Friday, July 24, 2009

Google Reader 101

Ever see that orange RSS logo on a website and wonder "what's the deal with all these logos?" Been there. But I learned quickly that when you hit the button, you subscribe to the website in what's called a reader. There are a variety of readers available on the web, but since I'm a Google Girl, I subscribe to all my sites in Google Reader.

It's great. I can get updates from a variety of websites, pick and choose which sites I actually want to visit, and skim posts for the ones I actually want to read.

Once you start subscribing, you'll likely find that there's a lot of great stuff out there. It may then become necessary to organize your stuff. Google Reader allows you to do this by placing your subscriptions into folders.

I started using Google Reader soon after I set up my blog The Adventures of Mr. Busypants. At first, I subscribed to other mom blogs about autism. Then I branched out into other mom blogs. Next, because I want to publish someday, I started to subscribe to publishing and writing sites. More recently, I tapped into my love for teaching and have subscribed to countless teaching blogs.

One thing I love about having a reader is it keeps me connected to other bloggers. It's also a quick way to check out a bunch of blogs to see what you want to read at a particular time. If I'm not interested or know I don't have time for the blog, I simply scroll past it on my reader. If I decide it's something I want to review later, I check "Keep unread." If I really love the post and want to keep it handy, I star it. And if I want to share it with a blog buddy, I either hit "Share" or "Share with comment" if I have something additional I'd like to add. I can even email posts to others or to myself.

Once I started subscribing to blogs, I found that my reader became one long list of things to read. I'd open it up and panic that I had 200 items to review. It got a little overwhelming, so I created categories and assigned each site I read to a particular category.

For example, when I come across a new author who writes about things similar to what I write, I subscribe and put them in my "Author Blog" folder. Any site, discussion board, or blog that deals with autism either goes into "Autism" or "Autism Blog." I also subscribe to several Bible related sites, so those sites get filed under "Bible." All the general blogs I subscribe to go under "Blogs" although they may be better suited for a section called "Mom Blogs" since those are my people.

There's a "Blogging" section for subscriptions to blog carnivals, blog design sites, and my favorite blogging and social networking advice sites, ProBlogger and Mashable. In fact, one of the current stories on Mashable is Google Reader Gets a Social Makeover, Adds Likes and Followers. I'll mark that unread and save for later.

I have a section for each niche I'm interested in: "Publishing," "Writing," and "Teaching." There's also a section of unfiled sites, but when I click "Manage Subscriptions" at the bottom of the roll, I'll be able to easily categorize each unfiled site.

As I'm writing this post, I'm exploring reader more in-depth to be sure I haven't missed anything. Here's are some additional functions I've discovered:
  • I can take a look at all the items I share with others (including notes if I made any) by clicking on "Notes" in the upper left region of the page.
  • People can follow my reader and I can follow theirs. When we do this, the items we click on to share become accessible to everyone on our share list.
  • There are additional share functions found under "Share Settings." I can choose to share a link to my Google profile, customize my reader URL, and find people sharing in Reader.
  • That there's WAY more to Google Reader than I could even imagine and that I need to spend more time exploring and create a Google Reader 102 post later.
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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Easy Screen Captures Anyone?

I must give credit where credit is due. I was reading a post in my reader from the Free Technology for Teachers site, and I came across this post that included one AWESOME web tool that you don't want to go without: allows users to capture any webpage with one easy step. Just add in front of any URL and boom, your screen shot is captured. You then have the option to edit and crop your shot, and save it as a pic to your desktop.

I tried it out immediately, but adding the Aviary url to my Mr. Busypants blog address: is my URL. is the URL that led me to a screenshot to my blog.

Then I simply cropped what I wanted, the header, and saved to my desktop.

Click here for their instruction page.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

One Comment a Day Project

I love my Google Reader. I've connected to so many bloggers that I might not otherwise revisit as often as I do without the fabulous technology of a reader. Recently, I read a post from Steven at Blogging About the Web 2.0 Connected Classroom, that talked about a project created by another blogger, Andy, at iTeach called One Comment a Day.

The premise is simple (and copied and pasted from Andy's site):

Here is the process.

