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Monday, August 8, 2011

10 Common Challenges We'll Face This Fall - Challenge #3: Differentiation

Image Credit: Nickwheeleroz
One of my most popular presentations, the one that I'm most frequently asked to give, is 10 Common Challenges Facing Educators. When giving this presentation I outline challenges that classroom teachers often face and present some resources and strategies for addressing those challenges. In preparation for the new school year I've created a series of blog posts based on my presentation. Today's post is about some of my favorite resources for finding differentiated reference materials.

Video
It was during a classroom viewing of a reel-to-reel movie (yes, I'm just barely old enough to have experienced those an all of their frequently jamming glory) that I realized that I really enjoyed the stories of history. It wasn't until much later after my freshman year of college that I decided to really study history. Fast forward to 2011 and there is 35 hours of video content uploaded to YouTube every minute. The point is, video is a popular and engaging medium. Unfortunately, many schools block all access to YouTube in classrooms. If you find yourself in that situation, here are 47 Alternatives to Using YouTube in the Classroom.

Podcasts, Open Courses, and Audio Books
No longer is access to the world's most highly regarded scholars limited to those who can afford an Ivy League education. Through iTunes U and other channels like Yale's Open Courses anyone can watch and listen to Ivy League lectures. In many cases the hand-outs and assignments are available to accompany open lectures.

Books Should Be Free provides audio recordings of hundreds of books in the public domain. Recordings hosted on Books Should Be Free are available for online listening or downloading to your computer and or iPod.

Books and Other Reading Materials
One of my favorite resources for expanding my students' reading choices is Google Books. With Google Books I can create and share virtual shelves of books with each of my classes. I typically will do this when giving students a Civil War reading assignment. Our school's library only has about 30 books on the Civil War that are appropriate for the assignment. To offer more reading choices, I search Google Books for books that can be downloaded in their entirety from Google Books.

This year Google added a reading level filter to their search engine, but their rankings of reading material by "basic," "intermediate," and "advanced" makes you wishing for a little more refinement. For more refinement of search results according to reading level give Twurdy a try.

Lazy Meter - A Task Manager that Tracks Your Progress

Lazy Meter is a free service for keeping track of the tasks that you have to get done and measuring your progress as you go. The basic premise of Lazy Meter is much like other task management or to-do list tools. You enter the list of things that you need to get done and check them off as you go. As you complete each task, Lazy Meter displays your progress. At the end of each day or week you can check your overall progress with Lazy Meter's metrics. For more about how Lazy Meter is trying to differentiate itself in the crowded task management market, read their blog post Not Another Task Manager.

Applications for Education
The start of a new school year is the time when students and teachers often make the resolution to do a better job of keeping track of assignments and other tasks. Lazy Meter could be one tool to help students keep that new resolution. Of course, the task management tool is only as good as the person using it. So you might have to remind your students to check into their Lazy Meter accounts from time to time.

Old School New School - Creativity and Success

This week's Snag Learning Film of the Week is Old School New School. Old School New School is a thirty minute film that explores the questions what is creativity? And what is success? The film interviews artists from a variety of genres to explore the answers to those questions. You can watch the film and find discussion questions for it here.

Watch more free documentaries

NPR's Math Guy - 78 Archived Episodes

This morning through the Open Culture blog I learned about an excellent series of archived NPR Math Guy episodes. Keith Devlin is NPR's Math Guy who appears on NPR's Weekend Edition and Morning Edition programs. Over the years he has contributed 78 segments that explain the mathematics of items in the news. For example you can listen to this segment about the math behind election polling or this episode about the mathematics behind airline ticket prices.

Applications for Education
The Math Guy archives could be a great place to find some "real world" mathematics examples and problems for your students to tackle. The episodes provide a good cross-over between mathematics and current events, perfect for teachers trying to show the relevance of mathematics to their students.

Stop Selling Me Crap

This morning TechCrunch has an article reporting that Apple will sell a sub $1,000 iMac for education. At first I thought "cool," this is Free Technology for Teachers after all so you would probably expect that from me. Then I read the short article and learned that the iMac Apple is proposing to sell to the education market is a stripped-down version of the consumer iMacs. And if the comments on the article itself and on Twitter are any indication, educators are excited about this news. I, however, am not so excited.

While the education version of the iMac is sure to be fine for most school applications, the fact that Apple can sell a watered-down product and schools will eat it up (get it? because it's Apple, okay bad pun) reflects a bigger problem. Why do companies like Apple (they're not the only ones who do this) think they can sell a watered-down product? Because schools continue to buy them. Why does US society think it's okay to scrimp on spending for education? My contention is that we allow it to happen by getting excited about buying watered-down products.

Updated for emphasis: This is not a criticism of Apple specifically, in fact it's not meant as a criticism of any company. My criticism is of "us" as educators who get excited about inferior products and of U.S. culture in general that thinks it is okay to scrimp on education spending.

Editor's note (yes, same guy who wrote the two paragraphs above): I fully realize that I am a walking contradiction by complaining about buying watered-down hardware while spending all of my days looking for free software and Web 2.0 services. The only thing I can say is, I will and do spend money for good hardware when I need it. 

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