Get Your Tech’ On – NYSCATE 2015

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Last week I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the NYSCATE conference in Rochester. It was of course an amazing experience. I was so happy to get together with like-minded educators using technology in their classrooms to collaborate and innovate.

I learned so many great things and was reminded about a great deal of other things, which I have used in the past but I have since forgotten about. In order to make sure I didn’t let the excitement and learning fade away with the business of running a 4th grade classroom, I decided to implement a plan to try some new things by the end of this week.

Plickers: This has been on my ‘to try list’ for what seems like forever. Plickers is a formative assessment teacher tool that requires only one device. Students are given cards (tip:print them out on cardstock) which they simply hold up in a certain direction, indicating a multiple choice answer. Then all you need to do is scan the room using your device’s camera. How great is that!

Genius hour While not as easy to implement, I am so excited to bring Genius Hour and Passion Projects to my classroom. Genius hour is a movement that allows students to explore their own passions and encourages creativity in the classroom. From their website: It provides students a choice in what they learn during a set period of time during school. The teacher provides a set amount of time for the students to work on their passion projects.  Students are then challenged to explore something to do a project over that they want to learn about.  They spend several weeks researching the topic before they start creating a product that will be shared with the class/school/world.  Deadlines are limited and creativity is encouraged.  Throughout the process the teacher facilitates the student projects to ensure that they are on task. (www.geniushour.com).

Gafe– Google acts like a second brain to me, so why shouldn’t my kids also use it to empower them? Our school launched Google apps for the teachers last year, but this year I want to make it my mission to get Google Classroom and Gafe (Google apps for education) up and running! I learned so many amazing ways to support my students and their learning that I cannot wait to get started.

Sway– Microsoft is not a company I knew much about prior to the conference, but I was blown away with all they have created (for free) for the classroom. My absolute favorite was Sway. One thing that resonated with me at the conference was how “its not about the technology, but it’s about the work.” Aligning with this mindset, Sway presents itself as a great tool because it doesn’t require a massive amount of training to use. Sway is an easy-to-use digital storytelling app. It allows users to create and share interactive reports, presentations, personal stories, and more. And you and your class can use it (and all of Microsoft’s apps) for free!

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Beware the Summer Slide! How to Keep Students Engaged in Math During the Summer

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Summer is just around the bend, and I know this because my classroom is slowly starting to resemble a sauna more and more. With only a few short weeks of the school year left, it is time to start proactively planning how to keep your students engaged in math practice over the summer. Let’s be honest, that is never going to be an easy task. Sun, beach, pool, camp and multiplication. It just doesn’t have that same appeal does it? However, we all know too well the dangers of the “summer slide” so it’s up to us to do our best to combat this inevitable evil. Research shows that summer learning loss in Math is an issue that impacts every student, with students losing an average of 2-3 months of math comprehension each summer. Yikes!

Luckily however, this difficult conundrum does have an easy and free solution. So what is this panacea to the problems all teachers face when summer rolls around and student are set free? Well it is technology of course! Below you will find some web based strategies to keep your kids eagerly practicing their math facts all summer long.

Sumdog – A game-based free website that students can practice their math skills in a fun and engaging format. If you haven’t read my previous review of this website, take a look here! Your students will be begging you to let them go online and practice their skills, what’s easier than that?

Tenmarks – FREE THIS SUMMER! (a $29.95 value) All it takes is 20 minutes, three times a week on this site, and your students will be able to reverse summer learning loss. Go to the site now and download the brochure, in English or Spanish, and disseminate this powerful information to your parents! Before you say goodbye to the kids for the summer, get them on the site playing to get them hooked and keep them wanting more!

