Thursday, May 30, 2013

Non-Fiction Reading Lists

If you are a reading teacher, you may be contemplating your summer reading assignments for your students.  The move to CCSS may have you considering non-fiction.
The Common Core Curriculum Maps is a great resource - my summer assignment comes from one of their units.   If you are looking for a reading list, consider Good Reads.  Here is the link to their recommended (readers poll) of children non-fiction.

Other great option is the Scholastic list, specifically tied by grade level to the Common Core.   If you know of other lists, please comment so we can share it!

Monday, May 27, 2013

Must Read: Authentic Audience, by George Couros

If you have 5 minutes to spare, please read this blog post called Authentic Audience, by George Couros. It perfectly exemplifies one of the major, as yet underutilized elements of the internet - how much it can support the concept of 'community' and 'interconnectedness' - SO important in our world today!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Toontastic for Digital Storytelling

I’d like to share a fun iOS app (iPad) for digital storytelling, Toontastic.  Students can created cartoons that when played, give the audience a feeling of a puppet show.

Once the script has been created, students can use Toontastic to bring their story to life.  Toontastic is set up as a narrative plot map, requiring students to address characters, conflict, climax and resolution.  They can then start by selecting scenery, characters, animation and music.  Voice recording of the story is next.  Finally, students can save and share with a global audience.

It is very fun and easy to use.  The free version has a limited selection of sets and characters, but the classroom license ($14.99) opens a world of options.

Best wishes to all this Memorial Day weekend. 

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Achieve the Core - A Guide to Implementation

Another compelling resource for helping schools implement the common core is  This site literally walks your school’s instructional leadership team through the process of understanding and implementing the CCSS.  They provide all the tools a school needs to make sense of and move forward with the shift to the new standards. 
The site is comprehensive, and addresses both ELA and math is detail.  They provide everything from overview to lesson plans.  As an ELA teacher, I was particularly pleased interested in the information on how to use your existing anthology or basal reader in meeting the CCSS. 

The professional development modules contain videos, presentations and useful activities to move your faculty forward. 

A tool that my teachers find helpful is the evidence guide, presented by grade level and duration (single lesson or year long).  This tool provides teachers with the opportunity to reflect both on the expectation and the student work to determine progress towards reaching the standards.

Also included on the site is a collection of resources to help school leadership address parents and their concern.

All these resources are free and you are encouraged to “steal these tools”.  Take a look at this resource for great tools, especially if you are struggling on how to get started. 

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Comprehensive List of ELA CCSS Implementation Resources

My school is starting to accelerate our ELA implementation. We’re asking ELA teachers to:
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  1. carefully look over the Common Core English Language Arts (ELA) standards 
  2. compare them to existing curriculum maps, unit plans etc.
  3. understand the major differences
  4. start to develop an understanding of the technology expectations in the CCSS and
  5. begin appropriate modifications to curriculum maps, and start working their way through unit plans and lesson plans.
In addition, all the subject matter teachers (NOT ELA) will review their maps and add in specific CCSS details about how Writing Anchor Standard #2: Write informative /explanatory texts, will be supported via their maps, too.

We have a team of teachers responsible for pulling together an initial set of resources - source info (the standards themselves), a few how to’s (videos to help understand how to unpack the standards, and so on), some sample lessons (typically, short videos) and a start at lesson plan sources.

I wanted to get this out to you so you can see what we’re up to.  My hope is that these resources will help you in your process of evaluating and making sense of the CCSS.

Would love to know your thoughts about this!

CCSS Information Resources
  • Anchor standards
  • English Language Arts “Start” Page  Look here for all the details about the 4 main 'tracks: Reading, Writing, Speaking & Listening and Language. Also includes information about ELA standards and the impact on:
    • History/Social Studies instruction for 6-12th grade
    • Science and Technicalinstruction for 6-12th grade
    • Standards for K–5 reading in history/social studies, science, and technical subjects are integrated into the K–5 Reading standards.
CCSS Overview Videos
logo for Teaching Channel
  • The Core from 30000 feet  Great intro video from Teaching Channel - about 13 minutes.
  • Unpacking the Standards  Another good one from Teaching Channel - also about 13 minutes.
ELA Specific Videos
  • CC and ELA - shifts from ASCD  Good introductory video of whys and whats of the standards - about 1 hour
  • Common Core State Stds K-5  Video describing how teaching to the Common Core affects classroom practice - about 14 minutes
  • Common Core State Stds for Literacy Video describing key features and differences of the new standards - all grades - about 14 minutes
ELA Lesson Examples

Excerpt from recent newsletter from Sarah Brown Wessling (Teaching Channel):
Two techniques she uses when teachers watch these videos:
1) How does this video give you a window into another teacher’s set of strengths and strategies?
2) How does this video provide a mirror of what you see in yourself as a teacher. What do the windows and mirrors reveal about your own practice?

