* Camp Wonderopolis 2017- WOW!

Camp Wonderopolis 2017 is the BEST ever!   This STEM-based set of activities is divided into six tracks, with 7 excellent lessons for each.  New this year: Each track also includes a Maker Activity, a hands-on, fun way to extend the primary concept of each track.  A helpful video also accompanies each Activity.  The creators of this Wonderful camp have added a slew of additional resources for each lesson, access to a Wonder Wall for posting comments, and a cool representation of progress (such as completion of a graphic power plant) in addition to the previous representations of completion.  Kids still earn those awesome Wonder Cards by taking a 6-question quiz related to the basic concepts and vocabulary of the lesson.

Camp Wonderopolis 2017

Kids with reading struggles are not neglected.  Each lesson features an audio track, so those smart kids who can’t wade through paragraphs of unfamiliar words won’t have to!  Kids on the autism spectrum or those with language/ auditory processing problems may also benefit from the audio and video features, as well as time spent on “Spin a Wonder Wheel,” which reviews key vocabulary.

So here’s my Wonder question:  How do they keep making Camp Wonderopolis better each year?  

* Fickle Technology

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To paraphrase a former IT specialist: “You can love Technology but you can’t trust him.”

I wanted to wring Technology’s neck yesterday.  He promised me the moon: Discovery Education, Reading A-Z, BrainPop, and Google docs, to name a few.  He left me holding dust.

My student uses eye gaze for communication, so at least we had Tobii Dynavox I-12 and Communicator 5.  Technology pretended not to care; after all, he had reduced me to pen, paper, and my phone’s wireless hotspot.  I tried not to think about the gigabytes we were whizzing through, dollar signs soaring around the classroom.

To make matters worse, Technology told me there was no hope for today, either.  “I’m on a 24 hour freeze, darlin’.  But I’ll be back.  You can count on me.”  Sure.  I’ve heard that line before.

I used to pack a first aid kit, a safety net if Technology pulled a fast one.  I kept all manner of printed materials that would bypass fickle Technology.  I’d show him!  But when I was on crutches, I could only stuff essentials into a huge backpack.  As I’ve limped around with the compression boot, that backpack has been a lifesaver.  All the while, I’ve had this niggling sense of vulnerability without that kit.  “Don’t be silly,” I told myself. Technology has turned a corner.”  He looked genuinely heartbroken when I brought up his past failings. “Look at all I’ve done for you!” he’d proclaim defensively.

Technology jumped off the wagon with glee yesterday.  Today he’ll probably give me roses.

* A-Z Challenge: V is for video

I was just introduced to GoAnimate, an online site that allows both teachers and students to create and share videos safely and relatively easily.  In my online class, a couple of GoAnimate videos have been used as examples of how teachers might use technology to teach math.  The videos model excellent “teacher” questioning, along with a variety of “student” responses to complex math tasks.  Not only did I learn from the videos, I realized that I can use them, too!

GoAnimate provides a cool number avatars, props, backgrounds, and sounds for video creation.  They also lead novices like me through the video-creation process.  Teachers using GoAnimate for Schools can moderate all student-produced videos, assist students in sharing their work, and of course, use them to foster higher level thinking.  There are several features that make me drool: automatic lip syncs by characters, even if you record the voice yourself, and the ease of creating fascinating whiteboard videos.  Here’s a snippet of my first video (yes, I am a pirate teacher).

clip of video

GoAnimate could not only promote higher level thinking in core academic areas, but would be a fantastic tool for teaching social skills.  Teachers could share scenarios for students to problem solve.  It would also provide opportunities for students to create videos reflecting their perspectives, how to deal with bullying, and other social struggles.

So glad I found this online video-maker!

* Math Playground

If you haven’t yet visited Math Playground, you are in for a treat!  Designed by Colleen King for her classroom in 2002 and continuing to grow, Math Playground has now over 450 games and activities.  The site is organized by grade level (1-6+), math topics, and includes excellent math videos and an entire page of games and videos aligned to Common Core standards.

Math Playground provides ample practice on just about any skill you can name, with games that are not always timed, which can be a helpful feature for struggling students.  About 130 games are also available as apps from iTunes.  The site is certified kidSafe, so ads are benign.  Math Playground also donates to Donors Choose, a terrific site I’ve used in the past.