XtraMath– You know that I cannot sing enough praise for this site and the wonders it has worked to improve math fluency in my classroom. While it is not a game-based learning site, it still remains an invaluable resource for improving automaticity of math. (See my previous blog post here to learn more about this). While the kids might not be jumping up and down to do more XtraMath, I propose that you keep it going during the summer. Allow students to complete XtraMath first, earning them time on one of the other GBL sites. Since it only takes 5-10 minutes tops, they will be able to get through the review fast, making it a win-win for everyone! In your teacher account, you have the option to print out personalized Summer Flyers for each of your registered students. So hit print and keep those kids who haven’t mastered all their facts rocking and rolling! They’ll math scores later on in the year will teach them that hard work does indeed pay off!

If you have any other summer resources, please share! Enjoy the last few weeks of this school year, I know we are!

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Easy Mother’s Day Card Idea

MOM, I love you to…. pieces.

With state testing this week, we were very busy. However, Mother’s Day is this weekend, so I had to think of a quick way to show “mom” how much we love her. Today we set out to work and had these cards made in no time at all!

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Just cut a heart out on card-stock and trace to create a heart onto each card. Next, have the students cut out small squares from tissue paper (regular paper works fine too) and glue them using a teeny bit of white glue. Easy Peasy! ❤

Happy Mother’s Day to all you wonderful moms out there!

ModMath: An App Helping Kids with Dyslexia and Dysgraphia

Modmath app

“Make sure you line up your place values.” This is a phrase I utter over and over in the classroom and write on countless papers. For some kids, it just takes a little practice to remember this step. However for others, practice will not make perfect, it won’t even make “consistent.” That is because so many of our students suffer from Dysgraphia (a learning disability that affects writing), Dyslexia (specific learning disabilities in reading), or some other disability which makes writing difficult for them. But there is an app out there that is finally helping to level the playing field… and it is FREE!

ModMath is a free app on iTunes that is effective because it eliminates the need for students to write out their math equations longhand. In other words, it allows them to circumvent the most difficult part of the process for them, writing the numbers neatly on their paper. ModMath works so well because it allows students to use the touch screen and/or on-screen keypad to set up and solve math problems.

Having worked with children with special needs for years, I know the reaction many people will have – “Well how is that going to help them if they cannot do it on pen and paper?” My answer is always this: What is your learning objective? Is it to get your students to write neatly? Or is it to teach them to solve a math equation correctly? See the thing is, we still need to reinforce the longhand written form of solving the problem for these children, that much is clear. However, it would be a huge disservice to our students if we let them get stuck at this stage simply because their hand-writing and fine-motor skills haven’t developed far enough for them. Think of this app then not as a permanent solution, but as a scaffold to help your students move along learning the math that they are capable of solving, rather than making them frustrated, upset, and stuck at a level much lower than their true potential.

A Simple Overview Of ModMath

  • Works as a virtual piece of graph paper that allows the students to set up math problems in a grid format that is easily legible for them. In fact, graph paper was what my student’s were using before I found this app.
  • Students can independently solve addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fraction and equation problems, using the touchpad and never having to put a pencil to paper!
  • Once completed they can then print out their work pages to turn into their teachers, or they can also e-mail them directly to their teachers.
  • The ModMath app is free on the iTunes store, however, it is only available for iPads.
  • It has a very simple interface, that requires only a little modeling and practice.
  • The setting allow you to display bright text on dark backgrounds, allowing the numbers to be read more easily for students with dyslexia.

Take a quick look at the app being used with a 3rd grade student:

 

Read more on their website: ModMath

Celebrating Earth Day – April 22

“In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we have been taught.” ― Baba Dioum

Earth Day is an important time of year, that falls during an unfortunate time of the year for us – NJ Ask Test Prep. However, its central message is so important that it is one that simply cannot be ignored. With the obvious signs of climate change, the continued depletion of valuable natural resources, and the devastating effects we are beginning to see throughout the world as a result of both, educators must take the time to demonstrate their support for this cause.

Earth Day is an annual event that is celebrated on April 22. It is a day on which events are held worldwide to demonstrate support for environmental protection. Earth Day was first celebrated in 1970 as a day to honor the Earth and the concept of peace. Today it is celebrated in over 190 countries worldwide.

