Friday, April 30, 2010

Voicethread: An Example for Professional Development

I have frequently used Voicethread in the past with students. Voicethread is a service that allows users to comment on an image or video using audio or text. It is great for collaboration and sharing ideas. Specifically, I used Voicethread to strengthen the home-school connection between students and parents.

Last week, I had the great opportunity to use a Voicethread to support someone else's professional development. Check out the great Voicethread (embedded below) about all the reasons that teachers use Twitter. Enjoy!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Crocodoc: A Verdict

A few days ago, I had the opportunity to try Crocodoc with a group of teachers. We read an article together, and we collectively annotated it using virtual sticky notes and highlighters. It worked very well because it did not require any student sign ins. Further, teachers could see each others' ideas layered directly over the text. It is important to note that I used the tool with a relatively small group of teachers. Any group over 5 or 6 might make the document confusing. I think it is a great resource to try for professional development or as a reading response mechanism for students!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Word Girl: Cool Vocabulary Games

Increasing vocabulary and building background knowledge are two of the most fundamental actions that every teacher can take to close the achievement gap. (See Marzano's work for more about this.) So, I always enjoy great vocabulary resources for students to use. This one, called Word Girl, look particularly motivating for the elementary crowd. The animations are engaging, the words are appropriate, and the skills are varied. It would make a fun center on a computer or SmartBoard during guided reading time. Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Q Hub

I honestly can't remember where I found this great site, but I am very interested by it! It is called Q Hub, and it allows teachers to create spaces where students can ask and answer questions. There are a variety of privacy settings, and teacher can completely moderate student comments. I set up this example site in about 5 minutes. It was really easy. I really like the format of the site because it allows you to create an instant message board that can supplement your instruction. Here are a few ideas I had for using the site:
  • Create a page where students can help each other with questions about homework assignments
  • Create a place where students can answer questions about content or skills across class periods or teachers
  • Create a place where new teachers and mentor teachers can learn from each other
  • Create a place where teachers can ask questions in a safe way

Monday, April 26, 2010

Tracking Twitter Conversations: BETTWEEN

Many times when I am using Twitter, I catch part of a conversational exchange between one or two of my "tweeps." It often takes me many clicks to trace back to the beginning of the conversation. Well, BETTWEEN is a new service that is trying to change that. By simply putting in 2 user names, this site will generate the recent conversation between the two individuals. It is a quick and easy way to augment your professional learning on Twitter by allowing you to share in meaningful conversations. Thanks to Mike Ritzius and MaryBeth Hertz for sharing this resource!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Cool Primary Smartboard Site

If you teach Kindergarten students and you use a SmartBoard, this site is for you! On this site, you use the eraser to erase different sections of a "mystery letter." Students guess the mystery letter based on how many sections you erase. The interface is user-friendly and uncluttered. I could see students getting VERY excited about this! Enjoy!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Teaching Search Using Sort Fix

Students and adults make mistakes when they search. Sort Fix is a good resource that can help both students and adults learn more effective searching techniques. When using Sort Fix, it categorizes your search terms into "power words", "add to search", "remove", and "dictionary". You can drag around the terms and perform the search multiple times to improve your results. It requires the user to build knowledge about searching through the use of experimentation. I think it could be a powerful teaching tool. Let me know what you think.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Paper Rater: A Good Writing Tool for Students

Writing is a subjective task, and students often have difficulty revising their own writing. Paper Rater may be a resource that can help students improve their writing. The site is fully online, and it provides free writing help in the areas of grammar, style, spelling, and plagiarism. Students upload their papers and receive personalized feedback. I think it could be a great resource for students to use during peer editing or personal revision sessions in Writer's Workshop.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

PSSA-M Featured in ASCD Smartbrief

Last week's ASCD Smartbrief featured the following news article from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette concerning the new PSSA-M. (The PSSA-M is a modified version of Pennsylvania's state test.) The state released the math test this year, and reading will "go live" next year. Have any of you administered the PSSA-M? What are your thoughts? Thanks for sharing!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Great Pitch for Social Media

Hans Mundahl created this great video about the value of social media in the education arena. He clearly illustrates the powers of the tools and he has also amassed valuable resources from his colleagues here. Check out the video below!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Google Bookmarks: Another Way to Share

Google Bookmarks seems like a really great way to share information with groups of people. Similar to other resource sharing sites, you can choose to make your links public or share them with select individuals. For schools that are running Google Apps, this makes your suite of tools even more powerful! Now students can share and amass resources across the semester using their Google account. Check out the embedded video below from Google for more information. Very cool!

