The tech tip this week is a great website called Cite This for Me. The Common Core has brought more of a focus this year and will so even more, in coming years on students doing more research so that they are better prepared for college and career life. This website provides an important service for students and teachers alike by helping to cite books, journal articles, newspaper articles, websites and over twenty-four more different possibilities.
Cite This For Me is easy to get started because they have a simple 3-step process. First, you add your sources manually or users can search by title, author or ISBN number. Second, after adding your source(s), the site will build your bibliography in alphabetical order. There are several popular citations that are available such as: APA (6th edition), Chicago (16th edition), Harvard, MLA (7th edition) and Vancouver. Third, you can download the formatted bibliography and simply attach it to your document.
There are some nice extra features of the Cite This For Me website as well. For example, there is a grammar and plagiarism check. The site uses an add-on service called Grammarly. The plagiarism and grammar check service provides an automated proofreader and plagiarism checker. Grammarly claims that it can correct up to 10 times as many mistakes as other word processors and that it can find and then correct over 250 types of grammatical mistakes. There are also some add-ons such as a Word Add-on and Chrome Add-on which add easier functionality because users can simply go to a particular website and click the button in the browser window and have it cited in a variety of ways. Finally, Cite This For Me offers citation guides so that students can also learn how to compile their sources manually as well and the reasons behind why citation is so important. I have used this service several times with my students this year and have found it very useful.
There’s been a lot of discussion lately about coding, and teaching students to code. It can be an intimidating prospect for a teacher, who may not have much (if any) experience in this area. Luckily, some tech heavyweights have stepped up to the plate and created some great resources that walk students through rudimentary coding, step by step.
Code.org is the brainchild of a former Microsoft engineer who wanted to bring coding into the classroom in an accessible way. He was also the visionary behind the Hour of Code event that took place in December, encouraging people worldwide to try coding.
Code.org is super easy for kids to use. The learning curve is fairly small, and the difficulty builds gradually, giving students a chance to master a concept and then expand upon it. Many levels of the program use familiar characters from games like Angry Birds and Plants vs. Zombies, which quickly draws kids in. Best of all, you can sign up for a teacher account, with student sub-accounts. This lets you check in on student progress and reset forgotten passwords.
Scratch was created by the MIT Media Lab as a programming tool for kids ages 8-16. Scratch is much more free-form than Code.org; while the latter has proscribed levels, Scratch offers much more opportunity for creativity. The flip side of this is that the learning curve is a little steeper.
In Scratch, students can program animations and stories, then share them with the Scratch community. There’s a strong community aspect to the site, and the creators have taken steps to protect privacy and create an appropriate environment for kids.
While traditionally coding is done using text, both Code.org and Scratch use visual tools that students just drag and drop into a workspace. While they are definitely very different programs, they don’t have to stand alone. Scratch could be the logical next step for a student who has finished the levels of Code.org.
Codecademy is a great tool for older students. Unlike the visual interfaces of Code.org and Scratch, in Codecademy you write code in text. Like the others, Codecademy scaffolds gradually, beginning with a simple task then expanding upon it. Codecademy starts by teaching HTML and CSS, with the goal of creating a website by the end of the course. The site also teaches programming languages like Ruby and Python.
The focus on programming in text makes Codecademy less accessible in the elementary grades, but a great option for late middle or high school age kids.
Are you teaching your students how to code? Share more resources in the comments!
Wait, wait, wait. Did I just use the words "fun" and "test prep" in the same sentence?!
Yes, I did! Before you mentally roll your eyes and click away from this blog, I promise I am not being sarcastic at all. You can make test prep fun for your students. This time of year, as many teachers and students are facing the end of the semester, it can be a daunting task to try to review for upcoming exams and benchmark tests. Instead of making it be a chore and dreadful, spice it up a bit and provide a bit of spark to your review.
Task Cards Make Review FUN!
One of the easiest and most effective ways I have found to review anything with my students is the use of task cards. Task cards are simple to make and can be used with students from kindergarten through high school (personally, I would also use them with adult students learning English as a Second Language because they are just fun). You can also buy task cards for just about any subject you can think of on sites like Teachers Pay Teachers or Teachers Notebook (when I search the term "task cards" on TpT, I get over 21,000 hits!). Most task card sets are sold in bundles of 24-32 cards which makes it easy if you'd like to use the cards in a center, small group or as a whole class.
Here's an example of a task card set designed for Primary Students
Here is a task card example for middle/high school
One of the main reasons I like task cards so much, aside from being visually appealing, is that they are so versatile. Especially now that most districts are using the Common Core, you can make (or purchase) task cards to fit almost any Common Core Standard that you can think of. While you wouldn't use task cards to introduce concepts, they are more appealing than worksheets due to their smaller size and the addition of graphics and can very easily be used as games to really turn on the fun.
My 4th graders absolutely love to play Scoot! I love it to because they often don't realize they are actually reviewing material because they are having so much fun. Playing Scoot! is very simple. First you decide which concept or skill you'd like to review. (I often use this game with math but you can really use it with anything that you can fit on a task card.) Make sure there is a card for each student in your class (if your set has too many cards, just leave out the extras; if there aren't enough, you can double up a couple). Decide how students will move around the room and allow them to practice before you actually play.
