Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Good Web Resources That Teachers May Not Be Using

This week I am giving some guest bloggers the opportunity to share their ideas. This guest post comes from Sean McCutcheon.

You might be thinking, Okay great...here we go...some guest blogger telling me something I probably already know about. Well that could very well be the case but I certainly hope it's not. If you read this post and give me a few minutes of your time, I will change how you use the Internet with your students. It might also engage them in literacy, improve their writing and help them communicate their thinking when solving math problems. I should also mention here that all of this is free.

When it comes to PD I have heard the term, “learn today and try tomorrow.” These sites are more along the lines of “learn today, check out tomorrow, decide for next week.” Implementing them in your class is very easy and takes a small amount of time (especially if you already have your students blogging).

All this can be accomplished by ‘using’ three websites. The first two are writing based. They are the Five Sentence Challenge http://fivesc.net/ and the 100 Word Challenge http://100wc.net/. Depending on the the grade you teach, and/or the level that your students are at, you would use one of these sites. The 100 word challenge in designed for students under 16 and the five sentence challenge is for beginning writers. I currently teach grade 2 and use the five sentence challenge, so that is the one I will explain.

Every two weeks a new prompt is posted on the site. I assign that prompt to my class and they write about it on their blogs. Then, I link their blog entries to the five sentence challenge page and wait. What takes place next is amazing. My students will get constructive feedback about their writing from teachers around the world. Our class is in Canada and we often have comments from Europe and Australia. Teachers dedicate their time to read and comment on the writing. Also, as a class we check out other student work and discuss possible next steps for that student, and leave a comment. Students are writing for authentic purposes and a real audience. They are also analyzing and thinking critically about writing.

The last site is totally amazing and it is a math version of the writing sites above (it is also my site)...Minden Math! http://mindenmath.blogspot.ca/ My students and I loved the writing idea so much I created a math one. On the second Tuesday of each month a math problem is posted. The problems are often open ended, so that a variety of responses or solutions are possible. Teachers are encouraged to have their students solve the problem and then link the solutions. If you link a student's solution they will get feedback. Currently it is a primary level problem, however thanks to positive feedback, we will also be posting a problem more suited for older grades starting in September.

Check out the sites, bookmark them and think about them for the fall. If the Minden math site is something you are interested in, you can follow me on twitter and I will remind you when new problems are posted. Twitter Name: Sean McCutcheon @mindenmath

Sean McCutcheon is a grade two teacher in Minden, Ontario, Canada. He is always looking for innovative ways to prepare my students for the future. Sean is a seeker of educational connections, classroom collaborations and technology resources. You can connect with Sean via Twitter or via email.

Guided Reading in Google Apps for Education

This week I am giving some guest bloggers the opportunity to share their ideas and experiences. This is a post from Trevor Krikst. 

The ability to link various documents within Google Apps makes it ideal for a digital Guided Reading program. Bringing Guided Reading into the Google realm has made it simple for me to consolidate my plans, texts, student work, and assessment into one location. It all begins with the Guided Reading Launch Page, a hub which, through linking, allows quick and easy access to:

  • a weekly schedule 
  • anecdotal assessment documents 
  • an assessment form 
  • digital texts 
  • guided group folders (within which I store tasks, student work, and texts)
Here is the Guided Reading Launch Page:
Click to view full size.
As you can see, the Launch Page contains information found in traditional Guided Reading planning templates, such as group names, student names and the instructional focus for the week. By being a digital document, there is the added convenience of being able to easily adjust groupings by dragging or copy/pasting students from one column to another. The individual anecdotal records, to which each student is linked, move with the names when you restructure your groups in this manner.

With this ongoing observational record, the teacher can make regular anecdotal notes within one document - accessing this document is as simple as clicking on the desired student's name in the Launch Page.

As an alternative to anecdotal records, or in addition to, the Launch Page links to an assessment form.

This form allows the user to capture an abundance of assessment data. Data entry is incredibly quick with the use of drop down menus, which allow you to quickly select a student, a group, and curriculum expectations assessed. The lower portion of the form includes specific expectations from the curriculum for reference purposes.

With two methods of assessment so easily accessible from the Launch Page, I've found myself gathering more assessment data than with my previous, traditional Guided Reading programs. And the use of forms has allowed me to gather very specific and valuable assessment data. The end result is that I have a much clearer picture of individual student strengths and needs, and I am able to change my groupings on a much more frequent basis based on this data.

