Monday, August 25, 2014

C-SPAN's New Student Documentary Contest

This fall C-SPAN is once again hosting a documentary video contest for students. The contest is open to middle school and high school students. To enter the contest students need to create a documentary video, 5-7 minutes in length, on the theme The Three Branches and You. Students should tell that demonstrates how a policy, law or action by either the Executive, Legislative, or Judicial branch has affected them or their communities. The deadline for entries is January 20, 2015. This year $100,000 in prizes will be awarded. The theme and the deadline for this year's contest have been announced, but the rules page hasn't been updated yet. The rules from last year's contest are available here.

Applications for Education
Even if your students don't enter the contest, creating videos about a policy, law or action by either the Executive, Legislative, or Judicial branch has affected them or their communities could be a great project for a civics class.

How to be Notified When Someone Completes Your Google Form

This morning I received an email from a reader who was looking for a way to be notified whenever someone completed the "contact me" form he had created through Google Forms and embedded into the Google Site for his classroom. Google Sheets, where Google Form responses are collected, has a built-in tool for notifications. To be notified, open the "tools" menu while viewing the spreadsheet on which your form responses are collected. In the "tools" menu select "notification rules." In the "notification rules" settings you can choose to be sent an email when someone submits new information through your Google Form.  Screenshots of the process are included below (click the images to view them in full size).

ReadWorks Adds Vocabulary Lists to Accompany Common Core-aligned Reading Passages

ReadWorks is a free service that has cataloged hundreds of lesson plans and nearly two thousand reading non-fiction and fiction passages aligned to Common Core standards. Vocabulary lists and lessons are the latest addition to ReadWorks. Now when you select a passage and a lesson in ReadWorks you can find a list of key vocabulary words to go with the passage. Click on a word in one of the vocabulary lists to find its definition and a list of sample uses of the word. At the bottom of the vocabulary list you will find PDF of practice exercises to give to students.

Applications for Education
With a free ReadWorks account you can search for lessons and reading passages by grade level, lexile score, reading skill, subject area, and text type (fiction or non-fiction). In your ReadWorks account you can create digital binders of the lesson plans and reading passages that you want to use.

Note: not all of the ReadWorks passages have accompanying vocabulary lists yet.

NEWSELA + Google Docs = Differentiated, Collaborative Reading!

This is a guest post from Beth Holland of, an advertiser on this blog.

Whether you teach elementary, middle, or high school, a common challenge exists: finding non-fiction content at reading level. This is an especially pressing concern for teachers incorporating the CCSS Standards into their curricula. Given that varied reading levels may exist within a single class, it can seem virtually impossible to have all students access the same content in a way that allows them to comprehend the material. Creating differentiated reading groups may seem equally unrealistic since it is impossible for a teacher to work with multiple students or groups all at the same time. To quote Jennie Magiera (@MsMagiera), we also need a means to “clone the teacher.”

Solution: NEWSELA + Google Docs = Differentiated, Collaborative Reading!

NEWSELA solves the first dilemma by providing teachers with a database of non-fiction articles. Additionally, each article can be adjusted by Lexile for up to five different reading levels, and some articles include comprehension quizzes.

Sample NEWSELA article

Though it is possible to create classes and push out content from within NEWSELA, by incorporating Google Docs, we can address the second challenge of allowing teachers to virtually be in multiple reading groups, and with multiple students, all at the same time. By disseminating the content to your students as a Google Doc set to Comment Only, you create collaborative, leveled reading experiences!

With Google Docs, you can leave comments as reading prompts to which your students can reply as well as give them the opportunity to highlight and comment on the text themselves. As a teacher, you can then take part in all of the virtual conversations as well as see what connections your students are making to the content.

Sample Google Doc with Comments
Sample Google Doc with Comments.

In fact, you can experience this as a student by responding to my comments in this Google Doc. I adjusted the NEWSELA article, Baby elephants born in zoos celebrated, and presented it at the lowest available Lexile (750L). Note that with NEWSELA, the available levels adjust depending on the intended audience of the article.

Even if students do not have Google accounts, this activity is still possible by setting the sharing permissions to Anyone who has the link can comment and asking the students to visit that link in order to participate in the activity - just like I did with the sample Doc.

Set-Up Process

From a teacher’s perspective, here is how to make this all happen.
  1. Find an article from NEWSELA that you would like for your students to read.

  2. Create Google Docs for your desired reading levels.

  3. Copy & Paste the contents of the article, at reading level, into the Docs. IMPORTANT - don’t forget to model good digital citizenship for your students and cite the original article.

  4. Share the Docs as Comment Only.

  5. Watch your students start reading from any device (laptops, Chromebooks, iPads, even smart phones)!

As an added bonus, if you have your students are working on computers or Chromebooks, they can install the Read & Write Chrome extension in the Chrome Browser to hear the documents read out loud. From an iPad or iPhone, students can comment using the Docs app and use Speak Selection for that text-to-speech feature.

By combining these two FREE tools, it is now possible to differentiate your instruction, provide your students with a new way to connect to content, and clone yourself all in one!

To learn more ideas like this one, EdTechTeacher will be hosting two FREE, live webinars in the coming weeks: Back to School with iPads and Back to School with Google. Registration is Open!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Interactive History Posters and a Dictionary of Historical Terms

The beginning of the school year is when a lot of history teachers find themselves explaining why the study of history matters. (Likewise, teachers of other subjects find themselves explaining why the study of their content area is important). offers a couple of explanations and examples in the form of interactive posters for students.  Doing History is Like Solving a Mystery is an interactive poster for elementary school students. The poster uses images with notes to guide students through the process of developing good research questions and recording their ideas. History is an Argument About the Past is an interactive poster for middle school and high school students. The poster walks students through identifying primary and secondary sources of information then using that information to create an argument.

One of the struggles students have in learning any new subject is learning the key vocabulary. History Today offers a good glossary of history vocabulary. The History Today Historical Dictionary contains hundreds of concise entries. You can search for explanations of terms and events or search for mini-biographies by entering your query into the Historical Dictionary search engine. You can also browse the dictionary in alphabetical order. Each entry includes links to related entries and further reading suggestions.

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