Are you ready for Digital Learning Day? It’s this Wednesday, February 5th, and if you don’t have anything planned yet, it’s not too late. Here are some great ideas that don’t take a ton of planning.
Many schools and districts have subscriptions to online databases, but if yours doesn’t, never fear! There are great free resources out there that will help you teach your students to do online research. Try FactMonster for short articles about a variety of topics. The site combines an almanac, dictionary and encyclopedia, and it’s a great first step for younger kids. For slightly older students, Biography.com is a great resource for researching famous people. Even kids who struggle in reading can use it; there are short videos for many entries. Also, don’t forget the resources available through your public library. Most public libraries have online databases that only take a library card number to access. And finally, the Smithsonian and the Library of Congress have huge online collections. Use them to teach a lesson using primary sources.
Put your kids in touch with other students across town, across the country or across the world. Use Skype, FaceTime or Google Hangout to collaborate with other teachers and create a great digital learning experience for your kids. Google Hangout even allows you to tape the session for use later. Or, use one of these tools to bring an expert on the subject you’ve been studying into the classroom.
Use some of the tools I discussed back in October to teach your kids to make animations. Create a blog for your students, and have them post original work, book reviews or classroom news. WordPress and Blogger are great tools for this, but EduBlogs gives you more teacher controls. Use Prezi, Glogster or even PowerPoint to make multimedia presentations. The sky is the limit!
Digital Learning Day is a great time to start a conversation about cyberbullying. There are many choices for pre-made cyberbullying curricula: try Cable in the Classroom, Common Sense Media or NetSmartz.
I came across a really great article from The Atlantic that was published in October 2013. We all know that the Common Core emphasizes more time in text, and an increase in reading of informational text each year until the balance is 70/30 by the high school grades.
This article is quite fascinating to me, however, because it would indicate that many teachers aren't pushing the rigorous texts that are required by the Common Core.
One of the questions asked of teachers in the article is about how they choose the texts they read with their students. Do they choose them based on grade level or students' reading levels?
64% of elementary teachers said they choose them based upon student reading levels as opposed to 24% that said they select books based upon their grade level range. (For middle and high school the numbers aren't quite as unbalanced: 37%/38% for middle school and 24%/47% for high school.)
As an elementary teacher, I can adamantly say that trying to teach a book with a Lexile of 1000 when some of your students are reading in the BR range (which is K-1st grade), and a majority are in a late 1st-early 3rd grade range, is impossible. So of course we are going to select books that are more interesting and can be accesible to the majority of our class.
Many "Classics" Don't Make the Cut
What I found to be the most interesting thing about this article, however, is the titles of books that are deemed as "not rigorous enough" based solely upon their Lexile range.
In 4th-5th grade, books such as Because of Winn-Dixie, Sarah, Plain and Tall and Stone Fox are not in the appropriate range based upon Lexile. Interestingly enough, the first story in our 4th grade Reading Street book is an excerpt from Because of Winn-Dixie. Is it possible that had they asked these teachers when they were using certain books they would find these beloved books that have been enjoyed by 4th graders for years are being read at the beginning of the year as a bridge from 3rd to 4th grade content?
In middle school, it becomes a bit more apparent that something may be wrong with basing text selection solely upon Lexile score. Some of the books cited as being read in middle school include: Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, The Cay, The Pearl and A Wrinkle in Time. Not one of those books fits in the Lexile range deemed appropriate for middle school. The Cay boosts a Lexile of 860 which would indicate that it was in the 4th-5th grade reading range, but I wouldn't read that book with the majority of my students simply because they wouldn't be mature enough to make sense of the themes in the book.
By high school, three of the most popular books, all classics in my mind, are not rigorous enough for Common Core instruction when you look at their Lexile ranges. To Kill a Mockingbird, Fahrenheit 451 and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn are all below the recommended range for high school readers in 9th and 10 grade. Now I've never taught high school but I can't imagine teaching To Kill a Mockingbird to a 4th or 5th grader which is where its Lexile score falls!
Teacher Judgment Still Matters
I'm all about the Common Core. (Kind of obvious, right?) However, I do believe that teacher judgment and common sense still matter. We aren't working on a press and creating robots. You can't simply toss out a book because it isn't rigorous enough according to one measure of text complexity. The longer we teach the standards, the easier it will be to make better judgments in terms of the content we are teaching, regardless of the complexity of the text. Yes, we should teach complex texts and how to navigate them...but not at the detriment to taking great literature out of our students' hands based upon one measure that proclaims it isn't "tough enough".
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.