* K is for Kidblog

I have been using a free trial membership of Kidblog for a couple of weeks. It took me a bit longer than I expected to set up this classroom blogging platform but it was worth it.

What kids get:  Kidblog provides a safe internet platform for writing to an authentic audience.  The kid benefits increase exponentially when teachers purchase a subscription (see below).  Either way, students can log in and blog without an email address.  Even in the free version, there are many adorable/cool avatars from which to select and it’s easy to upload most images from their computer.   Without the paid subscription, all images don’t fit neatly into the allotted space.  With teacher approval, students may allow guests (“connections”) to access and comment on their posts.  Kids’ posts will not appear by any logical grouping unless the teacher pays for it.

What teachers get:  I’m using a free trial right now, but for only $36, a teacher may purchase a year’s subscription for unlimited classes and students.  A school or district-wide membership is also available.  A feature worth paying for is the ability to divide students into groups; right now, every post appears in single long chain.  That subscription will also allow you to embed videos, connect with other classes using Kidblog, provide access to more personalized student posts, and create a connection to Google Drive.  The paid subscription also gives teacher access to lesson plans and resources.  Paid subscription or not, teachers can require approval before anything is posted and before sharing with others is permitted.  Teachers create join codes so families and friends can log into Kidblog more easily.  It will take time to review and approve all those student posts and the many comments that accompany them.  Teachers may not only comment on student posts but create their own posts, too, which allows students easy access to online assignments and rubrics.

Bottom line:  If you buy the yearly subscription, Kidblog is well worth the money.

My rating: 3 stars without the paid subscription, probably 5 with it!

                               starstarstarstarstar

* Zaption

Zaption is a terrific tool for transforming videos from simple entertainment to more robust instruction.  I recommend the Pro membership, which adds a significant number of features to the site.  Zaption is easy to use and works well with special needs kids.

How does Zaption work?  First, you select a video related to your instructional topic.  Zaption has its own huge gallery, with featured courses in history, science, and government.  You may also select videos by topic, such as language arts or current events.  You may upload your own videos or use those on YouTube.  Second, you make the video your own, for a group or individual, by adding one of 11 elements to the video itself.  These include a text or image slide; a drawing on the video; and one of six student response types, such as written, multiple choice, drawn, or discussion.  Other ways to adapt the video for your needs include trimming, adding replay, and jumping from one point to another.

What else do you get?  Analytics!  Your student responses are recorded by date, accuracy, whether students skipped forward or backwards, how they rated the lesson, and more.  You may download all info as a CSV file.

Give Zaption a try!  Even the basic membership is a great deal!  Follow them on Twitter for updates and super user tips.

 

* LearnZillion

board-784355_640LearnZillion is an online resource created to improve teacher instruction of Common Core State Standards (CCSS).  (Whether we should support CCSS is another matter altogether.  Regardless of that outcome, LearnZillion’s resources will be helpful for teachers who need a model of how to engage their students in a rigorous, inquiry-based classroom.)  The brainchild of Eric Westendorf and colleagues, LearnZillion is dedicated to providing free math and English Language Arts videos and lesson plans. Now serving over a half a million teachers, LearnZillion has an impressive collection of resources for grades 2 through 12.

Is LearnZillion free?  Yes!  You can easily create an account as a teacher or parent.  Once you create a classroom, it is very simple to assign students.  I especially appreciate that students may sign up without email.  So how does LearnZillion pay for itself?  It offers premium memberships to school districts.

What do I like about LearnZillion?  Based on my understanding of effective, brain-friendly instruction, these lessons and videos provide students:

  • a wide range of strategies for learning specific skills, which is more likely to support learning differences
  • built-in time for student processing of information
  • targeted instruction which is aligned with current research on how long and how effectively the brain can absorb information

What does LearnZillion provide teachers?  Not only are excellent resources available for free, but these can serve as a springboard to better lesson planning in general.  As a special educator, I’ve watched instruction narrow considerably over the past fifteen years or so in response to testing pressures.  Classroom teachers have found themselves in a narrow, data-keeping role, which tends to shrink lessons to match test items.  Teachers are frustrated with their role as “testers.”  If educators can share effective, time-saving strategies and techniques, I am all for it.  In LearnZillion’s blog, Westendorf describes the phenomena I’ve observed.  LearnZillion is his thoughtful solution.

