Ed Tech Ideas

Tech Integration for Busy Teachers

Monthly Archives: February 2010

Intellectual Karaoke

No singing involved (thankfully) but Lyrics Training is a great YouTube mash-up that allows users to practice a foreign language by listening to a song and then filling in the blanks of what was just sung. The video stops automatically at the appropriate time and continues after the correct words are typed in.

Signing up is not necessary, however if you do sign up, you can save your scores over time. As of now, there are six languages supported (English, Spanish, French, Italian, German, and Dutch), and there is just a short list of videos for each language, but this should only increase as the site gains popularity.

Uses in the Classroom

Upper elementary students could use this site for practice improving their English skills. Could be used as a listening center. Would make a fun Friday activity for a language class where the class has a “Don’t Forget the Lyrics” competition.


Top 3 Paragons of the Week – Episode 6

Attribution: "pink universe" http://www.flickr.com/photos/20375052@N00/31390991Paragons of the Week is a reoccurring post highlighting resources that I find to be worth mentioning. I come across 100s of useful tools for educators each week. Below are the top 3 “paragons” that I found this week that I feel teachers might dig. To view previous Paragons, click here.

1. Number Gossip

Thanks to Kelly Tenkely for this one. Number Gossip is a simple search box where you enter any number and receive back “everything you wanted to know about the number but were afraid to ask.” For example, I entered the number 38 and got these facts:  38 is the magic constant in the only possible magic hexagon (which utilizes all the natural integers up to and including 19); XXXVIII (=38) is lexicographically the last string which represents a valid Roman numeral; 38 is the largest even number which cannot be written as the sum of two odd composite numbers

2. Illuminations: Dynamic Paper

Need a pentagonal pyramid that’s six inches tall? Or a number line that goes from ‑18 to 32 by 5’s? Or a set of pattern blocks where all shapes have one-inch sides? You can create all those things and more with the Dynamic Paper tool. Place the images you want, then export it as a PDF activity sheet for your students or as a JPEG image for use in other applications or on the web.

3. Museum of Animal Perspectives

Saw this a few weeks ago at Free Technology 4 Teachers. Museum of Animal Perspectives is a cool mashup of YouTube and Google Maps that has videos of animals in their natural environments along with where, specifically in the world the video was taken. Great for science and geography learning.

Twitter and Blogging from a Newbie Perspective

Part I of a 2-Part Post

I tried Twitter twice before. Once in 2007 and once in 2008. Unsuccessfully. I couldn’t get my mind wrapped around the idea.  “Why would anyone want to use Twitter? Facebook is so much more interesting and visual. Why would I want to be limited to 140 characters? I don’t want strange people following me!” The idea was just too strange. Have you felt this way? I think many have.

Blogging was also a strange concept to me, although not as bizarre as Twitter. I’ve always thought I was an adequate writer at best, and I felt my classroom ideas  and lessons were intuitive and perhaps engaging, but not ground-breaking enough to share with the entire world. Why would anyone in their right mind want to read anything I wrote?

In the Beginning…

On November 11, 2009, with the new year approaching I decided to get an early start on my new year’s resolution: “To build a PLN” and I signed up for a WordPress account and immediately saw my first post, “Hello World!” (which I quickly changed to offer this disclaimer). Almost immediately, I found that once I began posting, my life became a continuous reflection of what I learned from this, and, could I blog about that. I wrote 12 posts in my first 1/2 month, added a Clustr Map and a hit counter and didn’t really care that I was averaging about 11 visits per day (hey, that’s 11 more people reading my thoughts than last month!).

The Epiphany

On December 29th I wrote a short post titled, Are We Adapting for the Future? which wasn’t much more than a cool video, a question, and a quote from Will Richardson. The very next day, to my shock and surprise, I received a comment from Mr. Richardson:

Hey Keith,
Thanks for reading. I think you ask a good question, the larger one being can we continue to adapt piecemeal, one at a time, or do we need some real vision and leadership on a higher level to move things forward?
Have a happy new year!

