Sunday, February 28, 2010

IEPs: Yes, there's an APP for that!

The world of special education is filled with, well, paperwork. From managing IEPs to progress monitoring data, a special education teacher must be organized and well spoken. Well, the Parent Education Advocacy Training Center has released a free iPhone (or iPod touch) IEP Checklist App. The app allows you to make notes about all areas of the IEP so that you can speak eloquently in a meeting. While I don't see this replacing any of the paperwork that special education teachers do, it may be a helpful tool for collecting ideas generated at meetings. Let me know what you think!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Signed Stories: Online Stories with Sign Language

The other day, Mary Beth Hertz tweeted out a link for Signed Stories. Since I am such and advocate for Universal Design for Learning, this site immediately caught my eye. It features a variety of different books for young readers. The books are read aloud AND signed when students access the interactive. It is a fantastic resource to give all students access to engaging texts. You MUST check it out for ALL students!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Linking Reading to Student Motivation

Motivating students to read can be a very daunting task, especially when reading is difficult for students. Check out what one school did to motivate student reading below. It is an inspirational discussion starter for the following question: What types of literacy were necessary to accomplish the goals in the video? How do you know?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Modeling Literature Circles

By far, one of the best parts of my job is working with fabulous teachers in several school districts. Kristen Hanna and Valerie Maugle have just completed a session of book clubs relating to "boy books" and "girl books." The topic grew from the students' passions about certain books, and the students were extremely motivated to explore different books with a critical eye. Students were encouraged to investigate stereotypes, interest levels, and plot development. To make the experience more interactive and more visual, Kristen and Valerie created a bulletin board where the students moved their book covers along a continuum between "boy books" and "girl books." As the students changed their opinions and ideas through meaningful discussion, they changed their place marker. Even students in other classes started to take note! After much reading and discussion concerning the books, each student worked to complete a "Facebook-esque" profile for the character using Profile Publisher. This gave students to communicate their knowledge of the book's characters and themes, and it also opened up a gateway to a great discussion on digital footprints.

There are truly wonderful things happening in schools today. It is important to celebrate the hard work and creativity expressed by both educators and students!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Placefy- A Geography Game

Richard Byrne shared this fun resource on his blog a few weeks ago. It is called Placefy, and it is a great geography game. Students have to guess the location based upon the picture. I could see this game being a great "warm up" activity for geography or social studies teachers. Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Word it Out: Wordle, but BETTER

Made with WordItOut I really like using Wordle to create advance organizers for students before they read nonfiction articles. However, it does have some limitations. I suggest trying Word it Out. This free service creates word clouds that can be altered, saved, and embedded. It allows you to eliminate words from the cloud, emphasize words, and other features that are really helpful. Enjoy!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Another Source for Everyday Math Smart Notebook Files

A few months ago, I posted a great resource for Everyday Math Smart Notebook files here. However, I've recently discovered another great resource with similar documents and activities. If you teach in the Everyday Math series at the elementary level and use use Smart Notebook, you have to check out this site. Since there are multiple pathways to learning, I thought I'd share another resource for a great learning process! Thanks to Scott Godshalk for this great resource!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Compound Word Game: Word Vine

Are you teaching compound words in your classroom? Then, you have to try Word Vine! Word Vine is a free game from MiniClip that allows students to connect different words to make branched compound words. It is fun, engaging, and great for practice! Thanks to Larry Ferlazzo for bringing this super game to my attention!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Database of Award Winning Children's Literature

Helping students find exciting books that have quality content can be a challenge for many teachers. For me, finding just the right picture book for a guided reading strategy lesson is always tough. This database can be helpful for both teachers and parents for finding books that received accolades from different sources. Enjoy!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Research Results from Classrooms for the Future

Here in Pennsylvania, we have been implementing "Classrooms for the Future" for several years in many districts. After 3 years of greatly increased access to both interactive whiteboards and student laptops through the grant, much progress has been documented. Check out all of the research and documentation here. If you are in graduate school right now, this resource could be extremely valuable to you! Thanks to Larry Kling for this great resource.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Richard Byrne's Instructions for Creating a Google Form

A few weeks ago, Richard Byrne, author of Free Technology for Teachers, created a great resource to help teachers create online quizzes using Google Forms. While I would certainly not replace authentic, performance-based assessments with Google Form Quizzes, it can be a helpful tool in several different scenarios. For example, conducting a quick, efficient pre-assessment of students' background knowledge before beginning a unit is a great way to utilize Google Forms. In addition, Google Forms is a great way for students to provide peer feedback or peer evaluation. Thank you to Richard Byrne for creating this great resource!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Are you an expert? Please help!

Are you an expert? Are you willing to share your information with K-12 students using SKYPE? If so, please fill out the form below. I am hopeful that we will be able to create a useful resource for teachers wishing to access experts in their classrooms!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Cross Post on Free Tech 4 Teachers

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to guest post for Richard Byrne on Free Tech 4 Teachers while he was away on his annual ice fishing trip. I have cross-posted my thoughts below for your enjoyment!

