Important Facts to Keep In Mind About the Swirling Maelstrom of Excitement That Is My Life:

1) I live about an hour from school.

2) Nobody else from my school lives anywhere near my house, so it's impossible to carpool to work.

3) I get so irate listening to the news and complain so much about it once I get home that my wife (again, the patientest woman in the world) grounded me from the radio about two years ago and hasn't ungrounded me yet.

4) The two hours I spend commuting each day is just about the only time I have to "read" or catch up on professional development.

As a consequence of all this, I listen to a lot of podcasts.



A LOT of podcasts.

Because I listen to them on an actual iPod, I use iTunes to download and manage them. (See picture, above.)

The third place I get great stuff from is blogs.

(Okay - I'm about to use a scary-sounding word. Don't let it freak you out.)

I set up an RSS Aggregator to update the blogs I read on a daily basis.

(That was it - "RSS Aggregator". Did it intimidate you? Please don't let it. I'll explain it, then over the next week, you can casually drop it into conversation - "So anyway, I was playing around with my RSS Aggregator and I discovered something odd...". Your husband/girlfriend/children will look at you and say, "I don't even KNOW you anymore!")

As I'm sure you know, an RSS Aggregator checks in with all the blogs you read and lets you know when one of them has been updated.

(See? That wasn't too bad.)

At least twice a week, I find a great comic strip - one that's really funny, that addresses a topic totally up the alley of one of the people I work with, one that I know they'll really dig - and I'll take it to them. I'll smile a little to myself as I hand it over, knowing how much they'll enjoy it. I even mentally prepare myself for all the praise that I know they'll shower on me.

Half the time, they won't even look at it.

"I don't get cartoons," they'll say.

What's the expression? "Same planet, different worlds"?

I love comic strips. I use them in the classroom constantly. I put at least one on any quiz or worksheet I give to students; long tests might have as many as six or seven. I put a comic on any permission slip or letter home (you'd be surprised how many of those actually get read that way). I insert them in my PowerPoints.

This post is about how and where I find comic strips (and a few other things).

Step One - The Proper Mental State

The important thing, when reading comic strips (or anything else, for that matter) is your (well, in this case, my) state of mind. You (okay, me) have to have one idea constantly in the back of you mind - "Oh, that's cool! Is there any way I can use it in the classroom?" This is the same state of mind that most teachers have when visiting a dollar store or GoodWill; I've just expanded it to odd drawings and bad jokes.

Step Two - Bookmarking Websites

Once you have found the website of a comic strip that you like, you should bookmark it so that you can find it again quickly and easily. I visit comic strip websites just about every day, so I've made a folder in my bookmark tab just for comic strips and a few other sites that I visit frequently. (See photo, above.)

Step Three - How To Save a Comic Strip For Later Use

It's actually pretty simple. 

Right-click the image and choose the, "Save image as..." option.

Consideration Four (It's not really a step.) - Is It Legal?

I have no idea.

My understanding of copyright law (which is hazy at best) is that as long as a teacher isn't making any money or depriving the original artist of any revenue, it is kosher for him or her to use this sort of material in a classroom setting. If you are really worried about the legality of this, consult your school's Librarian.

Okay - So What Comic Strips Do I Read?

In no particular order, here are the websites I visit at least two or three times per week:

My five year-old son is mad at me.

Both my wife and I have to travel for work a few times a year and The Boy gets distinctly bent out of shape with us if we get to go on trips without him. I'm going to be attending two professional conference in the next month that will have me away from the house on two Saturdays and he is pretty cheesed-off about it.

Yesterday morning, I was trying to make breakfast and The Boy kept standing in front of the refrigerator, with the door open. I kept telling him to close the door. Finally, he informed me over his shoulder, "You know, I've got a conference too - a conference with the REFRIGERATOR!"

Okay, that story doesn't have any real point, except that: 1) I have a really funny, strange boy, and 2) I go to a lot of conferences.
Anyway, I do go to several conferences a year and I make presentations at two or three of them - usually on tools I use in the classroom. At some point during any given presentation, somebody usually asks me, "Where do you find this stuff?"