1. Read a blog

2. Post a comment that is insightful and constructive.

3. Tweet a link to the blog and your comment. Use the hash tag #OneComment

EXAMPLE: I just read a great piece on iTeach blog, check it out! #OneComment

4. Bookmark the blog and return to it another time.

It is just that easy! This Project will help create a positive forum for all who blog and comment. There are so many good educational blogs out there and I look forward to hearing your feedback and engaging in your comments!

The second phase of this project will be a featured blog a week project. This forum will review and promote one educational blog per week. It will also try and introduce new edu-blogs into the learning community. I will be setting up a Ning for this venture. The sole purpose of both ventures is to promote learning and create an engaging dialogue between so many great academic minds. The twitter hash tag for this will be #1Newblog

Please send me your thoughts, suggestions and feedback on both new ventures!I would also like to put together a small team to help with this venture due to the time consuming nature of the project. If you would like to help your fellow bloggers and be an integral part of this venture, please contact me at

I have also set up a separate twitter account for this second phase. It will be @1commentproject. Please follow it for blog updates and blog promotions. When we spread the word about great blogs, we all shine!

I would be looking for help with the following:

1. Finding new blogs

2. Posting Reviews of Blogs

3. Archiving a Blog roll on the Ning

4. Monitoring the Ning

I am very passionate about this project and am putting a lot of time and energy behind it. My belief is that we can all learn from each other and have endless technologies to help us collaborate! I really hope to see my PLN jump on board with me and help promote the edu-blogging community!

So join me, won't you, in using the web to share teaching best practices and encouraging others in our profession. And don't forget to customize and select colors for your own blog badge.

Friday, July 17, 2009

How to Create Successful Blogposts: Revision

On Wednesday we discussed the planning stage of creating blog posts, and yesterday we covered the drafting stage. Let's move on to an important, but often overlooked, stage of writing: revision

When I revise, I first check the sentence-by-sentence, paragraph-by-paragraph flow of the post. I make sure I've made all the appropriate transitions to keep my reader engaged. For example, in the "Jorie Spelling" post, I wrote a lone paragraph about Jorie's nasty antics: particularly the smurf bites. I was all over the place with that paragraph, unsure where and how to connect it. I eventually decided to connect Mean Girls with Jorie's mean girl behavior before bringing the text back to the Donna Martin thread. In fact, this paragraph was written after the next two, but as I thought through my transitions and the logical progression of how I revise, I kept moving it up until it placed where it is.

After I check the post's organization, I re-read it several times, focusing on word choice. In fact, I'll continue to re-read it after its published just to be sure all the wording is the way I want it. The first thing I look at are how active my verbs are. For example, I originally wrote "there wasMean Girls, which gave me . . . " but changed it to "Mean Girls gave me." Subtle change, but those action verbs mean the difference between telling a story to the reader and showing the reader the story.

Once my verbs check out, I move on to adjectives. I try to come up with unique wordcombinations that leave my readers peeing in their pants with delight--see what I mean. Part of the reason I re-read and revise so much is I find myself so darn amusing. Seriously, I love to crack myself up and so as I write, I look for ways in which I can do just that. Adjectives bring writing to life and set authors apart from others. Why say I had a C-section when I can say Mr.Busypants was surgically removed from my uterus?

Which would you laugh at? Which would you remember?

Finally, I make it a rule to re-read the entire paragraph (and sometimes the one before it) if even one revision is made in it--every time. This may seem tedious and time consuming, but the revision process brings on those syntactical errors that you probably wouldn't make in an initial draft. It's important to read each sentence fully each time you revise to minimize these sloppy errors.

Using these techniques really help me write the best blogs I can write. The time pressure still keeps me from making them all that I want them to be, but I'm usually happy each post that I publish. I love making those unique connections that make my writing my own version of the Donna Martin original. Ah, I'm ending on yet another connection.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

How to Create Successful Blogposts: Drafting

Yesterday we discussed the planning stage; now let's move on to drafting a blogpost.

Once I've gathered enough compatible ideas, the drafting begins. Take my "Jorie Spelling" post. The Tori Spelling connection comes from the Donna Martin character, so my love for Beverly Hills 90210 became the logical starting point. Next, the voices in my head started shouting "Donna Martin graduates," which reminded me that while Donna was portrayed as a sweetie(and Jorie portrays herself as a sweetie), she also has trouble-making abilities (like someone else I know).

