Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Ideas for Productively Using Cell Phones in Your Classroom

Taking advantage of the potential of the cell phones that students carry with them is one of the points that I emphasized yesterday in my keynote for the MECA conference in Mississippi. Here are some of my favorite ways to use cell phones in school.

Gathering informal feedback from students:
There are lots of good tools for gathering feedback from students through their phones, laptops, and tablets. Two of my favorite tools for this are Kahoot and the old standby Poll Everywhere.

Kahoot is a service for delivering online quizzes and surveys to your students. On Kahoot you create a quiz or survey that your students respond to through any device that has a web browser. Your Kahoot questions can include pictures and videos. As the teacher you can control the pace of the Kahoot quiz or survey by imposing a time limit for each question. As students answer questions they are awarded points for correct answers and the timeliness of their answers. A scoreboard is displayed on the teacher's screen. Students do not need to have a Kahoot account in order to participate in your activities. To participate they simply have to visit then enter the PIN code that you give to them to join the activity.

Poll Everywhere is a service that allows you to collect responses from an audience via text messaging. The free plan for K-12 educators provides selection of features and quantity of responses that is adequate for almost any classroom. One of the neat ways to display feedback gathered through Poll Everywhere is in word clouds. The word cloud feature integrates with WordleTagxedo, and Tagul.

Mobile Media Creation Activities:
Have your students use an app like Audioboom (available for iOS and Android) to create simple audio recordings in which they describe what they're seeing on a field trip. Or have them use the app to record and share a short message about what they learned in your classroom this week.

If your students have been taking a lot pictures on a field trip, have them organize a short audio slideshow video through the Animoto Android or iOS apps. Click here for an example that I made with the Animoto Android app. Magisto is another app (available for Android and iOS) worth trying for this purpose.

Your students can use ThingLink (iOS or web browser) or PicCollage (available for iOS and Android) to add some information to pictures that they have taken. In the case of ThingLink they can add interactive elements to their pictures. Those elements can include links, notes, video clips, MP3 recordings, and other images. In the case of PicCollage students can put together a simple collage about things they saw on a field trip, things they observed during a science lab, or highlights of a school event.

QR Codes For the Win:
Russel Tarr's QR Treasure Hunt Generator provides you with all of the things you need to get started creating your own QR codes and using them in your classroom. To use the QR Treasure Hunt Generator type out a series of questions and answers, generate the QR codes using the tool Russel Tarr provides, then print and display the codes around your classroom or school. Click here to view a sample QR Treasure Hunt.

TagMyDoc is a tool that allows you to apply a QR code to Word documents and PDFs that are stored on your computer. Upload your document then TagMyDoc creates and applies a QR code to it. You can print the document with the QR code on it or simply project the QR code for your students to scan and get a copy of the document on their mobile devices.

Expanding Conversations:
This is an activity that I stumbled upon thanks to a student in my high school Civics class in 2010. My student Billie was texting when she shouldn't have been so I asked her, "what are you doing?" She replied, "texting my mom." I then told her to ask her mom about the property tax question we were discussing in class. Billie's mom replied with her thoughts. Soon all of my other students wanted to text their parents. In less than three minutes I had comments from parents about property taxes. Their comments greatly expanded the conversation.

Chalkup - Grade Assignments in Google Apps for Edu Without Using Scripts

Last spring (in the Northern Hemisphere) I wrote a review of a slick service called Chalkup. At that time I described Chalkup as "combining the best of Edmodo with the best of Google Drive." A couple of months later Google Classroom was launched and some of the features of Chalkup became redundant. Well Chalkup has adjusted and again offers some features that aren't available and or aren't easy to find in Google Classroom. For example, while you can attach rubrics to assignments in Google Classroom, Chalkup streamlines that process.

Chalkup integrates with your Google Apps for Education account. When you use Chalkup you can quickly share assignments with your students much like you would do with Google Classroom. Where Chalkup shines is in the assessment side of assignment management. Through Chalkup your students can submit assignments to you and you can comment, highlight and draw on their Google Documents. You can also give them a rubric-based numeric grade for their assignments. Learn more about the Chalkup and Google Apps for Edu integration by watching the video embedded below.

5 Tools for Creating & Sharing Online Corkboards

This afternoon on Twitter I was asked for suggestions for tools similar to Padlet. I love Padlet, but it's always nice to have some alternatives bookmarked. My list of alternatives to Padlet is featured below. I've ordered the list according to my preference for each tool.