* Glogster

Glogster is a cool online site that allows teachers and students to prepare multimedia presentations.  Over 5 million glogs have been created to date, and over 10,000 are available to admire in Glogpedia.  Never heard of it?  A glog is essentially a single “page,” which can be combined (if desired) into a series of glogs created by one student or an entire class.  Glogs can be created from scratch or built from copied templates.  The image below is one of many templates which can be copied and added to your teacher account.Glogster 2

From this sample, you can see some of the options available to students, which include typing text, adding photos and videos from a webcam or file, adding Glogster images, and modifying pretty much anything on the page.

I think Glogster has great potential for special needs students.  First of all, it is based online (computer or iPad), which appeals to our techies in the world of special ed.  Second, it allows students to use their creativity and divergent thinking without the limitations of fine motor skills, writing, or drawing skills.  No worries about cutting and gluing or finding poster board.  Students with disabilities can work creatively around their weaknesses.  Unable to type or write?  All information can be added via images and videos, if needed.  I would eliminate some of the visual clutter for many of my students, but others may enjoy creating a wild collage of thoughts and ideas.  Third, teachers can assign special needs students as mentors to others through this format, where peers can appreciate and explore those special interests freely.  Students are protected from unwanted internet content but their glogs may be shared via email or classroom wikis under teacher supervision.  Fourth, a glog can serve as a valuable assessment tool as students summarize their understandings about math concepts, character development, and historical timelines.  Finally, glogs can be used by teachers to present information in an alternative form.  For those students who need repetition, are riveted to computers, and/or struggle to listen in a group, glogs can provide an engaging way of introducing concepts and summarizing procedures.

For $39 a year, elementary teachers can purchase a subscription for 30 students. Secondary teachers can enroll up to 125 students for $95 a year.  It’s a great deal which has the potential to boost the confidence and interest of struggling students.

* Worksheets and Walkthroughs

worksheets and walkthroughsWorksheets and Walkthroughs is a terrific math site heavily loaded with videos, worksheets, and classy worksheet generators.  The site is not “pretty” but it’s a wonderful FREE resource for teachers and parents.  Walkthroughs are the massive collection of almost 100 videos on a variety of math topics for grades 3-5.  I haven’t watched every video, but all the ones I’ve viewed have been excellent.  The instructor works carefully through the topic using a smart board; color and diagrams assist in student understanding.  Each video lesson is correlated with Common Core standards and is linked to an available worksheet on the homepage.  The teacher in these videos is knowledgeable, personable, and articulate.  Here’s a glimpse of the beginning of a video on the lattice method of multiplication:worksheets and walkthroughs 1

This site also features videos of Singapore math visuals for problem solving.  The Singapore method of math instruction places heavy emphasis upon the pictorial representation of word problems, along with true mastery of key concepts (as opposed to the two week fly-by method which drives me crazy!).  The diagrams presented will give you a good foundation for applying these visuals to many kinds of word problems.

The worksheets on this site are a special educator’s dream come true.  They are visually clear, have few problems per page (what a relief!), and actually provide sufficient space to solve the problems.  I have found those qualities in short supply in most commercially prepared materials.  The worksheets may also include steps for computation.  Here’s an answer sheet for long division that gives you a sense of how the paper is organized.worksheets and walkthroughs 2

Did I mention the impressive worksheet generators?  They are available for all operations and can be customized to an astounding level.  Here’s an example of a generator for simple multiplication:worksheets and walkthroughs 3

I highly recommend Worksheets and Walkthroughs for teachers and parents alike.  The videos are as good as any teaching I’ve seen and would also make an excellent supplement for kids who are lagging behind.  For those kids who require more than one careful explanation of skills, this site would make individualized instruction much easier.  For parents who do not recognize any part of their kid’s math homework, this is a great place to tune up your skills!  This site is a great resource for home schoolers as well.  Did I mention that it’s free?