Monday, April 19, 2010

IXL Math: A One Stop Shop for Math Practice

IXL Math is a helpful math site that provides all of the math skills that are learned in a particular grade level. Students can click on each skill to receive a set of practice problems. I think this resource is helpful and parent-friendly. It might make a great math review center in your classroom!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Yes, more free books!

In the past, I have provided a variety of resources about free books. (See past posts here, here, here, here, and here.) Well, today I am sharing another resource for free books: Project Gutenberg. Project Gutenberg allows you to access free books for your mobile devices. It currently has about 30,000 books available! It also has a large collection of audio books. Some audio books are computer generated and some are read by human readers. This could be a wonderful resource to support universal design in your classroom. Check it out!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

What Works Clearninghouse Practice Guides

You may have your opinions about the "What Works Clearinghouse", but I would argue it is worth a second look. The site has been revamped, and they are now providing "Practice Guides" on a variety of topics. Each Practice Guide takes the basic tenets of an initiative and details the level of research documenting its effectiveness. The guides are user-friendly, and they would make a great "book study" or faculty exploration of current practices in your schools. Check them out!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Google Sets: A Great Way To Make a List

Have you ever needed to create a list of similar items? I do this all the time when I'm developing group names, cards for games, and other random activities. Google Sets may be a helpful resource that you can use in your classroom to accomplish these types of tasks. Google Sets asks you to enter a few items, and it will generate additional items based on your entries.

Here are some ways this tool might be used in the classroom:
  • Have students examine different lists of items and "name the group."
  • Create different group lists, mix them up, and play "name the sorting rule."
  • Have students create lists of items and use the lists as a way to "spice up" boring writing.
  • Have students practice their prediction skills. See if they can predict what Google Sets will say based upon the entries they put in.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Easy CBM Revisited

I recently attended an RtI in Elementary Mathematics presentation at PaTTAN. The conference reviewed research bases for all elements of RtI in mathematics, and it was extremely interesting. (For an overview of this research, click HERE.)

Interestingly, my table got into a spirited discussion about universal screenings in mathematics. While it is relatively easy to find computation-based probes, locating probes that provide a sampling of skills can be more difficult.

However, I wanted to remind everyone that (see a previous blog post about this resource here) offers math probes of different types at every grade level. They even have algebra and geometry probes.

Since the resources available at are free and reliable (They were developed using norms created by the state of Oregon.) it might be a great way for you to experiment with RtI in mathematics. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Google Docs in Real Time: What are you going to do with it?

As you know, I was a huge fan of Etherpad. Unfortunately, the service is going away because it was purchased by Google. However, Google has recently released news stating that Google Docs is now going to "real time." Essentially, all of your Google Docs are now "pseudo-etherpads." As you type you can see the typing of your collaborators populate synchronously with little flags. (See the embedded video below for more information.) This holds enormous promise for the classroom. Now your students have a protected forum where they can collaborate in real time. What are you going to do with it?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

New to a Mac? Try Mac for Beginners

Less than a year ago, I was a brand new mac user. (After a few months, I would never go back to PC!) Sometimes I have little questions or needs. I sometimes refer to Mac for Beginners to get answers to my questions. It has lots of screen shots, information is organized logically along the left side panel of the site, and the text is easy to follow. I bookmarked this site to help me along the way. I thought it might be useful for you too!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Time Explorer Game from the British Museum

Wow, the Time Explorer Game is SO cool! (If I'm saying that, imagine what your elementary school students will be thinking!) Students select an avatar, enter the British Time Museum, and attempt to solve mysteries from the past using their Time Warp Bracelet. The visuals are stimulating, the facts are good, and the problems are unique. I think it would be a great game to play with students. Enjoy!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Another List of iPod Apps for Students with Special Needs

