Monday, March 7, 2016

DIY Classroom Voice Recording Box

This school year, I have been blessed to participate in an initiative in my county called #LoudounCreates. As a part of this initiative, my class was given a cart of Dell Venues (well, we have to share with another class) to use in the creation of digital content that we share with the world through our school's YouTube Channel. I absolutely love how engaged and excited my students are when it comes time to use the Venues. The students absolutely love creating videos and sharing them, especially when other people watch and comment on their work.

One of the biggest issues we experience with recording is all of the background noise. As I am sure you are aware, keeping a classroom of students quiet is nearly impossible. I've tried sending students into the hallway, but a school is a very busy, noisy place. As a result, many of the videos we record end up having a lot of other voices on the recording. It's not terrible, but I am always looking for a way to do it better.

One day on Facebook, I came across a post about the Chatterbox. The Chatterbox is a portable recording box designed specifically to help students record their voices in a classroom, while cutting down on all of the background noise.
As I looked at the Chatterbox, I realized that I could actually make these myself and save a little bit of money while doing it. I did some digging online and this is what I came up with.

You will need the following items:

Step One: Assemble the cardboard box. I used clear packaging tape to hold the bottom together. I also put a piece of tape on the flaps inside the box to give it some more stability and to keep the flaps from moving. You will also want to cut the top four flaps off the box so that they are out of the way.

Step Two: Attach the Velcro tabs to the acoustic foam. I put one piece of Velcro on each corner. You will need a total of 16 tabs (four for each piece of foam).

Step Three: Attach the acoustic foam to the inside panels of the box. I placed one piece of foam on the right side, the left side, the back (the bottom of the box), and to the top. I put both pieces of Velcro on the panel and then pushed the panel into place. This made sure that the pieces will line up correctly. Because of the box size, the acoustic panels don't fit at snugly as they do in the Chatterbox, but a smaller box might have made using a tablet inside a bit difficult.

That's it! I was able to put one together in about 15 minutes. If you would like, you can paint your boxes before installing the foam or you can take the foam out and paint them after. I haven't painted mine yet, but it may become a weekend project in the near future.

When students want to record their voices, they just place their device inside the box and lean their heads over the device. The acoustic foam will block out most of the sound that would normally be picked up by the microphone. I tested one of the recording boxes at home with my son after putting it together. Our washing machine was running just a few feet from where we were recording and very little of the machine noise was picked up by the iPad's microphone. It was amazing.

The Chatterbox sells on for $39.95 and it looks really neat. However, a set of 12 acoustic panels sells on for $19.99. It takes four panels to make a box, so one set of acoustic panels will allow you to put together 3 recording boxes. My office supply store was selling the 14x14x14 boxes for about $3.79, but I was able to receive a teacher discount and that reduced the price greatly. As a result, I was able to create three boxes for a fraction of the cost. Granted, mine don't look nearly as nice as the Chatterbox, but they will serve the same purpose.

Do you do a lot of voice recording in your classroom? Can you make use of a product like this?

Friday, January 1, 2016

Why Am I So Excited About Two Jars of Pennies?

As you are probably aware, college is not cheap, even when you go to a fairly inexpensive school I like I did.  Like so many other students, I need to take out loans in order to complete my education.  This included both my undergraduate and both of my graduate degrees.  Yes, I am a perpetual student and I love being in school.  However, I do not like the reality of student loan debt and student loan payments.

Each month, my wife and I pay almost $350 to student loans.  $350!  That's crazy!  So this year, we've decided we are going to pay off the loans (or make a fairly sizable dent).  Currently, we have a little less than $28,000 in student loan debt.  Just typing that out makes me sweat a little bit.


Now, why am I so excited about the two jars of pennies?  Well, we decided to make a visual representation of the amount of money we owe and the amount of money we've paid off on the principal.  That is where the two jars come in.

The first jar (the one with all of the pennies) stands for the amount of money we owe presently.  As I said, we owe almost $28,000, so this jar contains 280 pennies.  Each penny is worth $100.  Every time we pay $100 toward the principal, we move a penny from the first jar to second jar.  This includes our monthly loan payment.  I looked at how much goes toward the principal and how much goes to interest each month.  After the payment posts to the account, I'm going to make a payment for the difference between the amount that went to the principal and $100.  In each situation, it will be around $20-$25.  It looks like we are going to have to skip a meal out in order to cover that difference, but that's better for us, right?

If you look closely in this jar, you can see that we've already been able to move 4 pennies to the "Paid" jar.  We decided not to make a purchase and instead to put that money toward the debt.  Additionally, we "found" $300 in our bank account that we could safely afford to put toward the debt.  It felt really good to be able to move those pennies, even if it was just a small drop in the bucket, or jar, as it were.  Hopefully this is the start of some great momentum and we can start moving pennies like crazy.  I would love to be able to show the two jars at this time next year with all of the pennies moved.  How awesome would that be?

What financial goals do you have for the coming year?  Please share in the comments below.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Six Books I Want to Read in 2016

It's that time of year when people start making resolutions or goals for the coming year. Many of these are quickly dropped or fall to the wayside, usually because the goal was too outlandish or not specific enough. I try not to set too many goals, but I almost always make a goal to read more books or to read more consistently each year.