I started with the paragraphs about our wardrobe drama, but soon flashed back to my favorite teen dramas. Once I started writing about those, the connections came flying; it was almost too perfect. A rare event in the life of a writer.

First, there was the reference to my all-time favorite movie, Heathers, which I almost always contrast against its 90s and 00 wannabes, Jawbreakers and Mean Girls.

Once I knew I wanted to make these films connect to Jorie's nasty side, I started looking for ways to make that happen. The first, most obvious, came as I remembered hearing that after seeing Heathers, Tori Spelling mentioned Doherty to her dad as a perfect Brenda. Connection.

Next, I looked at Jawbreakers starringRebecca Gayhart and Rose McGowan. This film was a litter harder because it's a lesser version and is lesser known. I kept thinking of McGowan's signature line: "I killed Liz. I killed the teen dream. Deal with it." Of course, I didn't want to go there with my two-year-old, and I knew my audience would probably not make the connection to just "Deal with it," so after a refresher of the film's plot, I decided there weren't any connections worth making aside from Gayhart being a former 90210er herself. Then suddenly it dawned on me that Rose McGowan actually replaced Shannen Doherty as one of the three sisters on Aaron Spelling's Charmed. Cha-Ching! Connection.

Finally, Mean Girls gave me the perfect opportunity to weave in Jorie's newly developing mean streak. Connection.

Be sure to tune in tomorrow as we discuss the final piece of the puzzle: revision. You don't want to miss this one!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

How to Create Successful Blogposts: Part 1, Planning

Ideas tend to fly all around me. When I don't write things down, I get frustrated because I forget really great writing material. It can disappear in a second.

That's where drafting comes in handy. On both my blogs, at any given time there are 8-10 drafts in the works. They start out as outlines of topics I'd like to write about like the numerous balloon stories I have on Mr. Busypants or a list of possible Tuesdays with Jorie topics.

For example, when I came up with the Tuesdays with Jorie column, I immediately started brainstorming catchy blog titles. I already had Jorie Costanza (George from Seinfeld) and Jorie Balboa (aka Rocky) titles, but I knew there were a lot of themes that worked well with a name like Jorie.

As I type, I have an entire draft of titles just waiting for stories to match. I'm certain I will come up with great posts to go with "Jump for Jorie," (we do have a trampoline) "Jorie Gilmore," (the mother-daughter relationship) and "Give me the Jorie Details" (which I may just tie in with my recent viewing of the mystery event Harper's Island and my love for the film that resurrected teen horror genre, Scream. This I could somehow connect to Jorie's recent bout of blood-curdling screams).

In fact, I will often review this list and write notes of stories that might just go with the title. It's how I came up with my latest Tuesdays with Jorie column, Jorie Spelling: Fashion Diva. The drafting process went like this:

The Initial List
Recently I've noticed that Jorie has strong feelings about wardrobe. It's the basis of most of our arguments. As I saw these battles increasingly occurring, I started making notes on which outfits created the most drama. Eventually, I decided that because of her role as Donna Martin, fashion designer, that the Jorie Spelling title would work well with this subject.

Notes and Connections
One thing I'm constantly looking for as a writer is connections. The kid stories generate throughout the day as those writable moments occur; I write them down somewhere--anywhere. I try to carry a small notebook in my purse. Other times I have a larger spiral in my work bag. I've also been known to jot ideas down on tiny pieces of paper that I pool together into a master list. And now that I have the iPhone, as I drive, I create voice messages. I get some of my best thinking done in the car.

When looking for connections, I look for similar themes or symbols, pop culture references that work well with the subject, and timely events that pull things together well. For example, it's really rare that I would go over a day in the life. While a story that chronicles the days events can work, I prefer to look for a specific theme (like fashion and fighting), symbol (like megablocks and the toilet), pop culture reference (like my favorite teen dramas/dark comedies), or events (like the Fourth of July).

Tune in tomorrow for How to Create Successful Blogposts: Part 2, Drafting, and then again on Friday for How to Create Successful Blogposts: Part 3, Revision.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Weeks 4, 5 and 6

Wow! Is it really week 6? It seems like just yesterday I was lamenting over week 3. So why haven't you hear from me since week 3? That's easy: I'm stinking busy!