Mobi Stories, someone who is in my Twitter PLN, shared this list of iPod touch applications that are specifically designed for special education students. The categories of apps include AAC, prompting and "other". I think this could be another resource for special educators trying out these devices. Happy hunting!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

PDE Special Education Conference: Day 4

On my final day, I had the opportunity to hear Marcy Stein speak about the reality surrounding evidence based reading instruction. She is clearly a “no-nonsense” person, and her outlooks on reading instruction make sense. She argues that we need to beware of the publishers because they put “everything” into the core reading programs. As educators we need to ensure that we focus on the skills that students must acquire to learn reading successfully.

Did you know that prison planning factors in 3rd grade reading scores? Children who are good readers are more likely to be successful in life. Period. We need to make sure they learn to read adeptly from an early age.

Here are some suggestions from Marcy:
  • When teaching students to decode words, make sure that you give them decodable text to read. This gives them the opportunity to practice the explicit phonics instruction that you are teaching them!
  • You NEVER want students to use context to decode words. You want students to use their decoding skills first. THEN they can apply context to ensure that unfamiliar words make sense.
  • Teaching content to students actually helps them comprehend text because it increases student background knowledge.
  • Using sites like What Works Clearinghouse, Center on Instruction, and EdTrust can help educators and administrators to make informed decisions when selected reading programs and interventions.
What practices work well in your classroom?

Friday, April 9, 2010

PDE Special Education Conference: Day 3

Whew! My brain is full of great learning. I had the opportunity to hear Sugai speak about positive behavior support, Beninghof (a twitter user!) talk about differentiated instruction, and Pickering talk about engaging students with technology.

For me, there was one strong takeaway: Engaging students is a full time job.

Whether we are providing them with interesting materials, encouraging tactile learning, or using technology to make connections with people, the goal is the same. Students must feel connected to the people and ideas at school.

How do we, as educators, help students make those connections? Here are a few of the ideas I gathered today:
  • Use clicker technology to increase the relevant conversations that students have about content. (Pickering)
  • Build relationships with students through positive interactions and create a positive school climate for students. (Sugai)
  • Create a blank jigsaw puzzle with students' names. Put together the "connections" puzzle as students make connections to the content. It also serves as a formative assessment because it provides a quick visual of who still needs help. (Beninghof)
Have a different idea? Share it below!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

PDE Special Education Conference: Day 2

I had the tremendous opportunity to hear Douglas Reeves present the keynote address at the PDE Special Education Conference at Hershey, PA. Adorned with a bow tie, he was a well spoken, interesting man. Specifically, one of his points resonated with me: There is an implementation gap.

In school districts, we rarely implement initiatives or practices “full tilt.” As educators, we change slowly. We stick to old practices. Mostly, we resist change because we feel frustrated. The targets are always moving. The expectations of a principal, administrator, or state legislator may not be aligned, leading to frustration.

Reeves suggests that we need to continue with an initiative until it is at full implementation. This may take several years. Often, we do not see positive benefits until a system has reached full implementation of a particular practice.

Teachers need specific descriptors and clear targets to implement change. How can that happen? Build rubrics with your staff. Make sure that administrators are instructional leaders and reinforce teachers for making positive changes. Eliminate that which does not work and that which is unnecessary. Essentially, treat teachers with the same care as we treat students each day.

Focus on what is important. Make it lasting. Choose an initiative. Stick with it.

For me, my personal initiative is differentiation. It is my crusade to make sure that classrooms reflect this initiative at full implementation. I plan to draw up specific indicators to make sure that teachers know the expectation. What’s yours?

PS- Check out Doug Reeves' free podcasts here. They're good!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

PDE Special Education Conference: Day 1

Well, I am wrapping up my first day at the PDE Special Education Conference. This is my first time at this conference, and it has been interesting. First, the good stuff. My awesome mentor picked me up and we departed for Hershey, PA. Chocolate is everywhere in this place. (Yes, everywhere!)After arriving, we settled into our first session on the Standards Aligned System. Essentially, the session reviewed the tenets of good instruction, and it reviewed the new online portal in the state of Pennsylvania. Check out the handouts for the session here. Sitting in the session reminded me of one thing: the principles of good instruction have not changed. Whether we use iPods, iPads, IWBs, or clicker systems, we need to remain true to research-based strategies. Keep students engaged. Formatively monitor their progress. Model skills, provide guided practice, and give students many opportunities to show what they can do!

