"If we teach today's students as we taught yesterday's, we rob them of tomorrow." --John Dewey

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Differentiator

More and more often, we as teachers are being asked to differentiate instruction to meet the learning needs of all of our students.  A noble intention, to be sure, but often easier said than done.  Between thinking about backward design, Bloom's Taxonomy, Marzano's Instructional Strategies, state standards, and . . . oh, right--content, weekly lesson planning can become a mind-boggling endeavor.  If only there was some sort of educational superhero to come to the rescue when you're staring at the blank page of the plan book in front of you, feeling defeated.

Introducing (drum roll, please) The Differentiator!  While not quite a superhero, this web site is definitely an invaluable lesson planning tool.

Begin by choosing the appropriate thinking skill (yes, those are Bloom's verbs you see), and it will be added to your objective.
Move on to the aqua tab to choose the type of content you want for the lesson.  The green tab allows you to choose the resource you expect your students to use, and the melon-colored tab will offer a wide array of finished product choices.  Next, use the Groups tab to select how students will work to complete the assignment.  Once all of those choices have been made, simply fill in the subject matter where you see (click to enter content), and you have a detailed objective that you can copy and paste into your lesson plans, or modify as needed.  
The Differentiator really is a pretty handy, dandy tool, and one certainly worth bookmarking for easy access.  Give it a try.  It may not be a superhero, but it may make you feel like one. 
(Insert your name here)--Super Teacher!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Are You Listening??

When was the last time you saw someone under the age of 30 walking down the street without wires coming from his/her ears?  I wouldn't have to go too far out on a limb to suggest that most of our students spend at least some of their after-school hours listening to some type of mp3 player.  Why not take advantage of the situation, and get them to listen to some of their homework?

There are loads of websites that will convert text to speech, quickly, easily and freely.  (Okay, I know I'll be getting points off for using freely incorrectly, but you see what I was going for, right?)  Try Yakitome.com for easy text to speech (mp3) conversion.  You will need to register, but the account is free.  Vozme.com is another good online choice.  This site does not require an account, and it offers a choice of six languages (including Spanish). You may prefer to download an application right to your desktop for easy access.  Try Type It Read It (also free).  This will require a little more effort to turn the sound file into an mp3, but this program definitely has its advantages over free online converters, including a variety of more natural sounding computer voices and adjustable reading speed.

There's even a search engine designed specifically for your audio learners.  Check out Qwiki.com.  Enter the topic, and press the forward arrow to search.  What you'll get is a narrated slide show of information.  Press the "Contents" tab at the top and see the text, as well as links to picture files and related searches.

Last, but certainly not least, if you work on a Mac computer, you can make your computer read text to you as well.  Here's how:
  • Go to System Preferences (in your Applications folder if it's not already on your dock).
  • Click on Speech, and then Text to Speech at the top right of the new screen.
  • Check the box that says "Speak selected text when the key is pressed".
  • Now click on Set Key, and type in whatever key or key combination you'd like. (In the lab we use Option+Apple (Command)+T) 
  • You can also choose your computer's voice from this screen too.
Now, any time you highlight text, and press the key(s) you've chosen for speech, your computer will read to you.  (Try opening Garage Band to create a podcast of what your computer is reading, download as an mp3, and listen repeatedly on your iPod!)  I'm finding myself relying on this method to check my work more and more frequently as I get older more quickly than I get wiser.  I think faster than I type, and consequently often miss words entirely when I try to write what I'm thinking. Thank goodness my friendly Mac reads exactly what's written so I can hear when something is missing or misspelled.  Wouldn't your students benefit from hearing their work read too?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Dealing with Behavior Issues?

No, I'm not particularly interested in your behavior.  I'm referring to the behavior of your students, of course.  Are you constantly reminding Bart to stay in his seat, or Lisa to finish her work quietly?  There's an app for that!  Class Dojo is an easy to use website that promises to "improve student behavior and engagement by awarding and recording real-time feedback."  Think of it as super-sized reward stickers for the 21st century.  Here's how it works:
  • Sign up for a free account at http://bit.ly/oagBmZ.  (I'll explain the weird URL in a bit.)
  • Click on the (+ Add a Class) button at the top left of the page.  Choose your grade level, and create a name for your class.
  • Create as many classes as you like.  Perhaps one for each grade level, if you teach more than one, or each subject, or morning and afternoon.  Whatever you like.
  • Add your student list to each class.  Type the names in, or copy and paste if you have a list already typed in a word processing or spreadsheet document.
  • Click on "Classes" in the left margin, and again on one of the classes in your list.  What you'll see is a funny, little comic avatar for each of your students in the class.
  • Click on the "Behaviors" tab at the top of the page, and see the positive and negative "stickers" that are available for you to award your students.  Behavior icons are editable, and you can add more in each category, if you choose.  
  • Now that you're set up, the site is ready for use.  At the beginning of a class period, click on the blue (Start Class) button at the top of the page.  At any time during the class, you can select a student's name, and the behavior "sticker" you wish to award. (You can even do it from your smart phone, if you choose.)
  • Click on the blue (End Class) button when your class is over.
Of course, this site works best if you have a projector in your room, so that your students can see how their behavior is being rewarded.  (It's especially easy to use for those of you with Smart Boards in your room!)  Now, whenever you like you can click on "Report Cards" in the left margin, and create a graphic for each child that shows behavior progress for the time period you specify.  Report cards can be printed for take-home folders, or emailed for more immediate (and paperless!) feedback.

Wondering about the weird http://bit.ly/oagBmZ URL for a site called Class Dojo?  Here's the scoop.  By default, everyone who creates an account at Class Dojo has access to the cartoon avatars.  If you get another teacher to join through a special URL that the site provides (like the one the site generated for me above), you will unlock a special feature allowing you to upload your own pictures or avatars for your students.  Hmm . . . offering teachers something free just for spreading the word about a resource that's worth sharing anyway?  Genius!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Student Emails

Have you heard the term Web 2.0?  Wikipedia says "A Web 2.0 site allows users to interact and collaborate with each other in a social media dialogue as creators (prosumers) of user-generated content in a virtual community."  Interact, and collaborate are two verbs that make web 2.0 sites perfect for use in your classroom, but very often they require an email address in order to create an account.  Does that mean that your students are out of luck when it comes to using these sites?  Of course not!  If you have a gmail account (and if you don't, you should), you can create email accounts for your students for the purpose of website registration, without providing any of their personal information, and without any of them actually having to access the account.  Here's how:

Send yourself an email.  But, instead of addressing it to yourself@gmail.com, address it to yourself+lisas@gmail.com.  You've just created an account for Lisa Simpson!

Select the message when it arrives in your inbox, and go to the "More" drop down menu. Select "Filter messages like these."

In the new screen that appears, enter your student's email in the "To" field (everything else should be blank), and go to the next screen.

Check the box that says "Apply the label," and from the drop down menu choose "New label."  Enter this student's name as the new label, then press "Create filter."
    Messages intended for this student will now come to your gmail account, with your student's name in the filter.

    Now I know what you're thinking--that's a lot of work just to set up email accounts that my students will never even access.  You're right, I suppose.  But when you find a wonderful web 2.0 site that is just right for use in your classroom (and trust me, there are so many), you will have no trouble setting up individual accounts for your students.  Before you know it they'll be "interacting and collaborating" like you never thought possible.  It really will be worth the trouble.

    Not ready to tackle this yourself?  Please let me know, and I'll be glad to help.