Using Social Media to Demonstrate Reading Comprehension and Content Mastery

If you are an avid user of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and other social media platforms, there is a good chance your students are either using or aware of them as well. Students are using these tools creatively in my class to show their understanding of a literary text. There are also possibilities to apply these activities in any classroom where explaining thinking is required. In ELA I am able to assess if students understand plot, character motives, relationships, etc. all by reading their “texts.” In social studies, students could have discussions between world leaders and/or historical figures across time. This is especially relevant if those figures lived in different eras. Across content areas, students could create the Facebook pages, text screenshots, Snapchats, etc. for inventors, scientists, historical figures, book characters, mathematicians…regardless of time of barriers like language, lifespan, or location. The possibilities are endless.

Screenshots of text messages between book characters

Cinderella's phone Prince-Hey it's the prince, Cinderella-what's up, Prince-I think I found your shoe, Cinderella-Where, Prince-on the steps outside my house, (image of a glass slipper), Prince-Is this yours?, Cinderella-Yes! I must have dropped it when I ran out! I missed my curfew!
Screenshots of fake text message exchanges between literary characters.

In the article, Creative Lessons with Fake Texts, Tweets, Facebook Pages and More by Nick LaFave, the author discusses several  links to social media simulators that you can use with your students. This is not an exhaustive list of what is available, but offers a great place to start! All sites should be thoroughly explored by an adult first. Have fun creatively using social media in your own classroom, without many of the worries of social media access!

 

 

 

 

 

Think Outside the Screencast Box

What’s a Screencast?

I love screencasting. I discussed screencasts in my post: Screencasts-A Doorway to Possibilities, but felt an update was due to reflect new ways I am using them with students. In that earlier post, I stated,  “Screencasts allow us to get first person tutorials as if we were sitting at the computer with the person teaching it. They offer video of the screen of the instructor as they go through the steps of a given task in real time, often with recorded audio for oral instructions throughout the process.” A screencast is an easy way to create a tutorial for something my students (or peers) need to do. However, screencasts can do more than just teach steps. Screencasts can also be used to solve problems, deliver content, and demonstrate understanding within the classroom.Using your devices camera, screencasting allows you to record your screen, yourself, or a combination of both.

What Screencast Creators Are Out There?

I have used both Screencast-o-matic and Screencastify to create screencasts, but there are multitude of options available.

Screencastify is a chrome extension that allows users to save their videos to Google Drive, upload to Youtube, or download to their computer’s hardrive.  In her YouTube video, Screencastify Tutorial, Lauren Newman gives a great overview of Screencastify’s features and uses. It works very well in classrooms that are primarily using Chromebooks, but I have used it with any computer (MAC or PC) that can log in to Chrome, download and access apps and extensions in the Chrome Web Store.

Screencast-o-matic is a cloud-based service that allows you to create and share screencasts online. It does not require Chrome, but does require a login. You can also download it and run it outside of the internet. Screencast-o-matic has a tutorial  video that gives a quick overview at Welcome to Screencast-O-Matic.

Get Yourself a Learning Platform

I use screencasts in my classroom in several ways. Let me preface this by saying that my class uses technology as an every day tool. We are 1:1 this year, but most of these would also work in a rotation station. I use a learning platform for delivering online instruction. It gives a central location where students can go for copies of notes, links, online assignments, and turn in work digitally.  I use Google Classroom, but this would work with any learning platform (like Edmodo, Canvas, Blackboard, etc.).

Tip for success: Make going to the learning platform for activities and instruction routine. Students will keep that routine even when you are not directing them. Even when I post things on the board, I post them on the learning platform as well. Students know to go to the learning platform for copies of notes, classroom and homework instructions, vocabulary word lists, video tutorials, turn in instructions, links etc.

Screencast Outside the Box

Videos of the whole group lesson

When teaching the whole group lesson, I often record a screencast of myself delivering the lesson. You can upload them to a private YouTube channel for absent students, for students needing reteaching, or for flipped learning. You can teach your main lesson in a screencast, have students watch it at their own speed, and start the independent work. As they work on independent work, students can request help as needed.

Video mini-tutorials by the teacher

I film brief tutorials for how to complete a given task so students can use it when they need help, are learning something new, and/or are absent and need to catch up. This especially helpful for complicated tasks or activities with multiple steps. All of my students use these videos, but they are especially helpful for students who need repeated directions or need to chunk complicated tasks into smaller parts. I post the video with a list of timestamps to create “chapters.” Paired with a checklist, this really helps students who need it stay on track.