Finally, one of my fabulous teammates bought an iPad last week. I got to hold it, play with it, and browse the web on it. Regardless of the limitations of the device, one thing is for sure. USING IT IS FUN. Will this device change education? Maybe. Will I buy one? Probably not. Do I want one to play with? Most definitely! Stay tuned for more information tomorrow. There are many great speakers on tap, including Deb Pickering and Douglas Reeves. Unfortunately wifi and power access is very limited here. I will do my best to tweet interesting points with the tag #pattan. (I think I am the LONE TWEETER out here. Help!)

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Choose Your Own Adventure on YOUTUBE!

As a kid, I used to LOVE the "Choose Your Own Adventure Books." My dad would bring them home from the grocery store for me as a special treat. (Yes, I was THAT big of a nerd when I was little!) Well, now you can apply that same concept to YouTube videos. Check out the embedded example below.

This would be a wonderful project for students. They could....
  • Write and film a fictional script as a writing assignment.
  • Create various endings to a single historical event such as "the shot heard round the world."
  • Create various endings to a science experiment based on the manipulations of variables.

What an inspiration! Enjoy!

Monday, April 5, 2010

A Great Prezi Example

Since I do a lot of professional development, I've been exploring the use of Prezi all year. Read about my experiences with Prezi HERE. Well, I just stumbled upon a great example of a Prezi. It is by Steve Dembo, and it truly embodies the idea of a "graphic organizer." I've embedded his presentation below. Enjoy!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Best Evidence Encyclopedia

Looking for research to back up your instructional strategies or bolster the professional development you provide? Try Best Evidence Encyclopedia as a potential source! The site is run by Johns Hopkins University.

Here is how the site describes the organization providing the research:
The Johns Hopkins University School of Education's Center for Data-Driven Reform in Education (CDDRE) was established in 2004 as a research center on low-achieving schools. As its name implies, CDDRE carries out research, development, and dissemination of state, district, school, and classroom strategies that use data on student performance to direct reform efforts. The focus of CDDRE is low-achieving elementary and middle schools, especially those failing to meet adequate yearly progress (AYP) goals under No Child Left Behind (NCLB). CDDRE seeks to substantially expand knowledge about district organization and management strategies, intended to enable district leaders to identify and then fill gaps in student performance in all schools whose students are struggling to meet their state performance standards.

I always use these site with a critical eye. A site like this can be helpful when used in tandem with other sources and research.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Another Etherpad?

If you read this blog regularly, you know how much I enjoy using Etherpad with both teachers and students. For more information on that, click here and here and here.

However, Etherpad has been purchased by Google. In this transfer, the decided to release their API and several "copy cat" sites have popped up. They will be useful in the event that Etherpad closes. Enjoy!

Here they are:

Friday, April 2, 2010

Text 2 Mind Map

Let me start by saying, "I LOVE this resource." I can't tell you how many times that I've spent hours creating a digital mind map for students to use as an advance organizer for content. You know the a little, drag a little, etc., etc., etc.! Well, Text2MindMap is a new service that will do the work for you. You simply enter the ideas in an outline format, and the service automatically creates a mind map. For a logical-sequential thinker like me, this site is PERFECT! Enjoy!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Expand Book Clubs in Your Classroom: Planet Book Club

Many elementary and middle school teachers use "book clubs" or "literature circles" as a method for delivering reading and writing instruction. Well, Planet Book Club allows you to participate in free book clubs that have a much larger audience. Students can post their comments and respond to the comments of others. Students can also read reviews or access homework help. However, the most valuable part of the site is probably the "Classroom Connections" section. This part chooses a book, schedules discussions, and lists comments. If you're not comfortable having your students participate in this format, read the book as a read aloud and contribute as a class. It might be a fun way for you to dip your toe in the "web 2.0" pond!


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