One of my favorite features of Math Playground is the accessibility of 28 interactive math manipulatives, such as “thinking blocks” for solving word problems on multiple topics.  Teachers, parents, and students can explore fraction bars, geoboards, fraction scales, probability spinners, tangrams, function machines, simple programming, and much more.  These manipulatives are a bit more difficult to find, so bookmark the link!

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Math Playground has many logic games and a cool section on the interaction between math and art.  “Equation Creations,” for instance, may appeal to students who are into video games and graphic designs.  For movie creation, there are 3 fun “sets”: a picnic site, rock band, and alien adventure.  If you’re a parent who needs a boost for supporting homework assignments, this site is also for you.  Finally, there are reading, spelling, and geography games, plus just-for-fun activities.

Math Playground is a 5-star site!

 

* Blogging A-Z: ASCD

ASCD, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, has a lot to offer teachers as well as administrators.  The organization was founded in 1943 and has continually provided high quality professional development, current research and issues, along with a commitment to improve education, one child at a time.

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How does this play out for special needs kids?  ASCD supports a positive approach to neurodiversity, which means celebrating learning differences and improving students’ ability to understand their unique strengths.  This also means less emphasis upon labeling/pathology, less test-driven assessment, and more technological support for struggling students.  With state and federal monies dependent upon labels, is this possible?  Certainly!  Most elementary students are oblivious to the behind-the-scenes labeling process.  As they mature, students can participate in that process with a secure awareness that there is no average learner.

Check out the membership options for ASCD.  You’ll be glad you did!

* Smartbox

SmartBox is an assistive technology company which designs hardware and software for eye gaze use.  Their Look to Learn eye gaze activities are excellent, allowing for initial success and subsequent growth in targeting.  Not only does Smartbox provide fun games and challenges, but each activity captures your student’s eye movements in images similar to heat mapping.  This makes it easier to determine where your kiddo needs more help focusing and provides feedback for teachers, parents, and kids.  In the coloring activity below, the burnt orange color shows where my student focused his eyes the most.  Clever!

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For more information on Smartbox activities, here’s a terrific video.  I’m sure you’ll find the burnt orange color in this, too.

Thank you, Jennifer Wells, for your Color Your World crayola blogging challenge!

* Ummy! Video downloader

In a not-so-recent post, I mentioned that I’m using the awesome Tobii Dynavox I-12 device with Communicator 5.  One of Com 5’s cool features is the creation of page sets that allow links to even more links.  This means the homepage can be simple, but each link allows more choices.  Here’s a look at a home page (sorry for the picture quality):

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Before UMMY, “brain break” in the school page has been linked to pictures of a student’s favorite YouTube videos, but then we have to open YouTube, etc.  Brain breaks are serious business and support improved student learning, but they also need to be efficient.  This is where UMMY makes good things happen!  I just discovered the Ummy video downloader, which allows me to access and create links to the actual YouTube videos.  Wow!  For $14.95, I now have unlimited downloads, it’s a snap to use, and allows me to choose from a variety of formats.  I love the HD quality as well as the sound.  [I had a free trial with another downloader, but it was going to cost a big chunk every month and in 5 days, I couldn’t get one video downloaded.  Granted, my brain has had its challenges this past week, but even a digital novice can get Ummy to work!]

If you want easy and cheap access to unlimited and high quality video downloads, Ummy is a winner.  It’s going to make school transitions easier and my student’s life more fun.  For classroom teaching, you can ALWAYS access your Ummy videos with a simple click, even without internet availability.  Be sure to check it out!

* Catching up

I’m sorry that I’ve been hit or miss with my blog for awhile now.  Medical issues and work have derailed my best-laid plans.  Here are a few updates on my life.

