboard for unusual words, or to correct punctuation, it is possible to train the program to recognize just about any word. For most people dictating, even with the inevitable corrections that must still be made with the keyboard, is still quicker than typing. The training which launches with the program encourages users to choose the mouse and keyboard over the microphone where this saves time.

Compatibility with Dragon Dictation

Dragon works with many programs, including Gmail, although I wish it worked with the PC version of Scrivener. When Dragon encounters an incompatible program, it automatically opens a text box. Once you’re satisfied with what you have typed, you insert the dictated text with one click.

Another excellent Dragon feature allows you to highlight text and let the program read it back to you. When editing a piece, reading it aloud is one of the best ways to perceive errors. Having a program read it back saves your voice, and prevents you from skimming over extra words, or missed words. On Wattpad, where I am posting chapters no other person has proofread, I like to use every tool available. Reading aloud, spell check, and having Dragon read aloud, is a helpful combination.

Perhaps the biggest drawback, is that working with Dragon feels so easy and conversational, it could lead to chatty blog posts that go on too long.

 

Loon Lake Books Logo

Here is the new Loon Lake Books logo, in colour. Thanks to everyone who gave me input on FaceBook, and elsewhere. It’s probably a good idea to have a colour, and a black and white logo, but I like this one best.

Loon Lake BooksEntries to this blog will slow down as I concentrate more on writing fiction, and less on writing non-fiction for educators. The novel has had over 2000 reads in about three months. It is a serial fiction writing experiment that, so far, has been encouraging and fun. In the past couple of days alone, it accumulated another hundred reads so the story is starting to get discovered by readers. All the more reason to concentrate on writing good chapters.

I may do more author interviews or point out useful resources, but between now and the end of March, the priority is to finish drafting and editing Feeding Frenzy.

I hope you will take the time to visit me on Wattpad and check it out. Click here: Feeding Frenzy.

Once you get to the Wattpad site, create an account to access the story. It takes less than a minute to invent a user name and password. Once you are in, Wattpad contains literally millions of free books in all categories from mainstream fiction, to non-fiction, to poetry, to Romance, to Science Fiction and Fantasy. Feeding Frenzy updates weekly, with a new chapter every Wednesday.

A paranormal thriller about our obsession with food.
Feeding Frenzy, #43 in Mystery Thriller on Wattpad

To hear about new entries for Creative Teacher Librarian, Feeding Frenzy, as well as my readings and other creative work, please sign up for the newsletter.

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Richard Scrimger Interview

I was lucky enough to interview the witty, award-winning Canadian author, Richard Scrimger. Versatile, he writes for small children, middle grade, young adult, and adult categories. My current favorite is his YA novel Zomboy, in which a new student turns out to be undead, and unwanted, by unenlightened members of his community. Zomboy provokes thought but still delivers suspense and laughs. It has been nominated for a Red Maple award by the Ontario Library Association.

This year I am running a Silver Birch book club and a Red Maple book club. I’m looking forward to what my grade seven and eight club members have to say about Zomboy.

Enjoy the interview:

 

 

Feeding Frenzy

I celebrated the New Year by posting chapter 11 of my serial thriller, Feeding Frenzy.

Click here for the direct link…

Slide1Join me on Wattpad to read it for free on all digital platforms.

 

Choose the Best Logo for Loon Lake

Choice A
Choice A

I am going to indie publish my latest novel when it is finished. In order to publish well, I will need to pay for editing, proofreading etc. The name of my (ahem) publishing company is Loon Lake (because I’m a little crazy). To get a logo I sent some sketches and pictures off to a designer and here are the results.

Do you think one of them is better than the rest? Is there one you hate? Please tell me which is the best design. I will choose the most popular, unless I get a lot of negative feedback about it.

Vote in the comment section. The picture above is Choice A. Below you will find choices B, C, and D in order. Please spare me a moment of your time and vote if you can. I’m no artist so I genuinely need help making this choice.

Thanks!

Maaja

maajawentz_AC19_R0A maajawentz_AC51_R0A maajawentz_AC72_R0A

Shared Writing and the Classroom Novel

The popularity of fantasy adventure novels hasn’t dwindled since Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Teachers capitalizing on this popularity can inspire student writing, without marking more pages than Lord of the Rings. Today, I’m going to talk about shared-world ‘novel’ writing. This is something I did with a class of gifted grade four students, but the format easily adapts to older students, all the way up to high school.