I get asked the same thing by colleagues at school who I forward links to a couple of times a week. The answer is a little too long to go into in any detail in person, so I usually shrug and say something like, "the voices in my head...: and give a creepy chuckle. (This is the sort of Noel Coward-esque wit that keeps me from getting invited out much.)

The longer, more helpful answer is that I actually find cool content and tools for my classroom in four main sources online:

1) Twitter

2)  Comic strips and other websites that I check every day

3)  Blogs

4)  Podcasts

This post is about Twitter and how I use it.
I've heard that there are two types of people who use social media online - Twitter People and Facebook People. I'm definitely a Twitter Person. I like the 140 character limit to messages - it makes me think really hard about what I want to say and the most straight-forward way to say it. Other people's messages are short, to the point and often very funny.

They say that Facebook is like a dinner party and Twitter is like a bar. What can I say? I'm a bar kind of guy.

I generally post two or three messages a day on Twitter, and, for whatever reason, there are some people out there who want to know when I've got some brilliant observation to make, so they "follow" me - in other words, they've signed up to get these messages. In turn, I follow about a hundred people who have things to say that I'm interested in. These break down to four types of people:

1) People I actually know in day-to-day life: my wife, colleagues, a couple of friends. (This is the "Facebook-y" side of Twitter.)

2) Other teachers around the country (and occasionally, around the world): these are the most useful contacts in terms of finding cool stuff. Teachers love to share things with each other and they generally post links to the cool stuff they find online. In a given day, my teacher contacts turn me onto two or three tools or websites that I can use myself or that I can pass on to other colleagues. 

3) Celebrities: I do follow some celebrities; I admit it. Though, in my own defense, I have to say that the type of "celebrity" I follow is a particularly nerdy type - NPR hostsbloggers whose writing I admire, Adam Savage from MythBusters - that sort of celebrity.

4) Organizations like museums, websites, tv networks, restaurants, etc... who post information that is useful to me.

Tips for finding useful (or just cool) people to follow on Twitter:

1)  When you do find someone on Twitter whose posts you like, that are useful to you, etc..., look and see who they follow. Very few people are independently brilliant - if they've got good posts and tips, they have good people feeding them stuff.

2)  Really good writers are usually married to really good writers. Almost all the people I follow on Twitter, especially bloggers, seem to be married to really fascinating people. Some of my most valued Twitter contacts are people I stumbled onto by initially following their spouses.

3)  Don't be afraid to block people. If there is somebody - or more likely, some company or spam engine - who starts following you that you don't feel comfortable with, don't feel guilty about blocking them from reading your posts. (Trust me, most of them don't have feelings to hurt.)

4) Don't follow too many people at a time. It's easy to get overwhelmed with information. Just follow a few people at a time. Add contacts as you feel comfortable and drop contacts whose posts aren't all that useful or entertaining to you anymore. 

(That's a big difference between Twitter and Facebook - people tend to not take things like this personally. Dropping a "friend" from Facebook can generate real drama in your day-to-day life. Doing it in Twitter rarely will.) 

If you look at people on Twitter with a LOT of followers, you'll notice that they only follow a few people at a time. My rule of thumb is to keep the number of people I follow under 100, which sounds like a lot, but isn't really, because about a third of them don't "Tweet" that often. (But when they do, it's worth it.)

5) Don't be intimidated by people who seem much smarter than you. A lot of the time, I don't have a clue what the people I'm following are talking about. Most of the teachers I follow are much brighter than I am and hang out with a much more sophisticated crowd than I do, technology-wise. They make references to programs and platforms and other jargon-y things that I don't have a clue about. (Like "Nings" for instance; I wouldn't know a Ning, if it dropped out of the ceiling on top of me, spraying me with melted cheese.)

Here's the thing to remember about that - most of the time, when teachers online are asking questions about these things you don't know about, it's because they are just feeling their way through something at the edge of their comfort zone - that's why they're asking questions about it. They don't know much more about it than you do. If you are really curious about what they're talking about, just look it up on Wikipedia. (That's the sort of thing that Wikipedia does really well - give geeks a forum to explain technology.)

(Oh... so THAT'S what a Ning is...)


Anyway, Happy Twittering.

Next Time - Comic Strips!!!