Grades K-5: Enjoy these videos to help convey the importance of careful reading of texts.
  • Analyzing Texts: Text Talk Time
  • Ms. Noonan: Using a Touchstone Text
Grades 6-12: These videos are effective in showing discussion strategies and having students speak as part of their learning process.
  • Soliloquy to Love
  • Exploring Imagery Through Beowulf
  • Socratic Seminar: The "N" Word
  • Arguing the Pros and Cons of Teen Driving
There are now over 160 videos about Common Core alone on the Teaching Channel!

Technology & Common Core
  • Common Core Standards Related to Technology
  • Differentiating with Computers

Lesson Plan and Other Good Resources
  • LearnZillion  Free sign up, a good resource with 100's of  lessons for 3rd grade & up. Be sure to check the Common Core Navigator. They also have extensive math lessons as well.
  • OER Commons Advanced Search  Can search by CCSS and many other criteria. Extensive number of lessons from many sources.
  • Speaking Skills and Common Core from ASCD  Excellent 1 hr discussion on improving speaking skills.
  • 55 ways to support writing in the classroom  Some good starters to support writing. NOT CC aligned, but some easy to do, small assignments.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Chromebooks in 7th grade

This is an updated version of an article I wrote for FreeTech4Teachers last fall about the use of Chromebooks in my 7th grade classroom. I hope you find it useful.

Here's a bit of info about our experience using a Chromebook class set. My school has 3 Chromebook class sets in an ‘in school’ 1:1 program (5th through 7th grades). We’re a Google Apps for Education (GAFE) school. I teach 7th grade Social Studies, and the students use the Chromebooks daily. We're wrapping up year 2 with our 1:1 Chromebooks, and we're very happy overall with the results.

Some general observations. The Chromebooks seem pretty rugged. Two Chromebooks have been dropped in the past year, with (thankfully) no ill effects. One simple, but key, feature is the ‘instant on’ nature of the device. I can ask kids to shut the Chromebooks at any time, if I need their full attention and want to avoid ‘computer distraction syndrome’. For instance, in the midst of a graphic organizer assignment, and additional instruction is needed, I can ask them to shut the lid, give them whatever additional blah blah blah needed, then ask them to re-open their Chromebooks. As the computer only takes a few seconds to restart, they are right back on track immediately. Sounds silly, but this is huge, especially since more than a couple kids do have attention issues....

We also LOVE the long battery life. I teach at end of day, and the computers are still going strong. I asked students for a 'battery check' recently - and all students were between 70 and 80% remaining. The computers had been in use for at least 4 one hour periods that day.

We just completed our study of the fall of the Roman Empire, and I assigned the kids a large culminating project. One early activity I had for the kids was to create a timeline of Roman Empire events using Google Draw. Draw was easy to learn and suited our needs, so, this time, no timeline website was used. Students routinely take notes during class - from (short) lectures, while watching videos (guided and unguided), and for some formative assessments. Students collaborate with each other using various Google tools. For instance, student teams developed a brief Google Presentation that they used to teach others as the “expert” on a relevant Roman Empire topic they chose. The integration with Google Apps (the kids sign on to the device, then they are immediately online and connected to Google Apps) is great and saves more time. It's been easy to point students to various websites that either provide the information needed, or the 'application' capability they need to use.

One of our main tech goals is to use free web tools as much as possible. Since the Chromebook is an internet access device, its use is right in sync with our goals. The simplicity of most web tools we use - Google Apps are a good example - means students can concentrate on ‘higher order thinking’ skills (like evaluating and creating information), and not so much ‘how do I use this application?’ Students support each other very well - I’m very pleased to see them helping each other as questions arise. They love the Chromebooks. The computers are pretty speedy, and accomplish everything we want.

There have been some minor bumps along the way, all resolved by now. Early on, there were some network connectivity issues on a few Chromebooks. Those were solved by ‘refreshing’ the OS (about a 10 minute process); those problems have disappeared. Google also provides regular ChromeOS updates (which install fast and unobtrusively, a significant difference from 'other' OS's of which I'm familiar). The improvements have been continuous. Printing using Google CloudPrint is still a work in process; it’s not always totally reliable. We don’t print much, so not a big deal for us. Saving paper = good.