This week, I spent quite a few hours programming Communicator 5 on a Tobii Dynavox I-12+ device.  The I-12 is a terrific stand-alone eye gaze device with a sturdy case (gorilla glass), amazing technology, and a Windows 10 operating system.  tobiidynavox-iseries-i12-1920x1080.jpg

Communicator 5 is Tobii’s intuitive program for augmentative and alternative communication (AAC).  With the handy, downloadable manual, it’s a snap to set up a cool homepage with lots of links.  Granted, I still have to fix a few flaws, but I’m pleased with how user-friendly this system is.  For kids who need a voice, Communicator 5 can be a game changer.

Speaking of games, my nephew Christopher has a new game plan: “Never let Aunt Katharine catch me for a hug after church.”  He loves the idea of hugs but he adores the chase even more!  I couldn’t wait to see his latest scheme today.  I was not disappointed.  The gang came piling out of Sunday School, asking me if I knew where to find Christopher.  None of us mentioned that there was a ghost lingering behind the chairs, eyes glistening with excitement.  After I caught him, his sister got into the act.  Sister Act?  Groan….

sister-act

My dearest widower took me on a date last night!  Woohoo!  We watched John Wick, Chapter 2.  Not for the faint of heart.  We had an interesting discussion at lunch with our son and his wife (happy birthday to her!) about whether John Wick portrays a parallel universe.  If so, I’m glad to be in ours!  Keanu Reeves brings gun-fu to a new level.

 

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Image from Film Music Reporter, where you can purchase the soundtrack.

I hope you have a great week!  I’m eager to catch up on the Color Your World blogging challenge, share some math ideas, and post a review of the second book in the Nick Hall series.

Dash and Dot

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Sounds like Morse code, right?  These two robots are waaaaay beyond that (in the photo, Dash is hogging the camera and Dot is waiting for a turn).   Created by Wonder Workshop, these programmable robots are fun for play and teaching kids coding.  Dot is a stationary robot with a multitude of expressions and lights.  One spontaneous phrase of hers is, “I love it when you hold me,” spoken like she really means it.  Dash is a wild one with enough moves to star in a TV talent show.  Both robots interact with their owners (and each other) right off the bat, but they were created to help kids learn programming.  They’re spunky toys, very durable and personable.  Hey, they almost seem ALIVE.

Where do you begin with these fascinating characters?  First, be prepared to fork out serious cash for Dash.  Dash is the more complex of the two robots, with its ability to move around.  Wonder Workshop also sells Dash with an array of accessories, including launchers, Legos, and xylophones.  I think the robots are worth every penny because they are not a one-and-done type of toy.  Kids will continue to enjoy the endless possibilities long after the holiday season or birthday party.

The next step is to load the Wonder Workshop free apps on your  iOS or Android device.  There’s an app for all ages and abilities.  Dot and Dash are toys that will “grow up” along with your kids.  My favorite app is Wonder, for ages 8+.  Here’s a screenshot of all the goodies available (yes, parents may be fighting with their kids to play).  A cool feature is sharing and downloading codes from the Wonder Cloud which the robots will remember after you turn off the app.  The Scroll Quest teaches kids coding with all kinds of advanced techniques/conditions.

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These robots may be the first step of a child’s future career in technology.  They are designed for kids, but you can enjoy the fun together.  In fact, your kiddo will probably drive Dash into your ankles if you don’t pay attention to their latest trick!

* Spotlight on Mathgeek Mama

Mathgeek Mama is a cool blog with seriously good math resources, advice, and freebies.  I stumbled across this site recently and have been downloading some cool resources ever since.  Bethany is the math geek behind this terrific site, loaded with resources, helpful links, and insights for struggling students.  She’s a former public school math teacher who now homeschools her four girls.

Why do I love Mathgeek Mama so much?  Bethany really gets it.  She understands why some kids struggle with math.  She tackles common misunderstandings with multisensory and appealing materials.  And much of it is FREE.  Here’s a good example.  I am tutoring my nephew in math; Isaac partially understands place value and regrouping, but still needs that aha moment.  Bethany has created a clever and attractive shopping game where the currency is pattern blocks.  Without resorting to piecemeal algorithms in his head, Isaac can play this game and truly understand why he must “regroup,” even if we don’t call it that.  Anxiety is reduced and understanding is increased.  Perfect!

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Check out Bethany’s site for freebies and much more.  Her products are reasonably priced and worth the investment (and far more attractive than anything I could create).