I was star-struck. I couldn’t believe it. This was the author, keynote speaker, stellar edublogger, member of the George Lucas Education Foundation… He said, “Hey Keith.” Like we were old pals! The world really is flattening! This was a great moment for me in the realization of the power of blogging. Two personal transformations had occurred because of this newly adopted tool:

  1. Personal and professional reflections in most everything I do.
  2. Connecting, communicating, and learning with educators from around the world in ways never before experienced.

I was hooked – but the best to come was still yet to happen…

Check back later this week for part II with the following topics:

  • Hello? Is Anybody There? (Finding followers on Twitter)
  • Making Progress (The 6 Steps I used to build my PLN)
  • Not All Addictions Are Bad (Getting my Twitter Groove on)
  • 100 Days and Counting (Where I’m at now)
  • Useful Resources (The top 9 resources I found to help build a PLN)

Top 3 Paragons of the Week – Episode 5

Attribution: "I Got The Star (IMG_6851)" http://www.flickr.com/photos/12054060@N04/3947019428Paragons of the Week is a reoccurring post highlighting resources that I find to be worth mentioning. I come across 100s of useful tools for educators each week. Below are the top 3 “paragons” that I found this week that I feel teachers might dig. To view previous Paragons, click here.

1. Vocab Ahead

Another Find from Richard Byrne, Vocab Ahead is a collection of short videos that give definitions, usages, pictures associated with interesting vocabulary words.  You may subscribe to receive a vocab video of the day and there is also a section of videos by students that are fantastic.

2. Geognos

Great site to learn about all the world’s countries. Geognos is a World atlas with key facts and statistics on all countries, states and nations with photos, maps, flags, visual information about geography, history, people, demographics, government, economy, communications and transportation.

3. MathRun

Fun site for practice basic math facts. Found this one via Makeuseof.com. Mathrun is a simple idea (math problems float up the screen and you have to tell whether they are correct or incorrect) and I love simplicity. There is no registration required and no advertisements – I love this too. Mathrun rates your brain speed (I got mine up to 140 mph before having to get back to work) and keeps a running total of how many problems you solved correctly. Great site to use independent practice.

Google-Siberian Railway

Moscow-Vladivostok: Virtual Journey on Google Maps

Here’s a pretty cool mash-up from Google. The great Trans Siberian Railway, the pride of Russia, goes across two continents, 12 regions and 87 cities. The joint project of Google and the Russian Railways lets you take a trip along the famous route and see Baikal, Khekhtsirsky range, Barguzin mountains, Yenisei river and many other picturesque places of Russia without leaving your house. During the trip, you can enjoy Russian classic literature, brilliant images and fascinating stories about the most attractive sites on the route.

Here’s a video preview, but to get the full experience, go to the site and follow the route on the map while looking at all the sites out of the train window.

Integration Ideas

Great for classes studying maps, Russian history and geography. Teachers could assign different sections of the route to each student and have student’s research the regions and cities along the route. Story starters: Students watch a section of the video and then write a story from the point of view of one of the original passengers. Math: Students calculate the distance between stops. Estimate how many miles of rail was used in construction. Estimate the weight of the rails.

Top 3 Paragons of the Week – Episode 4

Attribution: "a star is born" http://www.flickr.com/photos/28801512@N00/2971701469Paragons of the Week is a reoccurring post highlighting resources that I find to be worth mentioning. I come across 100s of useful tools for educators each week. Below are the top 3 “paragons” that I found this week that I feel teachers might dig. To view previous Paragons, click here.

1. Academic Skill Builders

Thanks to The Innovator Educator for turning me onto this site. Academic Skill Builders is a research-based and standards-aligned free educational math games and language arts games website that will engage, motivate, and help students improve their academic skills. There are many interactive games to choose from and they’re all pretty fun, have decent graphics/sound effects, and offer great practice to specific skills.

2. 100 Coolest Science Experiments on YouTube

I learned about this site from The Cool Cat Teacher Blog. Stellar resource for science teachers that has, as the title suggests, links to 100 cool science experiments. If your district has YouTube blocked, you can download any of the videos using 3outube. There are some really cool videos here and it’s well worth a gander.