As more and more technology finds its way into our classroom, the more common it will become to use digital texts. In my classroom, digital texts include:

  • PDF texts 
  • eBooks 
  • online texts & articles 
  • websites 
  • Tweets 
  • student work samples

In summary, here are all the features and conveniences of going Google in Guided Reading with a Launch Page:
Click image to view full size.
All of the documents and forms required to implement your own Guided Reading program in Google Apps are included here for your personal use: Guided Reading in GAFE

Remember to review the included instructions before using the Launch Page in order to determine which files are there for you to use, and which ones you need to create for yourself.

Good luck and get launching!


Trevor Krikst is an elementary teacher at Teston Village Public School in Maple, Ontario. He received his BEd from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) at the University of Toronto. From early on in his career, Trevor recognized the value of integrating technology into classroom learning experience and the resulting increase in student engagement. As Technology Lead Teacher at his school, Trevor created multiple opportunities for the staff and students to explore and learn about various technologies and how to facilitate their integration into the classroom. Most recently he had the opportunity to share his developing expertise in Google Apps at the York Region District School Board’s Google Camp 2.0. Along with friend and colleague Wahid Khan, Trevor recently created and is a regular contributor to InspireandInquire.ca, an online hub exploring the vast potential in the nexus where technology and education converge. He can be contacted at krikst@gmail.com, @trevorkrikst or @inquireinspire

Are You Ripe for Change?

This week I am giving some guest bloggers the opportunity to share their ideas and experiences. This is a post from Dr. Robert Dillon. 

Watching vegetables grow until the moment that they are perfectly ripe for harvest can be an exercise in patience. Each day it means carefully inspecting a variety of facets of the vegetable with the eventual question being, “will it be even better tomorrow?” Waiting one more day holds the potential for vegetable nirvana, but it also gives the squirrels another day to destroy all the patience and waiting that led up to the day of perfection in one tiny squirrel bite.

Too many schools around the country are waiting for perfection to begin the transformative changes needed in our spaces of learning. They are waiting for a better infrastructure or few more people to retire. They are waiting for the completion of the right amount of professional development or the semester change when things will settle down. They are waiting. They are waiting. They are waiting. Waiting is often an effort to ignore doing the really hard stuff. Waiting is a strategy to avoid failure and not lean into the uncomfortable. Waiting is hurting kids. Waiting also allows others outside of education to fill the void.

Over the last 18 months, the Affton School District in Saint Louis, Missouri has broken through the inertia of waiting and into a fresh mindset of fire, ready, aim. This shift in mental model (by a growing number of learners throughout the ecosystem) has unleashed fresh energy for innovation throughout the district. Two factors have been the primary catalysts for allowing this to occur.

The first was building a culture of service. When things are broken, in need of update, or outdated, the innovative spirit is crushed. When instruction is inhibited because there is no support, risk taking becomes non-existent. As the lead innovator in the district, it was important for me and my team to take visual, concrete steps that showcased that fresh culture of service and rallied every human resource available, both technical and instructional, into action to solve the backlog of problems. The result has been a new trust and the opportunity for new conversations around our future as a learning community.

The second was a dedicated effort to saying YES. The most powerful change agent in education is the word YES. It unleashes ideas. It grows confidence. It builds momentum. It releases trapped wisdom into the system. It really is that powerful. Affton said yes to an app development pilot. Affton said yes to a Bosnian Studies program. Affton said yes to traveling to other schools to see innovation in practice. Affton said yes to a library redesign. When NO is your default setting at any level of your organization, bits and chunks of the system are wilting.

Affton School District hasn’t arrived. It is on a journey, a long journey, but no one is waiting. Instead there is a growing acceptance that failing forward fast and being in beta by design are the new way forward. Transformational change, the kind that comes from when we are working with the goal of being different as opposed to getting better, is exactly what all of the kids should expect each day from the adults that are in charge of making our schools ripe for learning.

Dr. Robert Dillon serves the students and community of the Affton School District as Director of Technology and Innovation. Dr. Dillon has a passion to change the educational landscape by building excellent engaging schools for all students. He blogs at: aprincipalspeaking.blogspot.com, and he learns and shares on Twitter @ideaguy42. His first book, Engage, Empower, Energize: Leading Tomorrow's School Today is set for publication in the fall.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Good Ideas for Using Augmented Reality in Elementary School Math and Reading

This week I am giving some guest bloggers the opportunity to share their ideas and experiences. This is a post from Heidi Samuelson. 

One of the most exciting pieces of technology I’ve tried with my students this year has been Augmented Reality…There are many different apps for Augmented Reality, but the one I’ve had the most success with is Aurasma (available for iOS and Android).