Examples:

  • Step 1 (00:22)
  • Step 2 (00:47)
  • 00:14 Instructions
  • 02:37 How to cite your source

Sub plans

Post a screencast of the learning and behavioral expectations for the day. Then, explain directions and provide information for any expected challenges. Include instructions for how to access this information in the sub plans (make your screencast link less secure so the sub can go to it). Post it so students can access and refer to it during class. Something about hearing the expectations from their regular teacher helps my students stay on task. It might have something to do with the fact that, in the screencast, I also tell them the rewards and consequences expected for their behavior in my absence.

Video tutorials by the student

When a student has trouble with an online task, I help that student and have them create a quick screencast showing someone else how to proceed. In the beginning this takes a bit of guidance. By the middle of the year, the students start doing it on their own. Teaching someone else is a great way to show mastery!

Demonstrate understanding of the content (for formative and summative assessments)

Go beyond paper, pencils, and paragraphs. The possibilities here are somewhat endless, but a few ideas may include:

  • Have students create podcasts in response to a text read, as part of a literature circle, or to present an on screen presentation with narration.
  • Have a digital poetry slam where students pick appropriate pictures to display as they say they recite their poem (with or without including video of themselves).
  • Have students explain as they annotate a text online
  • Make a video of your response to a question instead of writing it
  • Check fluency by having students screencast themselves reading a text (whether the text is online or offline).

Human reader for tests, quizzes, worksheets, etc. and read along videos for texts

Models of fluent and expressive reading are important. Use a digital version of the text, and read portions of it out loud in screencasts. Struggling readers can follow along to a well-read model.

I also include a screencast of many written materials for students who require verbatim reading of text. This includes my quizzes/tests with a specialized link (so I can modify access to between classes to limit cheating) and lengthy texts. I record it once and use it for all students who need it. Students like being able to rewind. They also like the independence of being in charge of the pace

Conclusion

The usefulness of screencasts are only limited by your (and your students’) imagination. They can be much more than simple tutorials. Screencasts can be used in every part of instruction from introduction to follow up. Now go forth and screencast!

Exciting Times in EdTech: Blended Learning

Once an Early Adopter, Always an Early Adopter…

I am what you call an “early adopter.” I love trying new technologies in my classroom. I am very happy when I get new tech. No, that is an understatement. The day they hung my interactive whiteboard I cried…real tears. When the technology support person surprised me with a Chromebook cart the day we returned from Spring Break, two years ago, I greeted him with a screeched out, “ARE YOU SERIOUS!!!” The moment is now a blur, but I may have hugged him.

I see the value in giving my students opportunities that technology can provide. Anyone who reads this blog also knows that I LOVE anything that helps me to do my job with efficiency. Make it easier and I am on board! Now that I have made the jump from elementary to secondary education, it is even more evident that technology can help us to engage our learners in exciting ways.

Why Blended Learning? Because Time…

As a middle school language arts teacher, I have a wide range of students with varying levels of ability and drive. I serve a large number of students who receive ELL services, students who receive special education services, students who receive varying levels of reading intervention and students who receive no interventions or services beyond my care. Those are very diverse needs. So how does one even begin to meet the needs of such a range of learners? At first glance (as well as glances 2-22) this seems a very daunting task. The key for me has been to work smarter not harder by implementing technology to the greatest advantage.

I heavily rely on the use of blended learning strategies. According to Catlin Tucker, co-author of Blended Learning in Action: A Practical Guide Toward Sustainable Change, blended learning is any combination of face-to-face and online learning. Keeping that in mind, in my classroom, I use technology as a second (and sometimes third and fourth) teacher in and outside of the classroom.

This year, I used rotation models often. Many of my students do not have access to consistent internet access at home. My classroom has 1:1 use of Chrome Books, so I try to use technology often. My class periods are a little less than 50 minutes long. In that time, I can deliver a whole group lesson and two 20 minute rotations or three 15 minute rotations. I can then pull students back together for the last three to five minutes of class. In stations, activities vary greatly. Students may work on follow-up activities related to my whole group lesson or on work that is individualized for their specific needs, be those needs for remedial skills or enrichment skills. Stations may be completely computer-based, jointly taught using teacher and computer, or small groups with a teacher.  They may also receive lessons that pre-teach or front load skills I expect them to learn on their own that I will follow up with later. During rotations, I can also pull students one on one for conferencing or specific individual needs.