The best alternative to Padlet is Lino It. Lino It is a free service that allows you to create a canvas of online multimedia sticky notes. The service can be used in your web browser or you can down the free iPad and Android apps offered by Lino It. In addition to basic text, the sticky notes you place on your Lino It canvas can contain videos, images, and file attachments. Unlike some similar sticky note services, Lino It allows you to alter the size and color of your fonts. You can use Lino It's built-in calendar tool to set due dates on your sticky notes. To use Lino It, you have to register for an account. Once you've registered you can create as many sticky note canvases as you like. You can make your canvases and notes public or private. If you choose to make a canvas public other users can add sticky notes to it and read all of the notes on it.

Scrumblr is a site that provides an online space to create and share sticky notes with a group. Scrumblr can be used by anyone to quickly create an online space for sharing stickies. To get started just enter a name for your space. The name you choose will be a part of the url for your sticky note space. To add notes just click the "+" symbol in the bottom left corner of the screen. Then double click to edit your notes.

Stormboard is a slick service designed for hosting collaborative online brainstorming activities. Stormboard allows you to create an unlimited amount of "idea boards" or Stormboards with up to five collaborators on each one. Each of your Stormboards can include sticky notes, images, videos, drawings, and word documents. Moving items around on your Stormboard is a simple drag and drop process like the one you may have used on services like Padlet. Each item that you add to your Stormboard includes a commenting option that your collaborators can use to give you feedback on your ideas. Stormboard is currently offering their premium plan for free to educators. Click here for details on getting access to the premium plan for free.

Spaaze is an online sticky note service that offers some handy functions for teachers and students. Spaaze allows you to write notes, edit notes and reorder your notes. Your notes can be simple text notes or you can create notes that contain videos, images, or links. Use the Spaaze browser bookmarklet to add a note to your collection anytime you come across an interesting find on the web. Spaaze is iPad friendly. You can use Spaaze for free, but there is a limitation to the number of images and files that you can add to your Spaaze boards. Click here for a comparison of Spaaze's free plan and paid plan.

Pinside is a free online sticky note service. Pinside can be used to create boards of notes for yourself or boards to share with others. You can create a mix of private and shared notes within one account. Sticky notes on shared Pinside boards are designed for creating to-do lists. As each item on the the notes is completed you and or your collaborators can delete completed items.

Three Good Resources for Developing Lessons About Current Events

Earlier today on Twitter someone asked me for suggestions for resources to use to teach students about current events. Three resources quickly came to mind. Those are Newsela, Youngzine, and Trend Watch. Read on to learn more about each of these resources.

Trend Watch is a feature of Merriam Webster's website. Trend Watch highlights words that are trending in news and popular culture. Trend Watch includes an explanation of why each word is trending, a definition for the word, and a picture that is representative of either the word or the cause of the trend. Trend Watch could be a good source of words to include in the vocabulary lists students are studying in a language arts course. Trend Watch words could provide a good tie-in with a current events lesson. Because of the wide variety of words that pop-up in Trend Watch I probably wouldn't send younger students to the site on their own. Instead I would bookmark the list and select appropriate words for my students.

Youngzine is a website site features news, sports, and entertainment stories for elementary school students. One of the best aspects of Youngzine is its classroom blogs featureYoungzine classroom blogs enable teachers to create a private online space for their students to use to discuss news stories. As a teacher you can register your students on Youngzine and assign them to your classroom. Then within your Youngzine classroom you can assign articles for your students to read, ask them to response to articles and discussion prompts, and view their scores on the Youngzine weekly quiz. In addition to the classroom blog option featured above, Youngzine also offers students the option to contribute their own reporting to the site through the U-Write section of the site. Students can sign-up individually to contribute to Youngzine's U-Write section or a teacher can register his or her entire class.

Newsela is a service that aims to help teachers find current events articles that are appropriate for their students' age and reading abilities. On Newsela you can find articles by selecting a topic, grade level, and reading standard from a series of menus on the homescreen. The "standards" menu allows you to choose the reading skill or task that you want your students to develop. Many of the articles on Newsela have reading comprehension quizzes attached to them. Last year Beth Holland wrote a great overview of how to use Newsela in conjunction with Google Documents. You can read her article here.

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