#cue15

Why I Love Curriculet

Recently, I attended the CUE Conference, and I worked in Curriculet’s booth. I extolled the virtues of Curriculet to passersby and demonstrated its merits.

So why do I love it? And what is it?

Curriculet is an online digital reading platform. It has many great features: scaffolding supports to aid reading (including text, images, and video), questions that pop up to assess student learning (these are both multiple-choice and free-response), and it tracks how quickly students read (or whether or not they finish). These annotations almost always come with the online books, but teachers can always edit these annotations (or create them from scratch). These books are available from an online library, with almost every classic available for free. Curriculet also offers a new USA Today feature, where the most current USA Today articles are available with these annotations.

However, there are other programs that offer these same products and features, most notably Actively Learn and Subtext. I believe that Curriculet stands out for two reasons.

First of all, unlike Subtext, any teacher can use it with his or her students instantly. It is the ultimate “Day One” product. Go in, create an account, give your students a class code, and they are in. What’s more, the classics are free. This is a great tool for high school English teachers who want to give students some extra assistance in reading difficult novels.

Secondly, the layout of Curriculet is far superior to the layout of Actively Learn. Actively Learn looks like books have been transposed onto blog posts, while Curriculet feels much more like a book. Perhaps more importantly, the annotations are tucked neatly to the side, which do not distract the reader until it is time to view the annotations.

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The annotations in Actively Learn are posted directly into the reading, which makes it difficult to focus on the text itself. I believe that these features make Curriculet a much better product and a better choice for middle and high school English teachers.

As I said before: individual teachers can sign up and create accounts. Thus, teachers can sign up tomorrow and get started.

What are you waiting for???

The Joy of PD

Recently, two California greats Scott Bedley and Karl Lindgren-Streicher have taken up a discussion on the value of professional development and conferences. Scott’s post is here and Karl’s post is here. They are both brilliant posts that speak to the triumphs and shortcomings of educational conferences.

I think that many of us have had that experience when were first exposed to educational technology when we realized that there were tons of resources, strategies, and tools at our disposal. We were overwhelmed and overawed at what we could accomplish with what was out there, and we were left astounded. As time went by, however, we adapted to these tools and learned to successfully navigate the tools at our disposal (at which point, pedagogy–not technology–became our focus).

When this saturation point hits people, the conferences become less exciting, less thrilling, and easier to comprehend. Technologically competent teachers feel comfortable with a wide array of apps, websites, and extensions and don’t feel a thrill with many of the sessions at a conference or feel a need to see everything. In a sense, the conferences can become dull.

This then begs a question: are these conferences any less valuable? Can we as more technologically competent educators (not that I am in any way in Karl’s or Scott’s level of proficiency) gain anything from large conferences like CUE or ISTE? If none of the sessions genuinely excite us, is there any point in attending?

I believe the answer is a definitive yes.

I believe that all teachers have to work really hard to get through the days and weeks of the school year. We might innovate and try new things, but we can only try so many things at one time. We might know of other new tools or strategies, but we have to put those on the back-burner as we can only do so many things at one time. Conferences are a time and place where we can take time to reflect on those ideas that have been simmering. I had heard about Adobe Voice many times before going to Scott’s session at CUE, but it gave me a chance to dive in and try it firsthand. Aurasma has been on my iPad for months, but a session at SVCUE by Anne Schaefer-Salinas and Rebecca Girard gave me the time to play with the app and really try it out. Mark Hammons‘ session on iMovie at CUE showed me things about the app that I hadn’t previously known. This time has given me the time and space to try new things and to discuss new ideas. These ideas can come from actual sessions, but they don’t need to. After the first day of CUE, I had a conversation in a bar with Moss Pike about how to run a Minecraft server for a fraction of the cost of purchasing Minecraft for the school. These brief discussions (called by some “HallwayCUEs) are often more valuable than any official presentations at conferences. I also believe that these informal talks can best happen in face-to-face conversations. Yes, we can discuss ideas over Twitter or Voxer, but sometimes we need the real interaction to fully grasp these new and innovative ideas.

And this–more than any official fifty-minute talk in a room–is why I enjoy conferences and believe in their potential.

My Time at #cue15

The story of my #cue15 began last December. I eagerly awaited to hear if my proposals were accepted, but sadly, they were not.

I then pondered if I would go. It would be great to catch up with many members of my PLN, but registration, hotel, and food could easily cost between $500 and $1000. With a heavy heart, I decided to forego the trip.

Events took as sudden turn for the better six days before the conference when Thomas Shields from Curriculet contacted me and indicated that the company would be willing to pay for me to go in exchange for time working in the booth. Needless to say, I was on board with the idea.

It was my first time working as a vendor instead of a presenter or a participant. Although I did get some time to attend sessions, I spent the majority of my time with Curriculet, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I did not have the intense pressure to deliver a great presentation and wasn’t working on anything at the last minute. I also didn’t have to worry about which sessions to attend and instead spent time bouncing in and out of presentations. Sessions from Scott Bedley and Mark Hammons did teach me some great tricks and tips.

I also had the opportunity to see an educational technology tool from the developer’s perspective. Publishers set some limits on what companies like Curriculet can do with their product, and the company has adapted quite well to those restrictions. The company also has the challenge of offering a low-cost and high-quality product while turning a profit, a no easy task indeed.

Ultimately, the best part of CUE is the best part of any conference: seeing people you know and making connections. I met countless people for the first time and reconnected with others.

Would I do it again?

In a heartbeat.