Using technology tools with high school students is always a good idea. Okay, maybe that statement is a bit bold, but let’s face the truth. High school students are more connected to online forums, Facebook accounts, and cell phones than ever before. Meeting students “where they are” requires meeting them online.

Knowing that students are comfortable in collaborative digital arenas, I felt compelled to try a few technology tools with a tough group of students this fall. These students were very diverse, they all struggled with writing, and they HATED school.

What can I say? I love a challenge!

I started small. I replaced Time Magazine articles with “The Week in Rap” to teach a current event lesson one Friday. (The Week in Rap is a hilarious music video that summarizes the week’s events in less than 5 minutes!) At first, my hooded sweatshirt-wearing cherubs were skeptical. By the end of the segment, they were begging me to watch it again! After using this tool, I was ready to take them to the next level: Etherpad!

What’s Etherpad you ask? Well, Etherpad is a free tool that allows users to collaborate in real real time. There’s no need to refresh your screen with Etherpad, it automatically updates every .5 seconds! To top it off, there are no sign-ins required. I should also note that Etherpad was recently bought by Google, but they have open sourced the code resulting in alternatives such as Pirate Pad.

After watching the “The Week in Rap” video, I asked them to find a computer. I had already opened an Etherpad on each computer, so the students only needed to turn on their monitor. I pre-populated the Etherpad with a prompt relative to the video we had just watched regarding the unemployment rate for teens.

At first, the silence in the room was deafening. Then, gasps and questions came flying out. “Hey, Jason’s typing on MY screen.” Then, “Whoa. There’s a chat box. Are we ALLOWED to use that?!?!” After the first five minutes, the students figured out that they were supposed to work together to answer the question that I provided. I was amazed. I had not provided the students with a single verbal prompt or redirection, and they were using the tool to write a response together. Before I knew it, they had drafted a coherent answer to the question together. Their single response was much better than anything they had written individually all year.

Then the magic really began. I played back their responses using the “time slider” and they watched their ideas develop. Then we talked about it.

I asked them:
  • How did you help each other?
  • How did you respect each other’s ideas?
  • Do you think your collaborative response was better than your individual response? Why?


For the first time, students who thought that school couldn’t teach them anything were present. They saw the power of working together, and they were extremely proud of their product.

I don’t think that any of the tools I used revolutionized the classroom setting. However, those tools allowed me to meet students in a place where they felt comfortable. While I have a long way to go with my personal learning and my instruction, I know that using innovative tools will help me meet my students in environments that allow them to thrive!

Kristen Swanson is a Program and Training Specialist that is passionate about helping students with special needs in Bucks County, PA. She shares her work with the world on her wiki and her blog. She would love to hear from you! She can be contacted here. Computer keys source is available here. Puzzle source is available here.

Monday, February 15, 2010

We Transfer-- Send BIG Files via Email

We've all been there....sending the rejected email with the GIANT file attached to it. This can be very frustrating when trying to share presentations, movies, or photo collections. We Transfer can be a great "trick up your sleeve" when you need to email a large file to a friend or colleague. I've used it several times and it was very quick and easy. I hope this helps!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Smart Notebook Express

If you use Smart Notebook in your classroom, it is likely that you have many great games and activities that you've created using Smart Notebook software. Unfortunately, this file type is not compatible with typical computers. So, many parents and students could not access these files from their home computers. Well, Smart Notebook has unveiled a new Beta product called Smart Notebook Express. This online application allows anyone (no sign-in required) to open and create Smart Notebook files. Obviously the express version lacks many of the great options in the original software, but it's a great tool for students to use your activities at home with SIMPLE notebook files. Check it out!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Profile Publisher: A Literacy Response Tool

Providing students with different ways to respond to a fictional work can enhance student motivation and increase relevance. Read Write Think has released a tool called Profile Publisher that allows students to create a pretend Facebook-esque profile for a fictional character. Read Write Think's description of the tool is as follows:
With this interactive tool, teens can create printed social networking or magazine/newspaper profiles for themselves, peers or family members whom they have interviewed, or fictional characters from books they have read. Featuring components of popular online social networking applications, this tool engages teens and provides a means for adults to talk about safe, responsible online behavior, such as having an awareness of who could be seeing online profiles and limiting highly personal information.
I believe that upper elementary and middle school students would find this tool to be motivating and accessible when responding to fictional texts. Since the tool is not meant to be publicly published, it does not require age limits or email sign ins. I think it could be a fun capstone project for literature circles! (Thanks to Richard Byrne for this resource!)