Students are able to get some of their instruction directly from me and some from online resources. Using this strategy, I am able to differentiate for all of my learners by providing the opportunity for personalized instruction based on their particular needs, reteach/enrich as needed, teach new content, etc. by incorporating technology as part of my instruction. Blended learning allows me the opportunity to get more bang for my buck by having students complete multiple tasks in a given block. They are always working. They are consistently learning. Blended learning affords me the ability to utilize my limited time with them effectively.

Tools for Delivering Blended Instruction

The best part about using a blended model is the ability to incorporate many tools to engage and inspire learners. The variety of ways students learn and express their understanding in my class helps facilitate engagement. Below I list SOME of the tools that I use in my class. While some are used more often than others, they are all in use regularly in my classroom. (Note: All students regularly use their Google Drive to organize their files and turn in work.)

Hubs/Learning Platforms

  • Google Classroom-learning platform where you can distribute materials digitally and accept completed assignments, have online discussion streams, grade, and give feedback.
  • Blendspace-create lessons/units where all of the resources are grouped for easy access.

Video/Interactive Lesson Delivery

  • Playposit-embed questions into videos to make them less passive, and allow for accountability for the information within the video.
  • Peardeck-online presentation creator that allows you to make interactive presentations with embedded questions, links, and video.

Online Resources

  • MobyMax-online curriculum for grades K-8. Self leveling , tracks data,delivers both instruction and assessment.
  • Canva-graphic creator (make infographics, diagrams, posters, etc.)
  • Screencasts (I used Screencastify)-create video recordings with voice overs
  • Youtube-free video sharing website
  • Vocabulary.com-create a word list, enter text from a book, or use the self leveling activities to practice and expand vocabulary
  • Powtoon– online animated video creator
  • Tagul-word cloud creator

Formative Assessment

  • Nearly all of the above PLUS…
    • Plickers-student response system (ie. clickers)that does not require student devices
    • Kahoot-game show-like assessment tool where creators create the questions and users play the game.
    • Quizziz–game show-like assessment tool where creators create the questions and users play the game.
    • Quizlet-create flashcards and online game based on content

Introducing Students to Computer and Internet Safety

As educators, we are often at the forefront of teaching internet and computer safety to the students in our care. Where do you begin? As part of coursework toward my Technology Facilitation degree, I was part of a group of educators who created a song called “It’s All About Safety” using the music from Meghan Trainor’s ” All About That Base.”

It was so much fun to create! We wrote lyrics that cover everything from posting to social media to using correct posture at your computer. Take a look and leave some feedback! Without further delay…I give you Casey K, Jennifer W. and A. Dahl, It’s All About Safety.

 

Free (or Low Cost) Websites and Apps for PreK and Kindergarten

 

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Image credit: “Kids with Education Tablet Computers” by Intel Free Press https://flic.kr/p/fvT5PN

A coworker came to me with a specific request:

“Can you create a list of apps I can give parents for my preK and kindergarten students to use at home?”

While curating the list of resources below, I tried to gather resources compatible with Android devices, PCs, and Apple devices. Most are free, a few are under $2.00 to buy. It is by new means an exhaustive source, but does offer a good place to start if you would like to share educational resources with your preprimary and primary students.

Disclaimer: While most do not, some of the apps/links use in app purchases in order to be offered “FREE.” Before allowing your child/student to use a device like a computer, cell phone, or tablet, please remember to turn off in app purchases in your settings if possible, or set your settings so that a password is required to make in app purchases. I can not be held responsible for accidental purchases made by children when using any apps or websites listed below. 

Websites

iPhone/iPad apps

Sight words

Writing and/or Recognizing Letters

Phonemic awareness

General (Shapes, numbers, letters, etc.)

Android Apps for the Google Play Store

Sight Words

Writing and/or Recognizing Letters

Phonemic awareness

General (Shapes, numbers, letters, etc.)

Hopefully this list can be used as a resource for your younger students (or children)!

It’s Not Too Late to Teach Your Students to Code

9259-power-button-on-the-side-of-a-computer-pvThe Hour of Code window may have come and gone, but it isn’t too late to teach your students to code! Coding is computer programming. Students who learn to code learn to write code in computer languages.  This can allow students to do simple tasks like control the movement of a character on a screen, or more complex tasks like creating games and stories. Before I share how to get your students started, let’s discuss WHY you should get your students started.

According to ISTE (The International Society for Technology in Education www.iste.org) “Our nation’s current trajectory points to a lasting digital era, and we’ll need people who can think like software engineers and network architects, whether they are writing an app or solving resource distribution problems in a third-world setting — or doing both at the same time.” -Pat Yongpradit, Should we teach computer science in elementary school?