3. MathTV

Brought to my attention by Kevin Jarrett, Math TV is an amazing collection of how-to videos in a variety of math subjects. Checking it out, I watched a video on how to multiply fractions and I (a teacher) learned a new method.  Imagine what your students can learn. This site is free, but it does require you to register to be able to view the videos.

Simple Tips for Balanced Assessment

Attribution: "Buddha dog" http://www.flickr.com/photos/35423169@N00/50088733I attended an in-service after school the other day on the subject of Assessment. The focus was improving feedback strategies to help students learn. At the end of the session, I left feeling I was taking away something I could put into practice the very next day (this is always the sign of a good workshop). Below is a synopsis of what I absorbed and how I am going to apply this new knowledge into my daily interactions with my students.

Descriptive or Evaluative Feedback

An idea so simple, but one that I never gave much attention to: What kind of feedback are you giving your students on any given day, or on any given assignment? The presenter recommended that we aim for a balance of descriptive and evaluative feedback. The ETS National Assessment Training Institute in Portland, Oregon shares that:

Descriptive feedback should reflect student strengths and weaknesses with respect to the specific learning target(s) they are trying to hit in a given assignment. Feedback is most effective when it identifies what students are doing right, as well as what they need to work on next.

I feel as a computer teacher that I provide a ton of daily feedback, but it is mostly instructional guiding (“Remember to click here first before you click there.” “Here are the 5 steps of the activity for today.” etc.). I will focus more attention to acknowledging what students are doing well and also on providing specific feedback on areas they need to focus on.

Attribution: "Research Paper on Microsoft" http://www.flickr.com/photos/31136139@N00/501812452

Evaluative feedback will come as some sort of grade or marking. This can include percentages, points earned out of total possible points, checks, pluses and minuses, happy faces, letter grades, stars, verbal descriptions such as “emerging” or “secure,” etc. Evaluative feedback alone will not truly help students, in the sense that if a project earns a B+, there is no true motivation to either improve or learn what could have been done to earn a higher grade. It’s just over. B+. Move on.

Seven Strategies of Assessment for Learning

So here’s the meat of what I took away from the in-service. Using, practicing, and improving on these strategies in my day-to-day teaching will help my students gain understanding of not only where they are at, but also, what they need to do to get to the next level. I didn’t expand on all of them purposefully. Just as I tell attendees to my workshops, “pick one or two key ideas and make them your own.” So too, will I practice here.

  1. Provide a Clear and Understandable Vision of the Learning Target
    Have conversations with your students using some of these questions: What are the objectives? Why are we doing this? What are we learning? What constitutes quality? Provide students with scoring guides or rubrics (generated by the students if/when appropriate), so they understand. Just by simply changing up questioning techniques, teachers can help students become more focused and driven.
  2. Use Examples and Models of Strong and Weak Work
    I use strong examples regularly, but I truly never thought of showing weak ones, and I am not sure I totally agree with this practice. One does not teach someone to swim by flailing and sinking, so I tend to focus on the positive. That said, I have shown weak writing examples to my third graders and is has been an effective strategy. My students create a lot of videos to show understanding of a particular subject and I frequently use solid examples from YouTube, Brainpop, Creative Commons, TeacherTube, etc. I also find it powerful to show previous student projects so that learners can see actual examples of products made by people their own age. If we are constantly showing them professional-quality examples, students, especially those who are struggling, will feel overwhelmed.
  3. Offer Regular Descriptive Feedback
    Celebrate something the student did well and then focus on the next step. Never point out everything a student did wrong all at once. Narrow the critiques down to the most important for that given lesson. Monitor the student to determine how much feedback he or she is able to take in during one sitting. Model the kind of thinking you want students to be able to do on their own. The goal here is to enable students to be life-long learners.
  4. Teach Students to Self-Assess and Set Goals
    -Identify their own strengths and areas for improvement.
    -Write in a response log at the end of class, recording key points they have learned and questions they still have (blogging is great for this).
    -Using established criteria, select a work sample for their portfolio that proves a certain level of proficiency, explaining why the piece qualifies.
    -Offer descriptive feedback to classmates.
    -Use your feedback, feedback from other students, or their own self-assessment to identify what they need to work on and set goals for future learning
  5. Design Lessons to Focus on One Aspect of Quality at a Time
  6. Teach Students Focused Revision
  7. Engage Students in Self-Reflection, and Let Them Keep Track of and Share Their Learning
    When I was a classroom teacher, I always had my students doing portfolios – a year-long collection of work samples that show growth and improvement in various curricular areas. As a computer teacher, I have classes create digital portfolios. Regardless of the format, the most important aspect of portfolios is that of self-reflection.