With that in mind, here is a list of books that I intend to read in 2016. Most of these have been out for some time and I'm sure there will be other books that come out in the coming year, but these are books that have piqued my interest.

  • The Survivor by Kyle Mills. One of my favorite characters is Mitch Rapp. He is an intelligence agent for the government, but not exactly liked by everyone because of his choice of tactics. The books are crazy exciting. Mitch Rapp was created by Vince Flynn, but, sadly, Mr. Flynn lost his battle with cancer a few years ago. Kyle Mills was selected to continue the story and I am interested to see how he does.
  • The Wright Brothers by David McCullough. I am currently reading this book and it is very interesting. I'm not much of a history reader, but I do enjoy a great story and Mr. McCullough is an excellent storyteller.
  • The Big Short by Michael Lewis. I got interested in this book because the movie looks fascinating. This is the third book by Mr. Lewis, who writes nonfiction, to be turned into a movie.
  • The Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll. This book has received many comparisons to Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train, both books that I read and found intriguing. I may not be the target demographic, but, as I said above, I am a sucker for a really good story.
  • Nightmares! by Jason Segel. I was surprised to find out that this book was written by Jason Segel, the guy from "How I Met Your Mother" and "The Muppets." Is there nothing this guy can't do? Anyway, my son read it and he absolutely loved it. I also did a book commercial for it at my school and it was one of the top selling items at the school's book fair. I've heard nothing but really good things. There is also a sequel called Nightmares!: The Sleepwalker Tonic that I'm certain will end up on this list as well.
  • Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow. I know almost nothing about this book. It was first published in 2004, but has recently become popular because there is a Broadway musical called Hamilton! based on the book. My brother started to read it and it made me want to read it too. By the way, the music from the musical is pretty good as well.

These are just a few of the books that I hope to read in 2016. Do you have plans to read any books this year? If so, what books are on your list? Have you read any of the books listed above? Please leave your thoughts in the comments below.

By the way, each of the books listed above is linked to When you purchase a book from using the links above, I receive a small commission, which goes to help me pay off my student loans. Just thought you would want to know.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Three Incredible Ways to Strengthen Student-Teacher Relationships

One of the most important relationships in the life of a student is that of the student-teacher relationship. If you have strong relationships with your students, your year is much more likely to go smoothly. Rita Pierson, in her incredible TED Talk, discusses a fellow teacher who had a miserable year because, as she put it, wasn't "paid to like the students."

Here are three incredible ways to strengthen the relationships you have with your students. Following these three keys will help pave the way to a great year with your class.

  1. Have a 5 to 1 Ratio.
  2. What is a 5:1 Ratio? A 5:1 Ratio is the number of positive comments to negative comments that you give each of your students. You need to constantly be heaping praise on your students. Have you ever noticed that if someone gives you 1,000 positive comments and one negative comment, it is the negative comment that sticks with you? The same is true for your students. Be sure to tell your students how great they are doing, especially if they are prone to negative behavior. Remember the wonderful Mary Poppins? "A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down." Be certain you have a 5:1 Ratio.

  3. Use T.U.M.S.
  4. I am not referencing the heartburn medicine (although sometimes those are needed). T.U.M.S refers to the tone you set for your students in the morning and the connections you make with students as they come into the classroom in the morning.
    • Touch - greet your students with a handshake, high five, or knuckle bump.
    • Use His Name - make certain your student knows you know who he is. A name is a very powerful thing, especially when it is being used appropriately.
    • Make Eye Contact - look your student in the eye and convey a sense of excitement.
    • Smile - who doesn't love seeing a smile? A smile will instantly convey that everything is going to be alright.

  5. Be sure to say the Big Three.
  6. I call these sayings the "Big Three" because I think they are three of the most important things that a teacher can tell a student. I wrote a more in-depth blog post earlier this year.
    • "You're doing a great job!" - let your student know you appreciate the work he is doing.
    • "I'm proud of you!" - find something your student is doing and praise him for it, even if it something inconsequential or small.
    • "I love you." - students need to know that you love and care for them. It shouldn't be implied; they need to hear you say it and say it often.
I would love to guarantee that these three things would give you a smooth, drama-free year. They won't because we are dealing with children and children are people. However, I can promise that if you are consistently heaping praise, making connections, and showing that you care, your relationships will be that much better.

What do you do to help strengthen and build student-teacher relationship? Leave a comment below!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Making Ends Meet - Using GymPact

The other day, I shared with you how you can earn gift cards by participating in Swagbucks. I want to suggest another way to help you earn a little extra money to help loosen your budget a little bit.
Everyone knows you are supposed to eat fruits and vegetables. We also know that we are supposed to exercise. What if there was a way that you could get paid for doing so? What if I told you there is? Gym Pact is the answer.

Gym Pact is an app for your smartphone. At the beginning of each week, you commit to eating a certain number of fruits and vegetables. Right now, my current number is 28. Each day, I eat my fruits and vegetables and take a picture of my serving with the phone's camera. The picture is uploaded to the app and other users vote on whether or not the picture will count. You can receive credit for up to 5 pictures each day. Most of the time the picture will count, but there are times when the community will decide that what you are eating is not actually a fruit or vegetable or that it is not a full serving. For this reason, it is best to take several extra pictures.