Reading non-fiction books can be challenging for young minds. However, when you add some Augmented Reality books come to life! I used Aurasma to create auras that helped my chapter book club get an “Augmented Reality” experience as they read through Mary Pope Osborne’s “Dragon of the Red Dawn”. Aurasma gave me the opportunity to bring parts of the story to life in a way the kids had not experienced before. They could see what the shogun’s palace might have looked like as if they were looking at it through Jack and Annie’s eyes. Students used the Aurasma App on their device to scan a page in the book we were reading and view the aura attached to the words. My students couldn’t wait for book club time! Each day became an exciting adventure into a new augmentation of learning for them. The conversations and opinion sharing turned rich with vocabulary that the book club students had not experienced before! Their knowledge deepened as they were able to see and interact with the words of the story book in a new realm! They wanted to take the new technology to more areas of our learning so I began to develop more activities to use with auras.

One of these activities was to have students create video talks about books they were reading. In the talk they could tell why they thought the viewer would like to read the book. Then we used the iPad app to attach auras to the book cover using their video talks. Now anyone can use the Aurasma App to scan a book with the same cover picture and see my student’s opinion of why they should read that particular book! Imagine...taking a device to a library and being able to see and hear a little more about the book you’re holding in your hand! I made little stickers with the Aurasma App image to put on the front of the books we did video talks about so that others would know which books had talks to scan in our classroom library.

Another activity I designed helped students share more about the things students do outside of school. We have a show and share time in my classroom. Parents sent in images and videos of their children doing “after school” activities. The kids and I then created trigger images for their special auras to share with others. Students can now scan the trigger image with the Aurasma App and watch after school activities come to life. We created a whole wall of Auras to share with others.

I didn’t want to limit the experiences of Augmented Reality to reading alone. To bring math to life, I created Aurasma Auras for self-checking at the class math stations. Students choose a math equation card, solve the equation on their paper, and then use the Aurasma App to check their work. As they scan the card, the answer comes to life. The kids enjoy seeing if they’ve solved their equations correctly, and the different clipart images provided by MyCuteGraphics are perfect to change up the visuals in the answers!

Augmented Reality has been a HUGE success in my classroom this year! If you’d like to experience some of our auras, follow the directions on the graphic below:

Hello! My name is Heidi Samuelson and it is a great pleasure to be guest blogging on Free Technology for Teachers today! I’m a second grade teacher in Tennessee who LOVES to integrate technology into my classroom and Richard’s blog has introduced me to TONS of resources!! You can read about some of my activities and techie ventures on my teaching blog: Mrs. Samuelson’s Swamp Frogs. Thanks for reading along with me today! I hope you’ll “hop” over to the Swamp and check out some more ways we use technology in the room! I also share activities on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram!

Engaging 6th Graders With Coding

This week I am giving some guest bloggers the opportunity to share their ideas and experiences. This is a post from Alison Franz. 

As my first year as an educational technology teacher draws to a close, I’ve found myself further reflecting on the experience. As a result, I am thrilled to have this opportunity to share my reflections with you as a guest blogger.

Although I’ve learned so much from my experiences this year, the most important lessons came from sharing the Hour of Code with my students. I teach a 6th grade computers course, so when my supervisor shared the information on Hour of Code, I figured that I would do something to share coding with my students. What I didn’t realize at the time was how engaging or transformative it would be for my students and our classroom!

My initial plan was to share the importance of coding with the students and then have them work through the introductory tutorial on Code.org. What happened was so much more! The students were instantly engaged and hooked on trying to earn their trophies. I saw students who were previously quiet and hesitant to share, come alive. As students progressed through the tutorial, I saw that my students were learning so much more than coding. They were collaborating and supporting one another in their attempts to move through the levels. Students were open to trying new approaches and weren’t afraid of failure. They became creative in their responses to the different challenges. They were wholly absorbed in what they were doing and eager to learn more.

Seeing what coding had done for my students, I knew I had to find a way to include more opportunities for my students. As a result, I introduced the students to Scratch and allowed them to create their own independent projects with code. They ran with the opportunity, working both in and out of the classroom, and created a variety of amazing projects, including short games and animations. Again, I marveled at their collaboration with each other, the level of their creativity, and the risk taking they were willing to do. Being able to foster these essential life skills while watching my students’ faces beam with pride over their own creations was truly remarkable.

As I reflect, I am also looking forward to next year and thinking about new ways to extend this experience for my students. I’d love to take the collaboration beyond my classroom and have my students work and create with students in other parts of the country or world. If anyone is interested in collaborating or would like more information about what I did with my students, I’d be happy to share.

I am an enthusiastic educator who has been teaching middle school for the past 15 years at my former middle school in Morris County, NJ. For the first 14 years of my career, I taught English and Reading/Writing in grades 6-8. This past year, I made the move to teaching technology courses in the same middle school. I am a lifelong learner and am looking forward to attending ISTE for the first time this year so that I can meet and collaborate with fantastic educators from around the world! I can be reached on twitter (@alisonmfranz).