In the 2011-12 school year, uploading and sometimes editing small (30 to 90 second) video files to web-based editing sites was a definite problem. Now, not an issue. “Digital Storytelling” is a key desired student skill here, so that was troublesome. We’ve started to use Pixorial and I’m very pleased to say that Pixorial’s video editing has been excellent. It’s reliable, the uploads are relatively speedy, the tool is simple to use, and the end results have been excellent. Their customer support - as I got up to speed on how to use the tool- is first-rate. Creating videos was a major part of the student work done for the culminating Rome project, and it was a success! (UPDATE: Sadly, Pixorial ceased operations in 2014. WeVideo is an excellent choice for video editing and we recommend it!)

Here are some of the web resources students have used this year on the Chromebooks:

Gmail - ongoing two-way communication between students and me
Docs - video notes, lecture notes, formative assessments, assignment and project collaboration
Presentation - collaborative presentations with ‘student as teacher’
Calendar - piloting use of calendar for Fall of Rome project due dates
Forms - collecting “what do I want study?” student responses; “what did I learn today?” exit tickets
Draw (embedded in Doc) - Fall of Rome timeline with embedded images
Advanced Image Search - find copyright-friendly images for various assignments

Other tools:
Collaborize Classroom - For example “who is Rome’s MVP, and why?” conversation
WeVideo - students created video newscast for Rome project
Padlet - web based 'sticky note' tool, LOTS of possiblities
EasyBib - generate Sources Cited to include with Google Preso
instaGrok- for initial learning about a Roman Empire topic

Here's a link to my Symbaloo page with these apps, and more, that students use on the Chromebooks.

I cannot tell you how impressed all of us at my school are with the Chromebooks. For us, a home run - fast start up, long battery, ease of use, LOW maintenance and good reliability - makes it a great device if your school, like ours, is focusing on free/low cost web-based tools.

We'll be acquiring one or two more class sets of Chromebooks for next school year. At $249 a pop, it's kind of a no-brainer, for us anyway.

Next steps beyond acquiring more hardware is to get much more familiar with the contents of the Chrome Store, and doing a more thorough job of rolling out to students and teachers some of the cool apps there. Just need to make the time to get that done...

Are you using Chromebooks? Please feedback your thoughts!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Prezi Reinvents Presentations

This morning I received an email from the good folks at Prezi informing me of their new resume templates.  My first thought was, “How novel!”  But now that I can give it a second thought, how cool would it be to get a resume like that from a potential employee!  As an administrator, receiving a resume via Prezi tells me the candidate is a little bold, does not hold tight to conventional thinking, definitely knows something about classroom technology, and can capture one’s imagination.  Isn’t that, in part, what we want in a teacher?

Prezi is one of the fail-safe “slideshow” applications students should use when they need to convey information.  The functionality has been updated, making Prezi so much easier to manipulate.  Students can easily set up the path to create the zoom feature.  There are newly added templates, including some with 3D-like graphics.  And Prezi is so versatile; it can be as simple or as complex as a student wants to make it. 

Consider having students use it to provide details, compare information, deliver analysis, and support theories. Currently my students are using Prezi as a creative supplemental piece for their vocabulary units.  It can use it in math to illustrate problem solving and solutions to real-life problems.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Sir Ken Robinson's April 2013 TED Talk

Create a climate of possibility in your classroom!

Happy Mother's Day!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Common Core Curriculum Maps

One of the most helpful resources our teachers have used to get their hands around the CCSS has been Common Core Curriculum Maps for English – Language Arts.  Each map includes lesson plans that incorporate all aspects of the standards. 

For example, one unit for 8th grade - Urban Setting in America - has a focus (setting), a comprehensive list of suggested readings in all genres including non-fiction, sample activities and assessments, and online resources.  The unit has the standards noted, and well as access to a checklist that shows which standards are addressed in which unit.  We’ve used parts of this particular unit for my incoming 8th graders summer reading assignment, then continue it once school start in the fall.  

These maps have given our teachers an opportunity to look at their ELA instruction in a whole new light.  It has encouraged us to try new approaches, many times with the literature we already have.  And, it has helped us address our non-fiction concerns with interesting selections and lessons.

Opportunities in all areas (Reading, Writing, etc.) are included with each unit, as well as art and use of technology.

The Common Core Curriculum Maps are available for grades K – 2, 3 – 5, and 6– 8.  You can purchase membership for online access ($25) or buy the book. 

Some math maps are now available, and soon there will be social study maps.  Looking forward to using those too!