I love conferences, workshops, and conventions. I love planning my conference days using the glossy color-coded schedules. I love all the free pens they give away at Expos. I love sitting in conference rooms listening to people who seem to have done way more with their lives than I have. I love how I can have my cell phone out because people just think you are tweeting about the panel discussion. Also, there is usually free food.

But my favorite part of conferences is always the drive home. You can’t help but to leave a conference feeling inspired about all the lesson plans you are going to create (after education conferences), chapters of that YA novel you are going to rewrite (after SCBWI writing conferences), and in my ex-husband’s case, all the Star Wars figures you are going display (after Comic-Con).

A couple weeks ago, I was lucky enough to attend TIE, the Technology in Education Conference up in Copper Mountain, Colorado. They must have a lot more money in Denver than in Las Vegas, because my school paid for my conference fee AND housing. In Las Vegas I had to beg my principal to send me to the National Social Studies Conference with the understanding that I would pay for my own hotel and airfare.

Anyways, I discovered a lot of great resources at TIE. Whether you are a teacher, writer, or someone that needs to make a spiffy presentation, check out these resources:

Prezi: PowerPoint is on the way out. It’s all about Prezi nowadays. Prezis are not part of an “office” package that you’d buy, but a free tool online. You can pay for advanced features, but so far I’m happy with the free version. With PowerPoint, you put all of your text/links/pictures/video clips on slides and then present your information by clicking through said slides. With Prezi, you put all of your information onto one big blank slate. You give each chunk of information a number and then trace the “path” you’d like your presentation to take. When it’s time to present, Prezi zooms in on the first section of information (like the first slide on a PowerPoint), and continues to zoom through the entire presentation. Zooming is oh-so-cooler than clicking through PowerPoint slides. As a teacher, I’m all about cheap, attention-getting gimmicks and this is a good one.

Making a Prezi is easy and fairly intuitive. There are a couple of cute tutorials on their website you can watch before creating your own. A couple of nice features include the ability to quickly import your PowerPoint right into your Prezi, so you don’t need to re-type any information if you are updating your presentation. It’s also really easy to find picture and videos to embed. You know how with PowerPoint you had to go online, find an image, save it, and then import it? With Prezi you can search online and import images without even leaving your Prezi. Same with videos. Just click on the YouTube icon, search for you topic, and embed. Easy, easy, easy. I also like that all your Prezis are stored online. No need to carry flash drives between home and work. And if (when) your computer crashes, know your Prezis are safe and sound online.

Check out this “Ted Talk.”  Ken Robinson’s Prezi (which is a high quality that I am nowhere near mastering) in an interesting and humorous look at changing education paradigms. (Really, I swear it’s interesting, despite the word “paradigms”). For a less high tech and entertaining Prezi, click here for my first one, on the oh-so-exciting topic of the rules and procedures in my classroom.

Edmodo: This is like Facebook for school. Many teachers have been itching to use Facebook as a way to communicate with students, (if all our students are engaged and in one place online, lets capitalize on that and remind them they have homework due!) but haven’t due to all the personal complications that this can cause. Even teachers with special “classroom only” Facebook pages do so cautiously, hoping that something will not go awry, landing them on the evening news about social media misuse in the classroom.

Edmodo is safe. There is no way for students to communicate directly with each other, because all Edmodo comments are out there for everyone to see. So if Jose and Demarius want to discuss how one of them should dump with Courtnee because she refuses to “give it up,” they will have to take that conversation to a non-school sanctioned forum. Which I’m sure they’ll do. But at least it won’t be linked back to your classroom.

Besides lack-of-student privacy, Edmodo has several other great classroom features. Because the site is set up similar to Facebook, it is familiar and easy for the students to use. The teacher can post polls, surveys, or questions (requiring a response for a grade, if desired) on the main news feed for students to answer. I already have my first few homework assignments for September loaded onto my classroom pages and students will have the option to turn those papers in online or in person. There are calendars and reminders to help keep you and your students organized, and special features for parents so they can stay in the loop.

But there is some fun stuff too. Like Facebook, Edmodo encourages people to communicate with each other. I see Edmodo as a good tool for me to make sure I give every student some personal attention. Between classroom management issues and giving personal attention to the kids that need it the most, some kids (especially quiet, “middle of the road” kids) can get lost in the classroom. Hopefully Edmodo will be a way for me to give some of those students more of my attention. One teachers at the TIE conference made up hundreds of “badges” that’d she would award to students on Edmodo, many of them funny (the Brittney Spears “oops, I did it again” badge for students who correct teacher mistakes) and indicative of inside jokes and classroom culture (the “you like chicken” badge for the kid who talks about KFC everyday). I also hope Edmodo will be a good way for me to stay connected with my high schoolers during my (way to short) maternity leave this winter.

Storybird: This is a great website for elementary and middle school language arts teachers. On Storybird, students choose a set of pictures and create a story based on them. This may seem pretty simple, and it is, but I’m mentioning it here because the pictures are GORGEOUS – real picture book quality (we are sooo not talking about clip art here!). Pictures are searchable based on theme. Each artist has several different pictures on a common theme, allowing students to select a “set” or pictures to use in their book. This website is ridiculously easy to use, so kids are focusing on choosing art and making stories instead of the technical aspects of writing online. Books can also be emailed to parents, which is very cool. If you are an artist, check out this site to build your brand and make some money.

A few more websites to check out: