Sunday, March 31, 2013

Finding Irony - A Poe Writing Lesson

Ok, we hope a couple of you found the humor in our last post title.  We chose it deliberately, as we are proponents of OER and support the smaller companies that provide free e-textbooks to students.  With all the great resources on the Internet, innovative educators now have little need for the traditional textbooks.  We’ll have more to say about OER soon.

That title, though, is an example of irony, a literary device that I explored with my students as part of our Edgar Allen Poe author study.  I posted this lesson to Curriki, an open source provider of free resources to teachers.  This is primarily a writing assignment, but we do listen to the short story together (via audiobook, a must-do for Poe, as the narration really adds to the intrigue of his stories).

As an aside, visitors of the April Fool’s post put us over 20,000 in page views.  Thank you to all our visitors - your support energizes us daily, and these milestones allow us to reflect on how fun this really is.  We wish our friends a Happy Easter, a blessed Passover, and great Spring Break to all!

CC Connection: This lesson addresses most of the reading and writing (explanatory) anchor standards for grades 6 – 8.  Students identify theme, analyze characters, and compare plots.  They then write two explanatory essays, providing details and evidence from the literature.

Saturday, March 30, 2013


* April Fool's two days early!

Back to reality....take a look at these fun, interesting April Fool's Day resources for your classroom!

Friday, March 29, 2013

VoiceThread - "Conversations in the Cloud"

**Update: 10/19/2013: Unfortunately, a single educator account is no longer free. Now, it will cost $79 a year for a teacher account and 50 student accounts. It also appears that "old" voicethreads can no longer be accessed. While still a great tool, I was disappointed by this. While I do understand that these companies need to be profitable, it does seem that some special dispensation for education users should be made. Oh well...**

VoiceThread is a unique web-based resource, and we have been remiss not talking about it 'til now. Briefly, VT allows students to quickly pull together images and then 'attach'  comments to each. Others - students, parents, teachers - can then start a 'conversation in the cloud' - via telephone, webcam, even file upload - and VT makes this process very simple.

For instance, I've had students use it to create 'reports' on issues faced by countries in modern-day Africa. The results were powerful, and the students were very proud of the outcomes. Our kindergarten teacher put together a great Mother's Day thread using scanned images her students created, along with a Mother's Day wish from each, attached to the drawing they made. Needless to say, moms (and dads!) loved it.

There are lots of easy to use controls to 'review' comments and manage the thread - navigation is pretty simple, and it's really a highly refined tool.

Not only can students add recorded voice to the images they pull in, the software allows others - even with no VT account - to easily add their own comments to the student's work. It's a very powerful platform that provides a reasonable way to encourage deeper thinking. It also support Project Based Learning in an easy to use platform. Comments can be moderated, and the free account has a decent level of feature that should satisfy most needs. There is also an iOS app (sadly, did not see one for Android, but you can use the web interface anywhere...). So, take a look at VoiceThread, and start a cloud-based discussion today.

CC Connection: This is a fun tool students can use to pull together the aspects of a story or novel they have read, such as an analysis of characters, setting, literary devices, or text comparisons.  They can use it to study vocabulary or significant lines of text.  Since they can hear themselves read, younger students can use VT to practice fluency and pronunciation.  Students can also use it to write narratives, share research, and illustrate conclusions.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

April Fool's Resources from Edutopia... no, really!

April Fool's Day is NEXT MONDAY! Here's a thorough list of April Fool's resources provided by our friends at Edutopia.

I thought this Classroom Laughter Primer by Allie Magnuson in Scholastic was interesting about using humor in the classroom - right on point. Debunks all the usual excuses teachers try to avoid using humor. As an aside, I'm trying to get more skilled at including Habits of Mind 'practice'/skill building in my curriculum, and one of the Habits of Mind  is "Finding Humor" in learning, so that's a thought too...

I also enjoyed Edutopia's April Fools Day Video Playlist. Check the Orchestral Practical Joke, for one...

Need one more?  Try The Foil Prank.  No, not on your co-worker... as a math activity that challenges the students to determine how much foil it would take to cover everything in the classroom.  You'll see the standards at the bottom of the page.

For those of you on Spring/Easter break next week, enjoy your well-deserved time off!!!  If you are in school, try to blend in one or two April Fool's related activities if you can!

CC Connection: if you really do need to connect it (it's ok to not!) use some of this to create opportunities for students to reflect on, be creative with, or write about their experiences on April Fool's, inside of school or out.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Virtual Field Trips - Bring the World to Your Classroom

Yesterday we returned from a five-day field trip to Washington, D.C and Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.  For California kids, this trip provides an opportunity to learn first-hand about the heroes and events that shaped our country.  To see and hear the stories from the sources intrigued the students the most.  Being in D.C. and Gettysburg allowed them to literally touch their past in a way no book can. 

When trips like this are not an option, virtual field trips can be an invaluable resource.   Most are cross-curricular and offer strategies for differentiation.   Check out these options, you may find something fun for your classroom!

  • California Learning Resource Network: Search for ‘virtual field trip’.  You will find a collection that includes science, history and ELA. 
  • Google Lit Trips:  Jerome Burg’s site takes students on a Google Earth adventure as they travel along with the characters in a number of well-known books. 
  • One Survivor Remembers:  From Teaching Tolerance, this is a first-hand account of a young girl determined to survive the horrors of the Holocaust.  I use this kit to both prepare my students for their visit to the U.S. Holocaust Museum, but also to teach about the costs of bigotry, injustice and hatred in their world.
  • The Jason Project:  Connects students to real science and exploration with the goal of inspiring students to study and pursue careers in STEM fields.
  • Reach the World: Students can connect with world travelers to develop face-to-face interaction and build world geography knowledge.  
  • The Smithsonian’s Museum of American History: Their Decoding History tour takes us along with Lewis and Clark, Lincoln and the Star-Spangled Banner. 
  • Immigration:  Use Scholastic’s tour of Ellis Island as part of your lessons on immigration.  
CC Connection: Virtual trips can help students attain 21st century skills as well as meet CCSS - Reading: Integration of Knowledge and Ideas anchor standards 7 – 9; Writing: Research to Build and Present Knowledge 7 – 9; as well as other curriculum standards. 

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Updated Resources page - student tools, apps, & teacher stuff too!

We've updated our Resources page! Please take a look and learn about the tools we've recommended so far! Some of the highlights:
  • Pixorial for web-based movie making
  • an extensive list of Keyboarding sites
  • the very popular National Science Digital Library with Common Core aligned Math and Science resources
  • Opus, a Math practice problem bank aligned to the CCSS where teachers can search for problems by grade level and subject area
  • Teaching Channel – many videos on a variety of topics, from classroom lessons on Common Core aligned topics, to professional development, classroom management, and more.
  • VocabAhead – Vocabulary practice site for both iOS and Android; take quizzes, lots of other options.
Please also check out our Common Core and Educational Technology Scoop It! page with even more Common Core/Ed Tech resources and interesting 'finds.'

Thanks so much for all your support - we're so happy with the response from the learning community, we can hardly stand it!

Friday, March 22, 2013

This Exquisite Forest - unique digital storytelling

This Exquisite Forest is an online collaborative art project that lets users create short animations that build off one another as they explore a specific theme. The result is a collection of branching narratives resembling trees. ( quote from the site)

Ok, this is not a traditional 'tool' supporting ELA, Math, etc. But with a little creativity, this could be an excellent addition to your classroom plans.

CC Connection: The ability to create a portion of a "digital story" with partners or individually, is a powerful tool supporting all aspects of Common Core in ELA, Social Studies, Science, you name it.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

National Library of Virtual Manipulatives

The National Library of Virtual Manipulatives, developed at Utah State University, is very popular among math teachers at my school. This free site supports math students from kinder through 12th grade, with plenty of online exercises in Number and Operations, Geometry, Measurement, and MUCH more! Each major concept is organized by grade (K-2, 3-5, 6-8, 8-12); once you click the appropriate tile, a long list of applicable practice items from which to choose will be listed.

CC Connection:  This site covers the vast majority of Math core standards. Lots of ways to provide your students opportunities to see and practice various important 'core' math skills, using online manipulatives.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Infusing Technology into Literature Circles

Literature circles have been used in the classroom for over 10 years.  The structure of literature circles promote 21st century learning – students working together within a framework to extend themselves to higher levels of thinking.  When done properly, students incorporate many of the Habits of the Mind skills as they move their team forward.  They not only develop a closer relationship to the text, but also relate it to their own world. 

The ‘jobs’ that drive the literature circle have not changed much over the years, but the means of accomplishing those jobs has.  I sat in on Tiffani Brown’s presentation on Literature Circles at the CUE Conference.  She has infused different web-based applications into the jobs, making them more fun and engaging for the students.  Here are some of her suggestions:

Connector: Use Bubbl.Us, kidspiration/inspiration, or to allow students to make visual connections and explore further branches of connections.

Questioner: Create a Socratic Method Blog.  Use the blog as a place for all questioners to post their inquiries.  Then consider offering bonus points for students who post thoughtful answers to those questions.

Literary Luminary: Use Wordle or Tagxedo to create a word cloud from a collection of quotes from the story. 

Summarizer: Use TimeToast or WhenInTime to create an on-going timeline of the story.  It can be expanded as the story goes on.  Another option, have students create a daily “tweet” to summarize what they read.  It’s a challenge to do it in 140 characters or less!

Word Wizard: Quizlet vocabulary flash cards or Word Hippo to extend the vocabulary.

Scene Setter: Comic Life or ReadWriteThink: Comic Creator to illustrate the impact of the setting on the character or action.

CC Connection: Literature Circles address all of the CCSS anchor standards in reading.   Students not only analyze the structure of the story they are reading, but delve deeper into the complexity of the text.  Lit circles also integrates 21st century skills of collaboration, creativity and critical thinking.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Thursday 3/21 is World Poetry Day!

As we have discussed before, the common core standards are a blueprint for designing a curriculum. It states what must be accomplished by the end of a school year, but they do not necessarily direct teachers how to get there.  

Teachers may use a variety of age-appropriate genres to address the reading standards, and poetry is one of the more entertaining ones. As World Poetry Day is approaching, you may be looking for some reliable resources to add to or update your poetry lessons: 
  • The Library of Congress: Some great ideas in how to use primary sources and the work of American poets.
  • Common Core Curriculum Maps: Besides being the most comprehensive guide in ELA, poetry is embedded in each unit.
  • A complete collection of lessons for all grade levels.
  • PBS NewsHour: Not what comes to your mind when you think poetry, but the two lessons are good ones.  We did a poetry slam with 8th grade, and they really enjoyed it.  Great opportunity to make connections.

I just read, Love that Dog and Hate that Cat (Sharon Creech), two wonderful works of poetry that include references and structures of other poems.  Consider using these two books as the foundation of your poetry study.  In addition to reading quality text, the opportunities to compare works and relate to real life are obvious strategies. The story line encourages children write their own poems as well.

CC Connection:  Poetry is one of the genres classroom teachers can use to address any of the reading standards.  Writing poetry allows students to make connections and relate to real life situations.

Next Vista for Learning - 1000 videos by students and teachers, plus...

Next Vista for Learning is an excellent resource site with over 1000 student and teacher-created videos on a wide variety of topics. This site is run by our friend Rushton Hurley, a very well known and respected ed tech leader, and you should check it out. The site collects many of its videos via contests.

Teachers or students can use this site for several different purposes. The videos in the regular collections of are for a student audience, and highlight the creativity of students and teachers around the world. It's organized into three 'collections.' Light Bulbs introduces topics to students when they're 'ready to learn'; teachers can also benefit to see what videos done by others look like, or for lesson planning. Global Views helps students develop a sense of community as they view videos about places not 'here.' Seeing Service helps students and teachers learn about 'good deeds large and small' and help them realize that they, too, can do good deeds.

Next Vista run contests that students (and teachers) can enter - one called Creative Flight is underway now! From the site.... "Put a little creativity into a video teaching any concept one might encounter in elementary, middle, or high school, and keep it to 90 seconds or less. It can be about sculpture, negative numbers, supply and demand, alternative energy, adverbs, or anything else for which you have a clever insight."

There are actually 3 contests - one for students, one for teachers, and a team contest for a student and teacher together. Our school has entered some these contests, and they are lots of fun and an excellent learning experience for all. We were fortunate to win one contest, and the joy on the faces of the two students who participated and produced the winning entry was fabulous. You can see our videos on the Visit to Atria Senior Center, and another on St. Leo the Great School Turkey Drive. There are MANY more examples - as noted, over 1000!!!!

The contests, the number of (learning) videos on relevant and interesting topics, the focus on 'service' videos, and the sense of community all work together to make this a very important place to visit often.

CC Connection:  As I've noted before, "Digital Storytelling" - making and sharing videos or other multimedia in various forms - is one of the holy grails of integrating ed tech into the curriculum. It engages student's higher order thinking skills (analysis, creativity, etc.) and also places significant emphasis on 21st C. Learning Skills, too - Creativity, Communication, Critical Thinking,  and Collaboration.

Further, from, these skills are called out as we develop our students:
  • They demonstrate independence.
  • They build strong content knowledge.
  • They respond to the varying demands of audience, task, purpose, and discipline.
  • They comprehend as well as critique.
  • They value evidence.
  • They use technology and digital media strategically and capably.
  • They come to understand other perspectives and cultures. supports all of these, across the curriculum!