11073-the-white-house-in-washington-dc-pvPresident Obama’s Computer Science for All Initiative was announced in January 2016 and promotes the teaching of computer science in grades K-12 as a means of readying American students to be, not just consumers of digital technology, but also creators. As educators, we have an opportunity to help our learners problem solve using creativity and innovation. When coding, perseverance is a must and overcoming failure and mistakes are part of the game. This is what our students need. Give your students opportunities to learn to rescue themselves and use mistakes not as obstacles, but opportunities for growth.

So how can you start coding with your students? There are several websites and programs online. I have compiled a list of free resources available online. This is by no means an exhaustive list. Instead, it is a place to start…

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Free to Code Sites

Code.org offers a series of courses that are engaging for students including themed courses using settings and characters from Star Wars, Minecraft, and Frozen. The website even offers guided programs and lesson plans for ways to use code in classrooms without consistent computer access.

Codecademy allows users to learn a variety of computer programming languages in a game-like atmosphere. As a teacher, you can download free computer science lesson plans to get you started!

Code Monster users are able to explore code writing by writing code in one box while the “cute” monster follows the code commands in the adjacent box. Budding programmers are able to explore cause and effect of the codes they write through guiding prompts.

Hackety Hack!  is a place to learn the basics of programming using the Ruby programming language.

ScratchED allows users to program interactive stories, games, simulations, and animations. It has an extensive online community to help answer questions and give advice. Resources are also available at scratched.gse.harvard.edu.

Google CS First is a complete computer science curriculum designed for kids in grade 4-8. The program uses the block-based code, SCRATCH, to engage learners in the coding world. The best part is that it is FREE. Designed to be used as a club, it has the potential to also fit into STEM curricula as well.

Turtle Academy teaches students how to write code in the LOGO computer language. Students are able to create designs and pictures using the programming methods learned during their coursework.

 

Reaching Multilingual Learners with BrainPop and YouTube

As a teacher in a school with a high population of diverse learners, I am always looking for ways to support student understanding of concepts. I know I am not the only educator who strives to get my students to “get it.” I am lucky enough to have had students who received special education services, students who received ELL services, students with highly able plans, students considered below grade level and students who were well above grade level. In the inclusive classroom, you have to find a way to reach everyone.

Before I begin, let me say I do not work for BrainPop or YouTube.

In the past, I have used BrainPop like many teachers have. My school provides subscriptions to our students. I head to BrainPop.com and have my students explore or watch a specified video and complete the quizzes or other activities. In that capacity, it is a great resource. However, using BrainPop in that way just scratches the surface of its capabilities.

I work in a school with a high population of students who receive ELL services, most speaking Spanish. Contrary to what many believe, most of our teachers do not speak Spanish, including me! I teach STEM, science and social studies. All subjects are rich in content vocabulary. One thing I like to do is find coordinating videos through Brainpop and Brainpop Español.

In an upcoming economics lesson, I will be teaching about supply and demand. I will introduce the concept through BrainPop videos. Through a quick Google translation, I was able to figure out how to say “supply and demand” in Spanish. I then found the cooresponding videos on Brainpop (Supply and Demand) and Brainpop Español (Oferta y Demanda). (Note: You will need to log in to your BrainPop account to watch these movies).

First, the entire class will watch the video in English. Then, the class will choose to watch it again in the language of their choice (English or Spanish) rewatching, pausing, and rewinding as needed and taking notes to understand the vocabulary words (like:  supply, demand, consumer, etc.). In the past, I have noticed that my native Spanish speakers will write the English and Spanish translations next to each other. Sometimes they will also annotate my notes or worksheets with the Spanish translations of vocabulary.

Videos that took me a few extra minutes to find, allow me to scaffold my instruction in a way that helps to reach my learners in a meaningful way.

BrainPop is a pay services and I know that every school doesn’t provide for it’s use. YouTube on the other hand is free. Another method that I use to support student understanding is to change the language on my closed captioning on YouTube videos.

I try to always choose videos on YouTube that have closed captioning. This allows me to play the closed captioning on the screen as students view the video. This is helpful for student comprehension (especially for students who need to see the words to understand or need help spelling new vocabulary words). I then give students the option of watching the video again with English or alternate subtitles (like Spanish or French if those languages are represented in your class). This may mean having alternate “watching stations” in the classroom. I have created a 2 minute video that explains how to change the closed captioning on YouTube videos. It is super easy to do and offers an easy way to support learners who are literate in another language.

The video Fabulous Food Chains: Crash Course Kids #7.1 was not created by A. Dahl. It was created by Crash Course Kids.