* Wonderopolis

Many thanks to K. Renae P. for her post that inspired me to check out Wonderopolis.  She wrote a really good review, so I had to find out more!Wonderopolis 1

Wonderopolis, a FREE educational site, was started in October, 2010 by the National Center for Families Learning (NCFL).  Wonderopolis is massive, brimming with information on more topics than I can imagine.  The reading level of the topics is about the same as that of daily newspapers (about 7th or 8th grade reading level), but all topics have a “listen” feature which allows student to hear a robotic-sounding voice reading the material.  I typically read the articles out loud if they are above my students’ reading levels (which they all are).  Topics are introduced with a question and accompanying video.

There are two main entry points for accessing the wide range of “wonder of the day” lessons.  Teachers, parents, and kids can explore the daily question or search the vast resources by grade and subject.  Today’s wonder is #1344: Who invented the first video game?  Other topics range from “Why do you pick a banjo?” to “Why does it hail?”  The second entry point to this site is Camp Wonderopolis, which is free but requires registration.  If you sign up your student for this feature (email address required), they may select one of seven lessons on various “tracks,” including Wonder Zoo and Wonder Amusement Park.  Camp Wonderopolis

Camp Wonderopolis has two interesting features.  Students may earn digital “cards” for their camp wall by answering questions about the topic.  The cards are printable (2-sided on 8.5″ x 11″ paper) and visually appealing.  Students may also spin a word wheel for definitions of vocabulary used in the article.

Whether you explore a random topic or work through the Camp lessons, all topics include external links to photos, articles, and related information.  Due to the rapid growth of this site, it is now possible to select topics which relate to typical classroom instruction.  I have found that the topics are also useful for providing authentic uses of math skills.  A topic on “which animal can jump the highest” is a springboard for measurement, ratios, and place value (pun intended!).  Wonderopolis is definitely worth using!

Have you tried it out?  What are your impressions?

* Quizlet

Quizlet 5Quizlet was was created by Andrew Sutherland in 2005 as a way to study for his high school French class  Officially launched in 2007, it became available to the public as a site for creating study words lists.  Quizlet quickly grew as students and teachers created word lists for practicing vocabulary, language, and grammar; today , it is used by millions of people around the globe.Quizlet 3Feature by feature, Quizlet has improved dramatically as a site for educators.  There are now six options for students using Quizlet.  By purchasing Classroom Superpowers for $25 a year, my students have an ad-free study zone, I can record my own word cards, and add my own images.  Classroom and student progress are monitored for me.  The features I describe below are “superpowered.”

What kids get:  Once they are assigned to my classroom, students select an avatar and may access one of six modes for studying the content I provide.

Quizlet 2

They may begin by reviewing flashcards which display the cards; the flipside of each card identifies the skill they are learning.

Quizlet 4

card for Quizlet

After reviewing the flashcards, the “Learn” mode allows them to type answers relating to the list.  For example, if they have a list of words from six syllable types, they may be prompted to type a word representing closed syllables.  The “Speller” mode is simple: students type the words they hear.  I can decide whether to use my voice or the Quizlet default voice.  In the “Test” mode, I can create one of four types of online or printed tests: multiple choice, matching, true/false, and written/typed.  There are also two games for students to play: Scatter and Race.  In the Scatter game, students are timed as they match correct answers to their words, such as pairing a prefix with a base word.  The Race is a timed game that requires students to type the answers to questions before the images disappear across the screen.  If a correct answer is not typed, the game stops and provides the answer for students to complete.

What teachers get:  Teachers can create sets relating to a wide range of subject areas, from math to literature to spelling.  You can record your own voice, which is helpful if your list requires specific pronunciations (such as vowel sounds).  You may add an image to a card from the ones available online or select your own.  Specific progress for each student is provided, such as the words or problems they miss, their timed scores, and what activities they’ve completed.  The page is ad-free.

Pros:

  • You can use the site for free if desired.
  • The games are engaging for kids.
  • You can create highly individualized lists for students.
  • You can access lists that have been created by other users.
  • Quizlet is a work in progress; new features are continually being added.

Cons:

  • You must “ask” students to join your class and they must register via email, Google, or Facebook.  The Fix: For younger students, parents will need to provide assistance in this process, such as determining a user name and password.
  • The Learn and Race modes do not work well for many lists I have created.  If there is more than one correct answer (two words that both have the au vowel team), the student will have to guess which word is being required. The Fix: Skip these modes of practice.
  • The Race game requires quick typing and I typically cannot use this for younger students.  The Fix: None.
  • The online images available are sketchy for some categories.  The Fix: You will need to create your own images or go without.
  • All lists for my class are visible to all students.  The Fix: Create separate classes for each student.

