Monday, May 5, 2014

By Request - 5 Sites and Apps to Help Students Develop Reading Comprehension Skills

Last week through the Free Technology for Teachers Facebook page I received a request for suggestions on apps and sites that can be used to assist students in developing their reading comprehension skills. Here's a short list of some of the free reading comprehension skills development apps and sites that I've reviewed over the last year.

Rewordify is a free site that was developed by a special education teacher and former computer programmer for the purpose of helping students read complex passages. At its most basic level Rewordify takes a complex passage and rephrases it in simpler terms. Students can adjust Rewordify's settings to match their needs. For example, students can add words to a "skip list" and those words will not be changed when they appear in a passage. Students can also use Rewordify to simply highlight difficult words instead of having them replaced. Watch the video below for a complete overview of how Rewordify works.



Reading Bear is a free service that offers narrated lessons on recognizing and pronouncing letters and words. There are also some lessons on prefixes and suffixes. Students can control the pace of each lesson to match their needs. After each lesson on Reading Bear students can take quizzes to test their skills. The quizzes present a picture and a set of words. Students have to match the correct word to the picture that they see. Through the narrator, students receive instant feedback on each question in the quiz. A five minute video overview of Reading Bear is embedded below.



Subtext is a great free iPad app that you can use to host a digital book discussion. Some of the many things that you can do with Subtext include annotating ebooks, creating quizzes about ebooks, and writing blog posts about the ebooks you read. You can create private and public book discussion groups and build bookshelves for your groups. To add books to your Subtext bookshelves you can pull from Google Books (many free ebooks are available that way), buy ebooks from Subtext (volume pricing is available), or upload your own titles (Greg Kulowiec has posted directions here). To annotate a section of a book just highlight it then choose what you want to do with it. The text that you highlight can be annotated with your messages, you can assign a quiz question to that text, or label that section as a literary element like "personification" or "foreshadowing."

Speak It is a Google Chrome extension that enables you to have the text on most webpages read to you. With Speak It installed just highlight the text on a the page you're viewing then right-click to activate Speak It. Then click the play button to have the text read to you. The voice is very digitized, but it is clear. Installing Speak It takes just a few seconds. To install it go to Speak It's page in the Chrome Web Store and click the install button. Restarting your browser is not required in order to activate Speak It. If you decide that you don't want to use Speak It any longer you can uninstall it by right-clicking on the Speak It icon in your browser and selecting uninstall.


Booktrack is an interesting service that allows you to add a soundtrack to a text. The soundtrack can be soft music or ambient noises like waves crashing. Booktrack claims that the soundtracks create a better reading environment which leads to improved reading comprehension. Booktrack offers books that you can read in your web browser and through their iPad and Android apps. Students and teachers can create and share their own booktracks through Booktrack Classroom. Registration is required in order to use all of features offered by Booktrack Classroom. Click here to take a look at some sample Booktracks.




Planet Nutshell Releases New Animated Videos About Physics

Late last year with funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting Planet Nutshell launched a new series of educational mathematics videos. Today, I learned that Planet Nutshell is now producing videos about topics in physics. The first two videos in the series are embedded below.


Kahoot Adds Rich Text Editing - Create and Display Quizzes In Students' Browsers

Kahoot is one of my favorite services for creating and delivering quizzes to your students' tablets, iPads, and laptops. On Kahoot you create a quiz or survey that your students respond to through any device that has a web browser (iPad, Android device, Chromebook). Your Kahoot questions can include pictures and videos. Over the weekend Kahoot added a rich text editor for creating quiz questions. The rich text editor allows you to add bolding, italicizing, subscripts, superscripts, and mathematical symbols to your questions.

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.

Applications for Education
Students do not need to have a Kahoot account in order to participate in your activities. To participate they simply have to visit Kahoot.it then enter the PIN code that you give to them to join the activity. Using Kahoot, like Socrative and Infuse Learning, could be a good and fun way to conduct review sessions in your classroom. Using Kahoot could also be a good way to gather informal feedback from your students.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Project Based Learning - An Explanation and Model Rubrics

Last week I had the privilege to work with Tony Vincent to lead a workshop about project based learning. Two of the resources that we shared during the workshop were a video explanation of PBL and set of rubrics from the Buck Institute for Education.

The following video, produced by Common Craft for BIE, explains BIE's essential elements of project based learning.


BIE offers rubrics for assessing critical thinking skills, collaboration, presentation, and creativity and innovation in project based learning assignments. The rubrics are available with or without Common Core alignment. You can download the rubrics as PDFs or Word documents.

Guest Bloggers Wanted!

Once a year I put out a call for guest bloggers and share those posts for a week. This year, I'm going to run those posts on May 19th through 24th. Over the last five years I've had some awesome guest bloggers share their knowledge and experience with us. If you would like to be a guest blogger please read on and complete the form below.

I'm looking for guest bloggers who can share current (2013/2014) of their experiences of using technology in their schools. Guest bloggers should be current classroom teachers, teacher-librarians, technology integration coaches, or school-level administrators. I would like to share stories of trying new things (apps, websites, strategies) and what you and your students learned from the experience. If you can tell the story in 600 words or less, that's a bonus. While I cannot pay you for your post, I will include links to your blog or website as well as a short bio about you. Past guest bloggers have reported still getting traffic to their blogs more than a year after their posts appeared.

Please note that the last time I put out a call for guest bloggers, more than 100 people responded in 48 hours. I wish that I could publish all of the posts, but I simply cannot do that. I'll select 25 to 30 posts at the most. 

If you are a representative of a company, please do not complete this form.