One thing I have noticed in my classroom this year is the increase of students bringing in water bottles to the classroom. The classroom is littered with them, the recycling bins overflowing with them, and the spills from them are all too common. So yesterday I decided to show my students the trailer for the movie Tapped on YouTube, not knowing if the concepts would be too complex for them. Throughout the trailer, I did pause the clip so I could paraphrase and discuss each point brought up with them (in order to check for comprehension and clear up any misconceptions they might have). I am happy to report they were fascinated and enraged by the water bottle industries actions. They were curious about BPA and the chemicals in the plastics they used every day, and of course saddened by the animals being harmed by water bottle consumption (an injured animal always sways a kid).

My students, like many people today, thought recycling was the answer. We discussed the recycling process and how it was a better solution than allowing the plastic to enter a landfill, but how it still wasn’t a good thing! We then discussed what we could do to help the Earth in our classroom. No surprise here, they realized that they could start using reusable water bottles instead of buying water in bottles that were to be thrown away after each use.

Today, take some time to talk to your students/children about the importance of protecting our Earth. It’s up to us to make a change and make things better for future generations.

In the words of Dr Seuss: Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.’

Here are some Earth Day Activities we did together as a class, as well as the links to TPT that I got the ideas and activities from.

Happy Earth Day! PEACE, LOVE, EARTH!

Project shown below was inspired by: I Can Heal the World Activity on TpT  (My Version Free Here)

Earth Day Writing Paper Freebie (Seen Below)

 

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Common Core Resources :

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Common Core Resources for ELA

As our district, and districts nationwide, dig deeper into the Common Core, the need for supplemental materials is becoming evident. Until our curriculum is fully aligned, we need additional activities and resources to ensure our kids are receiving the instruction they need to achieve the standards set forth in the CCSS.
I have compiled a list of websites that I have shared with my colleagues that are full of great resources. It seems as though there is already a ton of free stuff out there, it’s just that finding it sometimes seems like a daunting task. Rather than pay for these resources, I think if we educators continue to band together, we can avoid some of the already compounding costs the Common Core is forcing our districts to allocate to it’s development.
Please share this list with your colleagues, and please also share any other helpful sites/ resources that you could add to this list, in the comments section below.
Happy Teaching!

Biblionasium – Keeping Readers Excited About Reading

Biblionasium

Engaging Young Readers

If you read my blog, you know I am a Pinterest addict. While many (thousands really) of my pins go unread, some of the resources I find on Pinterest are very exciting. One such resource that I stumbled upon recently is a website called Biblionasium (think GoodReads or Shelfari – for kids).

Biblionasium is a great tool to get kids excited and engaged in their reading. Research has shown us that in order to get students to read better, we must get them to read more. Biblonasium is working to do just that in my classroom.

The site is a social network that allows students to share recommendations with one and other, and review books they have read.  On the site, thousands of books are categorized by their Lexile scores (but can also be change to Guided Reading, DRA, or Reading Recovery)  and are displayed in personal virtual bookshelves. As you input books you read, they are placed on your bookshelf with your reviews and recommendations. What I love most about this is that the students are more passionate about what they read. This is because they are given the opportunity to think about how they felt about each book, and then share it with their peers. Where normally, they just grab a new book and move on.

Likes:

  • Has a very simple interface that is kid-friendly.
  • Teachers and parents have access to reports with information including time spent reading
  • Medals are awarded to students for participating on the site
  • Easy to involve parents and share vital information about their child’s reading habits with them
  • Ability to create challenges that engage students and get them reading longer!
  • Pre-made letters and emails to send to parents and get them involved!

Dislikes:

  • Set-up required me to manually input each student’s information. I would have preferred the ability to use a CSV file, which most other edtech sites use.
  • Students have a lot of confusion entering challenges, and so it would be nice if I could just enter them all myself.

Over winter break, I set up a Winter Reading Challenge to keep my students reading over the break, so that they wouldn’t lose all their reading stamina. While not all participated, it was nice to see that so many met the goal’s challenge of an impressive 200 minutes of reading!

Give the site a try, you will be happy you did!