If you complete your pact for the week, you are paid a small amount for doing so. If you do not finish your pact (you don't eat all your vegetables), you are charged a fee for each one that you miss. This provides a great deal of incentive to make sure you are eating healthy.

In addition to eating fruits and veggies, you can also make a pact to exercise daily. The exercise pact requires that you complete an exercise session of 30 minutes or more. You can connect the Gym Pact app to a number of other apps, including RunKeeper. There is also a motion tracker that lets you use the Gym Pact app to record your exercise. I have mine connected to my FitBit, so my workout counts when I hit my goal of 10,000 steps for the day.

Using Gym Pact certainly won't make you rich, but every little penny helps, right? Currently, by completing 5 workouts and eating 28 vegetables, I earn about $3 each week. That's not a whole lot, but it keeps me motivated and has me eating as many vegetables and fruits as I can. I saved my Pact earnings for a number of weeks and was able to use it to pay for most of the parking fees we had on our trip to Walt Disney World this past summer. My wife has been saving hers and she just cashed our nearly $100! It all adds up.

I really hope that you if do sign up that the little bit of extra money you make is used to make your life just a little bit better.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Making Ends Meet - Using Swagbucks

It is no secret that most teachers are grossly underpaid. I am fortunate to work for a county that makes teacher salaries a priority, but even then, sometimes it can be hard to find extra money for birthday presents, Christmas, and just every day items. Fortunately, there are ways to make these things a little easier. My hope is that I can share some ideas with you to help you make a little extra money and, by doing so, make your life a little bit easier.

Today, I want to talk about Swagbucks.

Swagbucks is a website that will "pay" you to complete different activities online. There are videos to watch, polls to answer, and purchases to make. You can even earn Swagbucks by searching. Put in the terms that you are searching for and, periodically throughout the day, you will be awarded a number of Swagbucks for your search.

Swagbucks doesn't pay you in cash. Instead, you are rewarded Swagbucks, or SB. As you collect SB, you can then use them to purchase gift cards from a number of top retailers. My wife and I use our Swagbucks to purchase gift cards to, which we then use for birthday presents and Christmas gifts. You can also purchase gift cards from Kohls, Target, Best Buy, and There is also a gift card for PayPal, which is the same as cash. I used my SB earlier this year on our trip to Walt Disney World. I cashed in enough SB to receive $35 worth of gift cards to AMC theaters. We were able to take our entire family to the movies for about $12 because of the gift cards.

This may sound like a lot of work and, to be honest, it does take a little bit of effort to accumulate enough SB to get a gift card. Right now, you can get a $3 gift card for 300 SB or a $25 for 2,200 SB. One of the easiest ways to earn SB is to make use of the SBTV app available for your smartphone (just do a search in your smartphone's app store). I have it on my iPhone and use it every day. This is a really simple app. You simply make certain you are connected to WiFi, turn on the app, and let it run. During the day at school, I will set the app to run and leave it on my desk. Simply by running the app, I earn about 30 SB each day. I think my wife and I have earned a couple of hundred dollars in gift cards through this program.

If Swagbucks sounds like it might be helpful to you, you can sign up by clicking here. Please note, this is an referral link and I will receive a bonus because you signed up. You will also receive a 150 SB bonus for signing up, so it is win-win for both of us.

I hope that by joining Swagbucks, the little bit of money that you save from purchasing the gift cards will help make your budget a little bit easier.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Your Job Is To Protect the Students

I was scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed when I came across this status from Jon Acuff.

Yesterday on my flight, a 13 year old boy who was traveling alone sat next to me. Before we took off he lowered the tray table in front of him, put his head in his arms and started sobbing. Big tears covered the tray as he wept in his seat.

I asked him, "Are you alright buddy?" He told me he had spent 3 months with his mother for the summer and was flying back to another state to live with his dad.

Sometimes the frequency of divorce makes us forget the heartache of it. It's such an ordinary thing these days that we tend to rush right by the extraordinary pain it causes.

As an adult, I have had friends that have dealt with divorce. Sadly, it seems like an almost daily occurrence when my wife tells me that a friend of hers is going through a divorce. It is heartbreaking to know that a relationship that was supposed to last forever is coming to an end.

The even sadder reality is that this is an all-too-common occurrence in our classrooms. There are children who deal with the heartbreak and devastation of a divorce on a daily basis. Sometimes, Mom and Dad get along great after the divorce and sometimes it is nasty between them. Regardless, there is pain for the children. I am thankful that my parents are still together. It was a bit dicey at times, but they are still together.

We think we were hired to teach children and that is true. More importantly, we were hired to protect the students, to keep them safe, and to help them understand the world around them. It is pretty scary being an adult; it is even scarier being a kid. Love your students, make sure they know you are a safe harbor in their chaotic world, and teach them to love and protect each other. That is your job, the most important job you have when you enter the school building each day.

Your job is protect to the students.