My rating:  4 out of 5 stars

* Discovery Education for dealing with bullying and more

discovery educationWant a video that depicts common classroom bullying?  What about strategies to reduce bullying?  Check out Discovery Education, a for-profit organization that provides access to more than 170,000 digital resources on bullying and about every other topic you can imagine.  When I first started using online videos for social skills instruction, my school subscribed to United Streaming.  United Streaming and Discovery Education are now combined, with an impressive array of resources categorized by topic and curriculum standards.  This online resource can be purchased by school districts and also includes: teacher training; an emphasis on STEM curricula and careers; options for teacher-created materials (such as quizzes and writing prompts); and teacher-directed, individualized support for students who are unable to attend school.

One of my primary uses of this website has been for social skills instruction.  Although I have typically used my own students for developing videos, these online resources normalize a variety of social experiences for kids, as well as allowing me to work with students individually while others are productively engaged.  A quick search for ‘bullying’ produces 188 resources, many of which can be downloaded and edited for and by students.  Some of these materials were produced about 10 years ago, but depict scenarios which are still relevant today.

Discovery Education also provides free teacher, parent, and student resources, most of which are average or so-so in quality. Parent resources include articles on motivation, summer activities, free clip art, and homework help.  The best student resource is a math homework helper, but it would require good reading skills and like the parent resources, the page is cluttered with advertisements.  (Perhaps not if you use Firefox with Adblock Plus….)  On the other hand, here’s an example of their free animated clip art, one of hundreds available, and my first animated clip art on this blog!  ani-dance1

* Edu-doodles

More ideas/ links on using technology in education. I need to tweet more!

Your Friendly Neighbourhood Teacher

Lets Do It-Return to work-Full Metal Jacket

I’ve always loved drawing, although I never took art as a subject and I know I am not the best at it, but I love the doodling I do on CPD and, while some might see it as disrespectful, I can remember discussions, whole sessions and more from the doodles I do on my pages. Staff in my school know I doodle but also know that I am listening and (hopefully) make decent contributions to discussions so I feel comfortable doodling in my diary or notebook.

And then I came to twitter. I have been on twitter since 2009 but it wasn’t until 2011 that I started to use it a bit more, tweeting the odd thing. And I then went to my first TeachMeet early in 2014 and my eyes were opened! I started using it for education tweets and my timeline came alive; I realised that twitter could be…

View original post 257 more words

* VoiceThread

VoiceThread is a cool platform for encouraging student collaboration and reflection.  It may also serve as a digital student portfolio and authentic assessment by teachers.  The platform serves as a forum for sharing ideas, based on an uploaded image, video, or document.  Let’s assume a teacher wants her students to comment on the plot of a read- aloud book.  She may post a picture of the book, assign accounts to students, and moderate their comments.  There are five ways to respond on VoiceThread: audio recording, video recording (using webcam), text, uploaded audio file, and phone conversation (the latter method is probably not useful for elementary school!).  Students or teachers may “doodle” while recording comments, using an online pen (with a nice palette of colors) to emphasize or add to their thoughts.  I use a free account and keep my VoiceThreads private, with comments allowed only by invited participants.  Teachers may purchase a license for up to 50 student accounts for $79 a year, or a district may purchase accounts for thousands of kids (at greater cost, of course).

If you have never tried VoiceThread, check out this one (scroll to the bottom of the page for the actual thread):  Fifth grade student-led parent conferences.  The teacher has written a clear description of her goals for the project, along with a step-by-step process for creating this 15 page thread.  She includes tips and challenges (but notes that it was an easy project).

VoiceThread has much potential for special needs students.  It allows collaboration which requires no written responses, which can allow twice exceptional students to capture their advanced ideas without the laborious writing process.  It is useful for ASD students who may not participate easily in a group discussion that flows too quickly for them to “jump in.”  It can also be useful for improving social skills for high functioning autistic students; it allows feedback on videotaped role-plays, photos, and other prompts to which kids can respond.   VoiceThread also supports more reflective thinking, since collaboration does not occur in real time.   The platform is so engaging that it may be a useful reward for students on a behavior contract.