The past three weeks have been a balancing act and in some respects, I seem to be on the losing end. I have 20 students between two sections for College 3 and it seems as if the workload is heavier than it was last time I had 20 students. The grading for this class is extremely time consuming and at times, tedious. Don't get me wrong, I love what I do for this class. It's just that when I'm in a time crunch, it's hard to enjoy the process.

Meanwhile, only about half of my English 1102 class is on board. This keeps grading at a minimum, but it almost seems harder to work with fewer students. I put so much mental energy into re-orienting myself to what's going on in the class, only to have a few assignments to grade.

There's been quite a learning curve here, even though I've been teaching online for five years at other colleges. The actual course I'm using was laid out differently than how I typically put classes together, which perhaps makes a difference in how students approach the class.

For example, typically I organize the class by week; whereas, this class is arranged by projects. It seems like a no-brainer to enter each project and complete the steps, and yet, it isn't happening. I think some of this may be because if a student gets behind, he or she gets lost. I thought I headed this off with an "Assignments" tab that lists all the assignments that need to be complete, but since I'm not seeing the results I'm expecting, I have to take into account that students might not be getting it.

Another thing I'm considering is that at College 1, online classes are a way of life and students tend to take them every term, so they have more experience. At College 3, I'm working with masters-level students, so they're just more academically mature.

At College 2, however, it seems like most of my students do not have experience with classes that are exclusively online. Couple this with the fact that most are transfer students trying to get the class "out of the way at the local community college," and that pretty much equals: Care about this class? Not so much!

I sent out an email last week expressing my concerns about the lack of work I was receiving and magically those blessed green boxes started to appear in the grade book, so it's becoming apparent who is serious about the class and who is wasting tuition money.

Summer school is tough.
Shortened classes are tough.
Online classes are tough.

Combine the three: crazy/tough.

We're all hanging in there together. There are a lot of things I'd do differently next time.

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Thursday, July 9, 2009

Working out of the Panera Office

Moms in the 21st century try to do it all: balance a career, raising the kids from home, and keeping the household together. I'm one of those WSAHMs (working stay-at-home moms). Since my daughter Jorie, now 2, was born, I've found it increasingly difficult to balance it all. And with today's economy including a salary reduction to our budget, it's become important that I take all the work I can get.

I am very fortunate to get more work than I can take these days, and being spread so thin, it's important for me to work overtime to maintain balance in my life--and sanity for that matter.

My solution: A solid morning routine and the Panera office.

Each morning I wake up at 6 AM and start my day with my Bible study. I find that spending time with God almost magically gets my priorities for the day in line. My heart and mind become more capable of handling the day's events and I'm less irritable, stressed, and overwhelmed.

Next, I try (and only do it about half the time if not less) to workout for 20-30 minutes in the morning to get the adrenaline flowing. I always feel so much better physically after a quick workout. It's great to achieve a sense of accomplishment before the kids even wake up.

Two days a week, I schedule a babysitter to watch the kids from 9 AM to 3 PM and I work out of the Panera office. It's a great location. The dining room is large, so I can usually find a nice, quiet table next to an electrical outlet to set up shop. With a bagel and OJ for breakfast (ya gotta get something), I'm ready to tackle the day's work: grading papers, planning classes, emailing students, and whatever else is on the menu.

To accompany my laptop, I have my husband's Verizon card, so I'm sure to always have a reliable signal. I have a portable, cordless mouse that plugs in easily, and all my files on my beloved flash drive. I wheel in my office in a black, leather computer case, armed with my textbooks, papers, and, of course, my microphone in case I need to correspond with a student via Skype. I've also been known to record a podcast or two.

My assistant, the iPhone, comes with me so I can make phone calls, check my To Do List on reQall, record voice memos, or check my schedule for what's in store that week. I juggle personal tasks with iPhone applications like Shopper, where I can add to my grocery list and Lose It, where I can log in my calories.

The time I spend at Panera is precious: it's my time to get caught up and refresh so that I can be a better, more focused mom at home with my kids. I'd better hit publish and get to work: my babysitter's on the clock and I need to get to work.