Friday, February 12, 2010

WebMii: An Interesting Search Engine

Have you ever wondering what your "digital footprint" looks like? Well, Webmii, a search engine that specializes in identifying a person's web visibility, can help. You put in your first and last name and it returns all of the results relevant to you. Results are organized by type, including facebook pictures, tweets, and other popular social media outlets. Curious? Try it out and let me know what you think!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

RtI Video: Scheduling at the Secondary Level

Many teachers and administrators at the secondary level struggle with implementation due to the nature of the schedule at the secondary level. Check out this video from the RtI Network that details the explorations, trials, and experiences of one secondary school regarding RtI. I think it serves as a helpful framework through which to view the journey of RtI at the middle and high school grades. It's worth 10 minutes of your time.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Goal Setting Tool for Students

Teaching students about goal setting can be a powerful instructional tool. (Read about Larry Ferlazzo's success with student goal setting here.) I recently stumbled across this interactive tool that helps students to set goals. It is called "Making a Change" and it provides students with a comprehensive, informative framework for making measurable change in their life. I think that many of your students would enjoy trying it out. Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

An Alternative to Google Docs

While I LOVE Google Docs, sometimes you need an alternative due to filters or student needs. You may want to try Ahead. This website is a free online presentation editor that seems very easy to use. You may want to try it out!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Appmaker: Make Free Apps

Would you like to make an App for your school or your classroom? Try Appmaker. It is free. You can easily create iPhone apps that deliver specific content for you. I made an app of this blog in about 7 seconds. You can see it here. This could be an interesting marketing tool for schools!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

PLN Power: iPod Touch Uses for Students with Special Needs

I know I've said it many times before, but the power of my PLN (professional learning network) is truly amazing. (To read more about building your own PLN, check out the resources here.) So, as many of you know, I have been working to help put iPod touches into the hands of students with special needs. Well, Mike Amante reached out to me on Twitter yesterday and provided me with a fabulous review of many different iPod touch uses for special education students. The article is available here. I highly recommend both the article and the suggestions within it, especially if you are trying to convince grant foundations or your administrators about the value of the device for your students. Thank you Mike!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Twitfile: Share Files via Twitter

I rely heavily on my professional learning network via Twitter. Sometimes I want to share files with my colleagues, but Twitter is not designed for this purpose. Well, Twitfile can change that. You can sign in using your Twitter ID and it will allow you to easily share files via Twitter. It's similar to sending an email with an attachment. While I believe that Twitter is best suited for online site sharing, this can be a helpful tool in a pinch!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Good Collection of Web 2.0 Tools

Larry Kling, a great educational technologist, has compiled a great assortment of Web 2.0 tools using Only 2 Clicks. Check it out HERE!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Make a Superhero: Great Literacy Tool

Graphic novels and comic books are great ways to "hook" readers and support struggling readers using pictures. For more information on the uses of graphic novels to enhance reading comprehension, click here. Well, I have stumbled upon a great tool to integrate into reading and writing instruction concerning comic books and graphic novels. It is called The Hero Factory, and it is well designed and visually appealing. Use it with students to:
  • Create an illustration for a student-written comic book
  • Create an advance organizer for a genre study on comic books or graphic novels (great for ELL students)
  • Use the interactive to teach about the components of plot (rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution)
Feel free to share your ideas below as well!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Alice in Wonderland: Student Bloggers

I am constantly learning and growing. However, my time at Educon 2.2 allowed me to grow by leaps and bounds by connecting with some unique individuals. When I first arrived at Educon, I was lucky enough to sit next to 2 students from Dallas, TX. They had been given complete autonomy in designing a collaborative blog to analyze Alice in Wonderland over a series of months. Clearly, these students had an enormous opportunity and they were highly motivated. Their teacher set up the blog structure (reading calendar, expectations, rules, grading, etc.) and they did the rest. Check out the students' blog here. Also, see the teacher's blog regarding the project here. Finally, the blog template is available here. The reason I share this exemplary model of creation, motivation, and analysis is because of what the student said to me.
Well, he (the teacher) didn't tell us what to do. That's why it's so special. We just did it.
Imagine. A student "just doing something" because they liked it and enjoyed it. Just by giving a little bit of autonomy to student. AMAZING!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Educon Book for Change Agents

A session at Educon by @CleverSheep was extremely unique. Check out the finished product: Here's how the session was run:
  • The organizers created a wiki with links to public Google Docs.
  • Each Google Doc referred to a different chapter.
  • Groups worked collaboratively to define each chapter using slides, images, and quotes.
  • The chapters were merged and posted to SlideShare.
I think this is an interesting way to generate discussion and creation in a professional development session. Have you ever done anything like this in a PD session before? Let me know!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Conversations vs. Presentations

As many of your know, my job requires me to do a significant amount of professional development. My experiences at Educon this past weekend have left me with many questions about what constitutes effective professional development. Specifically,
  • Students at the conference were invited to participate in many different conversations. Why don't we include our students in our conversations about student learning?
  • The most effective conversations were led by facilitators that did not use text based slides. Images that complemented ideas or concepts generated the most unique dialogue.
  • Lecture resulted in virtual backlash from participants. As soon as someone started lecturing, Twitter recorded their frustration. How often do we use this delivery method during day-long inservice meetings?
  • Small groups were the most effective intimate learning conversations. When I was sitting across from only 2 or 3 educators, we began swapping resources and stories organically. Can we recreate this dialogue during professional development days?
While I realize that the educators attracted to an Educon conference may not match the demographics of the teachers in your district, but I think it is valuable to notice that using these types of professional development can help to promote motivation and autonomy in learning. While I still have a long way to go on my journey as a professional developer, seeing different learning opportunities in different context has opened my eyes to the beauty of learning!

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