Here's an idea of how my students rotate for Scoot! Since I only have 24 students this year and my desks are in groups of 6, its very easy. You can rotate however makes sense for you, your classroom setup and the number of students you have.
Once you have practiced a bit and your students have the hang of it, you can begin. I like to tape the cards to the desks so they won't fly away as the students are moving about (especially as the student at spot 24 moves past all of the tables to get to spot 1). Some teachers simply lay them on the desks. Provide your class with a task sheet or some other way to record their responses. Depending upon the type of problems and concept you are reviewing, you will want to provide 1-3 minutes for each card before you ring a bell or chime and say "Scoot!" signaling your students to move to the next card.
A Few Tips
1. It's a good idea to make sure all of your task cards have the same type of answers (ie multiple choice or short answer) if you are going to play Scoot! so you can be sure some students aren't finishing really early and having to wait another minute for kids who had a different type of repsonse.
2. If you are finding students bored with review and test prep, ask yourself whether or not you could use task cards to accomplish the same review.
3. You do not have to play a game to use task cards. You may not even have the space in your classroom for that kind of movement. You can even use them as whole group review by putting them on the document camera or overhead and having student respond on white boards.
I hope that if you haven't used task cards before that you will try them now! If you have used them but haven't played Scoot!, I would encourage you to try it. You'll be amazed at how your students (yes, even big ones!) will beg you to let them review using this game. It becomes somewhat of a competition for them but it also helps to reinforce the key skills and concepts you really want them to learn.
This week's tech tip is an incredible website called online-convert, which quickly and effortlessly converts various types of media files. This free online file converter changes media files easily and quickly from different types of file formats to another. Online-convert supports a lot of different source formats and the site allows users to search for the conversion needed and if it is not available the site states that it can probably can help users in some way to find a resolution.
This website is very useful in so many different ways. For example, I had my students create a short story using Microsoft Word on the American Revolution. The end product was that this story would become an e-book that could be read by an iPad, Android tablet or Kindle device. Using online-convert, students simply took their Word file stored on Dropbox uploaded it to the online-convert site, choose the target format and then the site will provide you the converted file to download to your device. Also, there have been many instances where students created a document at home and did not have Microsoft Office installed, so that when they brought their files to school, the computers could not read the file. Online-convert allowed me to quickly convert the files that the students needed without having to download another program or to have the student purchase Microsoft Office.
Online-convert also offers premium services as well in case users have larger file sizes up to 1 gigabyte. For example, if you wanted to convert a small movie clip that was 1 gigabyte, you would spend $49 for a monthly subscription and receive the highest priority conversion speeds, convert up to 10 different files at the same time, have ad-free pages, send files encrypted over the internet for privacy and email the file if necessary. I highly recommend this site for any user that works with various types of file formats.
Want to turn your students into geography whizzes? It’s never been easier. There is a plethora of resources online and for phones and tablets that make studying and teaching geography a breeze--and fun, to boot. Google Earth is a great resource, but there’s so much more out there!
National Geographic Mapmaker Interactive
It’s no surprise that resources from National Geographic top the list of best resources for geography. Their Mapmaker Interactive turns students into cartographers. Students start with a map of the world, and can zoom in to any area of interest. From there, they can add icons to indicate structures such as schools or train stations, natural landmarks like volcanoes, and oddly, meerkats. Maps can be overlaid with physical and human systems, and completed maps can be downloaded as XML or PNG files. Don’t stop at Mapmaker Interactive--National Geographic also has historical maps and downloadable and printable 1-page maps of many countries.
Mapping Our World
Mapping Our World, an interactive website for teaching about maps and geography, was created by Oxfam, a UK-based charity that works on global poverty issues. This website is set up to be used with interactive whiteboards like SMART or Promethean, but it would be easy enough to adapt it for a projector. The site includes three lessons, each with multiple parts. Teacher notes are provided for each part, and you can use the entire unit, or pick and choose parts. There’s a lot of great information here. Lessons clearly explain the difficulty of translating a round globe to a flat map, and there is an in-depth discussion of the difference between the Mercator, Peters and Eckert IV projections. There’s even an interesting segment on the first-world bias of certain maps. Interactive games will keep kids engaged in the lessons.
For geography on the go, there are a ton of great apps out there. These are two interesting ones.
Stack the States - This app covers the geography of the USA in a fun, easy to use game. Students have to answer questions about geography, state capitals and famous landmarks, then “stack” the corresponding states to reach the goal line. A nice feature allows multiple players on the same device, so students can build on their scores. Stack the Countries is the same idea with a global focus.
The World Factbook: Not to be confused with the CIA World Factbook (also a great resource) this app offers detailed information about all of the countries of the world, including flags, maps and political, cultural and geographic features. This app makes a great resource for a class on world cultures or geography.
Once you’ve checked these resources out, if you need more great ideas for teaching geography, in 2012 the New York Times Learning Network published an article, All Over the Map: 10 Ways to Teach About Geography. Many of the suggestions are NYT-specific, but could easily be replicated with your local newspaper.