Attribution: "Pebble Art" http://www.flickr.com/photos/95565118@N00/2382209408As with most things in life, I tend to lean to the side of minimalism. I follow the less is more philosophy and I don’t feel that extreme over-evaluative assessment is healthy. As educators we are constantly assessing our students, regardless of whether it’s a written exam, a project-based assignment, or simply a tap on the shoulder followed by, “Nice work.” It doesn’t take much to re-think/adjust your assessment practices to become more balanced, and therefore more useful, more productive and more relevant to your learners.

Top 3 Paragons of the Week – Episode 3

Attribution: "Antikythera Mechanism" http://www.flickr.com/photos/9506589@N05/2556676025Paragons of the Week is a reoccurring post highlighting resources that I find to be worth mentioning. I come across 100s of useful tools for educators each week. Below are the top 3 “paragons” that I found this week that I feel teachers might dig. To view previous Paragons, click here.

1. Audio Owl

Audio Owl makes the world’s public domain audio books available for browsing in a visual and easily searchable way. You can search for a specific title, or use the genre list to visually scan through hundreds of titles. Books may be previewed directly on the site, or you may download them directly into iTunes, or as zipped mp3 files. The downloads are broken into chapters, which is useful for teachers using this as a listening station.

2. Flickr Poet

Found this site thanks to Kristen Swanson. Flickr Poet allows users to enter a poem and then click “show story” and the site pulls photos from Flickr and places them with all the words in the poem. The results are sometimes strange (I typed in the roses are red poem and for the word red, the corresponding photo was Steve Jobs wearing a red scarf), but students enjoy seeing their words come to life. There’s no print, save, or share feature, so you would need to do a screen capture, but the simplicity of the site and the fact that you don’t need to register is something that I love.
Some of the images that Flickr Poet produces can be less than child-friendly.

3. Search-Cube

One of my 4th grade students was using this site while researching for a biography assignment. Search-Cube is a visual search engine that presents web search results in a unique, three-dimensional cube interface. It shows previews of up to ninety-six websites, videos and images.

A Sure-Fire Way to Improve Reading Fluency

Telling your students that they need to become fluent readers is an abstract concept that will help neither you nor your students. You can give them examples of what fluent readers do, model reading in a fluent way; but they will not truly understand the idea until they experience it themselves.

Learn by Doing

To get this first-hand experience, I had a fifth grade class bring in a book they were currently reading. They recorded themselves reading 2 pages of the book using Audacity and exported the file as an Mp3. The next lab session, they opened up the file and listened to themselves, and while they were listening, they rated their fluency using this Fluent Reader Self-Eval checklist.


Some things the students found out about their reading fluency from this activity were:

  • Pace – some found they read too fast or too slow
  • Expression – hearing themselves enabled them to decide whether or not their expression conveyed meaning
  • Punctuation Signals – a lot of students forget to pause at comas and periods
  • Voice Inflection – when reading narration or dialogue, it’s often difficult for students to change their voice. When they hear themselves reading, they really pick up on this.

Other Possibilities

You don’t need to use Audacity to record your students. Portable voice recorders can be used. Another idea is to have the students record their voice directly in a PowerPoint presentation and use the check list to add details about how their fluency can improve.


PowerPoint Voice Recording (v.2003)

PowerPoint Voice Recording (v.2007)

Fluent Reader Checklist

Audacity Tutorial

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