Design the architecture of the story a bit like a video game or a treasure hunt. The protagonists are searching for a special item, or group of special items that are keys to solve a puzzle, or which give magical powers to defeat an opponent. Each chapter depicts the protagonists’ search through a different world.

In the case of our student novel, World Pool, it began when a magic rock and a runaway science experiment tumbled our heroes into a series of water portals. The protagonists, a boy and a girl invented by the class in a chalkboard brainstorming session, moved from world to world having adventures. Don’t ask me how it worked scientifically. It was magic, and as long as the rules of magic are consistent in the story, your students can do just about anything.

Our intrepid heroes visited the soccer world, the stone age, the bronze age, the land of hockey, Formula 1 racing world, the magical jungle, a planet with heart-shaped people, and finished off by visiting the Wonderful Lizard of Paws…

When the chapters were edited, we collated them, photocopied, added a student-designed cover, and bound and distributed the finished product. If I were to do it again today, I would produce an ebook on Smashwords, and give the families a coupon code for unlimited free copies. That way there could be a colour cover, and the young authors’ families and friends could access their book worldwide, at no cost to the school.

If this idea inspires you, try holding a few shared-writing brainstorm sessions with your students. This is a fruitful process but it can’t be rushed. Every student needs to feel implicated in the planning, writing, and peer-editing. The process is as important as the final product, and helps create team spirit.

Suggested procedure:

  • Set aside a daily time for work on this intense project
  • Set behaviour guidelines which allow only constructive criticism, and limit brainstorming to positive comments
  • Discuss the format, story genre, and types of characters students want for their story
  • Collaborate on a story architecture that will allow each chapter to be written by a pair of writers, inspired by a topic of personal interest to them
  • Dividing into pairs also keeps the number of chapters down to 15 or so
  • set chapter length limits (word count or page limits)
  • The class will need to collectively map out the book’s outline, including how it ends before writing begins (I like to use chart paper to keep and display our decisions)
  • One pair will write the first chapter, in which the protagonists are drawn into the first portal
  • One pair will write the final chapter where the protagonists return, victorious!
  • Make it fun! Creativity can ‘turn turtle’ under pressure
  • You may want to discuss writing characters of the opposite sex in a realistic way, and use mixed writing pairs, to avoid sexist clichés
  • Have groups ‘sign up’ for topics to avoid repeats (ex. there shouldn’t be two candy world or vampire world chapters in the same book)
  • Pairs should be given plenty of class time to write, peer-edit, and revise their chapters before the teacher edits them
  • Good copies need to be typed by each pair and submitted to the teacher as a digital file (for printing or ebook conversion)

For more information on formatting ebooks for distribution on a variety of devices, you might like to look at the Smashwords website, or the Kobo Writing Life website. Kindle Direct Publishing sets limits on what you are allowed to publish for free. If creating an ebook for Kindle interests you, check out Amazon’s fine print, or produce your .mobi (Kindle) files via Smashwords.

 

Linda Poitevin Interview

Interview with traditionally published author, Linda Poitvin on Wattpad.
Interview with traditionally published author, Linda Poitevin on Wattpad.

Could Wattpad be for you?

Are you a traditionally published author, looking to open up new markets? Do you have an idea for a book that would make good serial fiction? This interview with Linda Poitevin is partly about writing, partly about marketing, but mostly about how Wattpad can help you find new fans.

Since doing this interview in December 2014, many things have changed for me. I have completed my first Wattpad novel, Feeding Frenzy, which went on to be featured and then win a Watty award. Unlike Poitevin’s novel, mine is going to be independently published after its world debut on Wattpad but I did benefit from her advice. One of her biggest suggestions was to post regularly and following this tip my story went to #11 in Mystery/Thriller. I’m certain it never would have done so well if I hadn’t been disciplined about posting every week.

Wattpad works for Linda Poitevin

Wattpad is a fast-growing platform for reading free serial fiction. I interviewed dark urban fantasy and contemporary romance author, Linda Poitevin about using Wattpad to reach a wider audience. She has a lovely personality and a good grip on the business of writing. It’s clear that she and her fans enjoy falling in love with her romantic lead characters, but there are takeaways here for all kinds of writers.

Art versus Commerce?

I recently checked out Linda’s Twitter page @lindapoitevin with its new tagline: Evocative Romance/Unexpected Evil. It’s a good way to express the different genres she writes in. I think this is a challenge many creative people face. How do you write your truth, or write the stories you would most want to read, without confusing potential readers? When I sit down to write, I never know if I’m going to come up with a poetic serial killer story or a play, or a quirky kid’s book. It probably comes from working as a teacher-librarian. Where once I was almost a literary snob in my twenties (a hazard of doing an M.A. in comparative literature), now I read a lot of kid’s books, Y.A., and genre fiction of all kinds. None of this will make my writing easy to market or clear a straight path to a writing career, but I’ve never needed writing to pay the bills. Working full time allows me to indulge in art for art’s sake, for which I am grateful.

That said, I am still fascinated by the business of writing and the breakout indie authors. Success stories like The Martian or Wool, come easily to mind. While I honestly think few writers get into this business for the money, writing is only rewarding with an audience. Let’s hope that Poitevin’s insights and encouraging experiences will help you find an audience for your work on Wattpad and beyond. 

If you are looking for content that is actionable and focused on converting Wattpad readers to book buyers, Poitevin’s advice is as relevant as ever.

Video Interview with Linda Poitevin

Click on the link to enjoy the full interview: Linda Poitevin Interview

Feeding Frenzy Wins Best Blurb Award

Feeding Frenzy is a supernatural thriller with humour and magic.
Feeding Frenzy hits #53 in Mytery/ Thriller and Update: #69 in Paranormal rankings on Wattpad: Update:

 

I recently won a fan-run Best Blurb Award on Wattpad. This may be a big reason why Feeding Frenzy is climbing the rankings. I can’t believe it has risen to #53 in Mystery/ Thriller and #69 in Paranormal. That’s a lot of progress in a short time. I’m going to use it as motivation to keep adding chapters.

The clock is set for 5:00 a.m. Monday morning so I can get right back onto my write-teach-write schedule. Watch for chapter updates weekly on Fridays or twice weekly on Wednesdays and Fridays.

Join in the fun here:

November Creative Updates

Creative Teaching Update

I Wish My Teacher Knew, the non-fiction online book I made to collect first-person stories about education and creativity, has received over 1050 reads on Wattpad. This is exciting because the more people read it, the more will contribute. The hope is that these stories will inform Creative Teacher Librarian with fresh ideas for renewing education. Find out more about it by clicking on the story below. Drop me a line if you have a story of your own to add. It would be great to hear from you.
 

 

Creative Writing Update

As of October 31, the new serial novel, Feeding Frenzy, is underway. Over a hundred readers have perused the first three chapters. As it grows, the hope is many more people will read it. Serial fiction is a great motivator and antidote for writers’ block. Since making a promise to update weekly, there is real pressure to follow through. Last week I posted chapters on Wednesday and Friday. Reader comments have been encouraging. Writing Feeding Frenzy is a nostalgia rush too, as it forces me to reflect on my first year of university, although mythical Loon Lake University is nothing like my alma mater, University of Toronto. If you like fiction with a little humour, mystery and paranormal suspense, this one may be for you.
 

 
The Wattpad experience has been stimulating in a lot of ways. I attended a second Toronto meetup at the Wattpad offices in October, which resulted in a new Halloween Story compilation. This platform makes it easy to engage online with writers and readers in their late teens and twenties. Who better to discuss creativity and new ideas in fiction?

Convention Update

My schedule for http://sfcontario.ca/ has firmed up. If you are in Toronto next weekend, and you are interested in speculative fiction, attending a convention is worth doing. I’m moderating three discussion panels and I’ll be running a flash fiction contest, open to attendees. If you are at the convention, be sure to say hello. Here is my schedule:

Reviews and Critiques – Saturday 11 AM
Tricorders in the Classroom – Saturday 12PM
Flash Fiction Slam  – Saturday 7PM
Sherlock vs Elementary – Sunday 1pm

In case you are wondering what a Flash Fiction Slam is, I admit I made it up. The idea is to have writers perform their own 500-1000 word stories, and have the audience choose the winners. In a traditional poetry slam, a couple of volunteers are chosen from the crowd who give each slammer a score of 0-10 for his or her performance. No props or costumes are allowed, and only 20% of the offering may be sung. Beyond that, there are few rules. Whatever the reader does to make the performance exciting is allowed. My idea is to take this format and apply it to flash fiction, all in aide of engaging entertainment.